Nevada-Las Vegas power forward Anthony Bennett admitted being “surprised” when the Cavaliers made him the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft.
He wasn’t alone.
Cleveland general manager Chris Grant stunned the pro basketball world Thursday by taking the 20-year-old freshman over several higher profile prospects.
Kentucky center Nerlens Noel, Georgetown small forward Otto Porter Jr., Kansas shooting guard Ben McLemore, and Maryland center Alex Len were considered more likely choices, but the Cavaliers went in a completely different direction.
“Everything was up for grabs, up in the air, with people saying there wasn’t a solid No. 1 pick,” Bennett said in a conference call with Cleveland reporters.
“It’s just crazy, but I made history, so I can’t really complain about that. It’s a great honor. I’m speechless right now. I don’t even know what to say, basically.”
Bennett only played one season with the Runnin’ Rebels, averaging 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds, but has represented his native Canada in two FIBA World Championship tournaments, so he boasts more experience than his college statistics indicate.
On the other hand, the 6-foot-8, 240-pounder is recovering from left rotator cuff surgery — going under the knife on May 8 — and will not be medically cleared until August.
Bennett’s belly, however, is more of a concern than his shoulder. He ballooned to the upper 250s while rehabilitating and did not appear to be in good shape when he walked onto the podium at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
“I played at 245 during college and everybody said I gained 25-28 pounds, which wasn’t true,” Bennett insisted. “It was probably like 15-14, if not 11 or anything. It wasn’t a high, crazy number. By the first week of August, I’ll be back at 100 percent.”
Therein lays the problem — and the rub — of Bennett joining Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Brad Daugherty and Austin Carr as the Cavaliers’ all-time No. 1 overall picks.
Even at 100 percent, does the Torontonian have any business being on that list? The easy answer is no.
And, fairly or unfairly, those aforementioned NBA All-Stars are the only players that Bennett will ultimately be judged against.
Fortunately for Cleveland, the undersized power forward — or overweight small forward — is fine with that mindset.
“Everybody says it’s a lot of pressure, but at the end of the day, it’s the game of basketball,” said Bennett, an All-Mountain West first-team selection.
“I feel like me playing the four my whole career doesn’t limit me to playing one position. Once I feel comfortable playing on the wing, I’ll be good. You just gotta go out and play.”
But where does Bennett play? Noel and Len are legitimate centers, while Porter and McLemore will step in and start as rookies on the wing.
The Cavaliers already have an emerging power forward in Tristan Thompson, who has proven that he cannot play center, so Bennett isn’t going to supplant him there.
Cleveland also figures to add at least one scoring small forward during free agency next month, putting up another roadblock in Bennett’s way. This scenario doesn’t even consider the possible return of perennial NBA MVP LeBron James at the three next summer.
Thusly, barring a major roster overhaul, the Cavaliers have used the top pick in the entire draft on a backup. That does not reflect well either on Grant or Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert, who has stated his goal of qualifying for the 2014 playoffs.
“There are things I still need to work on, but I feel like I’m a great teammate, an unselfish guy,” Bennett said. “I would say I’m pro-ready. I’ve just got to keep grinding from here.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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