Anthony Bennett was a surprise pick in a horrible draft. He came to a team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, that didn't need him to start immediately. He would be able to come off the bench, work himself into shape following offseason shoulder surgery and still be able to contribute; the Cavaliers didn't have another credible backup power forward on the roster with Earl Clark winning the starting small forward job.
He has not proven capable of holding down the backup power forward job. In 311 minutes of play this season, Bennett has compiled a Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 1.0. He is shooting 27% from the field. He is 4 for 28 on three point attempts. The average total rebounding rate for power forwards last season was 14.0. Bennett's is 11.8 thus far. He has -.8 win shares. He has 26 turnovers and 7 assists. As Jacob Rosen of Waiting For Next Year pointed out to me last night, the Cavs are outscored by 9.9 points when Bennett plays, and 4.5 points when he sits.
The reasons for Bennett's disappointing play have been debated at length, and there isn't a possible resolution. Is it the shoulder surgery? Is it the speed of the NBA? Did he need to lose weight? How much weight? Is it his asthma? His sleep apnea? Is he taking too many threes? Is he playing the wrong position? Does Mike Brown not give rookies enough of a chance? Is this all in his head now? How do the Cavs get him to start having fun again?
These are all great and fair questions. I don't know the answer to any of them, really. What I do know is that I was encouraged by the fact that Bennett appeared to be working his tail off even as his game failed him. His handle was shaky but he was running. He had no rebounding technique or clue, but he was battling. When he showed on pick and rolls, he ran like heck to recover to the basket. Until last night.
Last night, with the game decided long prior, Bennett stopped playing. Problem was, he was still one of the Cavaliers on the court helping to put the game away. With 2:10 left in the game Bennett put up a restricted area shot attempt that came up short. The Philadelphia 76ers recovered and led a fast break. Bennett walked back. There had been scattered, soft boos in the minutes preceding this booing, but nothing as loud as when Bennett didn't run back.
The Sixers turned it over and Bennett inbounded. He jogged about 15 feet up the court before walking to the three point line. When Matthew Dellavedova swung the ball to him, he immediately funneled it to Carrick Felix on the wing. He then walked over to Felix. Didn't jog, didn't slowly run, he walked to Felix (with about 6 seconds left on the shot clock) to set a screen. The Cavaliers eventually turned the ball over and there was an immediate foul. For the rest of the minute, Bennett avoided walking.
Finally, though, with 30 seconds left in the game, Bennett missed a gimme dunk. The Sixers recovered and carried out a whole possession while Bennett walked back. By the time the Sixers got to the foul line after a 10 second possession, Bennett had not crossed the half court line. The fans, who had braved freezing cold weather and saw an epic shooting performance from C.J. Miles were now restless. Many had booed Bennett. What had started as a few stray catcalls after missed shots turned into something else.
I asked Mike Brown about Bennett's walking after the game:
Just like any human he had a tough night and at the time he was probably a little down on himself, and he was thinking more about, you know, his missed dunk or this missed layup or whatever, more than anything else. Tough situation that he has been in and that he was in out there. Nobody wants anybody to walk at any time during the game. It happened and we will move on from there.
My read on this is a coach who would be mad if he didn't think it would shatter the already fragile psyche of a young player who hasn't had anything go the right way. I don't want this to be about whether booing is appropriate. I don't want this to be about whether Bennett's adulthood status and decision to enter the apparently harsh world of the NBA makes him subject to fans' ire.
Anthony Bennett had a bad game last night and quit. I hadn't seen him do that yet, and it's an issue that isn't going away.
I won't pretend I know the answer in what the appropriate handling of Bennett was going to be. His shot is effectively broken. Is he going to do well in the Developmental League with that being the case? He has all kinds of trouble handling the ball. If he attacked the basket more would that issue disappear? Bennett will in all likelihood find himself out the Cavs rotation for the foreseeable future. What if he struggles in Canton?
Anthony Bennett has had a historically bad rookie season as the top pick in a historically bad draft. At this point in time you stop worrying about the players taken around Bennett and you start hoping that there is something salvageable. We probably have to wait until the summer before we really know. Things are bad now, though, and they appear to be getting worse. He needs a reset on a season with too much life left.
UPDATE: Drew Garrison of SB Nation's Laker's blog Silver Screen and Roll has the casual screen I describe in this article:
GIF: Anthony Bennett, casual screen setter: http://t.co/p63TH1511U— Drew Garrison (@DrewGarrisonSBN) January 8, 2014
Stats via basketball-reference.com unless otherwise attributed