Cavs rookie Anthony Bennett flies under radar, could be huge asset

Eric P. Mull-USA TODAY Sports

Media day happened yesterday. I didn't see a single quote from the first overall choice in this June's NBA draft.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are not lacking for intrigue as the 2013-14 NBA season gets underway. The team is bursting with storylines, a few of which are genuinely interesting and unpredictable. Is Andrew Bynum going to play? How will Mike Brown's return go, and will his defensive system work to improve one of the NBA's worst teams? Can Anderson Varejao stay on the court? Is Kyrie Irving ready to become a leader, or an elite player? Will Jarrett Jack finally bring veteran leadership AND good basketball play? So like I said, quite a few storylines sucking up oxygen.

Wait, what? The Cavaliers ALSO added the first overall choice in the NBA draft? Shouldn't that be a much bigger deal?

It would be, for most teams adding a first overall selection, in most drafts. Part of it is that Anthony Bennett was an underwhelming choice (for many) in an underwhelming draft (at least at the top). But Anthony Bennett has real basketball skills, and combines uncommon touch with uncommon explosiveness in an uncommon body. Comparisons have ranged from Michael Beasley to Elton Brand to Glenn Robinson to Carmelo Anthony to Derrick Williams to Charles Barkley. Whoever he is, isn't that a fascinating dynamic? And doesn't it have profound implications for what this Cleveland Cavaliers team can be?

The answer is yes, but that doesn't make Bennett the defining story at present. Just as important to the Cavaliers longterm goals are players like Irving, Dion Waiters, and Tristan Thompson. And despite Jarrett Jack's bravado, the goal this season probably isn't an NBA championship. And so Bennett may find himself in a near ideal situation. He doesn't have the hype of a number one pick, and because of all the other stories swirling around the Cleveland Cavaliers, the media doesn't have to force it on him. In fact people seem to have been so surprised Anthony Bennett was made the number one pick, they forget what made him so appealing in the first place.

For example, ESPN TrueHoop and Hickory High writer Cole Patty posed this question this last night:

After answers that ranged from Victor Oladipo to Tony Snell, Cole followed up with:

And I absolutely agree with this. Don't ask me to explain the psychology, but we almost seem to want to punish Anthony Bennett for where he was drafted, even though he had nothing to do with it. And while it might be natural to do this on some level, it doesn't mean that it makes much sense. Objectively, you could make the case that this is something close to an ideal situation for Bennett to walk into. Why?

  • Think Bennett will have unrealistic expectations as the first overall draft choice? We have already gone over the lack of media hype Bennett is receiving.
  • Think Bennett will struggle on defense? Well, all rookies do. Maybe Bennett is physically limited to the point where adequate defense will always be just beyond reach. I myself am pretty persuaded by this. But the Cavaliers employ Mike Brown, so he is going to have every opportunity to learn.
  • The team has Kyrie Irving. No one expects Bennett to be the savior.
  • The team has Tristan Thompson. No one even expects Bennett to be the starter. Yet.
  • Coming off the bench, it is likely Bennett, with his excellent offensive skillset, will almost always share the court with either Kyrie Irving or Jarrett Jack, players who will be thrilled to get him involved if he puts the time and work in.
  • Think Bennett is going to have trouble getting himself in shape after struggling to do so at UNLV, and a long recovery from shoulder surgery? There is almost no way the Cavaliers, initially, will be asking Bennett to play more than 25 minutes or so a game. He will have time to work himself into top form.
I wouldn't be surprised if it takes Anthony Bennett some time to adapt to the NBA game. But Chad Ford consistently wrote that Bennett would be one of the most NBA ready rookies. He has the huge body, he has the skill, and he will have a manageable role. Bennett doesn't have to be the masterpiece. He can just be a piece of the puzzle. And if the Cavaliers want to make the playoffs this season, every piece has to find its place. Bennett should be able to do just that.
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