Anthony Bennett enters what is almost a bizarre situation for a number one overall draft choice: a lack of hype and a team with the ability to let him take his time to learn the NBA game. And generally, this is a good thing. Bennett has some really fun and unique physical traits and skills that, with work and experience, could result in a devastating offensive force. But I have been skeptical of Bennett for a bit of time, and I haven't exactly tried to hide that. I wondered about his work ethic, I worried about his ability to create for himself and others. I have worried about almost every part of his game and personality. I am not going to put aside a lot of these concerns just yet, but after seeing him play seven preseason games and then talking to Bennett after Monday night's game, I have to admit to being surprised and impressed.
Thus far, Bennett is playing with a lot of energy and physicality defensively. He was a great rebounder at UNLV, and it is already translating to the pro game for Bennett. I asked Bennett if there were any major differences between the college game and what he has experienced as a Cavalier when it comes to rebounding, and he indicated that it is largely similar.
There are "bigger bodies, you always have to be aggressive," Bennett said.
He credited Tristan Thompson as a positive example when I mentioned the time they have spent sharing the court thus far:
"He goes after every rebound, he is motivated. When I am tired he tells me to keep pushing, and I appreciate that." Bennett is fouling at an alarming rate thus far, but many of them are from effort and being overzealous. I will take that over apathy or indifference every day of the week.
I couldn't help but be impressed by Bennett's willingness to acknowledge areas where he is getting and accepting guidance. There wasn't a lot of ego with the rookie, despite his reputation as a bit of an offensive gunner. At UNLV he averaged about an assist per game, not a high number for a player so instrumental to his team's offense. When he had his explosion against the Orlando Magic, hitting a number of crazy shots to lead the Cavs to a win, it didn't really make me feel any better about him. It just reinforced my view of a guy who apparently just loves to shoot. But Monday night, Bennett took seven shots in 25 minutes. He kept the ball moving and even ended up with two assists. It isn't a huge number but, honestly, it kind of is.
When I asked him about it, it was clear he was making a conscious effort to play within the offense. "I kind of let the game come to me instead of forcing a lot of shots, just playing with my teammates."
He continued, saying that "I was just trying to find the open man. Not every time I get the ball should be a shot up, so I try to look for my teammates, [and I'm] getting a little better at it so I'm gonna try and keep it rolling."
I mentioned Anderson Varejao and Thompson as solid passers in the frontcourt and it was clear they have already had an effect on Bennett.
"Every practice I see that they have that chemistry ... been playing together for a while now. I just, hopefully, however long it takes I can be right with them."
On his own, he brought up that he had been impressed with the way Thompson and Varejao work together in practice, and realizes that he himself can get to that level. Bennett has never before played with teammates that are both able to create for themselves and for him like he now has with the Cavaliers. I have made the point before that I love when Bennett airballs a midrange jumper or gets his shot blocked, or gets called for a travel. He is learning what he can and can't do in the NBA. In time, he has the ability to create his own offense, and be quite good at it. But he also can be the beneficiary of being put in high percentage situations if he embraces a role within the offense and lets people set him up. The fact that he is buying in and wanting to set others up already is way more than I was ready to expect of him.
Ultimately, Bennett can be as good offensively as he wants to be. While Varejao and Thompson aren't known as offensive dynamos, there are things Bennett can learn from them. And it appears he has his eyes and ears wide open.