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 for UNLV.
''I'm just as surprised as everybody else,'' Bennett said at Barclays Center in New York. ''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. Cleveland passed on Noel and Len, who are both recovering from injuries. Bennett, too, is rehabbing 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.
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.
Bennett was considered a ''tweener'' by draft analysts, but 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.''
The Cavs, who also own the Nos. 19, 31 and 33 picks, 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.
Grant's track record in drafts is equally impressive.
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.