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 in New York.
"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 Orlando Magic 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, and C.J. McCollum of Lehigh to the Portland Trail Blazers at No. 10. Burke was subsequently traded to the Utah Jazz for the Nos. 14 and 21 selections.
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. But Bennett had no idea the Cavs were planning to start the draft with a shocker.
"When they said my name, that's when I knew," Bennett said.
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.
"Being the first overall pick is just a crazy thing." said Bennett, a Canadian. "It's probably going to take me a couple of days to really realize it."
Oladipo also was considered a candidate to be selected first overall but wound up with the Magic instead. 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.
"I thought everything was in the air," Noel said, "so I wasn't thinking I was the No. 1 pick."
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, Gonzaga center Kelly Olynyk to the Dallas Mavericks before he was traded to the Boston Celtics and then to the Atlanta Hawks for the No. 16 pick and future draft considerations, UCLA guard Shabazz Muhammad to the Utah Jazz and 18-year-old forward Giannis Adetokunbo of Greece to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Hawks used the No. 16 pick on center Lucas Nogueira of Brazil and 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.
Trades jumbled the final 10 selections in the first round. Louisville center Gorgui Dieng went No. 21 to the Timberwolves via a deal with the Jazz, followed by Duke center Mason Plumlee to the Brooklyn Nets, Arizona forward Solomon Hill to the Indiana Pacers, guard Tim Hardaway Jr. to the New York Knicks, North Carolina guard Reggie Bullock to the Los Angeles Clippers, Colorado forward Andre Roberson to the Thunder via the Golden State Warriors and Timberwolves, forward Rudy Gobert of France to the Jazz through a swap with the Nuggets for the 46th pick, forward Livio Jean-Charles of France to the San Antonio Spurs, Kentucky guard Archie Goodwin to the Suns via the Warriors and Thunder, and point guard Nemanja Nedovic of Serbia to the Warriors via the Suns.
Among the notable second-round draftees were NBA Development League guard Glen Rice Jr., son of former NBA forward Glen Rice, selected by the 76ers and dealt to the Wizards; Kansas center Jeff Withey, chosen by the Trail Blazers; Duke forward Ryan Kelly, picked by the Los Angeles Lakers; and Louisville guard Peyton Siva, selected by the Pistons.