Why Anthony Bennett Will Be Critical to Cleveland Cavs' Success in 2013-14
That responsibility will continue to rest comfortably on the shoulders of Kyrie Irving.
What Bennett will be asked to do, however, is quickly emerge as Cleveland's most productive offensive weapon on the front line.
His ability to effectively embrace that role will be ultimately critical to the Cavs' success in 2013-14.
While the majority of attention in Cleveland was captured by the free-agent signing of Andrew Bynum this summer, a timetable for the former All-Star's return from injury is yet to be established, according to The Plain Dealer.
Meanwhile, according to a report from Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports, Bennett has resumed playing five-on-five after undergoing surgery on May 8 to repair a torn left rotator cuff.
As fellow big man Anderson Varejao also attempts to return from injury, after missing 57 games with complications from a blood clot last season, healthy production from Bennett on a consistent basis will be required much earlier than initially expected.
On roster equipped with veteran bigs like Bynum, Varejao, Tristan Thompson and to a lesser extent Tyler Zeller, it appeared that Bennett would be brought along slowly during his rookie campaign. The reality of Cleveland's injury situation, however, could thrust Bennett into the starting lineup as early as opening night.
His ability to excel while logging significant minutes will be pivotal in determining the Cavaliers' chances of building a winning culture and contending for a playoff berth in 2012-13.
Calm before the rookie storm
The superstardom of teammate Kyrie Irving has effectively shielded Anthony Bennett from the unrealistic expectations that typically accompany a No. 1 overall pick into the league.
When this element was combined with acquisition of All-Star Andrew Bynum this summer, the hype surrounding Bennett's rookie debut in Cleveland became seemingly muted.
While this has allowed Bennett to work himself back into playing shape in relative anonymity, the spotlight will find the Cavaliers rookie just as soon as the season begins.
According to the Yahoo! Sports report, "It is possible that if center Andrew Bynum isn’t able to return from his lingering knee injury by season’s start that Bennett could become the starting power forward if Thompson moves to center."
Other speculation has suggested that Bennett could also eventually start as a hybrid small forward alongside a combination of Thompson, Varejao and Bynum.
Bennett projects to be Cleveland's best offensive weapon up front
Tristan Thompson is an improving big who averaged 11.7 points and 9.4 rebounds in 2012-13. Where Thompson projects to provide the most value for Mike Brown's Cavaliers moving forward, however, is in a role as a leader both defensively and on the glass.
Anderson Varejao has also averaged a double-double while playing a combined 50 games over the last two seasons. But while Varejao's offensive game is underrated to an extent, he is not a prolific scorer.
If his health permits, Andrew Bynum could become an All-Star contributor again offensively. It isn't reasonable to expect that type of production from Bynum at this point, though, until at least somewhere around the All-Star break.
With training camp set to open later this month, Bennett is the most effective offensive weapon for Cleveland to build around now. His potential to generate points around the basket on the NBA level will force Bennett into significant minutes immediately, regardless of the perceived depth up front for Cleveland.
Bennett is getting healthy at just the right time
#Cavs rookie Anthony Bennett has been dunking in pickup games, good to go in training camp. Says he weighs 255 wants to get to 248— M.S. Boyer/J. Valade (@PDcavsinsider) September 23, 2013
Besides simply taking part in five-on-five activities, subsequent reports have indicated that Bennett has been impressive in his return to the court.
He's been aggressively attacking the basket and finishing effectively at the rim, familiarizing his game with his teammates prior to training camp in the process.
While it would've been fun for Cavs fans to watch Bennett during Vegas Summer League action, the timing of his surgery and recovery couldn't have worked out better.
Despite wearing his arm in a sling leading up to the draft, Bennett will be ready to go when it matters most. When he steps on the floor, he will also be prepared to fill a need up front for a Cavaliers team in pursuit of the playoffs.
Helping Irving advance a culture of winning
Based on his skill set and projected playing time, expect Bennett to finish his rookie campaign as one of the Cavaliers' top two scorers behind Irving.
This consistent threat offensively on the inside, combined with the perimeter play of Irving and his backcourt-mate Dion Waiters, will help the team who finished with the third-worst record in the league last season take a tangible step forward in the win column.
But besides the immediate impact in the box score, Bennett will also be pivotal in helping to further advance a culture of winning in Cleveland that began with Irving.
While the hype might not suggest as much now, Bennett could very well become the building block that Cleveland needs to stabilize a consistent winner for years to come.
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