By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
INDEPENDENCE: When Kyrie Irving was selected No. 1 overall by the Cavaliers, he was instantly elevated as the new face of the franchise and was pounded with questions about replacing LeBron James.
Two years later, the Cavaliers selected Anthony Bennett first overall. His arrival has been greeted with a yawn and the most pressing question is how much he’ll even see the floor. With a logjam of bigs in front of him, Bennett’s minutes will be much more limited than most top overall picks. That pleases coach Mike Brown.
“It’s a terrific situation, not only for him but for us,” Brown said. “We don’t have to rely on a guy who is (20 years old). He can come along slowly and if he blossoms early, it’s a bonus to everybody.”
Since league executives spent weeks dismissing this draft as perhaps the worst in the last 20 years, and since the Cavs already have Tristan Thompson, Anderson Varejao and Andrew Bynum, Bennett’s arrival has been greeted with a whimper. It’s in stark contrast to the herald trumpets Irving faced, but that suits Bennett.
“I’m cool with it. I’m fine, chilling,” Bennett said. “I feel like there’s no pressure at all. I just have to come in and play my game, do what I’ve been doing. That’s what got me here. Just have fun with it basically. Don’t add pressure to myself and stress myself out.”
Bennett is just now starting to get recognized in public. He said he’s mobbed now any time he steps outside in Las Vegas, and while it’s not that bad here, fans are starting to recognize him wherever he goes.
“It’s crazy. I can’t walk onto the street without people noticing me,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing. I can’t go anywhere without being asked for pictures or autographs. It’s a cool feeling.”
Now he hopes his ability to put the ball in the basket is just as noticeable. Bennett is expected to be a prolific scorer with a great outside shot, but his coach won’t put that pressure on him now.
Brown explained Wednesday there’s a big difference between shooting open jumpers in a practice gym and trying to do it in the midst of a game, immediately after completing six tasks on the defensive end and trying to get a shot up while a guy like the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Serge Ibaka is charging at him on a closeout.
Brown already noticed a big improvement between Bennett’s first and second day of practice.
Defense was never really taught at UNLV — at least not like Brown is teaching it this week — so Bennett has some catching up to do, which is typical for rookies.
“[Tuesday] I felt he was in a fog most of the time, running through 15 inches of mud,” Brown joked. “That 15 inches is probably down to 9 inches, little hazy outside. But he was much improved from [Tuesday].”
It’s still not clear where Bennett fits if everyone is healthy, particularly since the Cavs have made it clear he will strictly play power forward this season. There might come a day they try to convert him to small forward, but for now, he’s a big.
Bynum and Tyler Zeller can hold down the center position while Thompson and Varejao play power forward. Of course, that’s assuming Bynum makes it back to playing steady minutes and Varejao stays healthy — two enormous assumptions.
For now, Brown is confident he’ll find minutes for Bennett when he shows he’s ready. It just might not be the 30-35 minutes most top overall picks play every night.
“If he earns the minutes, I’ll find him some time,” Brown said. “Anything we throw at him is a bonus because he’s going to learn and grow. He has a lot of time to improve.”