So, it finally happened. Five games into his NBA career, Anthony Bennett, The No. 1 pick in last year’s NBA draft, finally hit a field goal. It was barely two minutes into the second quarter of the Cavs game against the Milwaukee Bucks on Nov. 6 when Bennett caught a pass from Jarrett Jack a mere 26 feet from the basket (well behind the three point arc) and fired. The release was quick and pure, and the results were equally beautiful.
Before that, Bennett’s shot chart resembled the cold barren tundra of his homeland, Canada.
Note: Red does not mean hot. It means below league average, or, in simpler terms, awful.
Now, through his first eight professional games, the chart looks much better.
Okay, so he’s still struggling. But at least he’s off the schneid. Before the game against the Bucks, Bennett entered the contest 0-of-15 from the field, and now he’s 5-of-35. That’s called improvement.
Why the rough start? The answer is fairly simple. It’s a combination of poor shot selection, rust (he did take the summer off with shoulder surgery) and factors beyond his control. Let’s take it to the tape.
Poor Shot Selection
One of the most noticeable things from those shot charts, besides the terrible percentage, is the shot selection. Bennett, a power forward that happened to play the three occasionally in college, is coming from a UNLV program where he had pretty much free reign. Being the best player on a mid-level conference team gives you a bit of freedom to do whatever you’d like, and so Bennett fired an above average amount of shots from deep for someone who was destined to play big at the next level. That shot selection has carried over to the next level, and Bennett’s finding how hard it is to shoot threes in the NBA compared to college (The NBA three-point line is four feet farther than in the NCAA).
Bennett goes wrong twice in this play. Just checking into the game, it’s tough to come out cold off the bench and shoot threes for anyone outside of Ray Allen, but for a rookie, that’s supposed to be a power forward, in their first game, that’s hardly played all summer? That’s nearly insane.
Bennett set a down-screen for Jack (and he’s been a horrible screener thus far, but that’s a story for another time) and could’ve sealed off either man on the low block immediately.
Andray Blatche obviously has great length, but we saw Bennett in the post in the preseason against Orlando. He uses his body well, he has surprisingly good footwork, and is a solid finisher from awkward angles. If he seals against Blatche, he at least has decent position on the block and, if nothing, the Cavs can simply reset and go from there. Instead, he set another poor screen for Jack, who now had the ball. After the second screen, Bennett has two options. Roll to basket, or pop out.
With a wide-open lane, and no one but Reggie Evans in the lane to help, this is a good chance for Bennett to use that big body and attack the rim, but instead he pops to the arc, hesitates enough for Blatche to get a hand up, and fires away. The result was a miss, and though it wasn’t the worst look, there were opportunities for a better shot. As the season has kicks into its earliest gears, teams are now simply laying off Bennett from the outside, and for good reason, like the Pacers, who simply let him shoot in just the third game of the season. Look at Hibbert not even attempt to get outside, it might as well have been Hibbert himself shooting from deep.
If that’s even an average shooter, Hibbert’s coming at him a bit harder. You know, like he might even run at him. Instead, he let him hoist practically knowing the results. When you’re cold, and teams know it, it’s no fun at all.
Shaking Off The Rust
Look, it has to be tough to be Bennett right now. If you’re the top pick in the draft, you’re coming into the league with sky-high expectations, regardless if you were a surprise pick or not – and he was certainly a surprise pick. Combining those expectations with the four-month rest from the game that Bennett took after the draft and receiving minor shoulder surgery in May and you’re not always going to get the best results. It’s fairly obvious in some instances, like when Bennett had a breakaway layup against the Pacers after a nice strip from Louis Scola.
If this guy had fresh legs, was conditioned better from a full offseason of runs, and wasn’t just getting back into the swing of things, you can almost guarantee it goes in and he probably even throws that down. Instead, you get a missed fast break layup that barely clips the front of the rim. That’s tough.
You can also see it when he’s down low. For example, against the Pacers, he gets an offensive board and then loses his favorable position after a quick hand check from Scola right before he rises up. Bennett’s no small man, yet he easily gets bumped off the block and then ends up going into double coverage – including Roy Hibbert who is one of the best rim protectors in the league. The results are what you’d expect.
And a similar situation happens against the Nets when he posts up on the block against Andray Blatche.
He gets bumped underneath the basket and then ends up hitting the bottom of the backboard when he tries to reverse. All of these are typical things that you see happen to people getting back into the rhythm of playing on a daily basis. Look at Derrick Rose in Chicago. If you don’t believe rust is a real thing, then you’re absolutely crazy.
Factors Beyond His Control
No, not pressure, or expectations, or his age. Nothing like that. We’re talking about his teammates making different decisions than expected, and Bennett not being prepared to adjust. The NBA is a freewheeling league, and though it’s much more organized than it would appear, there’s still plenty of plays that happen over the course of the game that aren’t planned or in the playbook. Most players that have been playing together know where to be when things go astray, like the Spurs or the Heat or the Pacers starting five. Usually even the chaotic moments are still somewhat scripted, and when a player drives a different way, there’s certain adjustments made by all the teammates around the court. It’s why you see Kyrie and Varejao play so well together, because when Irving isos on the right side of the floor, no one seems to be better at finding a seam along the baseline for a nifty Kyrie bounce pass than Anderson. It’s something that comes together over time while playing together. Bennett is obviously not adjusted to playing with his teammates, and it shows.
On this play, you can see that things went awry from the get go. Bennett pushed Gee out of the corner (you can even see him wave Gee up to the wing), and Jarrett Jack decides to completely disregard the Zeller screen.
Then, as Jack heads to the hole he’s cut off by his own defender enough so that Blatche doesn’t have to drift far into the lane to leave Bennett alone.
By the time Bennett has the ball in his hands, Blatche has already recouped and is in his face when Bennett’s releasing the shot. Instead of taking a contested corner, he should’ve gave the ball back to Jack, who is even calling for the ball as Bennett is raising up to shoot, and let the Cavs reset.
Bennett should’ve passed up the shot, but if Jack properly uses that screen, there’s a good chance he has more room to penetrate deeper, and Blatche, a potent shot blocker, will have drifted more toward the rim, leaving Bennett unguarded for the best shot in basketball.
Another example of this is when the Cavs were running a modified fast break against the Pacers. Bennett ended up settling for a catch-and-shoot contested 15-footer, but he should’ve had a lay up.
With Jack pushing the ball up the right side of the floor, you see the Cavs have only one clear advantage: Bennett is ahead of his defender (Scola) and the other Pacers defender that could pick him up is heading out to pick his man up on the wing. If the other Cavs had properly spaced the floor, there would’ve been an open passing lane for Bennett to head to the left side of the hoop for an easy bounce pass to bucket.
Instead, Zeller’s in the middle of the key, Jack gets too close to his own teammate Bennett, and C.J Miles is oddly in the short corner between the block and the three-point arc. If the Cavs had ran this properly, you’d see Miles (the shooter) in the corner spotting up, Zeller posted on the right block, and Jack not go any deeper than the free throw line.
That would leave the left side wide open for Bennett to head to the basket, seal off Scola on his back, and give Jack an easy lane for a pass right underneath the bucket with great position. It might not go in, but it’s better than this, right?
Coach Mike Brown preaches defenses, and rightfully so. But maybe it’s time to work on simple floor spacing, especially when plays break down.
Anthony Bennett hit his first field goal of the season, and, maybe fittingly, it was a three. He really seems to be working on that range, possibly in hopes of developing into a true stretch four, or maybe even to be a big small forward. If he can do that, he’ll be a mismatch nightmare. But for right now, Cavs fans are just hoping he can hit buckets of any sort. If they happen enough, maybe he’ll flash that smile after every one.