The Commercial Appeal
Cavaliers choose UNLV star No. 1
Bennett selection is a surprise as Noel falls to sixth
NEW YORK — Anthony Bennett became the first Canadian No. 1 overall pick, and Nerlens Noel tumbled out of the top five and right into a trade in a surprising start to an unsettled NBA draft.
One of the favorites to be taken first Thursday night, Noel fell to No. 6, where the New Orleans Pelicans took him and then dealt his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for a package headlined by AllStar guard Jrue Holiday, according to a person familiar with the details.
The Cleveland Cavaliers started things by passing on centers Noel and Alex Len, who went to Phoenix at No. 5, in favor Bennett, the UNLV freshman forward who starred for Canada’s junior national teams and was the Mountain West Conference freshman of the year.
“I’m just as surprised as anyone else,” Bennett said.
There was suspense right until the end, either because the Cavs were unsure who they wanted or were trying to trade the pick. Most predictions had them taking a big man, with Noel largely considered the favorite for the No. 1 choice even after a torn ACL that ended his lone season at Kentucky in February.
“I thought everything was in the air, so I wasn’t thinking I was the No. 1 pick,” Noel said.
David Stern, booed frequently in his final draft as commissioner, added to the surprise by pausing slightly before announcing the Cavs’ pick, their first at No. 1 since taking All-Star Kyrie Irving in 2011.
Orlando passed on both of the big men, too, going with Indiana swingman Victor Oladipo with the No. 2 pick. Washington took Otto Porter Jr. with the third pick, keeping the Georgetown star in town.
“It’s a dream come true to get drafted and then getting a chance to play in D.C., where I played two years in college. It’s a true blessing,” Porter said. “This is what I’ve been working for. This is all the hard work in the gym, not playing AAU, and this moment right now is just unbelievable.”
Ten years after the Cavaliers selected LeBron James to start a draft that included future NBA championship teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the top five, this one lacked star power and perhaps even the promise of stardom.
Bennett, Noel and Len are all coming off injuries and couldn’t even work out for teams, but the Cavs decided Bennett’s shoulder surgery wasn’t enough cause for concern.
“I can contribute at the four (position), at the three,” 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 just fit in right away. Everyone says I’m undersized as a power forward. They said that in high school and said it in college, and I just did my thing.”
Len walked up to meet Stern and collect his or- ange Suns hat, then sat down near the stage to put on the walking boot he needs for the stress fracture of his left ankle that was discovered after Maryland’s season.
Noel finally went to New Orleans with the next pick. He didn’t seem upset at his fall down the draft board, hugging his mother and shaking hands with Kentucky coach John Calipari.
It was a good start for the Hoosiers, with Cody Zeller going to the Charlotte Bobcats two places after Oladipo.
Kansas guard Ben McLemore, another player who was considered a potential top-three pick, also dropped, going seventh to Sacramento.
McLemore said he looked forward to proving the six teams that passed on him wrong.
“I want to come in and show everybody what I can do, because I know on the court I know what I can do,” said McLemore. “I can be an alpha dog and take over games and help my team win games.”
Headed by a lackluster class, the draft promised confusion and secondguessing, with no consensus No. 1 pick and little agreement among the order of the top five.
“It’s like a weight vest you took off after running five miles,” Oladipo said. “It’s relaxing, man. But at the same time, you know it’s just getting started.”
National player of the year Trey Burke of Michigan also was traded, the Minnesota Timberwolves sending his rights to Utah for the rights to Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, the Nos. 14 and 21 picks.
Lehigh guard C.J. Mc- Collum rounded out the top 10 by going to Portland.
“I was just kidding my agent because he didn’t bail me out,” Zeller said. “He didn’t tell me. I didn’t know until David Stern announced it. It’s a crazy process not knowing, but I’m definitely excited that I ended up with the Bobcats.”
Other players couldn’t get too excited about their new addresses, because they changed quickly.
Stern was announcing deals by the middle of the first round and they promised to keep coming after he turned things over to Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver for the final 30 picks.
The f lurry of trades wasn’t surprising with so much uncertainty surrounding this class and so much hope in other areas. Teams such as Houston, Dallas and Atlanta have an eye on Howard but need salary-cap space to offer a maximum contract that could lure him away from Los Angeles.
The 2014 class — which could be topped by a second straight Canadian in incoming Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins — will be more highly regarded than this one, with James perhaps heading the available free agents.
Local fans cheered loudly when the Nets took Duke forward Mason Plumlee at No. 22 and the New York Knicks grabbed Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. two picks later.
Stern announced the final pick to close the first round, then was greeted on stage by Hakeem Olajuwon, the No. 1 pick in 1984 to start Stern’s first draft, who hugged the commissioner. the Hawks, Jazz assistant coach Jeff Hornacek is now the coach of the Suns, and Warriors assistant coach Michael Malone is now the coach of the Kings.
“I’m extremely humbled to be asked to lead this franchise,” Joerger said. “I’m just really fired up and excited.”