INDEPENDENCE: The Cavaliers entered a flawed draft Thursday night unsure of their big move. By Thursday morning, their decision had been narrowed to two, but General Manager Chris Grant spent this week agonizing over what to do.
So he did what he always does — he shocked the rest of the NBA.
Grant turned an already volatile draft upside down immediately with the selection of UNLV forward Anthony Bennett, who was long considered a dark horse for the top pick.
Bennett averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds as a freshman with the Rebels. Grant scouted him heavily during the college season — visiting Las Vegas at least twice to watch him personally — and came away impressed with his explosive ability to score.
“He was one of those guys when you walked out of the gym when you saw him play, you kind of went, ‘Wow.’ He just does things you don’t see other people do,” Grant said. “He was highly in our mix throughout the entire season.”
The question about Bennett is where he fits defensively. He is only 6-foot-7, meaning he could struggle defending power forwards. At 240 pounds, he might not be quick enough to defend small forwards.
Grant called Bennett a power forward and believes he can fit in multiple lineups late in games.
A league source told the Beacon Journal last week Bennett would be the clear No. 1 pick in this draft if he were 3 inches taller. Turns out, he was tall enough to go No. 1 anyway.
“I’m just as surprised as everybody else,” Bennett said. “It’s a great honor. I’m speechless right now.”
The Cavs selected Russian guard/forward Sergey Karasev with the 19th pick in the first round. They spent weeks trying to put together a package that included their second-round picks to move up in the draft, but ultimately had to stay put.
Part of the reason they wanted to move up was to get in position to draft Karasev, whom no one thought would slide to No. 19. Pre-draft speculation had Karasev slotted for somewhere between the 10th and 15th picks, but a flurry of trades in the middle of the draft sent Karasev tumbling into the Cavs’ lap.
The Cavs kept the entire league unsure of their plans with the No. 1 pick. Agents and executives from opposing teams were convinced they would choose between Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and Maryland’s Alex Len, but Noel’s limited offensive game and history of knee problems sent him tumbling to sixth overall.
Bennett had no idea he was going to be the top pick until Commissioner David Stern announced his name from the podium, just like Kyrie Irving didn’t know he was the choice until the official announcement two years ago.
“I didn’t really have any idea who’s going No. 1 or who was going No. 2,” Bennett said. “I heard everything was up for grabs.”
Bennett is presently sidelined with a rotator cuff injury. As a result, he will not participate on the Cavs’ summer league team, but he said Thursday he is expected to be back on the court and fully healthy by the first week of August.
He dismissed reports that his weight had ballooned to 260 pounds and said speculation over his weight has been exaggerated.
Bennett grew up down the road from new teammate Tristan Thompson outside Toronto and attended the same Las Vegas high school as Thompson. He is expected to come off the bench to start the season behind Thompson and Anderson Varejao.
Bennett said he and Thompson weren’t particularly close growing up, “but now he’s going to be a best friend to me.”
Bennett was the selection out of a group of players that included Noel, Len, Georgetown’s Otto Porter and Kansas’ Ben McLemore. None of the five were a perfect fit, hence the consternation over the choice.
Porter could’ve slid into the starting role at small forward, but his ceiling and upside weren’t considered as high as some of the other options. McLemore was the best shooter in the draft, but the Cavs used the fourth pick in last year’s draft on Dion Waiters and there was concern within the organization if both Waiters and McLemore could’ve been successful together.
In Karasev, the Cavs have a 6-foot-7 wing who is averaging 18.7 points and 5.3 rebounds. He left Thursday’s draft at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. shortly after the Cavs selected him to catch a flight back to Belgrade for a game tonight. He plays for the Russian team BC Triumph. Karasev was also a member of the Russian Olympic team that took bronze last summer.
The Cavs selected California guard Allen Crabbe with the first pick in the second round (31st overall) and quickly traded him to the Portland Trail Blazers for future second-round picks. Then they selected 6-foot-6 guard Carrick Felix from Arizona State with their final selection (33rd overall).
Felix averaged 14.6 points and 8.1 rebounds as a senior. He was named second team All-Pac 12 and was named to the All-Pac 12 Defensive team. He has already earned his master’s degree in liberal studies.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at https://ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.