Feb 1, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin (7) drives the ball during the second quarter as Cleveland Cavaliers small forward Anthony Bennett (15) defends at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN's Hope and Plan for Anthony Bennett's Rise to Stardom

Anthony Bennett’s play following being drafted #1 overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers may have been the biggest straw that got GM Chris Grant fired. Bennett has struggled since being drafted. His shot selection has been poor. He hasn’t made many shots. His conditioning has been bad. His playing time has been inconsistent, to non-existent to now more regular. Since the beginning of the season he seems to of dropped some of his weight. His shot form looks good, if sometimes he shoots on the way down instead of at the peak of his jump. His rebounding and defense have improved, most likely due to improved conditioning. And finally he seems more engaged and happy out of the floor, I guess players enjoy playing instead of sitting the bench, who knew?

Today ESPN’s David Thorpe, who covers NBA rookies and their progress, put up a lengthy piece called “Don’t Give up on Anthony Bennett” (Insider, $). In his article Thorpe focuses on 3 goals to get a new Bennett. In the process he makes the possibility of Bennett being a star in this league not only seem possible, but likely. He compares him, in different ways, to Dirk, LeBron, Steph Curry, and Kevin Love all players far beyond the current Bennett and far more hopeful then most Cavalier fans are at this point. Lets take a look at his 3 points and our insight into those points:

Goal No. 1: Get in great shape

The best part for Bennett is that he has the type of body that should continue to exhibit power and force despite a significant loss of weight. The impact that new physique would have in the rebounding and transition game alone would be huge combined with his soft hands and quick feet. Being able to play faster and in longer stretches of faster play would help him impact the game without any other improved skill.

  • Asthma, sleep apnea and off-season surgery did a number on Bennett’s conditioning. Bennett has to be humbled by his early season performances and has shown improvement in this area already. That chip on his shoulder, money for dietitian, cook and personal trainer and concerted plans and effort from the Cleveland staff means this off-season could be huge for Bennett’s body. The biggest problem would be another injury, to any part of the body that could effect conditioning. He could not run and barely could bike due to concerns for his shoulder this last off-season. Staying healthy and having a full off-season will be huge. With his long arms, broad shoulders and soft hands Bennett could see a drastic change from year 1 to 2.

Goal No. 2: Play athletically and energetically

This goes hand in hand with the first goal, naturally, but it needs to be said that just losing weight and increasing endurance is not a guarantee that Bennett will “out-athlete” anyone. Mentally, he has to get there, as well. Players who were once large or heavy (or both) have to learn how to use their new body just like someone who develops a new post move needs to learn how and when to try it. Once Bennett is physically capable of running faster, jumping higher and playing harder for longer stretches, he will still play as if he does not have those new tools on many possessions.

  • Thorpe notes the connection between these first two goals but rightly identifies this mental aspect as an important piece of Bennett’s development. Does he know what he is able to do and exert himself to do it?  Does he know how to post up and use a quick drop step instead of bullying inside or turning and fading away? How Bennett understands his body’s development is huge for the Cavaliers as Bennett may be the most athletic player on their team.

Goal No. 3: Embrace the paint first

Watching Bennett shoot the ball during pregame warm-ups reveals one clear truth — he has a chance to be a special shooter. He has very nice form, uses good arc and has a soft touch overall. Cleveland, as a franchise, has every reason to believe he will be a serious perimeter threat with 3-point range. But that does not mean he should be camped out behind the 3-point line for much of the game. It’s one thing for a young guard who lacks driving skills to stick to the 3-point line, it’s another thing for a huge power forward to do so.

Kevin Love, now considered the best shooter/rebounder in the league (and in NBA history), took all of 19 3s his rookie season. Bennett has already attempted 37 3-pointers and 80 shots total from beyond 15 feet, while taking just 69 shots inside of 15 feet (56 shots at the rim). That is the biggest reason why he has only 44 free throw attempts.

  • That Thorpe sees Bennett’s ability as a shooter is a huge sign of the quality of player we have on our team. Looking at Love, now a great 3 point shooter, and comparing his stats to Bennett’s shows how a player develops is as important as the development itself. Can Bennett be convinced to start inside? Does he see the benefit of that? Getting shots to fall inside opens up the outside and gives confidence to a player. He is short for his position but his long arms and added quickness should overcome that.

Does this article give you hope? Do you think Thorpe is over valuing the characteristics he sees in Bennett? What is your cut off point for expecting Bennett to improve, year 2? 3? 4? Which goal do you think is going to be most difficult for the #1 overall pick? Start the conversation below in the comment section.

Tags: Anthony Bennett Cleveland Cavaliers

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