Wine and Gold Get Their Man
The only thing that would have been surprising about this year’s Cavaliers’ draft night would have been if there were no surprises.
Instead, GM Chris Grant did it again – (only this time three picks earlier) – stunning pundits and prognosticators by tabbing UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 Draft.
Bypassing bigs like Alex Len and Nerlens Noel, the Wine and Gold went with a player some scouts called the most NBA-ready player in this year’s Draft. An explosive, powerful athlete, Bennett spent one very productive season at UNLV where he averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 boards per contest. He ranked seventh in the Mountain West Conference in scoring, fifth in rebounding and fourth in blocked shots (1.2 bpg).
“He was one of those guys, when you walked out of the gym after you saw him play, you kind of went, ‘Wow!’” said Grant late Thursday night. “He does things that you just don’t see other people do. So he was always a guy who was highly in our mix throughout the entire season. And as we whittled our way through the process, we had some pretty awesome debates internally. Late last night, we had cut it down to a couple guys. And this morning it was pretty clear what we were going to do.”
"I'm just as surprised as everybody else,” said Bennett in a phone call from Brooklyn. “I didn't really have any idea who's going No. 1 or who's going No. 2. I heard everything was up for grabs. But I'm just really happy, glad that I have this opportunity, and I just got to thank God for everything."
At 6-8, Bennett was viewed as somewhat of a “tweener.” But the native Canadian boasts a wide wingspan and broad shoulders – willing to bang in the paint and able to step outside the arc. He’s been able to overpower smaller defenders and out-quick bigger ones. And he’ll be competing for minutes with his friend and fellow countryman, Tristan Thompson.
“Everybody says I’m undersized as a power forward – they said it in high school, they said it in college,” said Bennett in a phone call from Brooklyn. “But at the same time, I kinda did my thing in both of those seasons. I think I have a 7-1, 7-2 wingspan to help me out. I just don’t really pay attention to being a ‘tweener’ and all. I’m just a basketball player.”
With their second first-rounder, No. 19 overall, the Cavaliers selected 19-year-old Russian swingman Sergey Karasev.
The 6-7, 203-pound Karasev is the son of a coach, a versatile lefty who has already logged major minutes in a competitive European league. After being drafted, he got on a red-eye back to Russia to play in a game tomorrow night. Karasev is playing for the Russian National Team this summer but is expected to be ready for Training Camp this fall.
“(Karasev) has played at a very high level in Russia and really performed well,” said Grant. “He’s got to get stronger, like most young players. And initially, he’ll probably play more 2 than 3 depending on what the matchups are.”
“Cleveland needs shooters and I think I'm the guy who can shoot the ball,” said Karasev. “If I'm going to do the job over the year, I'm going to have a lot of minutes. I'm just going to keep working on me, try to help (the Cavs).”
In the second round, the Wine and Gold chose Cal’s Allen Crabbe, but before the round wrapped up, had traded his rights to the Portland Trail Blazers for a pair of future second-rounders.
At No. 33 overall, Cleveland picked guard Carrick Felix from Arizona State – a high-energy three-year player with a strong defensive skill-set.
The Cavaliers were making the top pick for the second time in three seasons. Two years ago, after selecting Kyrie Irving No. 1 overall, they tabbed power forward Tristan Thompson three picks later. On Thursday night, they went with another 4 from Ontario.
"I don't really talk to Tristan,” said Bennett. “If I see him in person, we'll take 20 minutes out of our day just to chat it up. But other than that, he's just a great guy. He seems real cool. (We’re) both from the same area. I'm going to be seeing him a lot, basically."
Bennett underwent surgery on his left shoulder, but plans to be ready by the time Camp rolls around.
“From a health standpoint, he should be ready around Training Camp based on where he is with the shoulder injury,” said Grant. “I’m looking forward to our staff getting ahold of him; with his athletic ability and skill-set, he’s got a chance to grow in a lot of different areas.”
“Right now, I’ve been doing rehab, lifting weights and getting my strength back, my mobility back,” explained Bennett.
If there was a knock on Bennett at UNLV, it was his defense. But he’s about to be coached by the defensive-minded Mike Brown, who he met last week in Northeast Ohio.
“When I went down to Cleveland to do my interviews, just meeting (Brown) was a real great experience,” recalled Bennett. “He’s a real cool guy. He just wants the best for me and he’s going to help me to get better.”
Chris Grant was eager to get his top pick back to Cleveland – this time as an official member of the Cavaliers.
“With his athleticism and his basketball IQ, his understanding of the game and his skill-set, he’s really got something to build upon,” said Grant. “With our staff that’s in place and our development staff, I’m excited for them to get their hands on him.”
When asked how it felt to be the top player picked, Bennett paused and replied, “You know, it’s great. You just have to thank God for it. Everybody says it’s a lot of pressure, but at the end of the day it’s just the game of basketball. You just have to go out there and play.”