Objects were buzzing by him, and Bennett couldn't quite catch up to the speed of what was going on. Conditioning was a major issue, as were the 20 extra pounds he had picked up since the end of his freshman season at UNLV.
The Kwame Brown bust talk was inevitable. Even Brown's rookie PER of 11.2 has proved to be greater than that of Bennett (6.8). Despite being the first overall pick, Bennett had his limited contributions consistently outperformed by even undrafted rookie Matthew Dellavedova.
While he may not be ready to completely shed the bust label just yet, Bennett has progressed tremendously over the last month and a half.
Judging by this recent improvement, how good can Bennett be, and where did he really deserve to be drafted?
Heading into the 2013 NBA draft, most thought of Bennett as a top-10 pick, but certainly not as an option to go first overall.
Here's where experts predicted Bennett to be taken:
|Mock Draft Site||Pick|
In fact, when reviewing 23 of the most credible mock drafts, not one had Bennett going first overall to the Cavs.
After all, Bennett's position was very unclear for the pro game. His 6'8", 240-pound frame was in between that of traditional small and power forwards. Bennett actually spent some time at center while at UNLV, even though his range extends to the three-point line.
When discussing his ceiling as a professional, opinions were mixed.
Former Memphis Grizzlies scout Tony Barone Jr. said he believed Bennett could be as good as former NBA star Larry Johnson. Johnson was also an undersized power forward who averaged 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds in 10 NBA seasons.
Overall, pretty average pro counterparts for a first overall pick.
Physically, Bennett looks much better from the start of training camp until now.
Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal believes Bennett has lost 30 pounds in that short amount of time, which would put him around 230. He's moving around the court much better now, and that athleticism is slowly beginning to show itself.
Up until January 28, Bennett had yet to break double digits in scoring. Starting with a 15-point effort that night against the New Orleans Pelicans, Bennett has now scored 10 or more six times.
Once his conditioning improved, it was all about playing time.
Bennett had fallen out of the rotation following the Cavaliers' trade for Luol Deng but got another opportunity after a back injury sidelined Anderson Varejao. In 13 February games, Bennett averaged 17.4 minutes per game. His previous high in a month was 13.4 in January.
Once he settled into the rotation, Bennett began to really get comfortable and just play his game. This added confidence resulted in a 14-point, eight-rebound night against the Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 5. Six days later, Bennett powered the Cavaliers past the Sacramento Kings, recording his first double-double (19 points, 10 rebounds).
His second dub-dub quickly followed a week later against the Philadelphia 76ers, where Bennett put up 10 points and 11 boards.
“Anthony Bennett kicked our a--,” Kings coach (and former Cavs assistant) Mike Malone told Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal after the Sacramento game. “I’m sure Chris Grant is smiling at home, and deservedly so. His number one guy came in and gets his career high in points and rebounds.”
Now with Varejao back and the trade for center Spencer Hawes, Bennett's minutes are down once again. Even with his lack of playing time, though, it's clear Bennett has turned a corner from the beginning of the year.
|Before Jan. 28||2.4||2.3||0.2||25.9||14.3|
|Since Jan. 28||7.0||4.0||0.5||44.9||36.0|
The most notable improvement has been Bennett's shooting efficiency. No longer settling for jumpers, Bennett has been more aggressive getting to the paint and drawing fouls. His shooting mechanics are actually quite good for a soon-to-be 21-year-old big man and could turn into a major strength moving forward.
Diving deeper into the numbers, we can see even more improvements from the Toronto native.
|Before Jan. 28||89.9||102.4||-12.5||12.1||27.7|
|Since Jan. 28||107.7||108.9||-1.1||13.2||49.1|
We know he's been much better, but there's still a lot of work for Bennett to do. For one, he still settles for too many outside jumpers. A man with his combination of size and leaping ability should be bruising his way inside, not hanging out at the three-point line.
While losing the 30 pounds was great, Cleveland would probably love for him to continue to add muscle to his frame. The Cavs have to decide if Bennett is a small or power forward long-term and get him on a conditioning plan to match. Continuing to address his sleep apnea and asthma is a must as well.
Updated Ceiling, Draft Spot
While Larry Johnson is still the best choice for Bennett's ceiling, I see a more realistic pro comparison in two other current NBA players.
Jared Sullinger of the Boston Celtics and Thomas Robinson of the Portland Trail Blazers share a lot of the same qualities as Bennett. Although both are just in their second seasons, we can already begin to tell the kind of players they'll become.
Sullinger is a power forward who's shown a nice outside stroke. He can also bang inside and is a solid rebounder. His post game is far better than Bennett's at this point, but Bennett is the better athlete overall.
Robinson has Bennett's rim-attacking ability. Unfortunately, he also seems to have been drafted a bit prematurely. Robinson, the fifth overall pick of the 2012 draft, is currently averaging 11.8 minutes a game as a reserve.
Speaking of draft position, it's safe to say Bennett went just a bit too high.
This is partly a product of a terrible draft class. Of the 36 qualified rookies, just three are playing over 25 minutes a night while scoring 10 points per game or more (via ESPN.com). Bennett currently ranks 18th among all rookies in scoring, 14th in rebounding and 22nd in minutes played.
Cleveland would have been better off passing on Bennett in favor of Victor Oladipo, but that doesn't mean he would have had to wait too long for his name to be called.
Due to the poor draft class and Bennett's high ceiling, it's safe to say he could still be a top-five pick. The only players one could make a true argument for taking over Bennett include Oladipo, Michael Carter-Williams, Trey Burke and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Picks like Otto Porter (third overall), Alex Len (fifth overall) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (eighth overall) have been just as disappointing or worse.
I actually believe with the right offseason program, Bennett could be in the running for the NBA's Most Improved Player award next season.
Overall, Bennett's ceiling hasn't shrunk at all, but his floor may be just a little lower.
All stats provided by NBA.com/stats unless otherwise noted.
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