The Cleveland Cavaliers selected Anthony Bennett No. 1 after witnessing the towering upside he offers down the road. But as a rookie, he'll have numerous hurdles to clear in order to experience success in 2013-14.
The good news is that he's been given the green light to practice after missing most of the offseason following shoulder surgery. However, without being able to participate in summer league, Bennett will start his career just a hair behind the eight ball.
And that's just the first of many challenges Bennett will face as a rookie with the Cavs.
Combo Forward versus Tweener
You're either one or the other. And if it's the other, your ceiling falls a few stories.
A combo forward can play the 3 and the 4 without giving up anything at either position. At the highest level, you get a guy like Carmelo Anthony—he's got the size, physicality and strength to match up with 4s yet has the skill set and foot speed to play the perimeter like a 3.
Melo is the ultimate combo forward because he's a mismatch at both positions.
A tweener has the physical attributes of one position with the offensive game of the other. Usually, it's the case of a guy with small-forward size and a power forward's game.
We've seen Derrick Williams struggle early in his career, falling between the forward positions. At 6'8'', he lacks the size to pick up easy buckets in the post along with the perimeter-scoring arsenal of your traditional wing.
Anthony Bennett's challenge will be falling on the right side of the line. At around 6'7'', Bennett lacks the size of most NBA 4s and the skill set of a 3. However, he's also too quick for power forwards and has the strength to overpower wings.
The goal for Bennett will be exploiting his versatility—tapping into the right strengths at the right times based on who he's matched up against. That means using his foot speed to his advantage against bigger defenders and his muscle against the smaller ones.
Shot Selection, Half-Court Offense
Making the jump to the pros, Bennett loses one of his core advantages through the transition—one that's helped him get to where he is today.
As a rookie NBA power forward, Bennett no longer has the advantage in the size department. He'll be starting his career off as a 4, where, for the first time, Bennett will actually be at a physical disadvantage.
In the post, Bennett doesn't have the size to back down power forwards nor does he have the skill set to be a strong back-to-the-basket option.
He's most dangerous facing the rim, a position he'll look to get himself in as often as possible. But as a 4, Bennett won't see that opportunity on a routine basis.
His shot selection will have to change. The challenge for Bennett will be finding ways to score when the game is slowed down. He'll have to explore new avenues for points—ones that require additional polish to his post game and threatening touch from outside.
With new offensive sets and spacing, Bennett will have to get comfortable operating from different spots on the floor.
His toughest challenge offensively will be creating his own half-court offense. Bennett is a missile in the open floor and weapon facing up in space. But in a crowded, slowed-down setting, he could struggle generating good, open looks.
The defensive transition doesn't project in Bennett's favor. He'll be slightly undersized against most NBA power forwards, from starters like Carlos Boozer and Zach Randolph to backups like Taj Gibson and John Henson.
As a post defender, Bennett could be a target for opposing offenses to attack.
Though he's quick in the open floor and moving north and south toward the rim, Bennett isn't as quick moving side to side.
On the perimeter, Bennett could be a liability defending opposing wings. At times, he's forced to give up open jump shots, with the fear of getting blown by if he plays up too close to his man.
Defense wasn't a strength of his at UNLV, and it won't get any easier for him as a pro. Given his measurements and physical attributes, he's unlikely to ever be considered a defensive asset. But Bennett can at least neutralize some of his defensive limitations by playing with a higher level of energy and focus.
He's not always locked in defensively, whether it's failing to close out, fight through a screen or hustle back after a miss.
Bennett will have to pick up his intensity, learn the rotations and overcome potential size disadvantages. Defense could pose as his toughest challenge this upcoming season as well as throughout his career.
Featured Scorer to Part-Time Supporter
There's a mental adjustment that has to be made when moving from featured scorer to part-time supporter. Knowing your minutes and scoring opportunities will be limited affects the way many play them.
Bennett will have to recognize his scoring opportunities, knowing when to be aggressive and when to give it up without being passive.
There's a different approach players have to take when coming off the bench. Bennett's challenge will be finding ways to make his presence felt without disrupting the team's offensive rhythm. Being able to score within the flow of the offense, specifically in the half court, can be a taller order for those transitioning from go-to guy to supporting cast member.
Overall, Bennett will have to make adjustments to his game and mental approach to keep from fading into the background. This Cavaliers team has a deep frontcourt. With a defensive-minded coach like Mike Brown entering a win-now year, it's unlikely he feels obligated to play Bennett if he's not producing.
If Bennett wants to be a factor in Cleveland's upcoming playoff push, he'll need to refine his offensive game, focus on defense and adjust to a new role off the bench.
With a lot on his plate, don't be quick to judge Bennett's long-term outlook based on his rookie-season results. But if I were betting on the 2013-14 Rookie of the Year winner, I'd put my money somewhere else.
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