A week of the season has now gone by. Sadly, we can never have those moments back. The joy in our hearts as Andrew Bynum ran out onto the court, the deft ball handling of Kyrie Irving, the miracle step forward of C.J. Miles, the magic of the Opening Day win against the heavily favored Brooklyn Nets.
Let’s get into this. I’m here with Alex Raffalli, who helped us out with our draft coverage for the 2013 NBA Draft, and who unsucessfully lobbied for the Cavaliers to draft Nerlens Noel from Kentucky. Noel, of course, dropped to 6th in the draft and ended up being unlikely to play the entire NBA season. However, the guy they got, Anthony Bennett, who was not seen as a likely candidate to be drafted number one overall, has struggled in this first week of the season. OK, so...
ANTHONY BENNETT, THE NO. 1 OVERALL PICK OF THE 2013 NBA DRAFT (Gannett/NBAE)
ME: All along when we heard about Anthony Bennett’s weaknesses, scoring was never supposed to be the problem, yet, he has scored a total of 3 points on 1 of 20 shooting so far, thanks to him finally making a shot in his fifth game. What’s wrong with him, and how do the Cavs fix it?
ALEX: Bad conditioning, inexperience and bad shot selection all have something to do with Bennett’s early struggle. Let me remind everyone he showed up to camp out of shape and has played a total of 61 minutes in his young pro career. Moreover, I think he probably will never miss 18 shots in a row in his career, making this weird streak more of a statistical outlier than anything to worry about too much.
That being said, I have been very disappointed with his decision making. For a player who was supposed to have immediate impact offensively, his best moments have come on the other end of the court, where we’ve seen him stay in front of different types of players (bigger or quicker than him) which was a big concern coming in the season. That’s also most likely why Mike Brown hasn’t been afraid of giving him minutes.
ME: You saw him at the post draft press conference and he didn’t look fat. He's just a giant dude with these hugely broad shoulders and I don’t really think that his body is what’s holding him back or that it makes any sense to mention it, other than to question whether he has some self-discipline issues. He was able to body up with this weight on anyone and everyone in the preseason too, but there it was translating to offensive opportunities. It seems to me like it’s mental, or like there’s a problem with the way he’s being coached. Why is anyone still letting him take these long range shots when he has such a quick first step and such powerful moves?
ALEX: I’m not sure I agree with you 100%. First, every time he’s tried to take it inside since the beginning of the season, he looked terrible and got blocked by taller/bigger guys. He has a 7.5% eFG% (eFG% accounts for the extra point that a 3-point field goal potentially gives your team) and has even been struggling at the free throw line. Some of this, as you mention, has to be confidence to some degree.
However, I don’t think the coacking staff is doing anything wrong. First, in the NBA, you should always encourage a player to take a shot when he is open, because you don’t get that opportunity often. Second, I think reducing his minutes to account for his struggles obviously would not help him mentally. It’s still very early in the season and a rough patch right now should not condemn Bennett. The organization clearly has high hopes for him, we have to be more patient. I don’t think he really cost the Cavs any games thus far, although he sure could have helped them win a couple if he had been more accurate.
ME: Should he be starting at the 3? Nobody has really distinguished himself there and he's been able to keep up on defense.
ALEX: As much as I dislike the different options the Cavs have right now at the small forward position (Earl Clark has been disappointing, Alonzo Gee hasn’t looked any better than last year and CJ Miles is simply too small to play the position), and as much as I think Bennett would benefit from playing with the starters rather than being thrown in there as a “main” weapon offensively, i don’t think he is ready to start just yet. Ask me again in January.
ME: You don’t think he’s ready to start? Really? The guy was an offensive beast as the main option at UNLV. He literally crushed people. There are crushed people that would attest to this if they were not crushed. It’s all on video. There’s evidence. He had a list of people he dunked on. Why isn’t he trying to dunk on people?
ALEX: He’s making mistakes right now. Mistakes you should expect from a young big man starting his NBA career. Simple stuff like going up with his right hand on the left side of the basket. This very small sample of NBA minutes reminds of the type of problems Tristan Thompson had his first year in the league. I assume it just takes a while for your brain to adjust to the NBA style of basketball, where most of the guys at least as good as you are playing the game. In a few weeks, you’ll see him dunk the ball every time he’s under the basket rather than attempting a soft layup and exposing the basketball for anyone to block it.
ME: I’m tired of being patient. That’s my problem though, I guess. What’s your assessment after one week? I’m pretty pumped about the defense, about C.J. Miles, about Bynum playing and about Tristan Thompson’s ability to switch shooting hands.. The Nets and TWolves are good teams.
ALEX: A few things stand out after five games. Mike Brown (or whoever is in charge of his offense) is using CJ Miles in a much better way, running him through screens and having the guards finding him in good spots. Andrew Bynum is back and you can see flashes of his dominance in the paint. He’s not played more than 19 minutes in a game and clearly is not 100% yet, but I envision a lot of great moments for him as a Cavalier, assuming he does not get injured again. Finally Tristan Thompson. He looked like an All-Star in the first two games, being the best player in those two by far. His line against Charlotte (21 points 6/11 shooting, 9/10 from the FT line and 11 boards) really stands out. It seems his shooting hand switch is really paying off. Then, you see his performances against the Pacers and the Bucks, and you wonder when he will ever find consistency…
KYRIE IRVING HAS ENTERED HIS THIRD YEAR WITH RAISED EXPECTATIONS (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
ME: Kyrie Iriving was ranked really high by ESPN in that NBA Rank thing that ranks all the players in the league. Like 7th of so out of all the players in the NBA. Other than last night, when he scored 29 and hit all those shots in the 4th quarter he hasn’t really put up big scoring games in the first 5 games of the season. Is this a function of Coach Brown playing him off the ball, or is there something wrong with him?
ALEX: Let’s put it like this: I am not worried about Irving whatsoever. I have seen him being very active trying to find his teammates early in the game, and his assists are way up already. His shooting percentage isn’t really pretty right now but it’s more because he’s struggling to convert in the paint (15/39, 39%) than anything else. I’ve liked what I’ve seen from the Jack/Irving lineup. I also think it can be used more effectively, by running plays for Kyrie when he’s not handling the ball rather than having him standing in the corner.
I think Mike Brown is still developing his play calling with this group. Usually, when Jack comes in Bynum is also stepping on the court and the Cavs try to give him touches in the post. I have nothing against it, but it takes away from Irving shining when playing off the ball. Once Bynum plays with the first unit, we’ll see him find his open teammates when the opposing teams double him. And you know Kyrie is money from deep!
ME: Nice use of an exclamation point, bro. Lastly , did you hear Nerlens Noel signed with Reebok?
ALEX: Oh... Do they make knee braces?