Canadian forward Anthony Bennett of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, was taken with the No. 1 overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers, setting the tone for a surprising NBA Draft on Thursday.
Bennett, a versatile 2.03m forward who averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds as a freshman last season, jumped over touted centers Nerlens Noel of Kentucky and Ukrainian Alex Len of Maryland to land the top pick by the Cavs.
Injuries to Noel (knee) and Len (foot) and others clouded the picture in a draft that was without a consensus No. 1 choice, with Bennett landing with the 24-58 Cavaliers, despite undergoing shoulder surgery at the end of last season.
“I’m just as surprised as everybody else,” Bennett told reporters at the Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets.
Athletic guard Victor Oladipo of Indiana was taken with the second pick of the first round by the Orlando Magic, while the Washington Wizards followed by claiming forward Otto Porter, who played for nearby Georgetown University, third overall.
“Surreal feeling, man,” Oladipo said. “I’ve been watching this draft pretty much all my life, and to actually be a part of it and to actually be the No. 2 pick in this draft is truly a blessing.”
Trade rumors circulated throughout the draft, with the Barclays Center crowd distracted by reports that the Nets had agreed in principle to a mega-deal with the rebuilding Boston Celtics that would send Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry for a trio of future No. 1 picks.
Nothing was made official, though, and the draft chugged along complicated by a lively trade market of its own.
The Charlotte Hornets tabbed Indiana center Cody Zeller with the fourth pick, before Len was scooped up by the Phoenix Suns and Noel was taken by the New Orleans Pelicans with the next two picks.
However, Noel was later informed he had been traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in a package that sent All-Star guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans.
“They’ve got a great organization there, too,” Noel said about the 76ers after telling a TV interviewer how happy he was about joining New Orleans. “I’m just staying positive about everything.”
Some deals were announced on the podium by NBA commissioner David Stern, but not yet made official, lending suspense and some confusion to the proceedings.
After the top 10 choices were distributed there was a rush toward international players in the draft.
New Zealander Steven Adams out of the University of Pittsburgh was taken with the 12th pick by the Oklahoma City Thunder, NBA finalists last year.
Poised to become just the third Kiwi to play in the NBA, the 2.13m-tall player from Rotorua was a freshman at Pittsburgh and ranked first on the team in rebounds, with 6.3 a game, and blocks, 2.0 average, while averaging 7.2 points.
Three picks later the Milwaukee Bucks claimed forward Giannis Antetokounmpo out of Filathlitikos AO of Greece, a 2.06m forward who at 18 was the youngest player available in the draft.
The Boston Celtics used the 16th pick to take Brazilian Lucas Nogueira, a center from Estudiantes in Spain, while the Atlanta Hawks followed by selecting guard Dennis Schroeder of Phantoms Braunschweig of Germany.
With the 19th pick, the Cavaliers chose Russian guard Sergey Karasev of BC Triumph Lyubertsy, then two choices later the Utah Jazz grabbed Senegalese center Gorgui Dieng of Louisville.
As for the top pick, powerfully built Bennett was considered one of the best rounded prospects from this year’s draft class, equally adept at scoring from down low as he is shooting from the outside.
“I can contribute at the four, at the three,” the 20-year-old Bennett said. “There’s things I still need to work on, but I feel like I’m a great teammate, unselfish. I think I can fit in right away.”