Do you remember June 27, when the Cavaliers made Anthony Bennett the top overall pick in the NBA Draft?
There were gasps when that happened, as when Jets fans would gather in a swanky ballroom for the NFL Draft. The Jets would pick, and their fans in the peanut gallery invariably would hoot and holler in a negative way when said pick was announced. Especially when the Jets took Ken O’Brien, a quarterback from Cal-Davis, with Dan Marino still on the board.
“Stunner at No. 1,” said the ESPN headline after Cleveland selected Bennett first.
Hardly anybody expected the likable Canadian kid, who had averaged 16 points and 8.0 rebounds in his only season at UNLV, to leave the green room first. Yes, Bennett had a tremendous upside (he had just turned 20); yes, he had an NBA body. He also had asthma. And his defense was spotty, and there were nights he did a Lance Burton on the offensive end, too, disappearing for long stretches.
Not even Jets fans could have fathomed he would go first.
The first thing UNLV coach Dave Rice said was how happy he was for Anthony and his mom Edith, a nurse, the woman who had done such a good job of raising him. It didn’t come as a surprise that Rice said this. This is normally the way he would think about such matters.
But the second thing he said that night was how Anthony going first was huge for the program.
“This is certainly something we can utilize in recruiting,” Rice said.
Maybe he still will be able to utilize it some day. For now, he might want to limit the recruiting pitch to our mild winters and cheap shrimp cocktails.
A lot of people thought Bennett might struggle out of the box as a pro, but I can’t think of anybody who predicted he would make just five of his first 37 shots. Except, perhaps, for my pal Patrick.
(Patrick was down on Bennett almost from the start of his UNLV career, and we’d argue about it. But when Patrick’s wife couldn’t use her ticket for the Springsteen concert in Phoenix, he even agreed to drive us down there. So we basically agreed to disagree on Anthony Bennett.)
Bennett came off the bench against the Spurs a couple of games ago to make 4 of 5 shots during garbage time, and the other night against the Celtics, after he was switched to small forward, he played a season-high 20 minutes. He scored four points. Saturday night against the Bulls, he played six minutes and scored two points.
So after 16 games, he’s averaging 11.1 minutes (when he plays), 2.2 points and 2.6 rebounds, and he’s shooting 22 percent from the field.
Sometimes he gets booed at home.
His NBA body now looks like an offensive tackle’s body; Bennett got way out of shape after having shoulder surgery during the offseason. The Cavs list him at 259 pounds. Whenever a 9 is used in conjunction with a guy’s weight, it’s like Walmart using .99 on the price of something. It’s meant to deceive.
When Charles Barkley was playing, they often used a 9 in listing his weight.
The critics, naturally, are having a field day, their spirit getting meaner by the day. One even wrote that Bennett must have had his talent zapped by an alien with a ray gun, like in “Space Jam.”
Against Minnesota, when he was in the throes of that 5-for-37 shooting slump, one of the T-Wolves was holding the ball on his hip as the final seconds ticked off. Desperate for a basket, Bennett took the ball away from behind and went in for an uncontested dunk.
Trouble is, the kid with the mop already was on the court. Bennett’s dunk didn’t count, and the next day it made the worst plays of the day on the Keith Olbermann show.
Many of his naysayers believe Bennett should be sent to Canton, Ohio, to get his mojo back. Canton is where the Cavaliers’ D-League franchise is located. He could play himself back into shape in Canton, hooping it up with guys from Hofstra and Arkansas-Little Rock and USC Aiken.
That sounds pretty extreme. As does starting Bennett. That’s what the basketball writer for CBS’ online site proposes, though Bennett has done zilch to warrant a promotion. I only wish this guy was writing sports when I was sitting the end of the bench in high school.
But perhaps the man writing in the New York Times has the best idea. He said it’s much too early to declare Bennett a bust, that all NBA rookies deserve a second look, that you really can’t tell how most are going to pan out until their second season.
You also can talk to those Jets fans who booed when Ken O’Brien was drafted.
Maybe O’Brien wasn’t Dan Marino, but he played 11 years in the NFL (10 with the Jets). He passed for more than 25,000 yards and played in two Pro Bowls.
If I were Dave Rice, that’s what I would be telling recruits, after the spiel about the mild winters and the cheap shrimp cocktails.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski