Behind the scenes at the 2013 NBA draft
NEW YORK -- The 2013 NBA draft was one of the most unpredictable in history, with a surprise No. 1 pick, several league-altering trades and any number of off-beat and memorable moments. SI.com's Luke Winn and Ben Glicksman were at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to provide a behind-the-scenes diary of the first round.
5:30 p.m. Welcome to the night where dreams come true. Or maybe I should rephrase that: The night where the dreams of guys who were born with exceptional genes come true. I spent my G train ride to Barclays Center reading the chapter of my colleague David Epstein's forthcoming book, The Sports Gene, that covers the premium of extreme height in the NBA. The data isn't pretty for the average dude. As Epstein writes:
For [an American man aged 20-40] between six feet and 6-foot-2-inches, the chance of his currently being in the NBA is five in a million. At 6-2 to 6-4, that increases to twenty in a million. For a man between 6-10 and seven feet tall, it rises to thirty-two thousand in a million, or 3.2 percent. ... [For men] who stand seven feet tall, a startling 17 percent of them are in the NBA right now. Find six honest seven-footers, and one will be in the NBA.
So when honest-to-God, 7-foot American Cody Zeller goes off the board, remember that his odds of making the NBA were roughly 34,000 times better than that of a guy who's 6-1. Then factor in that the former Indiana center has two older brothers in the NBA, which probably improves his odds to about 50,000 times better than a 6-1 guy's. Zeller put in work at IU, but great genes are what set him apart. -- Luke Winn
5:34 p.m.: Now that I've established the draft prospects' genetic superiority, here's a photo-montage reminder that in other ways, they're just like us. When they get off the bus in the bowels of Barclays, even they have to get wanded by security guards:
There are no beeps, no incidents. Later, in the Green Room, I hear C.J. McCollum, the cerebral combo guard out of Lehigh, say he "came strapped" ... but what he means is that he's carrying an iPhone charger. He's looking for an outlet and coming up empty. "I've got 30 percent and then I'm done," he says. -- L.W.
6:13 p.m.: The Green Room invitees are milling around. UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett looks nervous and uncertain of his fate. I ask what he expects to happen to him, pick-wise.
"Just me going top 10, hopefully," he says. -- Ben Glicksman
6:45 p.m.: Bill Self is in the Green Room to see Ben McLemore, who spent his whole first season at Kansas, in 2011-12, as a partial qualifier -- basically an anonymous practice player. Even though the St. Louis product wasn't on any 2013 draft boards back then, people in the KU camp were predicting he'd end up here. People with opinions that matter, such as former Pistons and Sixers coach Larry Brown, who was often around the Jayhawks' practices. Never mind that Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor were KU's stars at the time; Brown pointed at McLemore two years ago and told Self, "He's your best prospect."
Self will be back here next year, barring some crazy development that keeps projected 2014 No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins around for a sophomore season. Wiggins has not been able to show much yet at KU -- he's only been in Lawrence for a few weeks -- but Self calls him "a freak." -- L.W.
7:02 p.m.: The best thing about Steven Adams' draft outfit isn't his knit tie. It's his secret accessory: an inside-the-jacket, New Zealand flag patch.
(A side note: I know Kelly Olynyk doesn't come with the knit tie or the nifty flag patch, but I'm baffled that he ends up remaining on the board longer than Adams, who's not exactly skilled. Boston > OKC in the battle of the 7-foot late-lottery picks.) -- L.W.
7:20 p.m.: John Calipari is here, because John Calipari is always here. He insists that the draft matters more than how his team finishes in the NCAAs (or the NIT). "This," he says, "is the culmination of the season."
Calipari will have two more of his Kentucky players go in the first round this year, after four went last year, one in 2011 and five in 2010. He says that UK could have had four in 2013, arguing that Willie Cauley-Stein, had he come out, would've gone in the 10-15 range, and Alex Poythress, had he come out, would've gone from 20-30. "That means we had four first-rounders and we went to the NIT?" Calipari says. "How bad am I? I must be the worst coach in the world."
Tonight Cal is wishing for two things: That center Nerlens Noel goes in the top four, like every mock suggests, and that shooting guard Archie Goodwin goes between 27 and 30. One of those wishes will come true, but it's not the one most of us expect. -- L.W.
7:41 p.m.: The mind-blowing Anthony Bennett No. 1 pick happens. Mind-blowing even to Bennett, who is adamant that he had no idea it was happening until his name was called. (And I believe him, given his quote from 90 minutes earlier.)
I covered his first game at UNLV, on Nov. 12, mostly because I was in Vegas to "cover" an SI swimsuit shoot at Caesar's Palace the next day. Bennett was an intriguing prospect then, a guy who was on the one-and-done radar but not really in the No. 1 overall conversation. He had 22 points and seven boards in just 20 minutes of playing time that night against Northern Arizona, and what wowed me was the variety: He hit a three, plus hit righty and lefty baby hooks; he dunked ferociously; he scored on putbacks and hustle plays in transition. He also celebration-flexed incessantly -- like, on six different occasions.
Tonight, he does not flex on stage, or in the Green Room. This is somewhat disappointing. A put-back dunk in a blowout against Northern Arizona in November merits a flex, but being picked No. 1 overall doesn't? Maybe he didn't think it through. Maybe he was too much in shock, just like the rest of us. -- L.W.
7:47 p.m.: The Magic select Victor Oladipo, the 6-5, 214-pound guard out of Indiana. Oladipo pops out of his chair to salute the crowd before exchanging a celebratory handshake with Trey Burke and walking on stage to greet David Stern. Sadly, he is no longer wearing his Google Glass:
A day earlier, while surrounded by a circle of reporters at The Westin Hotel in Times Square, Oladipo was asked to describe his pre-draft jitters. He noted he was anxious, delivering a response that began typically but veered into the philosophical.
“I’m gonna be way more nervous than I am if I’m playing in a big game, ‘cause I don’t know where I’m going,” Oladipo said. “In the game, I know where I’m going. I’m going to the other team’s gym or some gym to play. I know what team I’m about to play. I’ve done scouting. I know who I’m about to guard. But this is a mystery, and there’s nothing like the unknown. The unknown can drive a man crazy.”
Now his destination is known, and it features a major rebuilding project: Orlando went an NBA-worst 20-62 last season. -- B.G.
7:52 p.m.: Stern trots back to the podium to reveal that the Wizards have picked Georgetown forward Otto Porter. Most mocks had Porter landing in Washington, so, unlike many subsequent selections, this announcement elicits little surprise.
About an hour before the draft, I caught up with Porter at his draft table. His parents flanked him to his right, and his younger brother Jeffrey sat to his left. While Otto spoke about expectations, Jeffrey provided a free, Wizards-approved scouting report on his older brother’s game.
“He’s able to shoot, dribble, pass, rebound,” Jeffrey said. “He makes everybody better.” -- B.G.
8:11 p.m.: A few minutes after Zeller and Alex Len come off the board with picks No. 4 and No. 5, respectively, Noel, who was widely expected to be a top-two pick, is snatched up by the Pelicans. Noel sits quietly for a beat before getting up to meet Stern. Soon, he realizes he’s poised to team with former Kentucky big Anthony Davis, and he promptly forecasts a New Orleans "block party".
The pairing doesn’t last long. Mere minutes after the selection -- and perhaps the first sign of an evening full of unexpected moves -- news breaks that Noel has reportedly been traded. The 76ers have acquired him and a 2014 first-round pick in a deal for point guard Jrue Holiday.
Unfortunately, Noel doesn’t fully grasp everything that has happened before his post-pick press conference, which he attends donning a Pelicans cap. This leads to the following exchange:
Q: What’s going through your mind now seeing that you might end up in Philadelphia?
A: I mean, it’s a great organization. They’ve got an All-Star point guard in Jrue Holiday. Definitely looking forward to it, if that’s a possibility.
Q: Nerlens, just wondering about the possible trade. Would you be comfortable playing there?
A: Yeah, definitely. They have a great organization like I said. All-Star point guard. Just a great group of guys. -- B.G.
8:30 p.m.: The Timberwolves pick Burke just moments after the Pistons passed on him in favor of Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Burke drifts across the stage, throws on a Wolves hat and prepares to conduct his post-pick interviews.
He’s quickly stopped. He’s also involved in a reported trade -- Burke is dealt to the Jazz in exchange for picks No. 14 (Shabazz Muhammad) and No. 21 (Gorgui Dieng) -- and is guided away from the interview room down a hallway opposite the action.
This is standard protocol for drafted-then-instantly-traded players (well, those not named Noel). Burke is holed up in a back room and will emerge roughly two hours later. -- B.G.
8:36 p.m.: The Trail Blazers take McCollum, Lehigh's 6-3 guard. It’s the second consecutive year that Portland has selected the top mid-major player on the board, and Damian Lillard -- the NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year -- immediately expresses his approval:
In his post-pick presser, McCollum touches on a series of crucial topics, from explaining why he switched from baseball to basketball -- “Baseball was my best sport growing up. But it was kind of boring” -- to dispelling any rumors that he is, in fact, Trey Burke. From an exchange with a very confused reporter:
Q: Trey, you are an NBA player now, and I’m sure your coaches gave you a lot of advice or words to encourage you or support you. Can you tell us which inspired you most?
A: I talked to coach. My name is C.J. McCollum.
McCollum was a journalism major in college and has said he wants to become a sportswriter or broadcaster once his playing days are over. About an hour before the draft, I asked what questions he would pose to top prospects if he were covering this event from the other side.
“Maybe I’d just ask [us] if [we] have any idea what we’re really getting ourselves into,” McCollum said. “I’ve talked to a lot of veterans of stuff, and you kind of get a better understanding of how hectic things are about to get. Tonight’s our last free night.” -- B.G.
8:44 p.m.: The Sixers scoop up Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams, new general manager Sam Hinkie’s chosen point guard of the future. On the heels of Philadelphia’s trade with New Orleans, Carter-Williams will be reunited with Noel, who Carter-Williams grew up with in Boston and originally tried to lure to 'Cuse.
Carter-Williams, understandably, is thrilled. “I’m really excited. Me and Nerlens grew up together,” he said. “We’re best friends. We played on the same AAU team in high school. It’s like a dream come true. We always talked about how we were both going to make it in the NBA. For us to end up on the same team is a blessing.” -- B.G.
8:51 p.m.: Adams, the 7-1 New Zealand native, is taken by the Thunder. Adams has been labeled as too raw to contribute immediately, but he’s already a master at dealing with the media. Take his following comments, for example:
• On the draft process: “For me, it’s gotta be fun. It’s gotta be serious, but you gotta have fun with it at the same time. That’s all I’m doing. There’s a time and a place for it. I think the time and place to have fun is all the time, to be honest with you.”
• On autograph-seekers: “There’s those weird guys -- not weird guys, but you know the dudes who run up to you and wave a pen in your face and are like ‘Sign fifty things.’ Whoa. All of them mob you. They’re like zombies. I saw them playing sword fights with the pens.”
• On being ready to handle the expectations in OKC: “Yeah. Yup. Yeah, I am. All I’m going to do is just be super supportive and help out in any way I can -- even if it’s just being on the bench or whatever like that, staying positive with the boys.”
Never change, Steven. -- B.G.
9:09 p.m.: The Bucks select Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 15, and he quickly waves a Grecian flag before making his way to meet Stern on stage. Antetokounmpo is a lanky 6-9 forward who boasts rare ball-handling ability for a big man, even drawing draftnik comparisons to a poor man’s Kevin Durant.
Upon settling in for his press conference, Antetokounmpo voices his feelings about being drafted and his preference to come straight to the NBA instead of staying overseas for another year. (“I think for sure I will stay in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks,” he says.)
A reporter then asks Antetokounmpo about the state of Greece’s economic crisis. Because what else would you ask an 18-year-old kid who has just fulfilled a lifelong dream? -- B.G.
9:22 p.m: Well, this is odd. UCLA's Muhammad, who was not invited to the Green Room, and was not seated in the players-who-still-wanted-to-show-up section of Barclays Center's stands, appears with an entourage on the concourse, makes his way down the arena steps and disappears backstage. (Muhammad was picked much earlier, at No. 14, and was not on stage to meet David Stern.)
When New Mexico's Tony Snell is taken at No. 20 by the Bulls, he's not in the building ... but Muhammad all of a sudden emerges from Stern's center-stage entryway, and shakes the commish's hand. So weird. So very Shabazz.
Later, I ask Shabazz if he was hiding somewhere in the building for the entire draft. He says no -- he was hiding out at a nearby Marriott, watching it on TV with his agent. Once he was picked at a satisfactory spot in the first round, as opposed to say, sliding into the 20s, he decided to roll over to Barclays. -- L.W.
9:25 p.m.: The run of international players continues. The Mavs land Brazilian center Lucas Nogueira in a sign-and-trade with the Celtics (for Olynyk), then send him to Atlanta; the Hawks select German point guard Dennis Schroeder a pick later. Nogueira’s hair is nothing short of amazing. -- B.G.
10:02 p.m.: Duke's Mason Plumlee goes at No. 22, to the Nets. That's four picks ahead of where his brother, Miles, was taken by the Pacers in the 2012 draft. Miles is so impressed by this that he stops on the concourse to take a cell-phone photo of a flat-screen television, on which Mason is getting interviewed by ESPN:
For the past few seasons at Duke, Mason had the pleasure of getting banged around by his brothers in practice (Marshall, now a redshirt sophomore at Duke, is also in that photo). Now Mason will have the immense pleasure of dealing with Kevin Garnett in practice. From brotherly love to KG: That is going to be quite the transition. -- L.W.
10:05 p.m.: Near the Plumlees on the concourse is the most famous father at the draft: Barry Larkin. The Hall of Fame shortstop is holding court with an entourage that includes family members and Miami assistant coach Michael Huger, who helped develop Barry's son, Shane, into a first-round-worthy point guard. In 1985, Barry was the No. 4 overall pick in the MLB draft, taken by the Reds out of high school, but there was neither pomp nor suspense to that situation. "I just remember sitting at home, and we kind of knew where I was going to get drafted," he says. "In baseball, there are more 'hypothetical talks' about where you're going to go."
On this night, Shane had no idea where he would go. The Mavericks nabbed him with the No. 18 pick, and he was the final point guard selected in the first round. After being drafted in '85, Barry had to head to Double-A Burlington (Vt.) to prove himself. Shane gets to go straight to Dallas, presumably to compete with Darren Collison for the starting point-guard gig. The U of Miami was Shane's minor leagues. -- L.W.
10:20 p.m.: After bumping into Bennett in a walkway, I ask him if being drafted No. 1 overall has fully set in yet. “Not really,” Bennett says. “I feel like when I go and fly out to Cleveland, it’s gonna kind of hit me.” -- B.G.
10:42 p.m.: Following the selections of several players who mostly aren’t in attendance, Stern formally announces the Jazz-Timberwolves trade that sent Burke to Utah. With the deal now official, Burke meanders to the interview room, narrowly avoiding an ill-advised detour into the media dining area.
Still sorting through his thoughts, Burke weighs in on his draft night experience. “Well, it was kind of a shocker that the Timberwolves selected me,” he says. “So I was kind of thrown off a little bit. I was happy at the same time. I was excited. Once I found out I was getting traded, it was kind of like, 'What do I do?' ... Now that it’s confirmed, I’m happy to be in Utah.”
A day earlier, Oladipo praised Burke's NBA potential. "It’s tough guarding those types of players who are good, have a high basketball IQ and then have the opportunity to do pretty much whatever they want," said Oladipo of Burke. “[Trey is] gonna be a great pro. He’s very solid and he loves competing.”
10:48 p.m.: Stern announces the final pick of the first round -- and the final pick of his tenure as the NBA’s commissioner -- with the Suns’ selection of Nemanja Nedovic. He, for the first time all night, receives an outpouring of cheers -- and he's greeted by an unexpected guest. -- B.G.
10:52 p.m.: And then this happens, trumping everything: