There’s always pressure for the No. 1 overall pick to perform in his rookie season. And when that player is selected by a franchise that has produced LeBron James and Kyrie Irving with their last two first-overall selections, the expectations rise even higher.
But for 6-foot-8 forward Anthony Bennett, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ personnel combined with a supportive locker room has allowed the former UNLV star to progress at his own pace, even though it has meant fewer minutes during the first handful of games to begin his NBA career.
Through the Cavaliers’ first seven games, Bennett has averaged just 11 minutes per game, playing behind one of the deepest frontcourts in the NBA when healthy, headed by Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao, Andrew Bynum and Earl Clark. That rotation has allowed head coach Mike Brown to hide the athletic but raw Bennett, not forcing the 20-year-old into the proverbial fire before he’s ready.
“The neat part about Anthony Bennett playing, for us, is we don’t have to play him,” Brown said. “We’re not pressed to play him. When we took him, I think he was 19, so he has time to develop… So you want the young fella to have success right away, but I don’t feel like I’m managing much because we don’t have to count on him.”
Cleveland would love to play the top overall pick, one who averaged 16.1 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks as a freshman for the Rebels and was named an AP All-American, but the results weren’t pretty.
Bennett missed his first 15 field-goal attempts in the NBA before getting on the board last Wednesday in a loss to the Bucks, and his conditioning is still a work in progress after the 260-pound, broad-shouldered Bennett underwent surgery for a torn rotator cuff in May. The Cavaliers still saw enough potential in Bennett, but understood he’d take time to mature.
And one player who has helped Bennett in the process has been Jarrett Jack, an eight-year veteran who was selected No. 22 overall by the Denver Nuggets in 2005. Jack, who spent three years at Georgia Tech before declaring early for the NBA Draft, said it’s important for everyone to realize that Bennett is just 20 years old and has plenty ahead of him.
“[Bennett has] done a tremendous job of tuning out everything and just trying to be as much of a sponge as he can. There’s a lot getting thrown at him, people have to understand that this kid is two years removed from high school – not even two years,” Jack said. “And I remember my transition, coming from high school to college and having to really transition and learn that, and I was in it for three years. He was in college for all of seven months and then getting thrown into the NBA, it’s not as easy as people think.”
Jack said Bennett’s athleticism, maturity and build are apparent, and that his skill set of being able to bang inside while still having the touch to hit jumpers from outside as a hybrid forward will pay off as he continues to mature and see an increased role in the Cavs’ rotation.
That progress also will bring added pressure, something Jack said can only happen if a player has produced in the first place. Bennett was made the No. 1 pick because of his performance at UNLV, and his flashes of potential during the preseason and his limited minutes in the regular season have, in turn, added more pressure to what’s expected of him.
“You’re not going to put pressure on (Bennett) unless you saw him perform (at UNLV). So he went out there and performed well, and he created it,” Jack said. “The reason why they were harping on D-Rose a lot is because you guys have seen him do great things, because he went out there and played well and now it’s like he’s got to do that again.”
Jack admitted that Bennett reminds him of former Hornets forward Larry Johnson, coincidentally another UNLV product, in terms of his non-traditional build for a post player, his strength and his athleticism. Whether Bennett becomes a player similar to the Cavaliers’ other No. 1 overall picks, Larry Johnson or is forever a role player, Jack said the biggest key for Bennett is to stay relaxed and play his own game, not worrying about his numbers in the box score or comments from the media and fans.
“You look at your own resume at the end of the day, and you should feel proud of it no matter where you end up,” Jack said of Bennett’s future. “If you gave everything you had and that’s where the chips fell, then that’s what it is.”