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Clippers take Griffin with No. 1 pick in NBA draft

THE Los Angeles Clippers selected Blake Griffin with the No. 1 pick yesterday, grabbing the only player considered a sure thing in an NBA draft full of question marks.

Griffin was the consensus US college player of the year after leading the nation with 14.4 rebounds per game while averaging 22.7 points last season for University of Oklahoma. The Clippers said they would take the forward with the pick hours after they won the draft lottery last month.

The draft followed a day of blockbuster trades in the NBA.

A deal that sent Shaquille O'Neal to play alongside LeBron James in Cleveland was completed earlier yesterday, and Eastern Conference champion Orlando acquired Vince Carter from New Jersey. 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.

With the No. 2 pick, the Memphis Grizzlies grabbed University of Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet from Tanzania, 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 this week, before going for Syracuse University'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 7-foot-3 (2.21-meter) Thabeet, who switched from football 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 University guard James Harden with the No. 3 pick and Sacramento followed by drafting University of Memphis rookie Tyreke Evans. Stephen Curry, the US college scoring leader from Davidson College who went at No. 7 to Golden State.

Jordan Hill (New York), Demar DeRozan (Toronto) and Brandon Jennings (Milwaukee) rounded out the top 10.


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