Thursday’s NBA Draft was a rarity — a mystery. No one knew ahead of time who would be the No. 1 pick, unlike years past. Many thought the Cleveland Cavaliers would go for a big man (Nerlens Noel of Kentucky or Alex Len of Maryland).
Instead, they pulled a shocker and took UNLV forward Anthony Bennett.
Bennett (6-foot-7, 240 pounds) averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game in 2012-13 for the Runnin’ Rebels, his only season with the team. He scored 25 points and had six rebounds in a 77-72 loss at Boise State on Feb. 2, and had 11 points and eight rebounds on March 5 in a 68-64 win at home over the Broncos.
“I’m just as surprised as everyone else,” Bennett said on ESPN after he was selected.
ESPN.com’s Chad Ford pegged Bennett as the eighth overall pick in his final mock draft, posted Thursday afternoon.
Bennett had shoulder surgery in early May, but expects to be ready for the start of training camp.
He started 32 of 35 games last season, and has proven to be a strong presence inside and outside — he shot 53.3 percent from the field, including 37.5 percent from 3-point range (36-of-96). Bennett came off the bench in the Rebels’ win over Boise State in March, a game in which he also had four blocks. Scouts have questioned his defense, and the fact he is a tad small to play power forward, but his athleticism should allow him to improve as a defender, regardless of position.
Bennett led a record four Mountain West draftees Thursday night.
Another Mountain West standout, New Mexico guard Tony Snell, also went in the first round, No. 20 overall, to the Chicago Bulls.
Snell, an extremely athletic 6-foot-7, 200-pounder, averaged 12.5 points per game last season. He had a game-high 22 points in an overtime win at Boise State on Jan. 16, and 12 points Feb. 16 in a 10-point win over the Broncos in Albuquerque. A lanky guy, Snell didn’t get inside much, averaging 2.6 rebounds per game and 2.9 free-throw attempts per game on a team that thrived on getting to the line. If Snell can bulk up a bit and get to the rim better, he can be a real nice piece for a solid Chicago team.
The 2011-12 Mountain West player of the year, San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin, went 41st overall (second round) to the Memphis Grizzlies. Franklin led the Aztecs in 2012-13 as a junior in points (17.0 per game), rebounds (9.5 per game), assists (109) and steals (53). Franklin is not seen as a strong jump shooter (28 percent on 3-pointers), but his defense abilities and his versatility could be a steal for the Grizzlies. The last time a guy did a lot of things well for the Aztecs and fell a little bit in the draft was Kawhi Leonard, a rising star for the Spurs. In three games last season against Boise State, Leonard had 16.0 points per game and 9.7 rebounds per game.
At No. 53 overall (second round), Indiana dealt its pick to the Boston Celtics, who took Colorado State center Colton Iverson. The 7-footer, who transferred to the Rams from Minnesota and played one season, had a mixed bag of results against Boise State. He had nine points and nine rebounds in a 20-point win Jan. 30 in Fort Collins, and he had 12 points and eight rebounds in Boise State’s 78-65 win March 2 in Boise — but he had zero points and three rebounds in the second half. His build, high shooting percentage (59.6 percent) and rebounding (9.8 per game) will give him a good shot at sticking around the league for a while.
Mountain West NBA first-rounders
2003 — 13. Marcus Banks, UNLV (Memphis, rights traded to Boston)
2004 — 8. Rafael Araujo, BYU (Toronto)
2005 — 1. Andrew Bogut, Utah (Milwaukee); 17. Danny Granger, New Mexico (Indiana)
2007 — 20. Jason Smith, Colorado State (Miami, rights traded to Philadelphia)
2008 — 30. J.R. Giddens, New Mexico (Boston)
2011 — 10. Jimmer Fredette, BYU (Milwaukee, rights traded to Sacramento); 15. Kawhi Leonard, San Diego State (Indiana, rights traded to San Antonio)
2013 — 1. Anthony Bennett, UNLV (Cleveland); 20. Tony Snell, New Mexico (Chicago)
2000 — 40. Hanno Mottola, Utah (Atlanta)
2002 — 57. Randy Holcomb, San Diego State (San Antonio, rights tradd to Philadelphia)
2003 — 37. Travis Hansen, BYU (Atlanta)
2008 — 46. Trent Plaisted, BYU (Seattle, rights traded to Detroit)
2010 — 37. Darington Hobson, New Mexico (Milwaukee)
2013 — 41. Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State (Memphis); 53. Colton Iverson, Colorado State (Boston)
After Bennett was taken, Boise State senior guard Jeff Elorriaga posted this pretty funny tweet: