Cavaliers

So, about that whole “Anthony Bennett is a power forward” thing…

Anthony Bennett Box Out

While introducing his shiny, new first-overall draft selection in UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Chris Grant was adamant that the bruising and barrel-chested big man would be a power forward, a position known more for playing in the post than along the perimeter. Though the team had a glaring hole at the small forward spot, as they have had since 2010 when then two-time MVP LeBron James left via free agency, the 6-foot-8-inch, 260-pound Bennett was going to provide a compliment to fellow Brampton, Ontario native Tristan Thompson. “You put him in a pick-and-roll with Dion [Waiters] or Kyrie [Irving], he’s going to be pretty difficult to guard because he can shoot the ball and is athletic and can handle the ball and get to the rim,” said Grant. Sugar plums danced as the highlight reel of Bennett running the floor and throwing down massive dunks rolled next to the stage. 

The plan was to bring Bennett along slowly, to let him fit into a role and grow as a basketball player. Exactly five months later, still not having much in the way of a small forward with which to work on nightly basis, Cavaliers head coach Mike Brown is calling an audible on his general manager’s initial play-calling. Coupling immense early-season struggles with Bennett as a power forward and the fact that the Cavs have been forced to use a bevy of starting five-man units1 and position changes as they grasp for anything that resembles a cohesive unit, the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft could soon see time as the Wine and Gold’s small forward.

“When we drafted [Anthony], we knew he was an intelligent player who had a lot of skill set,” Brown said this past weekend. “We felt that to try to simplify it for him being so young and being No. 1 pick in the draft and having unseen, unspoken pressures that we’d try to keep him just at the ‘4’ to help him out and help the transition coming to the league.

“As time has gone on, Earl [Clark] has played well for us as a backup ‘4,’ so we have to continue trying to find minutes for AB. [Putting him at the small forward spot] is one way we can do it. We’ll continue taking a look at certain things.”

anthonybennettshotchart

Not good.

Bennett is shooting just 22 percent through his first month in the NBA. His 10 turnovers equal his 10 converted field goals as he often settles for shots away from the rim rather than utilizing that explosive, athletic, get-the-ball-to-the-rim skill set he showed so much of as a dominant freshman in Las Vegas. It feels like his breakout fourth quarter this past summer was ages ago. Regardless of early-season struggles, it can’t be denied that Bennett still possesses a higher ceiling than any of the other small forward options that the Cavaliers currently have on their roster. Alonzo Gee is an athletic wing who plays solid defense, but is well below average when compared to other starting-caliber NBA small forwards. Earl Clark is a defensively minded converted power forward who has since been moved back to his original position after a failed experiment yielded nothing but frustration. Some fans may want to point to Sergey Karasev due to his 6-foot-7-inch frame, but the 20-year-old is cemented as a shooting guard who still has a lot to learn when it comes to the speed and power of the NBA game. What it boils down to with Bennett is exactly what perception lends: Why not?

On Friday night, as the Cavaliers were trailing the Boston Celtics 33-15 early in the second quarter, Brown went against all prior discussions and tossed Bennett into the game at small forward, having essentially no practice at the position. The positioning, the responsibilities, the spacing on offense and the help-side defense…all foreign. Following the game, another frustrating loss that was a product of poorly executed opportunities throughout the night, Brown called his impulsive decision a work in progress. “It was an experiment,” said Brown. “We may continue to experiment with him there at times.”

It is largely for these reasons, experiments as opposed to certainties, that many wanted the Cavaliers to draft Otto Porter Jr. out of Georgetown. Porter has yet to suit up for the Washington Wizards, suffering a hip injury that is rife with more uncertainty—when it happened, MRI results—than anything. But rather than cramming square pegs into round holes, there would have at least been a long-term plan in place for one of the most important positions on the floor.

When the Miami Heat were in town, head coach Erik Spolestra described the Cavaliers as a team that needs time. A few nights later, it was Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau stated that the entire Cavaliers team is “going through an adjustment.” There’s an element of ‘how much worse can it get?’ at play here, as any struggles Bennett has while playing the small forward would be marginal in the grand scheme of things2

. When Bennett was thrown into the fire in the loss to Boston, it didn’t just catch fans and media members by surprise, it was a first for the player as well as he had never played the wing. Heading into the Thanksgiving night off, Bennett was informed by Brown that more time at the small forward spot could be coming.

“It’s just basketball,” Bennett said of the move. “You’ve just go to learn a new position. I’ve just got to get used to it, put in a lot of reps in at practice. It’s going to come along.”

The Cavs will have two days of practice and an early-morning shootaround before they play host to the Denver Nuggets this Wednesday night. By all accounts, if Bennett has thrived anywhere this season, it is on the practice court, learning, absorbing, dominating. Though Chris Grant envisioned that the rookie out of UNLV would do most of his damage in the post, combining a back-to-the-basket presence with above-the-rim leaping ability, it appears that both Bennett—who potentially took yet another three-pointer while this column was being penned—and Brown have other ideas. The latter is out of pure need. The former? He can only improve from here.

(Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

  1. Brown has now used eight different starting lineups in the first 17 games of the season. []
  2. “This whole season has been a giant construction site since opening night, to the point the debris and rubble are choking the air,” wrote Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal this past weekend. “The idea of Bennett at small forward falls right in line with anything else the Cavs have tried.” []

  • Harv 21

    The first overall pick is so lost, so skittish, so unable to contribute in any way that he can’t fight freakin’ Earl Clark for freakin’ back-up minutes, that you desperately change his position less than 20 games in.

    C’mon, this is funny. If it were happening to someone else’s #1 overall we’d think it was a hoot.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    It shouldn’t shock anyone based on Mike Brown’s previous tenure and how his rookies played that Bennett is so hapless. While it can’t all be contributed to Brown I certainly don’t believe he’s helping.

  • porckchop

    This is one other reason why I’m really starting to feel Gilbert is the central problem for the Cavs. After the whole “we won’t be back in the lottery” thing, Grant had to patch some veterans in to add the depth necessary to make a run. Unfortunately Jack, Clark, and Bynum all take minutes from the development of the core group of guys you have been drafting for the past few years. Bennett could probably give you what Clark is giving as a backup except he is probably going to be much more inconsistent night to night. A GM and Coach who’ve been given a win now edict can’t live with that inconsistency. So they sacrifice long term growth for a possible shot at the 8th seed.
    3 GM’s 4 coaching changes and the team still seems to move forward without a clear plan on how to build. There’s only one guy that’s been there through it all.

  • Harv 21

    If you think Gilbert is the issue (I’m not sure yet), the problem is not frequent plan changes, it’s his foolish consistency. You didn’t want him to keep Paul Silas and the GM Who Shall Not Be Named – that was historically bad. Ferry left at the end of his contract because he wanted more control but his replacement Grant was Ferry’s acolyte since like 2005. Mike Brown has been the coach with nothing but a brief respite due to a desperation to keep LeBron. Argue stagnation, not vacillation.

  • mgbode

    it’s not like Bennett was tearing the league up from the PF slot.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I think Bennett’s skill set on offense fits a stretch 4 at this time… I don’t think he can be a legit 3 yet. However, I do think this move will help the Cavs in the immediate future because, as I was saying before the season, Earl Clark is most certainly not a 3 either. He’s absolutely a stretch 4. So the move makes Clark more effective and Bennett can’t really play any worse than “entirely terrible”, so go Cavs.

  • BenRM

    The only one actively losing time is Bennett, who arguably shouldn’t have been selected anyway.

    For the most part, Jack is doing exactly what he was brought here to do: provide scoring off the bench.

    Bynum takes time away from…Andy? Zeller? Andy is a vet and Zeller was never supposed to be more than a rotational big man.

    Clark and Bennett are fighting each other for time, but it says more about the clusterfrog at SF than it does about Gilbert.

    Ultimately, I think this falls on Grant, not Gilbert. In part, it is unfair because the 2013 NBA Draft was almost inconceivably bereft of talent.

    I believe the Thompson-Jonas, Waiters-Barnes/Drummond, Bennett-Anyone debates are going to dominate the discussion of the Kyrie-era Cavs, not the veteran bench players that were signed in 2013.

  • BenRM

    The only one actively losing time is Bennett, who arguably shouldn’t have been selected anyway.

    For the most part, Jack is doing exactly what he was brought here to do: provide scoring off the bench.

    Bynum takes time away from…Andy? Zeller? Andy is a vet and Zeller was never supposed to be more than a rotational big man.

    Clark and Bennett are fighting each other for time, but it says more about the clusterfrog at SF than it does about Gilbert.

    Ultimately, I think this falls on Grant, not Gilbert. In part, it is unfair because the 2013 NBA Draft was almost inconceivably bereft of talent.

    I believe the Thompson-Jonas, Waiters-Barnes/Drummond, Bennett-Anyone debates are going to dominate the discussion of the Kyrie-era Cavs, not the veteran bench players that were signed in 2013.

  • BenRM

    I was counted among those who chalked up Browns failures with guys like Hickson and Granger to the “win now” attitude of the LeBron Cavs. There wasn’t time to develop younger players when you were (supposed to be) playing for NBA titles every year.

    However, I may be coming off that stance. Maybe Brown really does just suck at player development.

  • Jason Hurley

    It would seem that if you want Bennett to get used to the NBA game, and maybe, I don’t know, improve, he should get minutes regardless of his struggles. What are the Cavs going to do? Lose more?

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Gilbert shooting his mouth off at the lottery about his team not being back didn’t exactly do his GM or old new head coach any favors either. But it’s not the first time Gilbert has reacted before thinking which is why he’s a perfect owner for Cleveland.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’m not a Mike Brown fan when he was rehired I thought it was just another typical Cleveland mistake. So far unfortunately I see very little to change my mind. I am willing to wait. I’ll let the season speak for itself. There’s plenty of time for this team to improve but I think it’s clear they have a very long way to go. Besides Bennett who really is a non-factor you have Varejao who isn’t close to what people remember and an injury away from being out of the equation as a whole. Irving doesn’t look like himself he certainly doesn’t look happy at least not to me. That could be the frustration of losing but for me he reminds me a lot of how LeBron looked at times. Thompson looks to have regressed. He’s not even close to what he was when the season ended a year ago. And Bynum well I’m afraid he’s being pushed and overused. I love how he’s playing because frankly it’s more then needed but you just started December and already increasing his minutes when this was a guy who barely played for two years. Plus you aren’t winning. But time will tell I suppose.

  • BenRM

    Brown has done what he was brought here to do, fix the defense. So props to him, I guess?

    But, you’re right, everything else looks pretty bad right now, and it’s a show we’ve seen before. Only now, it’s a show without one of the best players of all time to make said show watchable.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I wish he had fixed the defense because at least then you’d have something to hang your hat on but he hasn’t. For as much work as they’ve spent on defense the offense is that much retarded. With so many new players in particular young players I can’t see why you would be so single minded but this is the excuse Grant and Gilbert used to bring their boy back. Well so far it’s been a failure.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Kyrie has been a big part of the problem, in my eyes. I am not sure how much of his poor play can be attributed to Mike Brown, but I don’t think it’s much. He’s just flat out missing open looks and isn’t finishing as well around the rim.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Missed shots don’t bother me but when I watch him I just don’t like his demeanor. Maybe it’s me or maybe it’s just the frustration from the losing I don’t know it just seems like I’ve seen that look before with a superstar in a Cavaliers uniform.

  • Du

    Clearly Anthony Bennett needs to shoot more from the left side of the lane.

    Seems simple to me.

  • Steve

    Granger?

    Brown hasn’t really gotten much special young talent to work with. Hickson still had the same problems elsewhere that he had with Brown. None of the other young players were ever going to amount for much.

    This is the first real group of young talent that Brown has had to work with, and the first thing he noticed is that he has to beat them over the head with a frying pan to play even a bit of defense. This was always going to take a lot of time to get right.

  • Bryan

    I think there may be some over interpretation of Brown’s quote. I don’t think Brown is saying that Bennett is now ONLY a 3. He is saying that IF Bennett can learn the 3 position he can get some more minutes. He is essentially saying: we want Bennett to get more minutes, and that will be easier if we can slide between the 4 and the 3. Seems perfectly reasonable. I don’t think its a huge change of plan. If anything, it suggests that Brown now thinks Bennett is smart enough to handle two positions.

  • Phil

    Chris Grant is an idiot. We had Thompson, Varejao, Bynum, and Zeller. We NEEDED a SF and Otto Porter was sitting there. Hell, Harrison Barnes was there last year but we had to take Dion when we had Kyrie. His moves just don’t make any sense. He is a bad evaluator of talent and I honestly don’t think he understands how an NBA lineup is formed.