Wiedmer: NBA draft a night of surprises

Wiedmer: NBA draft a night of surprises

June 28th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

2013 NBA Draft tile

2013 NBA Draft tile

When the 2012-13 college basketball season began, a lot of folks expected Kentucky freshman center Nerlens Noel and UCLA freshman wing Shabazz Muhammad to compete for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA draft.

When the season ended -- despite Noel being lost to a season-ending knee injury in mid-February -- conventional wisdom held that either Noel or Kansas redshirt freshman Ben McLemore would lock down the Cleveland Cavaliers' overall No. 1 selection.

Even as late as early Thursday evening, that belief held, though this draft seemed so unspectacular at the top that no one seemed to know if anyone would keep any pick, regardless of how early they obtained it.

So who did the Cavs pick? Nevada-Las Vegas freshman Anthony Bennett, whose chunky 261 pounds spread around a 6-foot-7 frame was apparently far less scary to Cleveland than Noel's surgically repaired knee.

No Runnin' Rebel has earned the top spot since Larry Johnson, and Bennett has a comparable game to the player many came to know as "Grandmama" for his television commercials.

Strong, athletic and with legitimate 3-point range, the Canadian native unquestionably will have a long NBA career. But is he a difference maker for a franchise that's been a train wreck since LeBron James' decision three years ago to bolt the Cavs for Miami?

"He can really stretch a defense," ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said a few seconds after retiring NBA commissioner David Stern announced Cleveland's pick.

"He's an excellent offensive rebounder."

Noel was a better than excellent shot blocker at Kentucky. He averaged more than five blocks for 40 minutes. Some believed he was a better shot blocker -- not player, but blocker -- than former UK star Anthony Davis, the No. 1 pick in last year's draft.

But Noel got hurt, and his downward tumble from No. 1 to No. 6 is yet another example of the danger of the one-and-done requirement. Had Noel gone to the NBA directly out of high school, he almost certainly would have been among the top four picks and maybe as high as No. 2.

Instead, not only was he on the board until New Orleans took him with the No. 6 overall pick, he was then reportedly traded to Philadelphia, a double dose of unexpected humility.

But the greatest dose of humility was reserved for all those recruiting experts who had to swallow hard when the Nos. 2 and 3 picks in the draft -- Indiana's Victor Oladipo to Orlando; Georgetown's Otto Porter to Washington -- weren't top 100 players coming out of high school.

If ever there was a concrete indictment of the AAU summer basketball system, this draft was it.

As for the draft itself, ESPN analyst Jalen Rose said that 35 percent of those drafted in either the first or second rounds since 2008 failed to make NBA rosters this past season. So much like its more celebrated NFL draft, it remains an inexact science.

Another possible example of the ills of AAU ball, eight of the first 19 players chosen were born outside the United States. It becomes a more international game every season.

And regarding at least one of those international players, long-suffering Atlanta fans better hope that Germany point guard product Dennis Schroeder is worth the No. 17 pick the Hawks used to select him.

In what almost certainly was the best line of draft night, ESPN's Rose watched the Hawks take University of Miami point guard Shane Larkin with the No. 18 pick, then swiftly noted, "The Hawks are trying to make up for taking Marvin Williams [in the 2005 draft] when they could have had either [point guard] Deron Williams or [point guard] Chris Paul."

Alas, Atlanta is expected to trade Larkin to Dallas, but the 6-2 Schroeder is being compared to Boston point guard Rajon Rondo, and if he's 80 percent the player Rondo is, the Hawks might have their best point man since Doc Rivers.

Or Atlanta being Atlanta, Larkin will become a nine-time NBA All-Star and Schroeder will return to Germany to be a sixth man in the European League.

One Georgian who appears certain to make it is former UGA Bulldog Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the 2013 SEC player of the year who went to the Detroit Pistons with the eighth overall pick.

The sophomore sharpshooter had the fastest time among wings in the three-quarter-court sprint at the draft combine, has NBA 3-point range and routinely found a way to get off his shot despite everybody in the gym knowing he was the Bulldogs' option 1, 2 and 3.

So even in a down year for the SEC after having the first three picks in last year's draft -- Davis, UK's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Florida's Bradley Beal -- the league had two of the first eight selections.

No conference did better among the first eight selections.

If that wasn't the biggest surprise of the night, it was certainly the most pleasant one for a league much better known for football.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.