NEW YORK— Anthony Bennett became the first Canadian to be the No. 1 pick and Nerlens Noel tumbled out of the top five in a surprising start to Thursday’s NBA draft.
The Cleveland Cavaliers passed on Noel and Alex Len, who went to Phoenix at No. 5, in favor of the Bennett, a University of Nevada Las Vegas forward who has starred for Canada’s junior national teams and was the Mountain West Conference player of the year.
There was suspense right until the end, either because the Cavs were unsure who they wanted or were trying to trade the pick. Most predictions had them taking one of the big men, with Noel largely considered the favorite for the No. 1 choice even after a torn knee ligament that ended his lone college season at Kentucky in February.
David Stern, booed heavily in his final draft as commissioner, added to the surprise of the moment by pausing slightly before announcing the Cavs’ pick, their first at No. 1 since taking All-Star Kyrie Irving in 2011.
“I’m just as surprised as anyone else,” Bennett said.
Orlando passed on both of the big men, too, going with Indiana swingman Victor Oladipo with the No. 2 pick. Washington took Otto Porter Jr. with the third pick, keeping the Georgetown star in the D.C. area.
Ten years after the Cavaliers selected LeBron James to start a draft that would include his future NBA championship teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the top five, this one lacked star power and perhaps even the promise of stardom.
Bennett, Noel and Len are all coming off injuries and couldn’t even work out for teams, but the Cavs decided Bennett’s shoulder surgery wasn’t enough cause for concern.
Len walked up to meet Stern and collect his orange Phoenix Suns hat, then sat down near the stage to put on the walking boot he needs for the stress fracture of his left ankle that was discovered after Maryland’s season.
Noel finally went to New Orleans with the next pick, joining last year’s No. 1, Anthony Davis, and giving the Pelicans two terrific defensive players from Kentucky.
He didn’t seem upset at his fall down the draft board, hugging his mother and shaking hands with Wildcats coach John Calipari.
It was a good start to the night for the Hoosiers, with Cody Zeller going two places after Oladipo to the Charlotte Bobcats.
Kansas guard Ben McLemore, another player who was considered a potential top-three pick, also dropped, going seventh to Sacramento.
Hosting the draft at Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets made the biggest news. A person with knowledge of the talks confirmed a Yahoo Sports report that the Nets and Celtics were working on a trade that would bring Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn.
ESPN reported earlier Thursday that Dwight Howard was unlikely to return to the Los Angeles Lakers when he becomes a free agent next month.
National player of the year Trey Burke of Michigan went ninth, and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum rounded out the top 10 by going to Portland.