UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett admitted being “surprised” when the Cavaliers made him the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft.
He wasn’t alone.
Cleveland general manager Chris Grant stunned the basketball world Thursday by taking the 20-year-old freshman over several higher-profile prospects.
Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, Georgetown small forward Otto Porter Jr., Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore and Maryland center Alex Len were considered more likely choices, but the Cavaliers went in a completely different direction.
“Everything was up for grabs, up in the air, with people saying there wasn’t a solid No. 1 pick,” Bennett said in a conference call with Cleveland reporters. “It’s just crazy, but I made history, so I can’t really complain about that. It’s a great honor. I’m speechless right now. I don’t even know what to say, basically.”
Bennett only played one season with the Runnin’ Rebels, averaging 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds, but has represented his native Canada in two FIBA World Championship tournaments, so he boasts more experience than his college statistics indicate.
On the other hand, the
6-foot-8, 240-pounder is recovering from left rotator cuff surgery — going under the knife May 8 — and will not be medically cleared until later this summer.
Bennett’s belly, however, is more of a concern than his shoulder. He ballooned to the upper 250s while rehabilitating and was not in great shape as he walked onto the podium at Barclays Center in Brooklyn to meet NBA Commissioner David Stern.
“I played at 245 during college and everybody said I gained 25-28 pounds, which wasn’t true,” Bennett said. “It was probably like 15-14, if not 11 or anything. It wasn’t a high, crazy number. By the first week of August, I’ll be back at 100 percent.”
Therein lays the problem — and the rub — of Bennett joining Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Brad Daugherty and Austin Carr as the Cavaliers’ all-time No. 1 overall picks.
Even at 100 percent, does the Torontonian have any business being on that list? The easy answer is no.
Fairly or unfairly, those aforementioned NBA All-Stars are the players that Bennett will ultimately be judged against.
Fortunately for Cleveland, the undersized power forward — or overweight small forward — is fine with that situation.
“Everybody says it’s a lot of pressure, but at the end of the day, it’s the game of basketball,” said Bennett, who earned All-Mountain West first-team honors. “I feel like me playing the four my whole career doesn’t limit me to playing one position. Once I feel comfortable playing on the wing, I’ll be good. You just gotta go out and play.”
But where does Bennett play? Noel and Len are legitimate centers, while Porter and McLemore will step in and start as rookies on the wing.
The Cavaliers already have an emerging power forward in Tristan Thompson, who has proved that he cannot play center, so Bennett isn’t going to supplant him there.
“Anthony is a power forward,” Grant said flatly. “You see that in his game, from a scoring and a rebounding and an attacking the basket mentality. With his athletic ability and skill set, he’s got a chance to grow in a lot of areas, but he’s a power forward.”
Cleveland also figures to add at least one scoring small forward during free agency, putting another roadblock in Bennett’s way. And this scenario doesn’t even consider the possible return of NBA MVP LeBron James at the three next summer.
Thusly, barring a major roster overhaul, the Cavaliers have used the top pick in the 2013 draft on a backup.
That does not reflect well — either on the organization, Grant or Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who has vowed that his team will qualify for the 2014 playoffs.
“The Cavaliers had a great day,” Grant insisted. “When we won the draft lottery, we knew we were going to get a talented young player. Anthony was highly in our mix throughout the entire season, and when you walked out of the gym after watching him play, you just kind of went, ‘Wow.’
“I’m excited for our coaches to get their hands on him and get him started on his way.”
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.