For the second time in as many years, the first pick of the NBA draft comes from north of the border. The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Kansas forward Andrew Wiggins with the top selection Thursday night, ending more than two weeks of rampant speculation about their direction.
Winning the lottery for the second straight season, for much of the draft process, it looked like Cleveland had settled on Kansas center Joel Embiid. But a navicular bone fracture found during Embiid's individual workout in Cleveland opened the door for Wiggins to swoop in.
The 6'8" swingman averaged 17.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game on 44.8 percent shooting during his only collegiate season. Because of Embiid's onerous injury history, most scouting services bumped Wiggins up to the top overall selection. He's also a natural fit in Cleveland as someone whose best initial contributions will be on the defensive end.
With Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters already in the fold as ball-needy, offense-first players, Wiggins' ability to blend in is a positive in Cleveland—not a detriment. Matt Moore of CBS Sports noted the fit of the three players when giving the Wiggins selection a positive grade:
Wiggins also wasted no time ingratiating himself to the city of Cleveland. With LeBron James exercising his early-termination option to become a free agent, the latest cycle of will-he-or-won't-he-return has officially commenced. The Cavs are a considerable long shot for the four-time league MVP, but Wiggins likely brought a smile to the Greater Ohio area with this quote, per Michael Lee of the Washington Post:
Longtime NBA writer Chris Palmer also hearkened the LeBron situation—although he was instead drawing an analogy to when James and fellow 2014 free agent Carmelo Anthony were drafted 11 years ago:
The Parker of whom Palmer speaks is of course Jabari Parker, who went No. 2 to the Milwaukee Bucks. Parker and the Bucks have been linked throughout the process. New owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens were looking for an instant-impact player they could sell to fans, someone who can mesh long-term with Giannis Antetokounmpo.
They get just that in Parker. He's the most talented scorer in this draft and will be an instant Rookie of the Year candidate. Defense is a bit of an issue, but his ability to swing back and forth between the 3 and 4 will make him a dangerous offensive talent.
ESPN's Jeff Goodman was near the Milwaukee owners as they celebrated Parker falling to No. 2:
One reason the Bucks might have been so happy? Loyalty. Parker is known in this class as being among the most honest and open young prospects you can meet. Lee provided another quote that should bring a smile to the entire state of Wisconsin:
The Philadelphia 76ers took a deep breath and plunged into the unknown injury waters to take Embiid. General manager Sam Hinkie pulled a similar move last season, trading with the New Orleans Pelicans for Nerlens Noel despite knowing he'd miss much of the season due to an ACL surgery. There is no concrete timetable for Embiid's return, but it's safe to say Philly was making this pick much more on future speculation than immediate impact.
Jake Pavorsky of Liberty Ballers offered some medical insight from the Sixers' perspective:
Because of his recent surgery, Embiid was forced to stay in Los Angeles and watch the draft on television. ESPN brought a camera crew to gauge his reaction and talk to him after the pick. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology—or, perhaps because it's not quite as advanced as we thought—Embiid provided fans with the first laugh-out-loud moment Thursday night.
Lost Lettermen captured the Vine of the seven-footer, who appeared despondent as his name was being called by Adam Silver:
It turned out the delayed reaction was caused by—you guessed it—a delay in the satellite feed. Embiid took to Twitter to reveal his true reaction when his name was called:
The rest of the top seven largely held to form. Aaron Gordon came off the board to the Magic, Dante Exum to the Jazz, Marcus Smart to the Celtics and Julius Randle to the Lakers. While some had the order of their selection a little different, these were players who seemed like strong fits within this general area of the draft.
Kobe Bryant, whose patience for the slow development of rookies is typically minimal, sent out a congratulatory message to Randle:
The Kentucky big man made a little bit of news on his own, passing along a stern warning on the telecasts to teams that allowed him to drop:
The first mild surprise of the evening came at No. 8. With Noah Vonleh, who was the best natural power forward in the draft to some, on the board, Sacramento seemed like a natural fit. His length next to DeMarcus Cousins could have potentially given the Kings the league's most promising frontcourt.
Sacramento went with Michigan sharpshooter Nik Stauskas instead. Considering the team just drafted a shooting guard in Ben McLemore a year ago, some were confused by the pick. Jonathan Santiago of Cowbell Kingdom passed along a tidbit from head coach Mike Malone that should assuage those concerns:
While Charlotte ended Vonleh's precipitous fall at No. 9, the anarchy of draft night began to take hold starting with pick No. 10.
When Silver stepped to the podium and said the Sixers were selecting Elfrid Payton, most were confused. Payton is a big, defense-first guard who needs the ball in his hands to be effective. He and Michael Carter-Williams represent a huge overlap from a skill standpoint.
Two picks later, it all made sense. Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the details of the trade that sent Payton's rights to the Magic in exchange for No. 12 pick Dario Saric and future draft considerations:
The trade, while helping make sense of the Payton selection, also ensures neither Sixers first-round pick will be available opening night. Saric has at least a two-year commitment to Anadolu Efes, and it'd be unrealistic to expect Embiid's foot to be healed by then. After a lost 2013-14 campaign, the Sixers again seem satisfied being one of the worst teams in basketball.
Twitter, in typical fashion, had quite the variety of opinions:
The lottery's second big trade didn't engender the same level of confusion, but did involve college basketball's National Player of the Year. With the No. 11 pick, the Denver Nuggets selected Creighton forward Doug McDermott and subsequently shipped him to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for the Nos. 16 and 19 picks.
Denver, via Chicago, selected Bosnian center Jusuf Nurkic and Michigan State guard Gary Harris. Harris' drop in particular was one that left many in Brooklyn shocked. Considered by most to be a lottery pick—even a potential top-10 guy—Harris kept falling through the cracks until the Nuggets pounced. Jovan Buha of Fox Sports was already looking a half-decade down the line and grading the deal in Denver's favor:
Of course, it wouldn't be a draft night without someone providing a dissenting opinion. McDermott can instantly step into a position of need in the Windy City and provide the elite three-point range that's been missing for years on this roster. There are questions about McDermott's defensive acumen, but if anyone can coax above-average production out of him, it's Tom Thibodeau.
Nick Friedell of ESPN reported McDermott was Chicago's target all along:
Sandwiched between the Chicago-Denver madness was unquestionably the most special moment of the draft. Baylor forward Isaiah Austin recently withdrew his name from consideration Thursday night after genetic testing revealed he had Marfan syndrome, a disease that weakens the connective tissue in the body. Doctors determined it was too risky for him to continue his dream.
Wanting to give Austin a chance for his moment in the sun—he was projected as a second-round pick—the NBA devised a special plan before the No. 16 pick. Silver stepped to the podium, selected Austin on behalf of the NBA and allowed him to walk across the stage in a moment that left not one dry eye in the Barclays Center.
A sample of the reaction:
In typical NBA draft fashion, we didn't have to wait much longer for the next moment that will have hoops fans buzzing in the coming days. At No. 20, with the likes of Shabazz Napier and Rodney Hood still on the board, the Toronto Raptors seemingly had an opportunity to strike with a collegiate veteran who can step in right away.
The Raptors instead went with a guy who ESPN's Fran Fraschilla said was "two years away from being two years away" on the broadcast. In a move that left most jaws agape, Toronto went with Brazilian forward Bruno Caboclo over the instant-impact stars. Caboclo won't turn 19 until mid-September and has immense potential as a scoring threat, but he is the very definition of raw.
Most pundits expected him to be a second-round choice—if he were even drafted at all. When he came off the board here, no one quite knew what to make of it at first. The Score highlighted what was likely going on in living rooms at the moment:
The Raptors, perhaps knowing the reaction they were going to get, were prepared with a draft profile ready for the media:
Danny Chau of Grantland, a noted proponent of international talent, also seemed more bullish than the general population:
For what it's worth, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri has earned the benefit of the doubt. His midseason Rudy Gay trade turned around an entire franchise that was seemingly pushing to tank and hit the lottery. Factoring in the myriad smart moves he made in Denver before, Ujiri's track record speaks well to this pick. Toronto also has one of the best—if not the best—international scouting departments in basketball.
That said, Twitter is the world's greatest hub for snark, not nuance:
And even though the Raptors passed on them, not all was lost for Hood and Napier. Hood came off the board a few picks later to the Utah Jazz at No. 23, where he should provide an instant spark and long-range shooting.
Napier, meanwhile, was selected at No. 24 by the Hornets and was a member of the franchise for roughly eight seconds before a LeBron James-level ripple helped alter his path. The Final Four Most Outstanding Player was sent to the Miami Heat in exchange for the No. 26 selection and two second-round draft choices, per Brian Windhorst of ESPN.
Napier, of course, has had an admirer in James. The four-time league MVP shouted the former UConn star out during the Huskies' championship run, and there was a groundswell of information in recent days linking him to South Beach. James might have tipped his free-agency hand a bit in expressing excitement about the trade:
Scott Cacciola of the New York Times wondered whether James should start wielding his power as a free agent for things other than basketball purposes:
Taking a point guard with their first-round selection is a pretty glaring sign that Mario Chalmers' days in Miami are probably through. Chalmers is a free agent this summer, and he struggled so mightily in the NBA Finals that Erik Spoelstra went without a point guard in his starting lineup in Game 5. Blake Murphy of The Score cracked a joke about Chalmers giving himself one last verbal assault before leaving South Beach:
Post-Napier, the remainder of the first round largely held to form. The Houston Rockets selected Swiss forward-center Clint Capela with designs of keeping him overseas at No. 25, as did the Suns with Bogdan Bogdanovic at No. 27. The Clippers added yet another wing shooter for Chris Paul on the outside with C.J. Wilcox at No. 28.
The biggest reaction of the bottom five belonged to—who else—the San Antonio Spurs. A team that cultivates unique talent and finds ways to emphasize their growth and hide their weaknesses, the Spurs have long been a home for players no one else can figure out. When it comes to unique talents in this draft, no one stands out more than UCLA's Kyle Anderson.
When San Antonio pulled him off the board at No. 30, the sound you heard was a collective gasp around the league. Longtime NBA writer Mark Heisler likened Anderson to a younger Boris Diaw:
Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated echoed the same point:
The resounding reaction was one of understanding that if Anderson is going to reach his potential, the best place for him is San Antonio. Gregg Popovich's love for whirring ball movement and unselfishness on the perimeter fits Anderson's game perfectly, and he may be Diaw's replacement if the Frenchman leaves in free agency.
It just goes to show: Even when the final whistle sounds, the Spurs stay winning.
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