July 31, 2014

Behind Closed Doors

Anthony Bennett

I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggone it…

The successes of one Anthony Bennett officially live only in lore. The first-overall draft selection who was billed as an eye-opening, floor-running, rim-rattling big man has managed to somehow provide a three-week run where those within the Cleveland Cavaliers organization, as well as anyone related to the 20-year old, have been relegated to rhetoric that revolves around the ideal that Bennett can do the things expected of a No. 1 pick, he just hasn’t done them yet, at least during a time when recording devices are able to capture the events themselves. While Bennett is averaging putrid figures in the way of point totals and the efficiency by which they have been amassed, often looking completely lost while doing such, we continue to be reminded of the things the 260-pounder has done during practice sessions when only the coaches and his teammates are bearing witness. Anthony Bennett is the falling tree in the desolate forest.

When the cameras are rolling and the lights are shining bright, Bennett hoists wayward jump shots. A garbage-time sequence during the Cavaliers’ recent 29-point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves saw Bennett, in the lane with nary a person to beat, miss a point-blank lay-up, corral the rebound and then throw a two-handed dunk attempt off of the back of the rim, sending the ball to the elbow and into the hands of a waiting defender. His teammates are supportive. His coaches are supportive. Hell, even opposing players are supportive. But as the din of Bronx Cheers begin to grow louder each time Bennett gets his hands on the ball, he presses, often leading to an errant shot rather than a calculated move that allows the UNLV product to exploit his strengths as a basketball player.

We’re told these strengths exist; we’ve seen them on television a season ago and within highlight clips leading up to the NBA Draft. But if one were comatose for the last 16 months and suddenly came to the very night that the Cavaliers played host to the Brooklyn Nets to tip off the 2013-14 season, they’d have to be sold on the fact that all of those YouTube clips were not doctored. The likeness is incredible, the tattoos are placed perfectly, but there is no way that the guy in the Cavaliers jersey is the same player as the one who once kept a dossier of the players on whom he dunked. The perception is that this Cavaliers were handed a pair of brand new Gucci lofers, but opted for the ones that were three sizes too big. The reality, at least per the team, is that their feet have plenty of time in which to grow into them.

“With social media today, everybody from inside to outside wants things to happen yesterday,” said Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown on Tuesday. “It’s no different for AB. He was the No. 1 pick. Everyone expects him to average 20 (points) and 15 (rebounds), right now. But there’s a patience factor that we’re gonna have, that I’m able to have, with him.”

Word has it that Bennett, during the team’s three-day break between battles with the team formerly known as the Bullets, has managed to piece together his best practices since joining the Cavaliers. Last week, following practice, Bennett was working with assistant coaches; the task at hand appeared to be the rookie’s mid-range game. Bennett’s release, the ball’s rotation and the way it subsequently splashed through the net were nearly flawless. If you were able to somehow avert your eyes from the barrel-chested man who took the shot, it would be easy to assume that the ball was hoisted by a sharp-shooting guard. On Tuesday, Bennett allegedly pulled off multiple dunks, the in-traffic kind that reminded his head coach of why he liked the power forward so much before his name was called this past summer. The rub: Bennett has now been moved to the end of the Cavaliers’ bench. His confidence, while growing on the periphery, will likely be kept behind the scenes as the newly formed Cavaliers rotation prevents him from extrapolating these resurrected skills during a game.

Such is the case when a team is struggling to find its rhythm out of the gate. Such is the case when three players who were starters—shooting guard Dion Waiters, small forward Earl Clark and center Anderson Varejao—are now taking on new roles off of the bench. The offense will be predicated upon point guard Kyrie Irving and center Andrew Bynum and will be aided by spacing. Players who can succeed away from the rim, like Irving, Clark and new starting shooting guard CJ Miles, will be integral. Starting power forward Tristan Thompson is averaging career-high marks in points, rebounds and steals—even his game is starting to move away from the rim. Thus, Bennett is left with scraps. He may see time in the event of foul trouble, but it’s unlikely his No. 15 is revealed beneath his warm-ups unless the Cavaliers are winning, or losing, by a margin that allows for the veterans to hang their shoes up for the evening.

“The hard part about it, while trying to build someone’s confidence, is you want to try to win some ballgames,” Brown said about the spinning plates act that is finding his No. 1 pick playing time while also worrying about his status as an employed head coach. “You probably won’t win all of them, but you want to try to stay in contention and keep [his] confidence a little bit, and so on and so forth.”

Those who want to support Bennett’s struggles and the patience involved with the development are quick to point out that; after all, none of the rookies (save for Philadelphia’s Michael Carter-Williams) are regularly starting games for their respective teams. It was, as we were told, a bad draft that was without a sure-fire top selection. But it was also Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant who famously said that every draft has quality within it—the trick is just the successful mining of such. And given the first selection, it can be reasonably estimated that if the analysis and interviews and background work that goes in to pre-draft digging was done effectively, that the guy who was handed a wine and gold hat should be the one, if anyone, to come out as the man from his respective class.

It’s easy to blame social media and the Veruca Saltian expectations of our rookies. Cleveland, it should be said, has been handsomely spoiled by the instant results of their two previous No. 1 draft selections, both of whom were younger—and had considerably less collegiate experience—than Bennett. Brown’s parting words on Bennett were that of the “you’ll see” mold. At some point, Bennett will take to the floor, be it in a pinch or in a moment of an increasingly large Dif” and show the flashes of brilliance that have been waiting to erupt out this mountain of a man. Until then, the word “bust” will be tossed around; the idea that this kid, despite the way he excelled at the collegiate level, just doesn’t have what it takes to do the same within the NBA. And until then, we’ll have to believe that these plays, these dunks, these eye-opening moments that are going on behind closed doors are as real as the moments in which these stories are told.

(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

 

  • BenRM

    I take solace in the fact that most of the other rookies are bad right now too. I read a post somewhere (I forget where), that the second unit on which AB plays isn’t helping him at all. They broke it down better than I can recall, but the gist of it is that they don’t ever get him the ball in a beneficial spot when he’s open, so he jacks up crappy threes.

    I think there’s some truth to this. While you obviously wouldn’t start Bennett over Thompson or Andy, I think giving him some time with the ones might help.

    Honestly, if this means getting him the ball as a SF, they might want to consider it. Let him try to get people off the dribble (which was supposed to be a selling point), or be a mismatch with smaller SF’s in the paint.

  • mgbode

    rookie’s mid-range game

    This statement upsets me. If I was Mike Brown, then I would be telling Bennett that if he takes ANY shots that are not a 3pter or in the paint that he will be automatically benched for that rotation.

    The mid-range game is the most difficult portion to learn for any NBA player. It is absolutely not what someone who is struggling in general should be focusing on.

    In the paint or from long range.

  • jeff

    To be clear I have no clue if Anthony will be a bust or not. But I think a good comparison is Thad Young of the Sixers (if he can lose about 15-20 pounds). And if you look at Thad’s first month or so in the NBA it wasn’t that great. But he gradually got better. Hope Anthony can do the same.

    http://espn.go.com/nba/player/gamelog/_/id/3244/year/2008/thaddeus-young

  • Steve

    Nail meet head.

  • 240

    Even though it seems like he has already been benched from the rotation this is such a great point. LeBron is working on his mid range game right now. Kobe, who is the best mid range player when healthy, perfected it after he lost his explosion to the hoop. Bennett needs to get to the hoop and work on his 3 point game. Only way he will have any value (and a career) early on.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    I agree with your take here, but it’s only worth being upset if it’s in a vacuum. It was after practice; all of the bigs were working on their mid-range game at different hoops. It didn’t make sense to put this in the piece, IMO, but it’s common throughout the league.

  • mgbode

    yes, I agree. I thought I might be reading too much into it and you validated that with the fact that all bigs were just doing that as an after practice drill. still, good to note as I feel he should be doing the above in games.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Completely agree. I can’t remember who I was speaking to, but I insinuated that Mike Brown should have Bennett inside of a bubble of sorts which has outer bounds of the blocks and the elbows. Anything outside of that, and it should be mandated that he pass and reestablish position.

    (I’m not exaggerating however. His shot looked really, really good. The fact that he can’t get it to fall in a game thus far is mind-boggling.)

  • http://www.winningfantasyfootball.com/ Phil

    Is “Varuca Saltian” a reference to the band Veruca Salt or the character Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka?
    Enjoyed the article…..wish I could be patient. Hopeful for the Cavs that he is able to make use of his talents.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    The former is named after the latter—”I Want it Now.”

  • BenRM

    “I want the world. I want the WHOLE world.”

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    I just can’t believe the girl who played her in the movie is now 55 years old.

  • @TheDeePagel

    This was the Cavs biggest offseason addition. He should be having a bigger impact then Bynum. To be taken #1 overall in today’s NBA should be equal to landing a star. So far it hasn’t worked, but I take myself back to 1994 (or 1995) and I remember watching #1 overall pick Glen Robinson play for the Bucks. He struggled in the first action he got, and when he was finally fouled and sent to the line he air-balled his first two free-throws. Not just the first….but both shots. It didn’t mean he wasn’t talented, and it didn’t mean the Bucks FO missed on him, it was simply pressure and struggling as a young man to live up to it. Bennett has got to be going through the same thing, and in my opinion the best way to alleviate that pressure is to play him, and play him, and play him. Play him with the 1s, and let him grow out of this. The talent is there, and we need his talent to be successful this year. The sooner we get him right, the sooner we start thinking playoffs.

    Just my two cents.

  • scripty

    Yet we killed Lebron for not developing mid-range game?

    Long 2′s are bad. Good NBA players that have a whole offensive game have a mid-range game. Shot selection is key. Nothing wrong with a Larry Nance – foul line extended jumper to use when defenses sag off him. And they will.

  • mgbode

    Not in his rookie year we didn’t

  • Nathan Futey

    I still have faith in Anthony Bennett…. I totallly understand he had to have surgury on his shoulder and that put him back 4-6 weeks and didn’t allow him to play in the summer league orirst thing he was able to practice than… And when he finally started to be able to practice he was first able to shoot so he practiced outside shooting cause he wasn’t able to dunk or do any other contact yet… Give him time… he will only be a PF this year and around the all star break he should start to come around… And remember how young these guys are too… He only played 1 year in college… He wasn’t a kyrie Irving where he was a sure thing… Nobody had the sure thing in this draft… alot of the rookies were hurt or still not sold either… Just give him his time so he can just go out and play and he will learn in due time… And last… for anyone who is booing I ask you this… Who woould you of taken first not knowing what they are now?…. Cause your best answer could only be one guy and he hardly fit are system but he is the best one we looked at so far thats not hurt now…

  • jamick6000

    he’s a bust

  • Steve_Not_Chad

    Thanks for the robust justification for this analysis.

  • jamick6000

    your welcome