NEW YORK — It was a surprising night from the beginning, from the moment Andrew Wiggins made the risky and attention-gathering decision to wear that sparkling suit jacket.
There was very little suspense to the No. 1 pick when agent Billy Duffy walked over to Wiggins’s table with both thumbs up moments before the Cavaliers selected the athletic swingman from Kansas.
Wiggins has taken his share of criticism since the Jayhawks were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament by Stanford (Wiggins scored just 6 points) but he has been projected as the No. 1 pick in this draft for the past two years, and those predictions were right.
“Good players will always be compared to each other, you know, but I never think of anything as a rivalry [with No. 2 pick Jabari Parker],” he said. “I think that’s what the media portrays it to be. On the court, doesn’t matter who I’m going against, I’m going to go hard. I’m going to go to win and kill. Off the court we can be friends, but on the court, it’s a different story.”
The Cavaliers seriously considered trading the top pick to the 76ers just minutes before the draft. Following Milwaukee’s selection of Duke’s Parker, the real fireworks began and that definitely involved the Celtics.
Sitting at home in Los Angeles was Joel Embiid, whom some projected to fall to the Celtics at No. 6. Embiid couldn’t attend the draft because of foot surgery and it was apparent that his representatives, which shared his medical records with the Celtics, wanted him in Boston.
Instead, he was taken third by the 76ers, the second time in as many years general manager Sam Hinkie selected a big man who is unhealthy. Last year he took a chance on Everett native Nerlens Noel. Embiid hardly looked thrilled to spend the next five years in the city of Brotherly Love.
The Celtics didn’t even come close to Embiid, and their next choice, Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, surprisingly was taken fourth by the Magic. The Celtics loved Gordon’s upside and athleticism but his stunning rise shook up the entire draft.
Another Danny Ainge target, Dante Exum, then went to the Jazz despite the presence of All-Rookie team point guard Trey Burke.
With unpredictable teams picking early, this is exactly the scenario Ainge and many other league executives feared. The 76ers didn’t have a pressing need at center with Noel, but took another one with Embiid.
The Cavaliers wanted to dump the pick but ended up making the best decision in Wiggins, who could turn out to become their best lottery pick since LeBron James. Parker was a cinch pick for the Bucks, but Hinkie once again drew jeers for his selection of European product Dario Saric, who will spend at least the next two years with his Turkish club, leaving the 76ers with two players unlikely to suit up next season.
The shakeups made the lottery quite interesting, with the Celtics discussing dropping to the eighth pick to allow Sacramento to move up. But Ainge decided to hold onto the pick to take Marcus Smart.
The biggest development was the sliding of Haverhill native Noah Vonleh, who was a projected top-five pick. His slide was so surprising the Hornets abandoned their plan to perhaps select Doug McDermott and tabbed Vonleh with the ninth pick.
The draft then became a series of teams attempting to move up and those accepting assets to move down. Since the draft was loaded with depth, the Celtics didn’t appear too concerned about their target — Kentucky swingman James Young — being available at 17.
Of course, there were missed targets. Zach LaVine was apparently promised at 13 by the Timberwolves and they lived up to that commitment, much to LaVine’s chagrin, who seemingly wanted to go to the Suns at 14. That allowed the Suns to take high-scoring swingman T.J. Warren from N.C. State, another potential Celtics target.
Still, this draft contained so much depth and talent the Celtics walked away with perhaps the best combination in the draft. But as the draft continues to get younger and more unpredictable, it’s difficult to determine winners and losers this early.
So much for this draft being compared with the class of 2003 with James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Carmelo Anthony, but this group will produce its share of gems and busts.
What is for sure is that some teams — such as the 76ers and Cavaliers — are being mismanaged or carry a confounding vision, and that’s what makes this evening exciting.