Cleveland Cavaliers v San Antonio Spurs

Cavaliers’ No. 1 pick looks good in Summer League. No, not that one. Anthony Bennett.

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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.

Watch it again: Epic dunk contest duel between Zach LaVine, Aaron Gordon

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TORONTO — I am always hesitant to say a player/team/situation is one of the best of ever because the history of the NBA is filled with greats. We tend to overstate how good something current can be.  That said…

That was one of the best dunk contests ever.

Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon put on a show for the ages. Gordon had the best dunks of the night (in my opinion), but LaVine is consistently amazing, every dunk he does is flat out ridiculous.

Officially, LaVine won. In reality, we all won. Enjoy watching it one more time.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.