Things could not be much worse for Anthony Bennett. His struggles aren't news, but the depth of them never ceases to amaze.
In 321 minutes over 31 games, Bennett is shooting 27 percent from the field, not rebounding, turning the ball over, and fouling far too much. He has a .319% true shooting shooting percentage, a win share of -0.9, and a PER of 1.1. To put that into some context, of all players to have played at least 300 minutes this season, the next lowest in PER are the trio of Chauncy Billups, Nick Calathes and Garrett Temple on 5.9, and the only player to be shooting worse is undrafted Celtics point guard Phil Pressey. And at least he's playmaking.
More on Bennett's struggles
More on Bennett's struggles
Bennett's confidence is shot, his presence on the court seemingly purposeless, his talents left wanting. He does not look as though he belongs in the NBA, nor does he look like he especially wants to be there. This is a terrible situation for any player, but absolutely horrific from a No. 1 overall pick. Bennett barely plays in blowouts, let alone more meaningful minutes, and the situation hasn't showed even a hint of improvement.
The potential remedy is staring the Cavaliers in the face. Yet for whatever reason, they won't use it.
Cleveland, as a general rule, recognizes the value of the D-League. They fund the basketball operations of the Canton Charge D-League team (a situation technically different but essentially akin to ownership of the franchise), and it is not a coincidence that former Cavaliers forward Kevin Jones is there. Third-string center Henry Sims, a man worryingly outperforming Bennett thus far this season, was plucked by the Cavaliers from the D-League. Sims, along with Bennett's fellow 2013 draftees Sergey Karasev and Carrick Felix, has been assigned to the Charge already this season. The Cavaliers clearly feel the D-League has a place in the development of NBA players.
Why, then, have they not assigned Bennett too?
There is shame in such a demotion, perhaps. The Bennett struggles are well documented, especially by us. The above is not news. Everyone knows. And everyone derides it. This was almost universally acknowledged as being the wrong pick from the moment it was made, and yet it has gone worse than anyone could have anticipated. This is a PR disaster. Assigning Bennett to the D-League is certainly an admission of guilt; six months after saying he was better than everyone else in his draft class, an assignment would be an admission that, you know what, we don't think he can help us win tomorrow.
However, it's the truth. Bennett cannot help the Cavaliers win tomorrow. He has been given 31 opportunities not even to change a game, but just to impact it positively. And he hasn't. The listlessness, the conditioning, the inability to hit a shot or to know which ones to take, are all rectifiable problems that aren't being rectified. There is nothing to like about the situation and no reason to continue it, save for pride. Pride needs to be swallowed.
More on Bennett and the D-League
More on Bennett and the D-League
Bennett, of course, must take responsibility here. Disenchantment with the realities of a situation is not an excuse for the laziness on show above. He is more responsible for his career and performance than any other actor in the play. He is no fall guy. He is a perpetrator.
That said, it is also the team's responsibility to put their players into positions to succeed, to maximize their talents, to better them. And this isn't it.
Cleveland has Tristan Thompson, a one-time shock pick himself, developing well at power forward. Behind him, the trade for Luol Deng will see Earl Clark play more at power forward, and the trio of Sims, Anderson Varejao and Tyler Zeller have the rest of the big man minutes covered. On a team committed to winning more than tanking, every one of those players betters the 2013-14 Cavaliers record more than Bennett, and so all will play ahead of him. This leaves Bennett, without injuries to others, with scant little available minutes to play. Hence, the D-League option.
Only one other top-five pick has been assigned to the D-League -- the only other player especially close is former No. 6 overall pick out of high school, Martell Webster -- and the results from that are inconclusive. During a substandard rookie year -- which, frankly, was still far far better than Bennett's -- former No. 2 overall pick Hasheem Thabeet was assigned by the Memphis Grizzlies to the now defunct Dakota Wizards, averaged 13.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.2 blocks and showed some signs of improvement. Thabeet returned to complete the season with the Grizzlies, but was assigned as as a sophomore after a terrible start to the season, played only six games, showing both the virtues of his size and the huge rawness in his game, returned, and was traded away to Houston.
Thabeet's career in general is nothing to aspire to. Perhaps, with the benefit of more court time that the D-League route offered, his career could have worked out differently. Still, his short D-League spell did seem to have a galvanizing effect; all 13 of Thabeet's starts that season came after his return, and the 4.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 60 percent shooting in 21.6 minutes per game averages that followed his stints bettered the 2.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.2 blocks and 58 percent shooting in 10.3 minutes that preceded it. There's nothing good about what happened with his career, but at least it was better after going to the D-League.
And better is the aim here. Staying on the Cavaliers bench isn't making Bennett better.
NBA teams rarely practice in midseason. They can't, because they spend too much time in the sky. Players develop in-season by playing, and Bennett isn't playing. When he is, he isn't developing. The main lure of the deliberately-named Development League is for said development, for playing, for opportunity and for a fresh start. Cleveland bought into the Canton Charge with this in mind.
Keeping Bennett on the big league roster, with a coach who barely plays him (to be fair, how can he?), no opportunities, ever-decreasing minutes and ever regressing play is no way to develop. Playing for Canton might be. It might not, but at this point, there is little else to lose.
Sometimes, we all need a break from work.