Full Predictions for Anthony Bennett's Sophomore Season with Cleveland Cavs

Greg Swartz@@CavsGregBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterJuly 23, 2014

Cleveland Cavaliers' Anthony Bennett reacts after a play against the Milwaukee Bucks in an NBA summer league basketball game Friday, July 11, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/Associated Press

Anthony Bennett's rookie season has been criticized, torn down and chastised enough.

It's time to look ahead to the 2013 first-overall pick's sophomore campaign.

Let's focus on what we know. Bennett was grossly out of shape last year, camped out at the three-point line far too often and battled a late-season patellar tendon strain.

The past few months were critical for Bennett to get healthy and work on his game.

So far, so good.

Bennett has dropped 15-20 pounds since April and is now back to his high school and college playing weight of 240 (via Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal. He also hired a personal chef and doesn't have any lingering effects from his knee or previous shoulder injury.

Bennett got to show off his new physique during the NBA Summer League, averaging 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds a game while throwing down some monstrous dunks.

He moved around the court noticeably quicker while logging just under 30 minutes a contest. In training camp last season, Bennett couldn't play more than a few minutes without grabbing at his sides.

Now healthy and much lighter, what can we expect from Bennett this season as he looks to erase a forgettable freshman campaign?


Role with Team

Assuming he remains with the Cavaliers, Bennett should be the primary backup to Tristan Thompson at power forward.

Last year, Bennett began the year at the 4 before being moved to small forward (Earl Clark couldn't play the 3, Bennett wasn't producing at the 4, why not swap 'em, right?). Not surprisingly, playing the 260-pound Bennett (who shot 24.5 percent from deep) at small forward turned out to be a bad idea. Bennett had a PER net rating of -25.2 while playing small forward last season, according to 82games.com. He was later moved back to power forward, much to everyone's delight.

Even with his weight loss, the Cavs would be wise to keep Bennett entrenched as a stretch 4. He just doesn't have the foot speed and lateral quickness to guard small forwards.

Bennett should once again come off the bench behind Thompson.
Bennett should once again come off the bench behind Thompson.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Last season, Mike Brown did a horrible job managing Bennett's minutes. He saw inconsistent playing time all year, preventing any sort of consistency or confidence from building.

While Bennett may not be ready to handle 30 minutes a night, head coach David Blatt should pencil him in for a solid 15-20 a game. If the Cavaliers fail to acquire a backup center this offseason, Thompson could slide over, providing Bennett with even more playing time.

While Thompson is the better overall player right now, Bennett has the higher upside and smoother offensive game. If the Cavs need a scoring boost, Bennett should be ready to come off the bench in favor of Thompson.


Working with Blatt

Blatt runs a Princeton offense that relies on ball movement and passing, even from power forwards and centers.

This will certainly be a test for Bennett, who recorded just 17 total assists in 52 games last season. He wasn't exactly excited about screening for others, either.

GIF courtesy of SB Nation's Drew Garrison

While Bennett would often camp out on the three-point line in Mike Brown's offense, he'll now be required to run the floor more often, setting screens and knocking down jumpers.

Having coached in Europe for the past 20 years, Blatt is very familiar with big men who can shoot. While Thompson is a better rebounder and defender, Blatt should recognize Bennett is his best bet to serve as a typical stretch 4.

Such a role should be great for Bennett, who's typically shied away from contact and preferred to stay out on the wing and shoot. While Brown's pedestrian offense often ignored Bennett, Blatt's Princeton style will force him to become part of the action.

So far, Blatt has had nothing but good things to say about his 21-year-old forward, telling Zach Lowe of Grantland:

I’m really happy with the way Anthony has come to our camp. He’s worked extremely hard, has improved his body, has improved his approach. He’s maturing. He’s on the right track. We’re gonna see what we can do with him.

Blatt and Bennett have already worked together for four games in the summer league.

So far, Bennett is thriving under his new coach.


LeBron's Impact

LeBron James' return to the Cavaliers not only means the world to the team, but also to the development of young prospects like Bennett.

Bennett talked with Lance Fresh of Bleacher Report about what James can bring to him and others.

"He knows a lot, he's been through a lot so just for him to share his experiences and share what he knows to the young players like me and (Andrew) Wiggins will be a blessing," Bennett said.

The truth is, James really does make the players around him better. He helped transform Mo Williams into an All-Star in 2009, got three-and-a-half good seasons out of Drew Gooden and went to the NBA Finals with Sasha Pavlovic as the starting shooting guard.

Imagine what he could do for Bennett.

James is such a tremendous drive-and-kick player that Bennett should get some easy buckets just by making a secondary cut to the hoop and finishing through a lane that LeBron just opened.

He'll also see more open looks from mid-range and the three-point line with James drawing double-teams on drives.

It also helps that James can play either forward position.

Zach Lowe of Grantland asked Blatt about the possibility of using Bennett like the Miami Heat did with Shane Battier when placed on the court with James.

(Lowe:) The Heat had Shane Battier to guard power forwards so LeBron wouldn’t have to all the time. And Battier could shoot 3s. Can you envision Anthony Bennett as sort of a bigger Battier in that same role? (Blatt:) I think that’s a pretty fair assumption.

While his productivity on the court should go up, Bennett's brain will be filled with all sorts of basketball knowledge by being around James for nine months of the year.

Practices, games, plane rides, stretching sessions, Starbucks runs. Whatever it may be, Bennett needs to be a sponge around James, picking his brain as much as possible.


Stat Projections

While Bennett will no doubt impress even his harshest critics this season, don't necessarily expect an All-Star campaign.

He'll still be coming off the bench behind Thompson, and minutes will be limited.

John Locher/Associated Press

That being said, look for Bennett's stats, especially shooting percentages, to make a sharp increase.

2013-14 Stats: 12.8 minutes, 4.2 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.3 assists, 0.2 blocks, 35.6 FG%, 24.5 3P%, 6.95 PER

2014-15 Projected Stats: 17.8 minutes, 7.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.4 blocks, 44.2 FG%, 32.8 3P%, 14.40 PER

While these numbers don't exactly scream "first-overall pick," they'd be a huge improvement from a season ago.

It's important to remember that Bennett could just be entering his junior year of college at UNLV and that patience will be needed.

The Cavaliers should expect a better overall Bennett, one that will contribute valuable minutes off the bench and help stretch the floor on offense.

Bennett can still be a valuable player in the NBA and should begin to prove it this season.




Stats provided by Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.


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