As his career launches, top draft pick Anthony Bennett is struggling with his conditioning

Cleveland Cavaliers rookie Anthony Bennett was never going to be your typical first overall draft pick. The top selection in last June’s NBA draft was a surprise choice to just about every prognosticator, with the Cavs realizing that the 2013 pool was atypically weak, while shooting for what seemed like a sound, safe choice in the talented forward. Bennett may never be an MVP candidate, but his combination of touch and rebounding acumen understandably lured the Cavaliers into grabbing the UNLV product despite his May surgery for a torn left rotator cuff.

That surgery has delayed Bennett’s transition into NBA shape, as evidenced by his slow start to the exhibition season. In an impressive and candid turn, the young man discussed as much with Jodie Valade of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer recently:

Bennett had a rough exhibition debut, but managed to pair his 2-for-12 shooting performance with 10 rebounds. The 6-8 power forward still is adjusting to playing significant minutes for the first time since off-season shoulder surgery.

The biggest adjustment, he said, is getting back his conditioning. Although he said he's at his 240-pound playing weight, the Cavaliers would like to see him slimmer in order to be more aggressive.

Asked what was the most difficult part of adjusting to the NBA, Bennett's answer explained the extra practice.

"The conditioning," Bennett said. "I've been working on it, I'm trying to play longer periods of time in games. Whenever Coach puts me out there I want to go out and play hard, but I'm still trying to improve on that. I'm just taking it day by day."

You’ll recall that Bennett was unable to even play five-on-five hoops until mid-September, missing out on Summer League action and conditioning programs that would have gone a long way toward turning his 240 pounds into an NBA-ready 240 pounds, instead of an NBA-heavy 240 pounds.

There were concerns over Bennett’s weight in college, but by and large the young man still offers an enviable package of skills and promise, one that is still well worth his first overall placement. He’s in an unfair position, walking to meet David Stern just six and a half weeks after surgery, and tossed to the wolves in October despite not having the benefit of the Summer League at his side.

What Anthony has on his side, beside those considerable skills, is time. The Cavs are patiently and intelligently rebuilding around Kyrie Irving, and the team probably won’t be disappointed in the slightest if Bennett takes a while to find his sea legs.

His situation is akin to that of Kenyon Martin, the top pick in the 2000 NBA draft, and one that had to limp to shake David Stern’s hand while recovering from a broken leg. Not only did Martin break the other leg late in his rookie year, but he also had to work through two microfracture surgeries that could have derailed his career. Even with those setbacks, Martin has gone on to a fantastic NBA career – only an All-Star once (the 2000 draft was probably worse than the 2013 draft), but one that has sustained to this day.

Bennett’s pre-draft injury is far less frightening than Martin’s gruesome broken leg, which his good news for all involved. And it’s even more warming that he’s open and candid about how far he has to go before he can check in for work in the shape his employers want him in. Sometimes a slow start can still act as a good start.