No player on Cleveland’s roster better typified the disappointment that was the Cavaliers’ 2013-14 season than Anthony Bennett.
The former UNLV star had one of the most discouraging rookie seasons for a top overall pick in NBA history, and things didn’t go much better for the team stocked with young talent.
Expectations are different now that LeBron James has returned to where his career started.
Bennett hopes shedding 15 to 20 pounds since the end of the season will help him have a new beginning of his own in his sophomore season.
This week has been a good start. Bennett was unable to play in the NBA Summer League last year as he recovered from shoulder surgery.
He has played fairly well for the Cavaliers this week, though he made just 4 of 11 shots and finished with 11 points as Cleveland was knocked out of the league’s playoffs with a 96-90 loss Thursday at the Thomas &Mack Center.
Bennett was unavailable for comment after the game, but spoke with reporters earlier in the week.
He said he’s excited about being able to use the offseason to get better after the injury hampered his progress between the draft and the start of the season.
That helped contribute to a rookie campaign that saw Bennett appear in just 52 games and shoot 35.6 percent from the field and average 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds.
“I’ve been talking to a lot of the coaches, and they’ve been telling me that now is when all the hard work I’ve been putting in should pay off,” he said.
Along with James, Bennett will be joined by this year’s top overall pick, fellow Canadian Andrew Wiggins. Bennett and Wiggins have known each other for years, and Bennett said it’s nice to have a friend around to joke with and encourage each other.
One thing Bennett hasn’t tried to do is warn Wiggins about the potential pitfalls of the expectations that come with such a lofty draft position.
“The only thing I told him to do was just go out and have fun,” Bennett said. “That’s one thing I wish I did last year, so I’m just trying to give him the heads-up.”
Bennett’s trademark smile was often difficult to find last year.
“My whole first year was kind of buried in pressure,” he said. “I put a lot of that on myself.”
Everything seemed to pile up for the former Findlay Prep star, who turned 21 in March.
“It was just all the things I was going through,” he said. “The pressure, the injury, the conditioning, not playing. All that built up on me.
“It was just kind of hard.”
There have been signs that the fun has returned to Bennett’s game this week. He has thrown down several impressive dunks playing on his old college campus, and his numbers have been far better than what he produced in the regular season.
Through four games, Bennett is averaging 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds.
Of course, it hasn’t been all good. Bennett displays questionable shot selection at times, an issue that dates to his college days. He was also victimized several times on defense during Thursday’s loss.
Adding to the theme of a fresh start, Bennett’s second year in Cleveland will include a new coach in David Blatt.
Blatt was encouraged by what he saw working with Bennett for the first time.
“Overall, I thought Anthony had an outstanding week. You guys would probably agree with me,” he said. “Today, I thought he was a little tired. It wasn’t his best day. But for the most part this week, Anthony’s really, really stepped it up and showed his quality and raised his confidence.
“It certainly gives everybody a good feeling and good cause for hope for the future.”
Bennett doesn’t want to completely forget last season. Despite all the disappointment, he knows there are valuable lessons.
“It was a hard season for me,” he said. “I just soaked up everything and learned as much as I could. I talked to everyone about what I could do to get better, and it was a real learning experience. That’s why I made a commitment to stay in the gym and just get right.”
Bennett may never get the chance to play for Blatt in games that count, however.
Trade rumors have been swirling since James landed in Cleveland, and Bennett has been a key component in most of the discussions about getting All-Star forward Kevin Love to the Cavaliers.
Contact reporter Adam Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-224-5509. Follow him on Twitter: @adamhilllvrj.