Coming off the first double-double of his young career, first overall pick Anthony Bennett finally showed some hope for the utterly dysfunctional franchise that is the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Before Tuesday night, however, Bennett was the butt of countless jokes and national scrutiny for his below average play, especially for a number one pick. Riding on the coattails of the buzz from his breakout game, I feel personally inclined to offer up a little bit of clarification and insight into the absurdity of all this scrutiny.
First off, yes, Anthony Bennett was having a pretty rough start to his career. I mean, the guy made one shot in his first twenty attempts. It was pretty ugly. But for the national media to call him a bust from the beginning, even in the hours following the NBA draft itself, is utterly foolish.
I’m not defending the numbers; they speak for themselves. What I am doing is defending the person behind the numbers. Show a little empathy for a moment as I take you on the bumpy road that Anthony Bennett traveled up until February 11.
After posting above average numbers at UNLV, Bennett tiptoed through the pre-draft onslaught of media coverage due to a torn rotator cuff. Nobody saw his first overall selection by the Cavaliers coming, especially Bennett himself. In a matter of minutes the leading scorer for the third-place team in the Mountain West Conference was signing a $5 million contract.
Enter the media storm.
From the minute he was picked, Bennett’s credibility was questioned. He was undersized and oversized at the same time; the media labeled him as being too short to play the 4 and too big to play the 3. Cleveland was immediately chastised for not choosing the Kentucky standout Nerlens Noel, even though he would be recovering from a torn ACL the ENTIRE 2103-2014 SEASON.
Sure, Bennett himself had some injury problems, but a shoulder injury is much more manageable than a torn ACL (see Derrick Rose and Greg Oden for more information). As soon as this media mayhem ended, a new monster was unleashed.
As soon as Bennett began play, all hell broke loose throughout ESPN and the other major media outlets. While he was getting around ten minutes of playing time and averaging around three points, the major media latched on and rode him further into the ground.
Articles began to pop up everywhere about his “historically bad” start, comparing him to every other first round pick from the last 25 years. Even NBA legend Gary Payton issued a rant directed directly at Bennett, calling him “lazy” and “fat” on national TV for all the world to see.
Now imagine you are in Bennett’s shoes. You did your job in college and were told you were good enough to make the NBA after your freshman season at an average-at-best basketball program. Then, out of the blue, you are selected first overall despite not participating in the pre-draft combine AND while nursing a shoulder injury. Then, your credibility is continually questioned up until your first game.
And then you aren’t ready.
All hell begins to break loose. Your confidence is diminished to less than nothing. When you do get to play, it’s for 3-4 minutes at a time, barely enough to warm up or even get your legs under you. Then you struggle more.
The criticism and vehement blame thrown directly at Bennett himself sickens me.
To top it off, all this while, Cleveland had another big-man, a veteran at that, was being paid $12 million to not take his job seriously and make a mockery of the league. Andrew Bynum did get some media backlash for not performing up to his potential, but not nearly to the same extent as Bennett. And why?
Because he already had the reputation of a slacker. He was just being himself.
While Bennett was working to build up some confidence with the little opportunity he had, the entire framework of the organization that he was forced into was collapsing. Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters publicly didn’t like each other. The team as a whole was performing far below expectations. Andrew Bynum completely quit participating in team activities, eventually causing him to be traded away for Luol Deng who, a week after arriving, publicly shared his distaste for the dive-bombing Cleveland Cavaliers. Needless to say, Deng, the piece acquired for the train wreck that is Andrew Bynum, will almost certainly not be returning to the team next season.
But still, despite all this turmoil and dysfunction, Anthony Bennett was expected to perform as a number one draft pick, which he honestly never should have been.
So, as you could probably imagine, I was more than happy to see Anthony Bennett’s 19 point, 10 rebound game on Tuesday night. At one point, Bennett made a three and threw both hands up in the air in pure excitement. For the first time in his short and publicly ridiculed NBA career he had succeeded, at least in his eyes.
Last night I did something I have come to never do: I watched SportsCenter. There I found that a happy, congratulatory piece about Anthony Bennett’s breakout game was nonexistent. Instead, the headline in the NBA for the day was a story about how highly LeBron thinks of himself compared to the legends.
So here’s to Anthony Bennett. I may be a mere blogger and NBA fan, but I’ll give him a little bit of the credit that I believe he deserves. It seems that no one else is.