LAS VEGAS — The first thing you notice is Anthony Bennett is in shape now.
Not the spare tire shape he was in last season, when shoulder surgery slowed his summer workouts and had him packing on the pounds. Which led to whispers around the league about his work ethic. No, Bennett is in legitimately good shape — he’s dropped 19 pounds according to the Cavaliers official Web site, although that may sell it short based on the eyeball test.
“It wasn’t really that tough,” said Bennett, who added he has a personal chef now. “My body is kind of weird. I can gain weight fast, I can lose weight fast. So it was just me maintaining it. Watching what I eat at night.”
The next thing you notice is that improved shape has him playing with real energy and purpose, and he is able to maintain it for an extended period of time. That really showed Sunday at Summer League on the glass when he pulled down 14 rebounds.
“You grab 14 rebounds you got a place to play,” new Cavaliers coach Dave Blatt said.
Anthony Bennett has looked like a solid, quality NBA player in Las Vegas.
Still not No. 1 overall pick material, he doesn’t flash the potential of Andrew Wiggins (who has packed the gym in Vegas with fans). However, after a rookie season that made him an NBA punchline, Bennett has come out in Vegas and looked like a quality NBA player. Like a guy who could get minutes on an obviously much improved Cavaliers team.
“AB has been good since Day 1, since I came,” Blatt said. “He’s really working hard to get himself in shape. He’s really, really trying hard to do a lot of things on the court to help the team win and not be under pressure to do one thing just to stay on the floor. It’s a work in progress.”
“It was kind of a setback for me with the shoulder stuff but I’m just trying to put that in the past, come out here and have fun,” Bennett said.
He wasn’t having fun last season, when he was having statistically the worst season a No. 1 pick who was healthy ever had.
“Most definitely,” Bennett said when asked if last season was hard on him. “Just putting a lot of pressure on myself, things were’t going right for me. Everything just collapsed and was building up. I got down on myself, but my teammates help me out a lot, just told me to keep going.”
The Bennett in Vegas looks and plays like a different guy.
Sunday night he showed off a pick-and-pop midrange game. Overall he was 5-of-8 shooting but more importantly he was 3-of-5 from the top of the key area when he popped instead of rolled, showing a nice facet to his game.
“Anthony has shown the ability to do a lot of things. He can play with his face to the basket, he can play with his back to the basket,” Blatt said. “I think it’s important that he feels comfortable and he tries not to hurry. As long as he lets the game come to him, as long as he makes good decisions, he’s in a good place like he was today.”
Back home in Las Vegas where he was raised, Bennett is finding a comfort level in the NBA.
“I see my high school principal here, a few teachers, my AAU coach, a few friends. I just feel more relaxed,” Bennett said.
Expectations are through the roof in Cleveland, bringing in LeBron James will do that. Bennett is going to have to fight for minutes.
Plenty of guys have looked good in Summer League and been unable to translate that to the regular season. Bennett still has a lot of work to do.
But from where he’s come, he looks good. Continue on this trajectory and the Cavaliers may be adding another good young player to the mix next season. One they already had in house.