NEW YORK — On a day of head-turning trades around the NBA, the Los Angeles Clippers made the obvious choice to start the draft.
The Clippers selected Blake Griffin with the No. 1 pick Thursday night, grabbing the only player considered a sure thing in a class full of question marks.
Griffin was the consensus college player of the year after leading the nation with 14.4 rebounds per game while averaging 22.7 points last season for Oklahoma. The Clippers said they would take the forward with the top pick just hours after they won the draft lottery last month, and never considered changing their minds.
"The fact is we're getting an incredible player, incredible person, an impeccable work ethic and a guy that we plan on having in L.A. for many years to come," Clippers coach Mike Dunleavy said. "He's going to be a great, exciting fit for our ballclub."
The draft followed a day of blockbusters in the NBA.
A deal that sent Shaquille O'Neal to play alongside LeBron James in Cleveland was completed earlier Thursday, and Eastern Conference champion Orlando acquired Vince Carter from the Nets in a swap completed shortly before the first pick was made.
San Antonio landed Richard Jefferson from Milwaukee on Tuesday, and more big names could be available this summer as teams are forced to slash payroll. The best way to improve quickly this year was through trades, because the draft was considered weaker than in recent years.
It lacked the star power of 2007, when Greg Oden and Kevin Durant battled it out for top pick honors, or when Derrick Rose beat out Michael Beasley last year.
There was no debate this time. Dunleavy announced the Clippers' intentions shortly after his team's surprising lottery win, and they began a marketing campaign featuring the forward the next day.
The Clippers are hoping Griffin turns out better than their last No. 1 overall pick. They opened the 1998 draft by taking center Michael Olowokandi, a bust who is out of the league.
"I'm not worried about what's happened in the past," Griffin said. "Just excited about the opportunity."
The Memphis Grizzlies then grabbed Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet, a dominant rebounder and shot blocker who doesn't have strong offensive skills.
After the two big men, the rest of the first round was expected to be dominated by point guards, with perhaps 10 or more expected to go in the top 30 picks.
The Minnesota Timberwolves took two of them with the fifth and sixth picks. They snapped up Spanish teenager Ricky Rubio at No. 5, a pick they acquired from Washington earlier this week, before going for Syracuse's Jonny Flynn with the next pick.
It was thought Rubio might go as high as No. 2, but that never worked out for Memphis. Instead the Grizzlies went with Thabeet, the 7-foot-3 native of Tanzania who switched from soccer to basketball just a few years ago and has rapidly developed his defensive skills, but still has work to go on the other end.
"I've been around great guys, coach Calhoun, the UConn program helped me out a lot," Thabeet said.
Oklahoma City took high-scoring Arizona State guard James Harden with the No. 3 pick and Sacramento followed by drafting Memphis freshman Tyreke Evans — who like Griffin was wearing a purple tie. So was Stephen Curry, the NCAA scoring leader from Davidson who went at No. 7 to Golden State.
Jordan Hill (New York), Demar DeRozan (Toronto) and Brandon Jennings (Milwaukee) rounded out the top 10, but Jennings missed his chance to don his Bucks hat and shake hands with commissioner David Stern. His agent, Bill Duffy, released a statement earlier Thursday saying he had advised Jennings and his family not to attend the draft and wait in the green room because he was unsure of his client's draft position.
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