Cavaliers select UNLV's Bennett No. 1 in draft
INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) - Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant has a history of draft-day surprises.
On Thursday, he pulled off his biggest stunner yet.
Pushing the drama until the last minute, the Cavaliers shocked experts and their fans by selecting UNLV forward Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
It was the third straight year the Cavs went outside the box in the first round. Two years ago, they took forward Tristan Thompson with the fourth pick - after taking guard Kyrie Irving first - and selected guard Dion Waiters in the same spot a year ago.
With speculation centered on them taking either Kentucky center Nerlens Noel or Maryland's Alex Len, the Cavs nabbed the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Bennett, who averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in one season at UNLV.
Sitting at a table with family members in New York, Bennett was caught off guard when commissioner David Stern called his name.
"I'm just as surprised as everybody else,'' Bennett said. "I didn't really have any idea who was going No. 1 or who was going No. 2. I heard everything was up for grabs. But I'm just real happy, glad that I have this opportunity.''
Bennett, the first Canadian player taken with the top pick, was considered a longshot to land with Cleveland, and was rarely mentioned as a possibility in the days leading up to the draft.
The Cavs had been listening to trade offers for the pick since winning the lottery on May 21, and seemed intent on dealing it. But unable to find a partner, Cleveland passed on Noel and Len, who are both recovering from injuries, for Bennett.
He, too, is rehabbing after undergoing surgery on a torn left rotator cuff in his shoulder. But the injury didn't scare off the Cavs, who are determined to get back to the playoffs after losing 58 games last season and firing coach Byron Scott.
Bennett said he's lifting weights and should be able to play by August. He also dismissed reports that his weight has ballooned by over 25 pounds while he's been recovering. He said he's gained about 15.
"It wasn't a high, crazy number,'' he said.
Cleveland coach Mike Brown, rehired by owner Dan Gilbert after he was fired three years ago, has some history with Bennett. Brown's oldest son had a high school teammate who played in college with Bennett and Brown was able to get a firsthand look at Bennett, who played just one season for the Runnin' Rebels.
Grant, too, scouted Bennett and was impressed with his ability to finish at the rim.
Bennett was considered a "tweener'' by draft analysts, but with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, he's convinced he can play power or small forward.
"I can contribute at the four, at the three,'' he 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.''
In the second round, the Cavaliers selected 19-year-old Russian swingman Sergey Karasev with 19th pick. The Cavs had targeted Karasev for some time and were thrilled to get the 6-foot-7 Karasev, who played on the Russian national team at the London Olympics last summer.
The Cavs addressed their backcourt depth in the second round, selecting a pair of Pac-12 guards: California's Allen Crabbe and Arizona State's Carrick Felix.
Crabbe was taken with the No. 31 overall pick, but the Cavs intend to trade him to Portland for two future second-round picks. Two picks later, the Cavs grabbed the 6-foot-6 Felix, who averaged 14.8 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds for the Sun Devils. However, Felix's strong suit is his defense.
The Cavs have had great success with No. 1 picks. Bennett joins Austin Carr (1971), Brad Daugherty (1986), LeBron James (2003) and Irving (11) as players taken by Cleveland first overall - an impressive roll call.
Grant's track record in drafts is equally notable.
Irving was an easy choice, although there were some questions about his durability after he played in just 11 games as a freshman at Duke because of a foot injury. And while he has missed some time during his first two seasons as a pro with injuries, Irving has developed into an All-Star and is among the league's top playmakers.
Bennett is looking forward to being on the floor with him.
"He's putting up numbers,'' Bennett said. "He's doing his thing. Now I can officially say he's my teammate.''
Thompson, who is also Canadian, was viewed as a project when the Cavs picked him higher than most expected. But he blossomed in his second season, averaging 11.7 points and 8.2 rebounds and playing all 82 games.
Waiters didn't get to play alongside Irving as much as the Cavs had hoped, but he showed a fearlessness going to the basket and averaged 14.7 points.
There are questions about Bennett's game, and it's unlikely he will crack Cleveland's starting lineup next season. But Bennett promised to work hard and doesn't feel burdened to live up to the high expectations that come with being the top pick.
"Everybody says it's a lot of pressure,'' he said. "But at the end of the day, it's just the game of basketball.
"I've just got to go out and play.''