Anthony Bennett has one big need

Anthony Bennett

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.

First Full NBA SeasonPer Game
Anthony Bennett3310.813.7
Anthony Davis6428.85.510.6
Kyrie Irving5130.56.914.6
John Wall6937.85.814.1
Blake Griffin82388.516.8
Derrick Rose81377.114.9
Greg Oden6121.53.25.8
Andrea Bargnani6525.14.19.6
Andrew Bogut8228.63.97.4
Dwight Howard8232.64.38.3

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.

[Related: Yahoo! Sports’ Kelly Dwyer discusses Bennett’s lack of playing time]

(Photo: David Liam Kyle/Getty)

  1. Regardless of whether they make it or not []
  2. If we want to compare Bennett against other players who have been given the “bust” tag, Michael Olowokandi recorded 28.7 minutes per game during his rookie season; Kwame Brown tallied 14.3. []

  • WayneEmbrysKids

    They drafted a guy when they had someone already playing that position.

  • RGB

    “It’s time to see what the kid who once kept a list of everyone he dunked on can do.”

    You know who does that? People who get off on dominating lesser competition.
    Well, welcome to the NBA kid. (No Babies Allowed)

  • WayneEmbrysKids

    ha No Babies!! I see what you did there.

  • Pat Leonard

    Even 15 minutes per game would have been good. Thompson could have played 33 minutes and Bennett 15. I admit that back when I thought the Cavs were a legit playoff team, I wanted Earl Clark to have all of Anthony Bennett’s woefully awful minutes, but I certainly overestimated this team. The season is lost now. It’s time to stick with the kid and let him either grow into a good player or play himself out of the league if that is his future, but there’s no longer any reason to play vets in front of him… especially Earl Clark.

  • MalcolmHfx

    A starting lineup of Kyrie/Dion/Deng/Bennett/Thompson the rest of the way would make my day.

  • BenRM

    I’ve not given up on Bennett entirely (although I have the sneaking suspicion he was drafted to be traded later, but that trade never came). However, the missed dunks MUST STOP.

    Seriously, stop missing dunks. Like right now. Right this second.

  • Du

    I could not agree more Ryan. Get AB on the floor. What do we really have to lose? At least we will know for sure what we have in terms of talent. Personally, I think he just needs time. I mean the guy is 6’9, has a very nice looking shot, and can jump with the best of them.

    BTW…I have totally had that dream where I am playing basketball but for some reason cannot seem to stay upright. As a basketball player, it is horribly excruciating to have this dream.

  • mgbode

    not only is this season lost, but if we have any chance of getting better and sneaking up on a playoff spot (noting again how bad the East really is), then aren’t the odds better of Bennett finding his offensive game than Earl Clark getting drastically better in his 5th NBA season?

    I swear, I wouldn’t be the X&O guy that alot of these NBA coaches are, but I feel I could do a better job with the motivation and development than most NBA coaches. They seem to miss out on the easiest and most fundamental aspects. Sigh.

  • mgbode

    I’d still start Andy & Miles. Let Dion & Bennett be the first guys off the bench so they can work together more on offense.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I don’t like Thompson at center at all. He’s already iffy at PF at C he’ll really be in trouble. But this is the problem when you try to get Bennett minutes.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I don’t like Thompson at center at all. He’s already iffy at PF at C he’ll really be in trouble. But this is the problem when you try to get Bennett minutes.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I agree with this more…plenty of minutes for Bennett even off the bench are available.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I agree with this more…plenty of minutes for Bennett even off the bench are available.

  • JNeids

    Maybe he should start a new list of dunks he’s missed or everyone who’s blocked one of his dunks and use it for motivation.

  • architrance

    Forget about the least playing time of any #1 overall pick of the last 10 years – does he have the least playing time of ANY (uninjured) #1 pick in history??? A quick wikipedia search tells me he’s averaging the least points (2.8) than any first overall selection since that well remembered draft when G/F Andy Tonkovich (2.6 ppg) of Marshall was selected first overall by the Providence Steamrollers in 1948.

    So, this is a pretty historically bad season for a #1 overall pick on a not very good team…

  • Darth Manziel

    Good read, but I have to say, Zeller can definitely make this team better in the future.

  • Pat Leonard

    I believe Zeller will, too. He was touted as the most NBA-ready big man in the 2012 draft, which I don’t think was a fair characterization as it led people to believe that he was already at his ceiling and would immediately help the team. He had a rough first year where he was obviously too slender, looking confused at times and timid other times. The jump shot and foul shot that he was supposed to bring with him from college were mistakenly left back in his dorm room in Chapel Hill. But I think Zeller is more athletic than he gets credit for, and physically his body can still add more muscle.

    When I was a kid, I always did better when I was one of the older kids in the league. Not just because I was bigger (I really didn’t grow much until high school), but because it gave me more confidence. I see the same with Tyler Zeller. He struggled (comparatively) his freshman year of high school but was a McDonald’s All-American by his senior year. He struggled in his freshman year of college, but was named ACC Player of the Year his senior year. I don’t see him becoming an All-NBA player or anything like that, but he’s certainly not near his ceiling yet.

  • Kildawg

    Zeller doesn’t have to be All-NBA (although that would be nice), he has been playing better as of late. If he could just be a competent center for the Cavs (he doesn’t quite have to be Z, but if he is sans the foot injuries that would be awesome), the team outlook should look pretty bright next season.

  • rob

    Post Deng-trade, I wrote, “The big(s) rotation should be TT, Andy, Zeller, Clark. Bennett should not see the court as they are clearly in ‘win now’ mode”
    After this 5 game homestand disaster, my tune has completely changed. Play the kids as much as possible. The important part of this is the footnote: ‘even if they make the playoffs, they arent really a playoff team’
    So play Bennett, play Zeller, see what you have and go into the offseason and address what you don’t. As fans, we must now take joy in watching player development verus winning basketball (which Gilbert promised us 6 months ago)

  • Harv 21

    Play the Man!

    Yeah, what’s the worst that can happen, the offense and defense and effort will still suck?

  • Pat Leonard

    Right. At age 28, I’m betting that he’ll be a solid center in this league. But it’s tough to be patient.

  • mgbode

    what’s the worst that can happen

    did you really have to ask that question?

  • RGB

    You can’t put the bullet back in the gun.

  • derek

    This is the worse argument I have ever heard. So just because he plays the same position as Thompson means they are the same player and share the same skill set? He was drafted to provide an outside game to Thompson and Andy’s inside. Simple as that.

  • derek

    Or you play him with Andy?

  • Earl Malmsteen

    This is an all-time bad season. I did a search for number of seasons with under 30% shooting and over 120 FGA. There’s 15 such seasons in the last 30 years. Bennett’s FG% is basically tied for the lowest among that group. The only players among that group who played over 65 games in that season were Ryan Bowen in 05-06, Bobby Hurley in 95-96, and Nikoloz Tskitishvili in his only full season, 02-03.

    Bennett needs to go straight to the D-League. He’s playing SO badly that it’s a fantasy to think more minutes are the answer. Right now he’s the JaMarcus Russell of basketball.