NEW YORK — After weeks of speculation and trade rumors heading into an NBA Draft with no clear-cut favorite at the top, the Cleveland Cavaliers made a stunning choice, selecting Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 pick Thursday night at the Barclays Center.
“I’m just as surprised as anyone else,” Bennett said.
Bennett, a bruising 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward, averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in his only season at UNLV in 2012-13 and was a dominant force in the Mountain West Conference. He suffered a rotator cuff injury to his left shoulder at the end of the season and underwent surgery, but it had no impact on his draft status.
The Washington Wizards used the No. 2 pick on Indiana guard Victor Oladipo, and the Washington Wizards went with Georgetown forward Otto Porter Jr. with the third pick. Oladipo’s college teammate, Cody Zeller, was the first center off the board, going to the Charlotte Bobcats at No. 4.
Two centers followed Zeller, as Alex Len of Maryland was picked by the Phoenix Suns at No. 5 and Nerlens Noel of Kentucky was drafted next by the New Orleans Pelicans. Noel was then traded to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Four guards rounded out the top 10: Ben McLemore of Kansas to the Sacramento Kings at No. 7, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope of Georgia to the Detroit Pistons at No. 8, Trey Burke of Michigan to the Minnesota Timberwolves at No. 9, who was then traded to the Utah Jazz for the Nos. 14 and 21 selections, and C.J. McCollum of Lehigh to the Portland Trail Blazers at No. 10.
The athletic Oladipo left Indiana after his junior season. He averaged 13.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. He is a lock-down defender who enhanced his game by improving his outside shooting.
“It’s like a weight vest you took off after running five miles,” Oladipo said of being drafted. “It’s relaxing, man. But at the same time, you know it’s just getting started.”
The 6-9 Porter had a breakout year, averaging 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds per game last season. He was considered by some to be the most well-rounded player in the draft, The mobile Zeller averaged 16.5 points and 8.1 rebounds last season for Indiana.
“It’s a crazy process not knowing, but I’m definitely excited that I ended up with the Bobcats,” the 6-11 Zeller said.
Len, a 7-1 Ukrainian, was mentioned as a possible top pick with lots of potential. As a sophomore last season for the Terrapins, he averaged 11.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
The 7-foot Noel suffered a season-ending knee injury as a freshman at Kentucky that caused him to slide down draft boards. Considered a strong defender with some offensive challenges, Noel averaged 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.4 blocks in his only season with the Wildcats.
McLemore left Kansas after making an impact as a freshman, averaging 15.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists. Caldwell-Pope was the player of the year in the Southeastern Conference, Burke won national player of the year as a sophomore while leading Michigan to the national championship game, and McCollum is a combo guard with ball-handling skills and scoring ability.
There were several trades in the opening round, starting with the 76ers dealing Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans in exchange for Noel and a 2014 first-round pick that is top-three protected.
The Sixers led off the second 10, choosing defensive-minded point guard Michael Carter-Williams of Syracuse. Next came Pittsburgh center Steven Adams to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Gonzaga center Kelly Olynyk to the Dallas Mavericks before he was traded to the Boston Celtics. That in turn led to a trade between the Mavs and the Atlanta Hawks, whereby Atlanta swapped No. 18 for the No. 16 pick, Brazilian center Lucas Nogueira. UCLA guard Shabazz Muhammad went to the Utah Jazz and 18-year-old forward Giannis Adetokunbo of Greece to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Hawks came back at No. 17 with point guard Dennis Schroeder of Germany. Point guard Shane Larkin, son of Baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin who played college ball for Miami, was chosen by the Mavericks in the No. 18 slot.
With their second pick in the first round, the Cavaliers opted for potential with 19-year-old forward Sergey Karasev of Russia. The Chicago Bulls rounded out the top 20 with New Mexico shooting guard Tony Snell.
The Cavaliers had the top pick for the second time in three years. They chose guard Kyrie Irving, one of the NBA’s top young talents, at No. 1 in 2011 and went into the 2013 draft looking to built around him.
In the previous two drafts, the Cavs picked guard Dion Waiters and center Tyler Zeller in the 2012 first round and forward Tristan Thompson in addition to Irving in 2011.
The Cavs were looking to add a strong presence to their front line with veteran center Anderson Varejao plagued by injuries.
Before the draft, the Cavs were rumored to have attempted to trade the top pick to several teams, including a pitch to the Timberwolves for forward Kevin Love. Yahoo! Sports reported that Oklahoma City tried to swing a deal for the No. 1 choice before the draft.
Cleveland (24-58) missed the playoffs last season, finishing fifth in the Central Division. The Cavs fired coach Byron Scott after failing to reach the postseason in each of his three years with the team and replaced him with former coach Mike Brown.
NBA Notebook: The chances of Dwight Howard remaining with the Los Angeles Lakers are low, according to an ESPN.com report.
Howard is reportedly seeking a coach and system that fits his skill set, and appears willing to pass on the additional $30 million the Lakers can pay, a source told the website. LA can propose a five-year, $118 million deal, while other teams must stop at $88 million over four seasons.
Howard, 27, plans to meet with the Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets and Atlanta Hawks before meeting with the Lakers, the report said. Teams can contact free agents starting July 1.
Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni’s system is a major issue for Howard, and he wishes not to be the sidekick to superstar Kobe Bryant, a source said.
—The Boston Celtics, a team staring at a rebuilding process, are discussing a deal that would send veterans Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the New Jersey Nets, according to a Yahoo! Sports report.
Garnett has a no-trade clause, so packaging him with Pierce might increase the chances of Garnett approving a trade to a contender, Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski wrote. The deal being discussed with the Nets could include at least five players and three first-round draft picks still to-be-determined.
Such a deal is complicated with many moving parts, including the Garnett factor. He was reportedly willing to agree to go to the Clippers with Rivers, but it was unclear how willing he is about heading to Brooklyn with Pierce to play for new Nets head coach Jason Kidd.
— Lawrence Frank will join the staff of new Brooklyn Nets’ head coach Jason Kidd as his lead assistant coach, a league source told ESPNNewYork.com.
Frank coached Kidd during most of his time with the Nets from 2003-08. Kidd wanted an experienced assistant to help him transition to head coach, and has actively recruited Frank.
Frank returns to the Nets after being fired by the Detroit Pistons after the regular season. Kidd, 40, retired as a player earlier this month and quickly accepted the Nets head coaching job.