A Night Of Surprises

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Years from now we may not look back on the 2013 draft as one that produced all-stars and superstars—most experts agree that it’s the weakest draft class in quite some time—but it will be remembered for its tantalizing unpredictability and excitement. Any draft that makes you drop an f-bomb twice during the first four selections (Yep, I was a little surprised) is anything but boring.

In retrospect we should’ve been prepared to tear up our mocks drafts and throw them into the air like confetti. Although most people believed that Nerlens Noel would go first overall, few people believed it with the kind of conviction expressed before past drafts—last year’s Anthony Davis draft, for example. And when the team with the first overall pick attempts to trade that pick for weeks leading up to the draft, it’s a sign that they’re really not sure who they like.

But while Noel squirmed in seat and attempted to put on a brave face to the camera being shoved right in said face, his pain was Anthony Bennett, and Canada’s, gain.

The Top-10 Picks

So to the shock of many (Bill Simmons included) Anthony Bennett, the bruising forward from UNLV, was selected 1st overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers. With Anderson Varejao at centre, the Cavs didn’t need a 5—particularly someone coming off knee surgery. Big men with injury problems should scare any team drafting high—just ask any Portland fan about Sam Bowie and Greg Oden and they’ll tell you as much…before they start to cry.

From an historical perspective Bennett’s selection was significant. He became the highest Canadian drafted in NBA history—beating out his new teammate, Tristan Thompson, who was picked 4th overall in 2011. Bennett, who hails from Toronto, can score the basketball and has a nice outside shot, however, there’s been question marks about his weight (he’s 6’7”, 260, by most estimates) and might be too slow to play small forward. Most experts feel like he’s more of a power-forward, which makes the selection strange, considering that with Thompson, the Cavs already possess a promising player at the 4 spot.

The Orlando Magic were up next and selected Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, a defensive specialist who many believe, if he reaches his full potential, could become the next Dwyane Wade. That’s lofty praise indeed, but even now Oladipo will be able to really help the Magic. He’s an incredibly hard worker—no veteran is going to outwork him in the gym—and his maturity, and defensive intensity, will really help a young, rebuilding team like the Magic. If he can improve his shooting he’ll become a star.

Selecting 3rd were the Washington Wizards, a team looking to add to the young, talented backcourt of John Wall, and last year’s pick Bradley Beal. The Wizards complemented that aforementioned duo by selecting Georgetown’s Otto Porter. Porter is a small forward with great length and should be a perfect fit for the Wiz. The knock on Porter was the fact that he had no true discernable skill—he did a lot of things decently, but wasn’t great at one particular thing—but he’s a solid defender who can score and the Wizards don’t need him to be a superstar straight out of the gate.

The woeful, miserable Charlotte Bobcats selected 4th and their pick elicited numerous ‘what the hells?!’ from people in the Barclays Center and those watching at home. With Noel, Alex Len, and Ben McLemore—the 3 most talented players still available—on the table, Charlotte selected Indiana’s Cody Zeller. Zeller is a talented big who has good moves around the basket, and can hit from midrange, but if MJ wanted a big, Len and Noel were better options. What’s more, McLemore was the most talented and exciting player still available and Charlotte has to be concerned with putting butts on seats. Sure, they have needs at centre, but the team has needs at EVERY position. Just pick the best player. A head-scratching decision, but not the first from this team.

Up next were the Phoenix Suns, who were probably shocked that the likes of Len and Noel had fallen so far. With their pick they selected Maryland’s Ukrainian big-man Alex Len. Len has all the skills you want from a big man, but there were some concerns about his drive and, of course, about his surgically fused ankle. Given that the Phoenix training staff is legendary, however, Suns fans shouldn’t be too concerned.

And then Nerlens Noel was finally put out of his misery. Shockingly the Pelicans selected him with the 6th pick—or at least it was shocking at the time. For about 5 minutes there was the prospect of Noel teaming up with fellow Wildcat Anthony Davis—we even has a nickname ready for the team: The Block Party. But no sooner did we think of the rim protection in The Big Easy, then the Pelicans traded Noel and a first-round pick to the 76ers for all-star point-guard, Jrue Holiday. Holiday was fantastic for a bad team last year and should excel on a promising young team in Louisiana. From the Sixers perspective taking a punt on another centre with injury issues seems curious to say the least.

The Sacramento Kings selected next and probably couldn’t believe their luck in having Ben McLemore fall into their laps. Many believe that McLemore was the most talented player in the entire draft—his jump shot has experts fawning and comparing it to Ray Allen’s, and he has athleticism to burn. But the knock on the Kansas standout is his tendency to fade into the background, and not assert himself in games. There are also worries about his off-the-dribble abilities. Going to the Kings, a team with major maturity issues, may not be the best fit for McLemore. Imagine him trying to assert himself on a team with DeMarcus Cousins.

The next three players selected were guards. The Pistons took Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, filling a hole in their woeful backcourt, while the Timberwolves selected Michigan’s Trey Burke, and promptly traded him to a team in desperate need of a point-guard, the Utah Jazz (that wouldn’t be the last pick traded in the1st round). Burke, last season’s National Player of the Year is a fearless guard who can drive to the basket and has 25-foot shooting range. His success in the league will depend on whether he can put on some weight, and how he reacts to taking contact in the lane. He’s undersized but has stated on numerous occasions that he uses Chris Paul as his inspiration.

Rounding out the top-10 was C.J. McCollum, a hybrid guard from Lehigh, selected by the Portland Trail Blazers. McCollum, a senior from an unheralded school, keeps up the recent trend of teams taking a chance on mature players from small schools. It worked last year for the Blazers, who picked Damian Lillard from a school no one had heard of, and for the Warriors who plucked Steph Curry from Davidson College. McCollum can play off the ball and could see time starting with Lillard, or as a scorer coming off the bench.

The Best of the Rest

There were two themes for the rest of the 1st round: international flavor, and trading picks. Ten of the next 20 players selected were born outside of the United States, including Canada’s own Kelly Olynyk who was selected at 13 by the Dallas Mavericks, before promptly being traded to the Boston Celtics. The Mavericks wanted no part of this year’s draft, preferring to clear cap room for a run at Dwight Howard; while the Celtics will be hoping that Olynyk can be an energy guy who crashes the boards and protects the rim—areas they’ve been woefully lacking in during the past few seasons.

The Nets and Knicks both seemed happy with their first-round selections—the Nets selected Duke’s Mason Plumlee (although with a mega trade on the horizon it was an afterthought) while the Knicks selected Michigan’s Tim Hardaway, Jr. who’s outside shooting and defense should help them immediately. On the European front the Cavaliers looked to have got a steal by selecting the Russian wing Sergey Karasev, who despite being very young, already looks polished and NBA-ready. The Atlanta Hawks also drew accolades for picking the German point-guard, Dennis Schroder, who many are comparing to a young Rajon Rondo.

A Note on the Outgoing Commissioner

The 2013 draft, while lacking the potential star power of past drafts—or even next year festivities, certain to feature a Canadian named Andrew Wiggins—will be best remembered for being the last time we get to see David Joel Stern at the podium. And whether you love the guy, or have particular disagreements about the way he’s run the league in recent years, that’s a sad thing to ponder.

Stern was in his very best form last night, as he reminded basketball fans why draft night is so fun. He strode to the stage like a WWE Heel—or at least a Heel’s overweight manager—lapping up the boos and beckoning the audience to increase the noise when their enthusiasm dwindled. Whereas NHL commissioner, Gary Bettman, strains to put on a brave face as he’s being booed by hockey fans, Stern, as he’s done throughout his 30 years on top of the NBA, never looked remotely annoyed or concerned at the vitriol coming his way. A smile, a couple of witty remarks, and he’s instantly in-charge of proceedings—the semblance of power from the snarling masses is deflated. By the time the 5th pick was announced the audience probably felt embarrassed to still be booing.

Not everyone will miss David Stern. He’s done great things for the NBA, and some things that many don’t agree with. But draft night will be infinitely less entertaining going forward. Here’s hoping that people quickly take a disliking to Adam Silver.

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