Going into the 2013 NBA Draft, no one knew what the Cavaliers were going to do with the number one pick.
When it was finally time to make a decision, GM Chris Grant shocked the basketball world by selecting Anthony Bennett. While it wasn’t a popular pick, it was hard to argue against the selection because their was no clear-cut best player.
Bennett’s had a solid freshman season at UNLV, averaging 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. Unfortunately for the Cavaliers, Bennett’s stat line his first year in the NBA left a lot to be desired.
The rookie averaged a dismal 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds per game, per Espn.go. Bennett never hit his stride in the NBA, and by the end of the season many analysts around the league had already labeled him a bust.
It would almost seem that Cleveland fans have already given up on Bennett. The notion that Bennett is anything close to a bust is just absurd at this point in his career. There were many factors that worked against Bennett his rookie year in the league
First off, Anthony Bennett didn’t exactly have a great start to his first NBA offseason.
Shortly after he was drafted, he had rotator cuff surgery on his left shoulder. This hindered Bennett from being able to participate in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.
The Summer League is a perfect opportunity for rookies to get acclimated with their new team’s offense while playing against lower, more relaxed competition.
While it isn’t the end of the world to miss these games, it definitely can help to make a rookie’s transition into the NBA smoother.
On top of missing Summer League, Bennett’s injury also caused him to miss a large portion of the Cavalier’s training camp. This is significantly more important than Summer League, and it can really stunt a rookie’s growth if he is unable to participate.
Training Camp is a great time for rookies to develop chemistry with their new teammates, and Bennett simply did not have this privilege. Another pivotal part of training camp is getting one’s body into game shape.
There were times during the season where Bennett appeared to be sluggish and out of shape, and it was surely due to the fact that he missed so much training camp. Bennett’s poor shape seemed to affect his play on the court at times, as he was often slow to get back on defense and didn’t have the energy to explode past defenders in the lane.
Perhaps the most important thing that Bennett missed out on was the ability to learn from his mistakes when it didn’t matter. Bennett often appeared lost on the court, missing assignments on defense and incorrectly spacing himself on offense.
These mental lapses lead to Mike Brown having to remove him in close games, and it further hindered his development.
Another reason people should not be so fast to write Bennett off is the fact that he had very limited playing time last season.
He only appeared in 52 games, and when he was on the court he averaged only 12 minutes per game. In those twelve minutes he averaged 4.1 ppg.
However, if you take his point average per 36 minutes, it's a more respectable 12.3 ppg. While that won’t blow anyone away, it shows that if Bennett received more playing time he could have put up much better numbers.
A developing rookie needs at least 20 minutes a game in order to improve on their game. Bennett needs to be given solid playing time next season if the Cavaliers want to truly see what they have with him.
If he blossoms into the number one pick Chris Grant envisioned, than great. If not, then at least the Cavaliers gave him every chance to succeed.
The last reason Cavaliers fans shouldn’t give up on Bennett can be summed up into one word: potential.
Bennett is just 20 years old. He is 240 pounds, 6’7 with a wingspan of 7’1 (Nbadraftexpress.com). Bennett has all the physical tools necessary to dominate defenders. He has the big body needed for an interior scorer, but also boasts a solid jump shot.
As a Freshman at UNLV he shot 37.5% behind the arc, per cbssports.com. He also has the athletic ability and length to become a very solid rim defender/rebounder.
If Bennett can figure out a way to put all of these tools together, he has all of the potential in the world.
Last season against the Sacramento Kings, Bennett seemed to have figured it out, if only for a game. He dominated the Kings from the start, putting up 11 points and 6 rebounds in the first quarter alone.
Bennett finished with a career high 19 points and 10 rebounds.
After the game, Kings coach Mike Malone was quoted saying, "Anthony Bennett kicked our (***). I'm sure former GM Chris Grant is smiling at home."
That is some heavy praise from the Cavaliers ex assistant coach.
That game should serve as a wake up call to Cavaliers fans. That very well could be a look at what the future holds for Bennett every night. If he can find a way to consistently recreate this performance, he will become a crucial part of the Cavaliers offense and future.
It was clear Bennett wasn’t ready for the NBA last season.
He missed his rookie offseason, he was out of shape, and he didn’t receive the playing time he needed to improve. This next season will be Bennet’s opportunity to show what he is really made of.
It is just far to early to give up on a player with such immense potential, let alone the number one pick in last years draft. If Bennett doesn’t perform next season, then the criticism will be deserved. Until then, Cavaliers fans must remain patient.