Anthony Bennett has one big need. Minutes. Not just some minutes, but a double-stuffed crust, extra large helping of minutes. This past Tuesday night, the first-overall pick knocked down open jumpers and corralled in rebounds in route to a 15-and-8 night in what was a career-high 31 minutes. This was the first game all season where Cavs head coach Mike Brown left the harshly criticized and often booed Bennett on the floor for more than 20 minutes, a number that the last 10 first-overall picks have all at least averaged per night.
The last month has seen screams for Bennett to be sent down to Canton where he would presumably get regular minutes—a place where he could spread his wings, and where he could (hopefully) grow into at least a shell of the player general manager Chris Grant envisioned last June. However, as the Cavs are clearly not the playoff-caliber team1 everyone had hoped of, there is no need to send Bennett to Canton when he should be seeing plenty of action up in Cleveland.
The vision for this season was one that involved the playoffs. This team was supposed to see drastic improvements from its young core and to establish an identity with their new coach. For the first time since LeBron James left in the summer of 2010, there were expectations for Cavaliers basketball. But here we sit at the end of January, the Cavs still three games behind the Bobcats for the 8th seed in a historically bad Eastern Conference, and the fact of the matter is this basketball team, as currently constructed, is not good. Unless Kyrie Irving turns into a more ball-friendly version of Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf, the season is wash.
It’s time for Brown to take his foot off the pedal of trying to get wins (not that it’s been too successful) and make the rest of this season about player development. This starts with Anthony Bennett. Playing just over 10 minutes per game, Bennett ranks 25th out of 27 qualifying rookies. That staggeringly low number for a first-overall pick has him stuck in the pecking order begging for minutes behind Earl Clark, Tyler Zeller, Matthew Dellavedova, and Alonzo Gee. None of those guys are going to make the Cavaliers a better basketball team in the future, but there is still hope Bennett might.
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Bennett’s historically low minutes and field goal attempts for a No. 1 pick can’t all be blamed on Mike Brown2. In the limited action Bennett has seen, he’s been baffling to watch. Missed dunks. Airballs. Lazy screens. Horrible decision-making. It’s as if he’s in one of those bad dreams where every time you try to run you keep falling back down. On the NBA floor, Bennett has looked tenative and out of place . From the moment he was drafted, he has been behind the pack, the wounded caribou, if I may. A shoulder injury set back his off-season workouts and development, causing him to show up to camp overweight and unprepared. Legendary point guard Gary Payton recently sounded off on FOX Sports Live, lambasting Bennett for being “fat” and telling him to “get in shape”.
It’s understandable why Brown, feeling the heat of the owner to make the playoffs, would stash the under-prepared and overweight Bennett on the bench. Still, if winning is your goal it’s hard to see how Bennett could have made the Cavs any worse throughout some of their horrendous stretches this season. Now, with the dream of the playoffs and the reality of the quality of this basketball team heading in opposite directions it’s in the franchise’s best interest to let the kid play.
The time for excuses for Brown and for Bennett is over. It’s time to see what the kid who once kept a list of everyone he dunked on can do. It’s time to see if the flashes seen during his days at UNLV were legitimate or simply figments of Chris Grant’s imagination. Bennett’s play in extended minutes against New Orleans was encouraging, but he needs more reps. He may be the worst No. 1 pick in history, but until he plays 25 plus minutes a night for 10, 20, or 30 games we’ll never know for sure.
(Photo: David Liam Kyle/Getty)