Player preview: Anthony Bennett
Why did I pick Anthony Bennett before those remaining?
It seems like I picked a lot of unpopular players, but regardless of what you think of Bennett, he will be very important to the Cavaliers this season, for good or for bad. Plus, it’s no secret that I love Bennett, so I kind of wanted to write about him. Even if he doesn’t make 100% sense from a positional standpoint, he will still play a good amount of minutes this year because, you know, teams usually want their #1 overall picks to see the court a fair bit.
Jack would have been an intriguing pick, and I think he’ll probably be the more important of the two for the first part of the year while Bennett is still getting his feet wet, but over the course of a full season, I truly think Bennett will have more of an impact, barring an unspeakable thing happening to our beloved Kyrie causing Jack to play more.
Varajao is actually looking like he might have been a better pick as pre-season goes on. I think when I originally drafted Bennett as the 5th most important Cavalier I was skeptical about Varajao’s ability to be the same player following his long history with injuries. Thus far, he has looked like the same Varajao, which means he’s more valuable than a rookie feeling his way around. But I could be wrong (or, right?)
What does Anthony Bennett bring to the team this year?
In a word, excitement. As long as he gets a little less excited at the buffet line. Bennett is a power dunker with a smooth shot, creativity, good ball handling and above average athleticism. He uses his size well, seems to display good footwork, uses his long arms to grab a lot of rebounds and draw fouls, and he has a great smile. He may have some growing pains with his shot selection and his defense, but rest assured, you will know when Bennett is on the floor.
Bennett’s college numbers are impressive. Even though he didn’t play the highest level of competition and was older than the average freshman, his stat line of 16/8 with great shooting percentages is really fantastic. But for most people, the question isn’t about his offense but his defense.
Bennett’s detractors will say that he is just a high volume scorer and a tweener on defense. To the former I would point out that Bennett’s FGA of 10.8 per game including 2.7 3PA would rather suggest a pretty selective shooter. Toss in his 5.1 FTA and there’s really not a great case for him being inefficient.
I also don’t believe Bennett is a tweener. The notion of a tweener is someone who is too small to guard one position, and too slow to guard another, leaving him in between. So Bennett’s enemies (and they shall all perish) claim that he will be too slow to guard 3s and too small to guard 4s. I would have to disagree on both counts.
I don’t know if Bennett can effectively guard 3s right now, but he could definitely check some of them with proper coaching (which Mike Brown should provide). And honestly, there aren’t tons of lightning quick 3s in the league. The guys that will really eat Bennett alive are pretty unguardable anyway.
As far as his size goes, Bennett is plenty big enough to guard Power Forwards. His height is a little below average, but you don’t play basketball with your head, and Bennett’s wingspan is pretty impressive. He’s also extremely strong, which has a huge impact on your defensive ability. I’m not saying Bennett will ever be DPOY, but his measurables actually compare favorably to Ben Wallace. Wallace was obviously a special case, but he used his strength, wingspan and athleticism to be an amazing defender. Bennett has the potential to use the same tool kit to at least become average at defense.
Huge point of clarification: I do not think Bennett was a good defender in college or that he will be at the beginning of his NBA career. He will struggle in this area, but his struggles will have more to do with his technique and desire than his size and quickness. Mike Brown is an excellent defensive coach whose system doesn’t rely on individual defenders as much as other systems. Bennett is a long way from being a plus defender, but I think he’ll be passable with Mike Brown as his coach and he will bring an extremely exciting offensive skill set to the team. That’s enough to swing some games.
What is Anthony Bennett’s long-term potential with the Cavaliers?
Answering this question will automatically make me about as popular as that one guy you know who’s always trying to convince you of some conspiracy theory. Anthony Bennett is pretty polarizing because, you know, most shocking #1 overall pick in the last 10 years weight/height/desire/sleep/breathing issues, bum shoulder, and all that. Some people think he’ll be a good scorer with below average defense. The less hopeful think he’ll be a shameless chucker with raw-sewage defense.
By this time, you know the Cavaliers are pretty high on Bennett, but you may be wondering why. Here’s my best guess: the Cavaliers think that Bennett’s ability to score was a more valuable asset in their quest for an NBA championship than anything else the draft offered. This makes sense when you consider that our starters were generally effective last year, but a massive amount of our offense rested upon Kyrie Irving’s shoulders. Close your eyes and think about Kyrie being guarded by LeBron in the fourth quarter of a close playoff game and tell me you wouldn’t love a post scorer who demanded a huge amount of attention from the opposing defense. Some of you don’t think Bennett will ever become that type of player, and others of you think he might, but that it will come with porous defense. Both groups could be right, but my guess is that the Cavaliers’ front office found the possibility (even if it isn’t an overwhelmingly likely one) of a legitimate inside-outside offensive juggernaut too enticing of a possibility to pass up.
If you hate Bennett, open your mind for just a second to the possibility that Bennett becomes a passable defender and a devastating offensive player. This is the type of player who can become a second or third scorer for a champion. It might take five years, or three months to know if Bennett was the right pick, but I think that the Cavaliers’ reasons for drafting him make a ton of sense.