LAS VEGAS — Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett made their NBA Las Vegas Summer League debuts Friday, each showing glimpses of the gifts that made them back-to-back No. 1 overall picks and forcing jumpshots that showed how long they still have to go.
But Friday wasn’t about dunks or stats or even Wiggins vs. Jabari Parker, the player selected one spot after Wiggins two weeks ago in the NBA Draft. It was about the return of LeBron James to Cleveland, the 29-year-old four-time MVP becoming one of four former No. 1 overall picks on the Cavaliers roster and changing the goals and direction of the franchise, both in the short and long term.
It also puts Wiggins and Bennett very much on the spot.
"Everybody was excited," Bennett said of the Friday morning, Las Vegas-time news that James is returning to Cleveland. "I can’t wait for him to come back. I can learn a lot from him on and off the court."
Friday afternoon, Wiggins scored a game-high 18 points and Bennett had 15 — including a transition dunk that was the play of the game — as the young Cavaliers held on to beat the Bucks, 70-68, in front of a capacity crowd at COX Pavillion. It wasn’t all pretty — both airballed jump shots and were a combined 13-of-32 from the field — but Bennett showed off his new, much sleeker self, and Wiggins showed off his rare explosion and leaping ability.
Wiggins and Bennett know their mission now is to focus on improvement and follow the lead of James and Kyrie Irving.
"LeBron is the best player in the game," Wiggins said. "It’s been an exciting day. Hearing the good news, that was a great feeling."
Wiggins said he talked with James last year, during his lone season at Kansas, but hasn’t since then. Bennett said he’s met James twice, once while attending his camp as a high schooler and once last season when James returned to Cleveland for the Cavaliers’ Zydrunas Ilgauskas jersey retirement ceremony.
That now stands as a pretty important night in Cavaliers history, at least a small bridge to a future that now includes James — and very much includes the young talent the Cavaliers put around him.
"It’s not all going to be LeBron," Wiggins said. "He has backup. He has me, Kyrie, Tristan (Thompson), AB (Bennett). He has a lot of people on the team that can score and do whatever to help."
Wiggins said he and Bennett already have good chemistry on the floor from their history playing AAU ball in Canada and briefly together with the Canadian Junior National Team. They’ve been in Las Vegas all week with the entire Cavaliers coaching staff and summer league roster preparing for this summer league, which runs through July 21.
The real stuff starts this fall, and lots of people will be watching.
"It will be a great learning experience, kind of being under his wing," Wiggins said. "I was just happy to hear the best player is coming to (my) team. It will be great for me.
"We’ll bring it every day, just like he will. Hopefully he’ll take us under his wing and teach us what it takes to get to his level, build a championship team."