The Cleveland Cavaliers will have a top-six pick and the 19th pick in this upcoming draft. In the next few weeks here at Right Down Euclid, we will be profiling players the Cavaliers might draft in the first round on June 27. Today, we profile Anthony Bennett.
Tale of the Tape
Name: Anthony Bennett
Weight: 240 lbs.
Honors: Mountain West Freshman of the Year, All-Mountain West 1st Team
2012-2013 Per Game Stats: 16.1 PPG, 8.1 RPG, 1.0 APG, 0.7 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 53.3 FG%, 37.5 3FG%, 70.1 FT%
NCAA Tournament Stats: 4-of-11, 15 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals in 2nd-round loss to California
*Had shoulder surgery on May 8th
Anthony Bennett is perhaps one of the most perplexing prospects in this year’s NBA Draft. Sitting at 6’7”, Bennett could either be a small forward or power forward, has a very well defined, interesting offensive game and is an injury red flag. Bennett has high upside and is going to be a top 5 pick in this year’s draft. Let’s take a look at how Bennett shapes up as an NBA player.
Bennett’s size is both a useful tool and a bit of a curse for him. Measuring 6’7” and 240 pounds, Bennett has the body of a power forward with the height of a small forward or shooting guard. That makes his ultimate NBA position a bit of a question. The one thing that will definitely help Bennett, and what makes him a potential top 5 pick, is his length. Bennett and Otto Porter have the same wingspan, which is mind-boggling because Bennett looks so much stockier than Porter. Bennett is much heavier than Porter, and that is why he’s being considered a possible power forward. Bennett also has excellent athleticism, is surprisingly quick for his size and is a great leaper. That’s going to translate well at the next level.
Of course, we have to talk about Bennett’s shoulder injury. Bennett had surgery last week to repair a SLAP tear in his left shoulder, which is his non-shooting arm. He’s going to miss all of the pre-draft workouts, obviously, but hopes to be back for training camp. I think that’s a fair timeline, as this type of injury, when surgically repaired, takes about 3-4 months to heal correctly. The injury is one that shouldn’t give Bennett any more problems as well because it’s not his shooting arm, so his shooting motion shouldn’t be affected. Also, once this type of injury is fixed surgically, it is not something that becomes a recurrent problem, such as a deeper labral tear. A SLAP tear is a tear on the top of the labrum, which is the cartilage that forms the “socket” of the ball-and-socket joint that is the shoulder. In deeper tears, this can be a much more serious problem, but the SLAP tear is a much less serious tear. I’d more liken this injury to C.J. McCollum’s than Alex Len’s, in that this isn’t something that should be a long-term problem for him.
Bennett’s offensive game is interesting because he’s really good at everything. He’s an excellent outside shooter for his position, hitting on 38 percent of his threes while at UNLV and getting better as the season went along. He really has a great shooting motion for a big as well, looking very fluid in his jumper. He’s also really good attacking off the dribble and finishing on fast breaks. He’s the closest anyone in this draft comes to simulating a freight train on the break, someone who shows no hesitation to dunk on someone’s face or draw contact. That translates into the half court game as well, where Bennett’s way too fast for most power forwards to keep up with him when he attacks a crease. In the post, he’s not great with his back to the basket, but that will come. He’s very impressive attacking in the post while facing up his defender, and he’s definitely willing to bang down low, an adept offensive rebounder who has great instincts and can clean up and affect the game even when his shots aren’t falling. When the biggest problem Bennett has is back-to-the-basket positioning, which can easily be taught by the right coach, we’re basically just nitpicking. Bennett is a monster on offense, and he’s got a lot of room to improve as well. As far as position, offensively I feel like Bennett can play power forward in the NBA; he’s quick enough, strong enough and long enough to overcome his short frame. He could be a small forward as well, similar to how Thaddeus Young has played both positions as a pro, but ultimately I think playing in the post is where Bennett will be most effective.
The biggest problem for Bennett defensively is effort, or rather lack of effort. It just isn’t there for him. Part of this is how good UNLV was defensively this past season; they ranked 18th in the nation in defensive efficiency. With several great defensive cogs, particularly fellow forwards Khem Birch and Mike Moser, Bennett didn’t need to be a good defensive player on every possession to succeed and instead could focus on developing his offensive game. In the NBA, where he has a great chance of being thrown to the wolves on a team without a good defensive presence behind him, this is something that will really hurt him right off the bat. However, with a competent set of teammates and/or a defense-minded coach, Bennett will be able to overcome this. When he does give maximal effort, Bennett can be a Reggie Evans-like frustration machine; someone who is willing to bang with opponents down low despite his lack of height. His length and instincts will also make him a good defensive rebounder. It’s not far-fetched to believe that Bennett could easily become a very talented defender in addition to his offensive prowess.
Since his defensive effort isn’t there, it’s easy to label Bennett as a possible effort red flag. However, having watched Bennett multiple times over the past year hHe somehow became the prospect I watched the most last season despite playing at UNLV; I caught about 5-6 Bennett games on TV), I can say that his effort is not a huge problem. Bennett is so active on the offensive end, relentless in an effort to affect the game even if he’s not getting quality touches. I think the defensive lapses are more an issue of lack of necessity to learn the defensive game thanks to his scoring ability and a great defensive unit at UNLV than an unwillingness to play on that side of the ball. Once in the NBA, I could see Bennett quickly adapting to giving much more effort on this side of the ball. That being said, Bennett is still a good choice this high because at 20 years old, his offensive game is perfect to suit his particular physique and will only continue to improve as he learns the nuances of an NBA offense. Bennett is certainly worth his rankings by the draft experts because of this upside.
Zach Randolph is a great comparison for Bennett. Mainly, I think this applies because the same distinction must be made about Bennett that was made about Z-Bo: Bennett is not a shooter who can play the post; he’s a post that can shoot. He’s not Rashard Lewis, he’s not KG and he’s certainly not Ryan Anderson (Actually, I think the Hornets are a great situation for him, Anderson on the perimeter and Bennett inside would be really fun). He’s a guy like Chris Bosh or in his prime Z-Bo, in that he is best utilized in the post but can launch the occasional three. I think Bennett is a better shooter and certainly has better shot selection than Z-Bo. That’s a bit of a trade-off for Randolph’s size and back-to-the-basket ability, but I think Bennett is going to be a very similar player to Randolph and hopefully will have a more productive career and better attitude than mid-00s Z-Bo.
How Does He Fit on the Cavaliers?
If Otto Porter and Nerlens Noel are gone, the Cavs should draft Bennett. It would be interesting to see where he’d fit, given Tristan Thompson’s place as the team’s starting (and undersized) power forward, but the Cavs could make it work. Bennett could come off the bench at least immediately where he’d create some interesting lineups if matched with Tyler Zeller, a decent mid-range shooting big and Thompson, or Thompson and Varejao in a power rebounding lineup. Even if he was playing out of position at small forward, I think Bennett could grow into the role. Also, working with Mike Brown is an excellent fit for him to grow as a defensive player, which is a bonus. In my opinion, Noel should be Plan A for the Cavs’ first pick, Porter should be plan 1A and Bennett should be the third option behind those two.