Anthony Bennett will enter his rookie season with first-overall expectations, something nobody would have anticipated two months ago.
You have to believe that one of the major reasons many considered him a risk at No. 1 is that Bennett lacks a true position. Bennett is currently a combo forward, and though the name sounds cool, it's not always acquired by choice or preference.
To this point, he's been physically overwhelming for high school and college competition—strong enough to play the 4, athletic enough for the 3. Bennett's position has essentially been irrelevant.
Combo forwards who've failed in the pros are the ones whose strengths don't translate to either position. Does Bennett have the size to play with the 6'10'' power forwards on the NBA interior? Does he have the offensive game and lateral quickness to dance with the wings away from the rim?
All he really needs to do is excel at one position and show signs at the other. A guy like Derrick Williams, who's struggled at both positions, would be Bennett's worst-case scenario as an NBA rookie.
Worst-Case Scenario: Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves
Like Williams, Bennett played a lot of power forward at the college level. These are two superior athletes with imposing physical frames and explosive, above-the-rim leaping ability.
They can get out and run and pick up easy buckets in transition. Their speed, power and athleticism make them difficult to contain in the open floor.
The issue Williams has had as an NBA pro is producing in the half court with the game slowed down. That's likely to be Bennett's toughest challenge as a rookie.
At only around 6'7'' (Williams listed at 6'8''), Bennett will be at a size disadvantage against the majority of 4s he lines up against. Those easy buckets he was able to bully his way for at UNLV won't all be available in the NBA.
As a pro, Williams has appeared to have fallen between positions. Without the skill set of a 3 or the true size of a 4, he struggles creating his own shot on the perimeter and scoring in traffic down low.
This is what Bennett has to avoid, whose combo-forward label could be flipped upside down, where it reads "tweener" on the other side.
If Bennett is unable to knock down perimeter jumpers or consistently score in the paint, he could have trouble with efficiency at a position that requires it. You won't find too many valuable forwards who shoot below 45 percent from the floor.
Meanwhile, a guy like Paul Millsap, who's excelled as a 4 and shown signs as a 3, would be Bennett's best-case scenario as an NBA rookie.
Best-Case Scenario: Paul Millsap, Atlanta Hawks
Both Millsap and Bennett are physical athletes who thrive on the offensive glass and finishing inside. One of the things that's made Millsap so successful is he finds ways to convert without relying on his strength.
Unlike Derrick Williams, who leans too heavily on his athleticism, Millsap's timing and instincts allow him to counter a challenge or contest. Whether it's a pump fake, a hesitation or the ability to elude his man mid-air, he always finds himself getting easier points in the paint.
In seven seasons, Millsap has never shot below 49 percent, while Derrick Williams, who's longer and more athletic, has been at 43 percent or less through his first two years.
Bennett actually has a similar scoring arsenal as Millsap, who can wheel and deal inside, face the rim in the mid-range and either shoot it or attack off the dribble.
This mid-range area will be key for Bennett, as it gives him an opportunity to exploit his offensive versatility. If he can knock down that 15-foot jumper, defenders will have to play up, making them vulnerable to getting blown by.
For Bennett's best-case scenario to come to fruition, he'll need to capitalize in every area of the game where he presents a mismatch. That starts in the mid-range, where he's too quick for 4s and too strong for 3s.
Bennett should also look to emulate Millsap's motor, which puts him in position to make plays off the ball. Millsap might be outmatched size-wise the majority of nights, but he finds ways to diminish his disadvantages and maximize his strengths. Millsap is frequently getting easy buckets by tipping in misses or cutting backdoor.
The key for Bennett early on will be converting his opportunities from outside and recognizing the good ones down low. The challenge for Bennett won't be making shots—that, he can do—it will be finding the open ones.
It may not happen all at once, especially after an inactive offseason (shoulder surgery) and a crowded frontcourt in Cleveland. But Williams and Millsap are two guys Bennett should study to try to learn what works and what doesn't.
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