NBA PM: Cavs Moving Slowly With Bennett
When the Cleveland Cavaliers selected Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the basketball world was stunned. Many fans, media, executives, coaches and players were shocked by the pick, since Bennett had barely been mentioned as a possibility for the top pick.
In the weeks leading up to the draft, Nerlens Noel, Alex Len, Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo and Ben McLemore among others all seemed like more likely options for Cleveland. One day before the draft, even Bennett didn’t seem confident that he’d be a Cavalier.
However, the Cavaliers didn’t care about the projections and decided to go with Bennett. It’s rare that mock drafts across the country start off 0-for-1, but that’s exactly what happened. Chris Grant, the Cavs’ general manager, has always had an unconventional approach to the draft and Bennett is just the latest draft prospect he’s picked higher than expected, joining Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters.
At 6’7 and 240 pounds, Bennett is a tweener. During the preseason, Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown has been playing the rookie at power forward, but he could see time at small forward down the road, where Cleveland lacks a long-term answer. He has done a solid job at the four, mainly because his weight and strength makes up for his lack of size.
Bennett has managed to win over his teammates, with his game and his sense of humor. On the court, he has been making jaw-dropping plays. Off the court, he has been making the team crack up (before a recent preseason game, it was his impression of the rapper Drake that elicited a lot of laughs).
“It feels good to finally call someone else ‘rook’ and actually be older than them instead of being the youngest on the team,” Kyrie Irving said with a smile. “But A.B. is coming into his own. He’s figuring things out, as every rookie is figuring things out during the preseason. He’s been doing a great job. He’s working hard in practice and after practice. He has a lot of potential.”
While some rookies are given starting jobs from day one, Bennett will be coming off of the bench for the Cavaliers in the foreseeable future. Brown will bring Bennett along slowly and continue to develop the forward. Even though the Cavs are moving slowly with their rookie, he has still managed to show glimpses of brilliance throughout training camp and preseason games.
During the Cavaliers’ second preseason game against the Orlando Magic, Bennett showed exactly why he was the first pick in the draft. After struggling for the previous seven quarters of his young NBA career, the 20-year-old erupted in the fourth quarter. He scored 14 points in the quarter, including six straight field goals. He scored in a variety of ways – finishing at the rim with contact, knocking down several turnaround jumpers, hitting a pair of three-pointers and draining a step-back jumper.
The offensive outburst was impressive and his teammates were going wild on the bench. Irving was running in circles, Thompson was dancing and Waiters couldn’t wait to charge the court and high-five the rookie. After the game, fellow rookie Carrick Felix sat at his locker and looked in amazement at the box score.
“How many points did you have in the fourth?” Felix excitedly asked Bennett. “You couldn’t miss!”
Coach Brown said that Bennett’s impressive run pales in comparison to what the Cavs’ players and coaches have seen from the young man in practices and scrimmages.
“We know the young fella can score,” Brown said of Bennett. “That’s what he did in college. He can score in a lot of different ways. You guys only saw a taste of it. Believe me, he can put that thing in the hole. So just to see it go in the hole in a few different ways, it was great because he needed that confidence boost.”
Bennett credited his scoring surge and confidence boost to his teammates, particularly the starters. He had missed the majority of his shots prior to that fourth quarter – including several airballs – but the Cavaliers’ veterans told Bennett to “stay focused” and “keep shooting because it’ll fall eventually.”
“To be honest, I don’t even know what happened,” Bennett said after the game. “I just went out there and every shot was falling so I stuck with it. I just thank my teammates for giving me the ball. … When [the first shot] went down, I thought, ‘Ah, I got this. I just need to chill out.’ I just needed to stop rushing my shots and play within the offense.”
Players like Thompson, Irving, Waiters and Anderson Varejao have tried to help Bennett as he makes the transition from college to the NBA. They refer to him as a brother and look out for him. At one point in the second preseason game, Irving didn’t like a call against Bennett and screamed at the referee, “Don’t be doing that to my rookie!” Irving understands what it’s like coming into the league as the top overall pick and wants to make Bennett’s transition better than his own.
“My rookie year was a rough one, just from a mental standpoint and with the lockout, it was a grind,” Irving said. “With A.B. we are bringing him along. Just like we challenge ourselves, we will challenge him. That’s our job as teammates and as his brother, to challenge him every night. He thinks he’s tired, but he can give us a lot more. He knows that and we know that. That applies to all of us. We think we’re tired, have a three-hour practice, then come into a game –that’s just a mental grind. We don’t get tired around here.”
“I’m not tough on him, even though I’m supposed to be since they were tough on me last year,” Waiters said with a laugh. “We had to carry baby strollers to the games and things like that. I don’t know if anybody is going to bring that up. I mean, if I had to do it, somebody has to do it this year! Nah, but he’s a hard worker and he’s really buying in to what we do.”
Thompson has been the most supportive of Bennett, since they were childhood friends. The two Canadian big men have known each other for years and Thompson was thrilled when he learned that the Cavs had drafted Bennett. Thompson is often the first player off of the bench to cheer for Bennett when he does well and he’s constantly offering the rookie advice either by pulling him aside on the court or yelling from the sideline. Bennett is grateful to have a close friend in the locker room.
“It’s good,” Bennett said of having Thompson alongside him. “It’s the Canadian connection. I had seen him play way back and we kind of kept in contact and [stayed] connected. Now, it’s great to finally play on the same team as him.”
One area where the Cavaliers want to see Bennett improve is defense. Coach Brown has been stressing defense since taking the job over the summer. Bennett has missed several defensive assignments in the two preseason games, allowing the opponent to get an easy score. Brown expressed his displeasure, telling the rookie that he can never take plays off on the defensive end. Bennett is working to improve defensively, which was considered one of his weaknesses coming out of school.
“It’s the NBA – everyone is bigger and everyone is faster – so I really need to focus on defense,” Bennett said. “Everybody is saying that in college, at UNLV, I didn’t play defense so I take pride in it now. I just want to go out there and show everybody that I can play defense.”
While minutes may be hard to come by in his rookie season, he’ll get the chance to prove himself and become a significant contributor eventually. If Bennett can improve as a defender, he’ll have a very scary all-around game that could make him a franchise cornerstone for the Cavaliers.
Burke’s Injured Finger Requires Surgery
The procedure will be performed on Tuesday in Salt Lake City by Dr. Douglas Hutchinson.
While the Jazz haven’t announced a timetable for recovery and won’t do so until after the surgery, his agent told the Deseret News that Burke will likely be out eight to 12 weeks after the procedure.
The rookie, who was selected ninth overall by Utah, fractured his right index finger during the first half of Saturday’s preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Prior to this injury, Burke was considered a top candidate to win this season’s Rookie of the Year award since he was starting from day one for the Jazz. However, this injury may mean the ROY race is wide open, since Burke will be sidelined for quite some time.