INDEPENDENCE — No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Bennett and young Cavaliers veteran Tristan Thompson are both from Toronto and both play power forward.
Coach Mike Brown doesn’t care.
“They’ve got to go out and compete,” Brown said Friday afternoon during Bennett’s introductory press conference at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “They’re both competitors.
“They might be buddies, but at the end of the day, when they cross that line, they’ve got to get after it, not only to make themselves better as individuals, but to make the team better.”
Thompson, the No. 4 overall pick in 2011, looked like a possible bust as a rookie, but came on strong in 2012-13 when Anderson Varejao went down with an injury a third of the way through the season.
The long-limbed, 6-foot-9 left-hander, who is not a close friend of Bennett’s, wound up averaging 11.7 points and 9.4 rebounds. He also developed an unorthodox but highly effective right-handed push shot from 10 to 12 feet while appearing in all 82 games and shooting .488 from the field and .608 at the line.
“We’re going to become best friends,” Bennett said. “He’s my go-to guy because he’s from Canada.”
Bennett, who is 6-7 or 6-8 depending on who is asked and currently heavier than his listed 240 pounds, is a much better shooter than Thompson and can put the ball on the floor a bit, but the knock on him is he’s a bit of a tweener (too small for power forward and not athletic enough to play small forward).
General manager Chris Grant said Thursday night after drafting the UNLV freshman that Bennett could see some time at small forward, but confirmed his best and most natural position is power forward.
That’s OK with Brown, who loves competition in practice.
“It’s great to be able to have depth in all areas on the floor,” the second-time Cavs coach said. “Anthony is a guy who has definitely added that for us.
“I like the fact he is versatile. He’s different than the bigs we have, so we can use him in a lot of different ways.”
Bennett averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in his one season at UNLV, where he earned first-team All-Mountain West Conference honors.
Not bad, considering he didn’t start to embrace the game until he was a teenager.
“I was just playing around, wasting time,” said Bennett, adding he started taking the game more seriously when his family moved from Toronto to Brampton, an undeveloped suburb.
“I just started growing. Everybody was like, ‘You should play basketball.’ I was like, ‘All right, I’ll give it a shot.’ Look at me now.”
Bennett didn’t look much taller than 6-6 Arizona State swingman and No. 33 pick Carrick Felix when they stood side by side at the press conference, but the 20-year-old’s long arms, strength and offensive skills made him a dominant player in college.
“I’m versatile,” he said. “I can go inside and out. I can rebound. I’m unselfish. I don’t play with agendas. I just want to help the team get wins.
“The one point of my game I need to get better at is defense.”
Bennett will have to do that under Brown, as will No. 19 overall pick Sergey Karasev (6-8, 202), a 19-year-old swingman who was not at Cleveland Clinic Courts because he returned to his native Russia for a game.
Brown, who coached the Cavs for five seasons before being fired in 2010, preaches defense first, second and third, as his newest players will quickly learn.
Asked about Bennett and Karasev’s lack of prowess in that area, Brown referenced two former Cleveland players also not noted for their abilities on that end of the floor.
“I’m not trying to throw these guys under the bus — I’d say it to their face,” the coach said. “We had Damon Jones and Donyell Marshall here and we were one of the top defensive teams in the league.”
After the laughter had subsided, he added, “These guys will figure out how to get on the floor. If they can’t figure out they’ve got to play defense, they’ll be doing what they’re doing now (sitting next to the coach).”
Contact Rick Noland at (330) 721-4061 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @RickNoland on Twitter.