Bennett’s struggles as the top overall pick in the draft have been well-documented. So when he broke out for 19 points and 10 rebounds in Cleveland’s home win over Sacramento, there was somewhat of a collective gasp across the NBA.
Yes, Bennett established season highs in both points and rebounds in the same game. And yes, it appeared to come out of nowhere. But the truth is that Bennett has been playing much better for about two weeks.
“You’re starting to see a little bit of what we see in practice and the reason why we drafted him,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said. “He’s a talented young man and he’s starting to come to life a little bit.”
In his last nine games, Bennett is averaging 8.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and – most importantly – 20.8 minutes. He has shot 43 percent (25-of-58) overall and 47 percent (7-of-15) from 3-point range.
That doesn’t put Bennett anywhere near the class of recent top picks Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin. Heck, it doesn’t even put him anywhere near the top rookies of this troubled class.
However, compared to Bennett’s previous nine games – where he had more DNPs (6) than points (5) – it is a quantum leap.
“It’s not anything that all of a sudden happened overnight,” Brown said. “He’s a good basketball player. He can pass it. He can shoot it. He can run the floor. He can finish in traffic. He can rebound.”
Bennett has two big problems right now. One is common to many rookies – he has trouble defending, as evidenced by his 107 rating and his 7.6 fouls per 48 minutes. Film study, diligence and minutes will make that better over time.
Bennett’s other problem is that he is a tweener. At 6-8 and 260 pounds, he doesn’t seem quite big enough to play power forward or quick enough to play small forward, given his struggles thus far.
But that’s about the same size as Paul Millsap, another tweener who has turned himself into an All-Star. It’s about the same size as Brandon Bass, who has become a dependable veteran. And it’s also about the same size as Terrence Jones, who has jumped from benchwarmer as a rookie to starter and double-digit scorer as a sophomore.
Bennett has an All-Star break to catch his breath and 29 games to continue to build on his recent stretch. He will have a summer league, which he did not have last year due to a shoulder injury. And he is expected to be a big part of Canada’s national team over the next several years.
“All the hard work I’ve put in with the players and coaching staff is paying off,” Bennett said.
Now, about Otto Porter’s rookie season.
On to the rankings.