NBA Draft: Five Surprises from the First Round

NEWARK, N.J. — Anthony Davis ambled up onto the stage at the Prudential Center in his crisp-billed Hornets cap and held his hand thigh high to shake David Stern’s. Davis smiled for the cameras for several seconds, then hopped down a different set of stairs an was done.

After that, a draft broke out.

And with the night’s only foregone conclusion all foregone and concluded in the first five minutes, the next 29 picks of the first round were sure to spawn some shockers.  They did not disappoint.

The five biggest from Thursday’s first round:

1. Dion Waiters To Cleveland

In 2003, the Cavaliers selected a local kid named LeBron James with the first overall pick.  After watching LeBron rip up the league en route to Rookie of the Year honors in his first season, Cleveland selected Oregon’s Luke Jackson with the 10th pick in 2004 to buddy up with Bron and shoulder some of the scoring load.

That one didn’t quite work out.

Nine years later, the Cavs have another top pick with a ROY trophy on his shelf in Kyrie Irving.  Filling Jackson’s shoes—which were hardly scuffed in just 46 uneventful contests with Cleveland over two years—will be Dion Waiters, the mercurial combo guard out of Syracuse who averaged 12.6 points as a sophomore.

The Cavs need Waiters to work out.

The problem is, he hasn’t. Worked out, that is.  Not for Cleveland, and not for anyone.  The Cavaliers didn’t interview him, nor did they give him a physical. Still, the Big East Sixth Man of the Year pole vaulted more polished, proven players like Kansas’ Thomas Robinson and North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, causing those in the Prudential Center—and certainly plenty of Ohioans—to raise a collective eyebrow.

Whatever Waiters is paying his agent, he should double the commission.

2. A Tradeless Lottery

Anthony Davis has had his unibrowed sights set on that top slot for months now.  But the second pick? The second pick was where it was supposed to get fun.

Whether you were Team Beal, Team MKG or Team T-Rob, you knew that come draft night, there was a decent chance the Bobcats wouldn’t own that pick anyway.  Coming off of the worst season in NBA history, it made more sense for Charlotte to trade down, perhaps landing an extra first rounder and/or a veteran in exchange for No. 2.

With the Bobcats linked most frequently to Thomas Robinson, their selection of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist came as a bit of a surprise, and led many to believe the first trade of the night had already been made behind closed doors.

It hadn’t.

In fact, there would not be a trade until 9:20 PM, nearly two hours after Stern got things cranked up with the Davis pick.  When that first swap actually happened, it left the lottery unscathed: Dallas shipped the 17th pick, UNC’s Tyler Zeller, to the Cavaliers in exchange for the 24th (Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham), 33rd (Florida State’s Bernard James) and 34th picks (Marquette’s Jae Crowder).

There was no mad dash from the Thunder or anyone else to grab Beal at two, no Rivers reunion in Boston. No Dwight, no Pau, no Lowry.  Just teams lining up in order and selecting players when the ping pong balls told them to.  Buzzkill, really.

3. Sam Presti Rescues Perry Jones III At 28

Wingspan. Upside. The draft has plenty (too much?) of both.  And while those two qualities are often balanced out by questions about a player’s consistency or his motor, many teams’ infatuation with the positives will cause them to sweep the negatives under the rug for a single evening in June.

At 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-plus wingspan, Baylor’s Perry Jones III has plenty of length and tons of potential.  But as the sophomore forward—who would have been a lock for the lottery at the very least had he entered last year’s draft—sat in the Prudential Center with his family, he watched as team after team passed on his freakish size and athleticism in favor of his peers.

The top 10 passed. No luck there. Then the lottery was through, and he still sat hatless.  When Boston took Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo—two players with medical and character red flags, respectively—folks started to wonder if it was possible for such an outstanding physical talent like PJIII to slip into the second round.

Then Stern approached to the podium to deliver the Thunder’s pick at 28, and Jones heard what he’d been waiting all night to hear: his name.

So yes, Jones has question marks.  Is he a three? A four?  Does he care enough to excel as either? Twenty-seven times, teams were too timid to find out.

But Sam Presti rarely makes mistakes this time of year, and at No. 28 he’s bagged another value pick in PJIII.  And so what if he doesn’t pan out?  Nobody in Oklahoma City is counting on the lanky tweener to do more than watch, learn and occasionally contribute for the time being.  Anything more: gravy.

Now, to go along with the good and the bad, Jones brings something else to the table: a large chip, resting directly on his shoulder.  If being repeatedly slighted on national television doesn’t bring his blood to a rolling boil, nothing will.

4. Miles Plumlee To Indiana

Playing four years and winning an NCAA Championship with Mike Krzyzewski at Duke University can add a little extra glow to anyone.  But lighting the way from the mid-to-late second round all the way to the Pacers pick at 26?

A little much, if you ask me. A lot much, in fact.

Plumlee is a legitimate seven footer, so there’s that.  Plus, he’s got touch around the rim and delivers enough athletically to make him an attractive prospect. Yet despite a college career’s worth of opportunities, the eldest Plumlee brother (his younger brothers Mason and Marshall are Blue Devils as well), Miles never assumed a starring role in Durham and only reached double figures in eight games as a senior.

The intensity is there, but only when he’s playing well; too often, he hangs back as things unfurl around him.  Now, that same thing can be and has been said about others in this draft such as Andre Drummond (who went to Detroit with the ninth pick) and Jones III, but those two have topflight talent to counteract those question marks.

Miles Plumlee simply does not.

A dozen players Indiana should have drafted over Plumlee: Marquis Teague, Arnett Moultrie, Will Barton, Kim English, Jae Crowder, Draymond Green, Doron Lamb, Jeff Taylor, Festus Ezeli, Darius Miller, Kostas Papanikolaou, Quincy Miller.

5. Zeller Falls, Draymond Stays Put

Too often on draft night, players are punished for production.  The closer you get to your ceiling, the less attractive you become.

A pair of All-Conference college seniors found that out the hard way on Thursday night.

Tyler Zeller, a seven-foot power forward out of North Carolina, was top five in both scoring (16.3) and rebounding (9.6) in the ACC, blocked 1.5 shots per game and knocked down 80 percent of his free throws as a senior.  Most thought he would be a Rocket if he were still around at 12; Houston picked again at 16, and there was no way he was making it past Daryl Morey a second time.


Wrong.  The Tar Heel was the last man sitting in the Green Room without a ball cap before the Dallas Mavericks  called him onto the stage with the 17th pick, rescuing him from ESPN’s cameras and a growing aura of general awkwardness.  And when Dallas finally did take him off the board, they turned right around and shipped him to Cleveland for the trio of picks (mentioned in number two). Rough night.

Undersized vertically and oversized horizontally, Michigan State’s Draymond Green never had hopes for the lottery, but the general feeling was that some team with a winning record and a pick in the 20s would make a move for do-it-all Day-Day.  That wasn’t the case, and he fell into Bob Myers’ lap at 35, a steal for Golden State.

The Big Ten Player of the Year did everything except for lose in four years with Tom Izzo, who had this to say about Green: “He’s done something that few guys I’ve coached did — get better each and every year.”

Sometimes, there’s an upside to not having an upside.

Nick Gibson, editor of, coveredthe NBA Draft for His columns appear weekly. Click here to follow him on Twitter.



  1. Mark Basa says

    I just don’t get how college 6th men get drafted in the first round… look at Marvin Williams in recent history, now Dion Waiters. I dont like it.

  2. john steppling says

    MAn, so wrong about Plumlee. First off he DOES have the athleticism……among the highest verticals ever for a guy over 6 10″…but maybe you werent paying attention. Second…what bird wanted in Indiana was a corrective to his perception of the team’s softness. He got just that. Not a sexy pick for fanboys….but a great basketball pick. To suggest the overrated Moultre (speaking of soft) was a better pick is just not correct….but typical. Indiana got another steal in the 2nd with orlando johnson. I do agree Zeller was hugely underrated — this guy can play, is fundementally sound….and has a high work ethic and energy level. Centers are hard to come by, and i was shocked he dropped so far. But again…..its all about hype…and Zell wasnt a media darling. Austin Rivers….the perfect example……he’s JR Smith…without tatts. Thats all he’s ever going to be. Will barton would have been better, honestly.

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