April 24, 2014

Whither Anthony Bennett

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers-Press ConferenceThere’s pressing and there’s being overwhelmed in every conceivable fashion, the outside world moving by you at warp speed, untouchable yet suffocating. Four games in to his NBA career and it can reasonably be said that Anthony Bennett, the first-overall selection in the most recent edition of the NBA Draft, is trending toward the second segment of frustrated individuals. Four games in to his NBA career and Bennett, an athletic power forward who appeared primed to fill in the gaps as needed, has yet to convert a field goal, now possessing an 0-for-15 mark. What appeared to be confident shots which merely did not fall through the orange cylinder during the team’s Opening Night win over the Brooklyn Nets have turned into desperate attempts to simply turn that goose egg into a “1.”

Bennett is undeniably an athletic freak despite his visible size; his running and leaping ability are well above average for a power forward, his ability to pull down rebounds over larger individuals is already well-documented. Where the disconnect lies is in the UNLV product settling for jump shots, many of which are three-point field goals, rather than taking slower opponents off of the dribble or using his Big Daddy Canada frame underneath the rim. He took three shots in Monday night’s win over the Timberwolves; two of them were three-pointers, one of which was a desperation shot as the shot clock neared zeros that completely missed everything that resembled the opponent’s basket. Media members have already referred to Bennett as “lost”. Some fans on Twitter have started to grow antsy. Elias Sports Bureau is already forming a case study, pegging Bennett as the only No. 1 pick to not have at least 10 points after his first three games in the Association.

“I just feel like there’s a lid on the basket,” Bennett said this past weekend. “Three games and no shots went in, but I just have to keep working.”

What isn’t mentioned in any the statistical blurbs is that the Cavaliers’ first-overall selection hasn’t been asked to do much, if anything at all. Certainly, Bennett possessing confidence of his own would instill some in fans. Sure, the headlines and highlight reels would be a lot more fun to write and watch if the No. 1 pick was treated like many before him, immediately inserted into the starting lineup where he can be a focal point of the team’s offense, watching his usage rate and counting stats tick up with each passing minute. And this may have been the reason why many fans and media pundits scratched their heads—or let out an audible WHOA—when Bennett’s name was called. The Cleveland Cavaliers, despite coming off of a season where they were among the worst in the league, do not need Anthony Bennett to be successful through his first four NBA contests. They do not need the No. 1 pick to have his name announced among the starting five, logging crucial minutes as a high-powered Western Conference squad comes back from 23 points down. They do not need the 20-year-old Canadian to body up with All-World power forward Kevin Love in what is still his NBA baptism.

Anthony Bennett is a luxury. Would it be more of a feel-good story if said luxury showed flashes of greatness in his limited playing time? Undoubtedly. But the downside in the fact that Bennett has yet to convert on a field goal as a member of the Wine and Gold is nil. The Cavaliers are 2-2 and sustained one of their losses against a very, very good team in the Indiana Pacers. Would the loss against the Charlotte Bobcats had a different outcome in the event Bennett came out of the gates as a 20 and 10 type? Possibly. But in a period where Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown would be willing to sacrifice Monday night’s game if it led to a learning experience, Bennett’s statistical production is buried on the list of priorities for a team that has its sights set on playing more than 82 basketball games this season.

Following the team’s win against Minnesota, it was mentioned that the team could consider shutting Bennett down for a bit, allowing him to collect himself and regain the swagger and attitude that allowed him to provide highlights of the most powerful forms a season ago. Bennett himself, despite the majority of fans showing their support and adulation for the No. 1 pick, tweeted that he was going “ghost” for a while, new-age slang for staying under the radar—off the grid, if you will. After watching how much the Cavaliers struggled against a solid post team like the Pacers, Bennett getting his mind right (which is safe to assume is the issue given his grid fleeing) is imperative. But to demand a re-do of the NBA Draft, to declare Bennett a “bust” after one week of NBA play would be foolish.

“Everybody is saying [to] keep my head up,” Bennett said on Saturday. “First year in the league, it’s going to be difficult. My teammates are also telling me to keep my head up. It’s frustrating at times, but you just have to get the mental part down. I’ve got 79 games to go.”

Seventy-eight, but the point remains. There will come a point, whether it is this Wednesday in Milwaukee or against Philadelphia on Friday or Saturday, that Bennett, if given the playing time, will score. It may be a put-back lay-in, it may be a jump shot, or—if it has to be—possibly a three-pointer. At some point, Bennett will see a tally in the box score under “FGM” and the monkey will be lifted off of his back. It will be at this point where the first-overall draft pick can set his focuses on growing, on learning and on becoming the player the Cavaliers believe they will have in the next year or so—an aggressive, physically dominant power forward who is, to borrow a phrase, “one of the guys, when you walked out of the gym after you saw him play, it was, ‘Wow.’”

It’s not a matter of if. It’s just a matter of when.

Photo: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

  • Ben Frambaugh

    He had a stretch where he was playing very well. I should have clarified that. I believe it was the month of February where he was Rookie of the Month.

    There is no guarantee that we do/don’t get the #1 this year anyways. That could have happened if we were the 12th worst team instead of the worst.

  • Harv 21

    makes me wish I read this comment thread yesterday

  • Vindictive_Pat

    The Big Eh? (said like Big A)

  • stryker1121

    There’s no bigger slog in pro sports than the NBA regular season, and I include MLB in that estimation. AB will get his and then we can quit with the hand-wringing. Bennett just needs to let off some steam (Points if you get that reference).

  • The_Matt_Of_Akron

    The Truck that’s Canuck (alternately The Canuck Truck)
    The Polite Knight
    The Poutine Machine

  • Phil

    I’m sorry but that’s patently absurd, or at least your phrasing of selecting a reserve player is, but no one goes into the draft with the #1 pick looking for someone to be a nice reserve player. Grant has been unorthodox with his last three first round picks, and while their careers are still very young, it doesn’t look like he was out-foxing the league with the Thompson and Waiters picks.
    Secondly, if you’re going to go off the board with the pick and draft a player who is projected to go lower, why not trade down and get another asset?

  • mgbode

    honestly, all that matters is making good choices. with the benefit of hindsight, let’s look back at these drafts.

    2011 Draft

    (1) Irving – noone below compares. good pick especially given that the only other consensus candidate was Derrick Williams.

    (4) Thompson – the only guys you can argue with him are as follows (and none are clear upgrades): J. Valanciunas(5), K.Thompson(11), K.Leonard(15), K.Faried(22), J.Butler(30)

    I’m thankful we got one of the guys who didn’t bust out of that draft and arguments can be made for those 6 guys in pretty much any order at this point.

    ———————————–

    2012 Draft

    (4)Dion Waiters – Lillard(6), Barnes(7), Drummond(9), Henson(14), Harkless(15), Sullinger(21), and maybe Jenkins(23) and Nicholson(19).

    Honestly, just harder to judge given the fact it was a better draft class overall and less time seeing the prospects. Pretty clear that Drummond and Henson would have been better choices, but noone else is all that sure yet (discounting Lillard given Irving).

    Worse, so far, is picking Tyler Zeller(17) over the guys listed above after that pick. And, I liked Tyler heading into that draft quite a bit (Plumlee and Moultrie also went after Tyler).

  • The Other Tim

    Oh-fer!