September 2, 2014

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Cavaliers planning to bring top draft pick Anthony Bennett along slowly, see no reason to rush him into lineup

Anthony Bennett dunks against the Milwaukee Bucks during a preseason game Tuesday. The Cavaliers won 99-87. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Anthony Bennett dunks against the Milwaukee Bucks during a preseason game Tuesday. The Cavaliers won 99-87. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

INDEPENDENCE — Quick, now, when was the last time the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA Draft arrived with less fanfare than Cavaliers power forward Anthony Bennett?

Starting from 2012 and going back, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose, Greg Oden and even Andrea Bargnani and Andrew Bogut all had more hype, though the latter two certainly weren’t overwhelmingly popular nationwide.

Dwight Howard, LeBron James and Yao Ming, the three No. 1 overall picks prior to that, were off the charts.

A case can be made for Kwame Brown, taken straight out of high school by Washington in 2001, and Michael Olowokandi, selected out of Pacific by the Los Angeles Clippers in 1998.

If you’re not buying either of those, how about LaRue Martin, taken first overall out of Loyola University Chicago by Portland way back in 1972?

Whichever you choose, the 6-foot-8 Bennett is certainly flying under the radar early in training camp after playing one season at UNLV and undergoing offseason surgery on his left shoulder.

“We can bring him along slowly,” Cavs coach Mike Brown said Thursday following practice at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “We’ll let him improve or grow as quickly as he does and not put any pressure on him to get there sooner than later.

“That’s the luxury of being around the group of guys we have. They’ll be able to carry him and help him until he can get to a point where he’s ready.”

That may seem odd given that the Cavs were 24-58 last season and have gone 64-166 over the last three years, but there are extenuating circumstances.

Anderson Varejao is healthy after playing just 25 games last season and will start at center. When free-agent pickup Andrew Bynum recovers from knee surgery, he will eventually start in the middle, with Varejao probably shifting to power forward.

Tristan Thompson, the No. 4 overall pick in 2011, is set at power forward right now with Varejao at center, and second-year man Tyler Zeller can back up both positions.

All that means the Cavs should be a much better team this season, assuming some degree of good health, and lessens the pressure on the 20-year-old Bennett to make an immediate impact.

That’s probably a good thing, too, because Bennett, who is about 10 pounds over his listed 240, has struggled so far in camp.

His first two shots Saturday in a scrimmage at Baldwin Wallace were air balls, and he began Cleveland’s exhibition opener Tuesday against Milwaukee with a 3-point attempt from the top of the arc that clanged off the side of the backboard without drawing rim.

Bennett then had his next two shots blocked and hoisted another air ball en route to finishing 2-for-12 from the field and 3-for-8 at the line against the Bucks.

“I wasn’t nervous at all,” he said. “It was my first game back since March or April, so I was just trying to get back in the groove.”

That remains a work in progress. Bennett finished with seven points and 10 rebounds against the Bucks, but blew a number of defensive assignments in addition to his shooting woes.

“I saw a few air balls and not getting back in transition,” Brown said. “I didn’t see nerves. He might have had nerves, but I did see air balls. That’s why he was getting extra shots today.

“He’s got a lot to build on,” the coach added. “Even if would have put up 20 (points), he still would have had a lot to build on, trust me. But he’s coming to work every day and he’s trying. He’s realizing he has to go even harder than he’s going.”

Despite his mental and physical struggles so far, it’s clear Bennett has talent and possesses an NBA body and great strength.

That’s why Brown left the rookie on the floor for fairly long stretches against Milwaukee, even when it was apparent Bennett was gassed.

“He wouldn’t have played big minutes (in the regular season), but it was the preseason,” Brown said. “It was a great time for him to learn and try to get better.”

Bennett will get another chance tonight in Orlando when the Cavs play their second exhibition game. After staying after practice Thursday for extra shooting work, he’s anxious to show improvement against the Magic.

“I didn’t like the way I shot the first preseason game,” he said. “I’m still trying to get that back.”

A young man of few words, Bennett averaged 16.1 points on .533 shooting from the field and made 36 of 96 3-pointers (.375) at
UNLV. He also shot .701 at the line and averaged 8.1 rebounds.

“I’m a basketball player,” he said. “I’ll make the right plays whenever Coach Brown needs a play. I’m not going to go out there and shoot threes all the time.

“I’m still trying to find my role, basically,” he added. “I just want to go out there and play hard.”

Tip-in

Zeller (left hip flexor strain) and small forward Alonzo Gee (right hamstring soreness) did not travel with the Cavaliers for their exhibition game tonight in Orlando. Bynum (right knee surgery) also remained in Cleveland to continue his rehabilitation process.

Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or rnoland@medina-gazette.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @RickNoland.