It’s not like the Cleveland Cavaliers are new to the Draft, or to the top of the board. But they still managed to make history on Thursday.
No team before had done what Cleveland did, and that was select a Canadian – Anthony Bennett, from UNLV and Brampton, Ontario – with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft.
“I’m just as surprised as everybody else,” Bennett said after his selection at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. “I didn’t really have any idea who’s going No. 1 or who was going No. 2. I heard everything was up for grabs. But I’m just really happy, glad that I have this opportunity, and I’ve just got to thank God for everything.”
The Cavs already have a promising Canuck on their roster – forward Tristan Thompson – and their lineup of No. 1 picks in the past decade is deep, including LeBron James at No. 1 in 2003 and Kyrie Irving at that same spot in 2011. Irving is the team’s starting point guard entering Twenty-Thirteen.
(Thompson also went in 2011 – as a fourth overall pick – and Dion Waiters went fourth overall last year to The Cleve, too.)
Another Canadian, Kamloops’s Kelly Olynyk – who led the Gonzaga Bulldogs to a No. 1 seed in last year’s March Madness tournament – was taken 13th overall by the Dallas Mavericks, who then shipped him to the Boston Celtics.
“Olnyk presents an interesting case,” wrote Gary Dzen from the Boston Globe. “He is polished and efficient in the halfcourt, and he’s excellent as the roll man on the pick-and-roll. He’s not as athletic in the up-and-down game as some of his compatriots, and he’s a little unorthodox. He doesn’t take many outside shots, but when he does, he can knock them down.”
Boston also shucked Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, only days after they sent their coach, Doc Rivers, to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Response south of the border, on Twitter, showed that Bennett was less than a unanimous fan favourite.
“So the Cavs just picked a guy whose team didn’t make a basket for 12 straight minutes in the NCAA Tournament. WOW,” Tweeted USA Today‘s Dan Wolken (@DanWolken).
The Bleacher Report documented social media’s response fo Bennett’s selection, also noting that the kid has as many fans as he does detractors – the most important member of the Bennett booster club being the guy who picked him, Cleveland coach Mike Brown.
“While Bennett may not be the biggest name in the draft, he is a favorite of statisticians across the NBA. He may not be the most impressive player from a perspective of basic statistics, but his advanced metrics impressed.
“The Cavaliers infamously fired head coach Mike Brown after one of their peak seasons, but they recently re-hired him. Brown, notorious for systematic basketball and a value of the analytics, reportedly loved Bennett all along.
“Plain and simple, it was all about talent.”
In some way, the surprise of Bennett’s selection was a perfect beginning of the end to this year’s NBA Draft, as nobody knew which way the Cavaliers would lean. There wasn’t the obviousness of past seasons – where players like Blake Griffin and John Wall were as obvious at No. 1 as The English Patient or Schindler’s List were Oscar winners – and most thought Cleveland would go toward players like Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, or a trade.
“It was the culmination of the most secretive draft process by a No. 1 team in recent memory, as normally the top pick leaks out hours, if not days or weeks, ahead of time,” wrote SB Nation. “Bennett was barely even in consideration… The UNLV forward is coming off shoulder surgery but is believed to have all the physical tools to be a powerful scorer at the next level.
“He was imposing physically in college and should continue to be a threat at the next level. Add that to his athleticism, and Bennett has the body to contribute right away.”