A highly touted player walked in front of two media members at Barclays Center before starting his pregame routine, which elicited an unusual – yet humbling – reaction.
One media member turned to the other and asked, “Who is that guy?”
That guy was Anthony Bennett, the former No. 1 overall pick of the 2013 draft.
To this point, Bennett has resembled a tweener reminiscent of draft busts such as Michael Beasley, Tyrus Thomas, Jan Vesely, Derrick Williams and Marvin Williams.
But none of those guys went No. 1 overall.
“One of the toughest things to do in the NBA is transition from playing power forward to small forward, which Bennett and the Cavaliers are figuring out now,” an Eastern Conference scout said.
In addition, one Eastern Conference executive painted a bleak picture of Bennett based on his team’s background check.
“He was red flagged before the draft,” the executive said.
The aforementioned red flags included Bennett’s physical condition and lack of a defined forward position. And now, with Luol Deng on the team, Bennett’s rookie season might just include quite a few DNP-CDs.
Bennett had shoulder surgery in May and coach Brown publicly revealed he suffers from asthma and sleep apnea in October.
Those conditions have played a role in Bennett’s slow start to his career.
Bennett missed his first 16 shot attempts before finally making his first basket, a 3-pointer against the Milwaukee Bucks, in his fifth game.
Ironically, Irving is the only other No. 1 pick to miss 15 consecutive shots at any point during a season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Since then, Bennett’s shooting numbers haven’t fared much better:
Based on those statistics, the executive sees only one bold solution to help Bennett find his rhythm.
“Eat your humble pie and send the kid to the D-League where he can play,” the executive said.
No former No. 1 pick has ever been sent down to the D-League since its inception, and the Cavaliers are not expected to demote Bennett despite his struggles.
Hasheem Thabeet, the second overall pick of the 2009 draft, was the highest drafted player ever to be sent to the D-League.
“I’m still pretty confident,” Bennett told Sheridan Hoops. “I go out there and play my game. I’m not going to let anything bother me even though I’m kind of in a slump, but I’ve just got to go out there and play hard.”
Bennett currently ranks third on Cleveland’s depth chart at small forward behind Deng and Earl Clark, who was starting when the trade occurred.
While the trade will certainly limit Bennett’s minutes at small forward, the scout believes it could ultimately benefit him.
“I think trading for Deng can really be a positive thing for Bennett in the long run,” the scout said. “Deng is a crafty veteran whom Bennett can learn a lot from.”
At power forward, Tristan Thompson is entrenched as the starter averaging 33.1 minutes per game, while Tyler Zeller and Bennett have shared the backup minutes.
Another Eastern Conference scout, who has seen Bennett in person multiple times, believes his position on the depth chart speaks to Cleveland’s belief in him – or lack thereof.
“It tells you clearly what they think of him,” the scout said. “You look at that roster and see that he’s not playing and it can be disheartening.”
When Bennett saw playing time, he appeared rattled, according to the scout.
“He looked lost,” the scout said. “His teammates were yelling at him. It looked like he didn’t know the plays.”
According to Bennett, his adjustment period is reminiscent of his high school and college days.
“In every level it’s always going to be tough once you come in learning a new system, learning your players, the coaching staff and everything,” said Bennett. “I think I’m doing pretty well coming in and learning along the way so this is the best I can do.”
The stark difference between Bennett’s learning curve in previous levels is the large target on his back as the No. 1 pick with a $5.3 million salary.
Despite the pressure that comes with his draft status, Bennett isolates himself from the voices of others and focuses on his own expectations.
“I always put pressure on myself,” said Bennett. “I just blank out everybody and what their opinions are. I just focus on me and team that we have now so getting better every day is what I can do.”
As Bennett mentioned, the focus is on him as the top pick this season and how his development will shape the Cavaliers going forward. And people are growing skeptical.
“I wouldn’t go as far as others in saying that he is the worst No. 1 pick ever or declare him a bust just yet,” the scout said. “We’re not even halfway through the season. That said though, he’s been terrible. I wasn’t high on him last draft but no one thought he would start off this poorly.”
“He’s a young guy, but every day he gets a little bit better and it’s a long season,” coach Brown said. “He’s continuing to work and we’re continuing to push him in the right direction. I think in time, you see glimpses of it in practice and in the game, that in time you’ll see a consistent level of production from him.”
If the Cavaliers don’t get any production, much less on a consistent basis, Bennett could be compared with Kwame Brown and Greg Oden. Obscurity, or going down in history as a bust, would be a shame.