Anthony Bennett got off to a historically bad start to the season. It was awful for the fans, it was awful for the Cavs, it was awful for Bennett. I am writing in past tense.
Bennett is figuring some things out. Tonight, he played fantastic. Finishing with 19 points on 9 shots, 10 rebounds, competent defense most of the time, and only 1 turnover that came on a charge (which I will take because it means he was being aggressive) this was by far Bennett's best game as a pro. Even the preseason game against Orlando when Bennett went nova can't compare to this. That game involved Bennett hitting contested midrange shots. He got hot.
That isn't what happened tonight. He had quick spin moves, forced his way to the free throw line, hit some three pointers (which he will need to do) and got easy looks at the rim on cuts. It was really, really promising because if he does what he did tonight, it can be sustainable. Bennett has a long way to go. He gets lost defensively, but that's the sort of thing you expect from any rookie. He seems to be starting to carve out a solid role off the bench. It isn't limiting his minutes; he was effective tonight and played 30. It's working.
Bennett wasn't the only Cavalier who played well, though. Dion Waiters imposed his will on the game. He defended, pushed the ball in transition, kept teammates involved with great passes and got where ever he wanted on the court. He created for himself with cuts off the ball (including what looked to be a trick play with Delly where he pretended to sulk after giving up the ball) and created for teammates and finished at the rim.
It was the most complete game I have ever seen him play, and, just like Bennett, he did it with things that can be sustainable. While he ended with 20 points on 17 shots, at one point he was shooting 5-14 from the field. I didn't care. He can control his effort every game. He can control his defense. There was one stretch in the 2nd quarter that summed up Waiters' game for me. He attacked the basket, got bumped, didn't get the call. He raced back defensively, made a good play on a ball in the restricted area, and got called for a weak foul.
Now, after he got called for the foul, Waiters ran off in frustration. But the original missed call didn't keep him from defending, and I loved it. He was dialed in and made two plays. He reacted after the whistle had blown. He didn't get the right result on this one, but the right results will come. He finished with 8 assists to just 1 turnover. Can't gush any more.
Oh, by the way, Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson were pretty darn good too. Irving played good defense on Isaiah Thomas all night, scored 13 points, and 6 assists to 1 turnover. His body language was great, laughing with Waiters and coach Mike Brown at various points.
Thompson had 16 points, 13 rebounds, 2 steals and an assist. He spent a lot of time guarding DeMarcus Cousins, a matchup in which he gives up a lot of size. He held his own.
The Kings aren't a good team, but there is a lot to build on here. Luol Deng was great and I haven't even touched on him. If Dion Waiters and Anthony Bennett are good NBA players, the outlook on the Cavs long term is bright.