Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Anthony Bennett has been raked over the coals this season for his inability to live up to the hype of being a No. 1 overall pick, but he has finally started to show signs that he's worthy of an NBA contract.
The 20-year-old recorded the first double-double of his career against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday. He finished with 19 points, 10 rebounds (three on the offensive end) and one steal in 30 minutes of action. He drained all three of his three-point attempts and was 6-of-9 from the field overall.
Bennett first career double-double, then hits 3ptr, jogs to other end w/both arms raised. Kid has been through a lot, starting to feel good— Jason Lloyd (@JasonLloydABJ) February 12, 2014
In addition to the double-double, Luol Deng scored 22 and Dion Waiters had 20 off the bench in Cleveland's 109-99 home win.
Bennett played aggressively enough to get to the charity stripe nine times, and although he entered the night shooting 91.7 percent from the free-throw line in February, it was the one place he struggled during an otherwise great night.
Only blemish on Bennett's night is FT shooting (4/9). Otherwise he's been excellent (16pts, 9rebs). Best game yet. This kid is coming...— Jason Lloyd (@JasonLloydABJ) February 12, 2014
The 20-year-old UNLV product has been labeled a bust by many, including ESPN's Chad Ford.
Per an article by Jodie Valade of The Plain Dealer, Ford said, "It's very early, but right now he's looking like the worst (No. 1 overall pick) in the past 20 years. That includes Greg Oden. Oden was injured all the time, but when he played, he at least looked like a No. 1 pick."
He certainly wasn't the only person to be critical, as Tas Melas of NBA TV's The Starters points out with this on-air retweet:
There were those who chose not to jump to conclusions, though, like CBS Sports' Matt Moore:
I had stayed quiet on Bennett this year because I really thought a lot of it was conditioning, but sometimes guys don't work out. Thrilled— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) February 12, 2014
While Bennett has struggled to find any sort of rhythm as a rookie, it's important to remember that the 2013 draft class was one of the worst in recent memory.
anthony bennett’s good game prompted me to look at the 2013 draft again. whooo, that was a clunker.— Bomani Jones (@bomani_jones) February 12, 2014
Aside from the trio of Michael Carter-Williams, Victor Oladipo and Trey Burke, difference-makers have been hard to find.
The double-double will garner most of the attention, but Bennett has actually started to show flashes of solid play in recent weeks, as the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd pointed out via Twitter:
Don't look now, but Anthony Bennett looks like a legit NBA player. Has for the last week to 10 days— Jason Lloyd (@JasonLloydABJ) February 8, 2014
He scored 11 points against the Dallas Mavericks on Feb. 3, notched 15 points and eight rebounds against the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 28 and posted 14 points, eight rebounds and two steals against the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 5.
Foul trouble has been an issue—as he fouled out of the game against Dallas in just 26 minutes and has averaged 3.7 fouls per game in February—but Bennett has posted much better numbers after months of being stuck in the mud.
|November:||25% FG||20% 3P||2.2 PPG||2.4 RPG||0.3 APG||0.7 SPG|
|December:||36.8% FG||12.5% 3P||3.0 PPG||1.4 RPG||0.2 APG||0.3 SPG|
|January:||24.4% FG||28.6% 3P||3.6 PPG||3.4 RPG||0.3 APG||0.2 SPG|
|February:||47.4% FG||55.6% 3P||9.3 PPG||5.2 RPG||0.3 APG||0.7 SPG|
He still has a long way to go in terms of sustaining his level of play, but his numbers in February have at least looked like they belong in the NBA. By making all three of his attempts from downtown against the Kings, Bennett is now 5-of-9 from distance this month.
Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown hints that there will be more solid performances to come, per SLAM Online's Brendan Bowers via Twitter:
Mike Brown on Anthony Bennett: "He's even better than you saw tonight, you'll see in time." #Cavs— Brendan Bowers (@BowersCLE) February 12, 2014
Here's what Bennett had to say about the best performance of his NBA career, per Bowers:
Bennett on tonight's performance: "Feels great after all the work I've been putting in with the coaching staff" #Cavs— Brendan Bowers (@BowersCLE) February 12, 2014
The youngster has faced as much adversity this season as any other rookie in recent memory. He struggled early, which led to the "bust" narrative and a loss of confidence.
If Bennett can use this game as a springboard, however, there's no reason why he shouldn't put together a solid end to what has been a dreadful rookie season. As long as Coach Brown gives him court time, he'll continue to gain confidence from the added experience.
He finally appears to be scrubbing off the bust label that has followed him all season long.