CLEVELAND: Mike Brown pulled aside Anthony Bennett Thanksgiving night and essentially told him to pack his bags. He was officially on the move.
The transition from power forward to small forward wasn’t supposed to happen until next season or beyond, but Bennett’s extreme struggles this season at power forward, coupled with Earl Clark’s difficulties at learning the small forward position, effectively earned both players a trade.
Clark is back working exclusively at power forward and Bennett is spending all of his practice minutes at small forward. It’s a drastic change to be sure, but one that was inevitable. It’s just happening sooner than expected.
“There’s still a lot I have to learn,” Bennett said. “It’s the first time playing the ‘3’ in my life. It’s a huge adjustment for me.”
Bennett has played a total of 29 minutes in his past four games as he eases into his new role, but Brown said the limited minutes has more to do with the bodies in front of him than mistakes he’s making on the floor.
With Brown using his three-guard lineup for extended minutes most games, it doesn’t leave many left over for Bennett.
“There’s going to be an odd man out at times and a lot of times the odd man out is going to be the young rookie as opposed to the older veterans,” Brown said. “It has nothing to do with him making a mistake. If I was pulling guys out based on making mistakes, I don’t know who would be in the game for a long time.”
Bennett’s game seems more suited for the wing than the post, but it’s still an adjustment. Now he sprints to the corner on every offensive possession and must be aware of spacing. If two wings are on the same side, he runs (typically baseline) to the other corner.
Bennett is averaging 2.1 points and shooting 23 percent. He concedes he is anxious now whenever he gets the ball and sometimes rushes his shots.
In last week’s win against the Denver Nuggets, he had position on Jordan Hamilton. But when he caught the ball in a post up, he rushed his mechanics and missed the shot.
“I don’t know why it’s like that,” Bennett said. “That’s just the way I played in college. Everybody has been telling me to slow down and take my time.”
When asked what difficulties he’s faced with the transition, Bennett has no problem mentioning the running, spacing and defensive assignments. But when asked what has come easy for him, he pauses.
“I don’t know, man,” he said. “That’s a hard question for me.”
Brown has gotten more comfortable playing three guards than he thought he would. Typically it’s Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters and Jarrett Jack, but with the minutes restriction lifted off C.J. Miles, he is another viable option that can add a little size on the defensive end.
The only team that really burned the Cavs’ small attack was the Chicago Bulls because Waiters struggled staying with Luol Deng. Otherwise, Brown likes the options it provides on offense.
“I’ve never done this. I am a little surprised how much I’ve used it and at times how effective it’s been,” Brown said. “It’s almost like playing three point guards on the floor. They all can play pick and roll, they all can shoot and create for their teammates, they can get out in transition and push the ball in transition and make plays. It gives you a versatility offensively that a lot of teams don’t have.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.