Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant has a history of draft-day surprises.
On Thursday, he pulled off his biggest stunner yet.
Pushing the drama until the last minute, the Cavaliers shocked experts and their fans by selecting UNLV forward Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
It was the third straight year the Cavs went outside the box in the first round. Two years ago, they took forward Tristan Thompson with the fourth pick — after taking guard Kyrie Irving first — and selected guard Dion Waiters in the same spot a year ago.
With speculation centered on them taking either Kentucky center Nerlens Noel or Maryland’s Alex Len, the Cavs nabbed the 6-foot-8, 240-pound Bennett, who averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in one season at UNLV.
Sitting at a table with family members in New York, Bennett was caught off guard when commissioner David Stern called his name.
“I’m just as surprised as everybody else,” Bennett said. “I didn’t really have any idea who was going No. 1 or who was going No. 2. I heard everything was up for grabs. But I’m just real happy, glad that I have this opportunity.”
Bennett, the first Canadian player taken with the top pick, was considered a longshot to land with Cleveland, and was rarely mentioned as a possibility in the days leading up to the draft.
The Cavs had been listening to trade offers for the pick since winning the lottery on May 21, and seemed intent on dealing it. But unable to find a partner, Cleveland passed on Noel and Len, who are both recovering from injuries, for Bennett.
He, too, is rehabbing after undergoing surgery on a torn left rotator cuff in his shoulder. But the injury didn’t scare off the Cavs, who are determined to get back to the playoffs after losing 58 games last season and firing coach Byron Scott.
Bennett said he’s lifting weights and should be able to play by August. He also dismissed reports that his weight has ballooned by over 25 pounds while he’s been recovering. He said he’s gained about 15.
“It wasn’t a high, crazy number,” he said.
In the second round, the Cavaliers selected 19-year-old Russian swingman Sergey Karasev with 19th pick. The Cavs had targeted Karasev for some time and were thrilled to get the 6-foot-7 Karasev, who played on the Russian national team at the London Olympics last summer.
The Cavs addressed their backcourt depth in the second round, selecting a pair of Pac-12 guards: California’s Allen Crabbe and Arizona State’s Carrick Felix.
Crabbe was taken with the No. 31 overall pick, but the Cavs intend to trade him to Portland for two future second-round picks. Two picks later, the Cavs grabbed the 6-foot-6 Felix, who averaged 14.8 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds for the Sun Devils. However, Felix’s strong suit is his defense.
The Cavs have had great success with No. 1 picks. Bennett joins Austin Carr (1971), Brad Daugherty (1986), LeBron James (2003) and Irving (11) as players taken by Cleveland first overall — an impressive roll call.