After the Cavaliers Las Vegas Summer League team played its first game last Friday, 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett was quick to point out it was his first summer league, too.
Bennett isn’t trying to pretend that his rookie year never happened. But when he talks about moving past it quickly, it starts with missing last summer while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Bennett never really got in shape and never really got going.
"I’ve been working all summer," Bennett said. "Since right when the season ended."
He couldn’t wait to move forward.
On a personal level, it’s about shedding the "bust" label that followed him through much of a rookie season during which he averaged 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds in 12.8 minutes per game. He didn’t log a double-figure scoring performance until January 28th.
He’s started by shedding weight. Bennett said he’s lost 15-20 pounds, and some reports have stated it’s even more than that. Bennett said he’s been able to consistently work out and has hired a personal chef.
He looks like a new player. Not just fitting but eventually contributing to a Cavaliers team that’s going to be "new," too — with a new coach and some guy named LeBron James — will require Bennett following through on his new commitment to being in shape and believing he can be an impact player on a winning team.
"In summer league, it just feels nice to come out here and play," he said. "I’m back at my playing weight. I’m looking to make noise."
Through three summer league games, Bennett is averaging 14 points and 8.3 rebounds.
"He’s really working hard to get himself in shape," new Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. "He’s really, really trying to do a lot of different things on the court to help the team. It’s a work in progress but he’s doing a great job.
"I came in and Anthony came in with a clean slate. Physically he’s really worked hard and I think that’s the most important thing is for him to get into shape to be the kind of player he can be. Last year is in the past. We’re looking ahead and I really believe and hope that Anthony can be a part of what is ahead."
On Sunday, Bennett had 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds as the Cavs, now 3-0, won their second summer league game against the Spurs.
"If you get 14 rebounds, you’ve got a place to play," Blatt said.
Bennett made an immediate impact in the first game vs. the Bucks, sparking an early run with a transition dunk on a play he probably wouldn’t have been able to make just a few months ago. Late in that game he came up about three feet short on a long jump shot, a play he laughed about after the game when chalking that miss up to fatigue.
Still, he saw progress.
"Last year," Bennett said, "I got tired way too quickly."
This summer, Bennett is doing everything possible to keep last year in the past.