June 29, 2013

Anthony Bennett leads the way in the most unpredictable NBA Draft night

First there were the boos. NBA Commissioner has been hearing them at damn near every pick in damn near every year of his 30-year tenure as the league's head honcho. And once more, for the last time in his eventful era as Commissioner, Stern heard boos over and over again as he called out names of the NBA's newest professionals. By now, the boos are more a mark of affection than hate. They have been the necessary soundtrack to the beginning of every NBA career in the past three decades.

And those three decades of draft nights came to an end for Stern with one of the most surprising drafts ever. With no clear consensus top pick in what many experts were calling a 'weak' draft, there was some sense of mystery surrounding who the Cleveland Cavaliers would choose to call with their first selection. The slight favourite was Nerlens Noel, but he has been injured since February. Some thought it could be Ben McLemore, but many scouts questioned his maturity issues. Alex Len's stock was rising, but he was slightly unproven. Victor Oladipo became everyone's last minute favourite, and some thought he could be the surprise top choice.

Instead, the Cavs made the unpredictable draft even crazier and chose UNLV's undersized power forward Anthony Bennett as the first pick of 2013. Bennett is a solid player across the board, and despite his recent shoulder surgery, a relatively 'safe' pick. Still, it was a surprise pick and it completely jumbled the best-laid plans of the rest of the teams picking on draft night. For the Cavaliers, Bennett is an interesting pick: will they choose to play him at small forward, which is their weak spot in the starting five at this point? Will they choose to play him at power forward instead of Tristan Thomas. Or will they make a move for either one of them? I guess we'll wait and see.

Victor Oladipo went second to the Orlando Magic, a sound pick for a team that needs help in nearly every department, and chose a hard-working player to build their future around. The Wizards plugged in their small forward hole with Otto Porter Jr., a well-rounded jack of all trades at three. Still, no sign of Noel or McLemore, or Len.

And then, with the fourth pick, the Bobcats make the draft even zanier when they decided to pick Indiana's Cody Zeller, a great college player but with doubts to translate his talent into the pros. Bobcats fans heartily booed this decision. In hindsight, this was a typical pick by the greatest player of all time aka the worst team owner of all time, Mr. Michael Jordan. Jordan has long been a fan of great college winners with unfulfilled pro potential.

The Suns picked Alex Len at five, a good pick for another team that needs help pretty much everywhere.

And finally, after wearing a dejected face for most of the earlier half hour, top prospect Nerlens Noel was picked sixth by the Pelicans. Before he could speak of teaming up with Anthony Davis, he was quickly traded to the 76ers. Before he could team up with Jrue Holiday, Holiday was in the trade coming to New Orleans. Another draft night shocker. The Pelicans added Holiday to a core of Anthony Davis and Greivis Vasquez, effectively signalling the end of the unfulfilled Eric Gordon era. Speaking of unfulfilled eras, the 76ers will effectively say goodbye to Andrew Bynum now that Noel is touted to be their franchise center. Later on in the draft, the 76ers picked athletic, tall point guard Michael Carter-Williams with the 11th pick to replace Holiday and go into full rebuilding mode (otherwise known as the Andrew Wiggins Sweepstakes #LosingForWiggins).

With the 7th pick, the Kings went for the best player available and added talented-but-immature Ben McLemore to a core that includes talented-but-immature Tyreke Evans and talented-but-immature DeMarcus Cousins. Fun times in Sacramento.

The Pistons added dead-eye shooter Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with the eighth pick. The Timberwolves picked college player of the year Trey Burke at ninth, but soon, it was revealed that Burke would be traded to Utah for the 14th and 21st picks. These picks translated into Shabazz Muhammad and Gorgui Dieng, respectively. Burke is the perfect fit for the Jazz, who were in desperate need of a decent perimeter player.

And despite the bad news bears, I'm fully in the Shabazz Muhammad camp (#ShabazzBandwagon) and believe that he can be the best player from this class. Shabazz is also the perfect fit in Minnesota, along with Ricky Rubio, Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin Love, and Nikola Pekovic. If this team can stay healthy, we could see them making some noise in the West. Shabazz college year was topsy-turvy to say the least, but I think he'll be suited for the pro game. Years from now, you can come back here and applaud me for my faith when he becomes a multiple-time All Star, or alternatively, laugh at my face when he translates into Micheal Beasley 2.0.

The Trailblazers made a great pick at 10th with CJ McCollum, who is the perfect back-court component to run along with reigning rookie of the year Damian Lillard. At 12th, the Thunder took New Zealand's big man Steven Adams. The Mavericks traded their 13th pick to the Celtics, and Boston chose Kelly Olynyk.

And so and so forth the draft went, featuring more surprises, crazy hair (Lucas Nogueira), cheers (for Masom Plumpee and Tim Hardaway Jr.), and jeers. The draft represented a lot of foreign-born talent, too, including top pick Bennett (Canada), Len (Ukraine), and Adams (New Zealand), and later, the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Sergey Karasev (Russia), and Dennis Schroeder (Germany) drafted by Bucks, Cavaliers, and Hawks respectively.

The first round of the draft ended with yet another surprise. The first pick that David Stern ever made in 1984 - a young Nigerian then known as 'Akeem' Olajowon - returned to the stage (in the same-style tuxedo!) to surprise Stern and provide a fitting end to his draft era. Adam Silver took over the Second Round, and will be taking over the First Round from next year onwards. 30 years later, Stern will soon step off after a distinguished tenure as the Commish. And he ended his last draft night with excitement, unpredictable moments, and a whole lotta boos!

But the biggest news of the draft night wasn't connected to the 2013 draft at all. To add to the crazy, the Boston Celtics traded Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry to Brooklyn for Gerald Wallace, other players, and many future first round picks. It signaled another major shake-up in the Eastern Conference. And considering how the 2013 draft has panned out, don't be surprised if there are a lot more trades involving the effected teams between now and the start of the new season.

Congrats to the big winner of the night: Anthony Bennett. He couldn't have wished for a more memorable and entertaining night to join the big leagues.

You only have to hold your breath for one more year, as some of the NBA's worst teams join the #LosingForWiggins race and hope to make another Canadian the top pick in 2014.

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