Anthony Bennett has been looking to shed the “NBA Draft Bust’ label since his professional career started but so far to no avail. As he battles for a spot on the Brooklyn Nets roster, the 23-year-old has shown improvements to his game, his conditioning, and his passion.
In three preseason games, Bennett is averaging 10.0 points and 3.0 rebounds – the latter number being something he and the Nets want him to work on by utilizing his 6-foot-8, 240-pound frame.
Even with some defensive issues, the unique nature of Bennett’s deal – a one-year, veteran’s minimum contract -- with Brooklyn is that he has everything to gain and the Nets have nothing to lose.
“It’s double-edge. We both have really good opportunities, and that’s the way we look at it,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said to Brian Lewis the New York Post. “Anthony Bennett is showing some real life as a rotation big, and he’s pushing for minutes. He did a lot of good things. He’s a system fit: He’s fast, he’s athletic, he’s long, he can roll to the rim, he can shoot. I’m tempering my enthusiasm, but I really like what we saw the other night. He really fits the modern NBA, runs the court.”
Similar reports came out during the offseason when the former No.1 overall pick from the 2013 NBA Draft was trying to revive his career with Team Canada in the Olympic Qualifiers. He showed a renewed quickness and finesse that scouts praised three years ago.
Bennett’s trainer and director of player development at Impact Las Vegas, Andrew Moore ,told SNY’s Adam Zagoria that his client has all the skills to help any NBA squad.
“He can play multiple spots on the floor. He can take it off the floor, he can shoot mid-range, he can make threes,” Moore said. “So I think he’s well rounded enough to fit into the triangle or any system. He can play pick-and-roll, he can roll hard, he can finish above the rim. He can catch and finish and score. He can pop and shoot threes. Any system would be great for him.”
But how did Bennett go from the first pick in the draft to hopeful last man on the roster? Perhaps it was a lack of maturity stemming from his lack of collegiate experience.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) product averaged 16.1 points 8.1 points in his lone college season. But on-court talent and on-court experience are two different things. It showed early in Bennett’s career as he struggled to replicate any college success in the NBA – and was blasted for it.
"It's very early, but right now, he's looking like the worst in the past 20 years," said ESPN’s Chad Ford about Bennett (via RealGM). "That includes Greg Oden. Oden was injured all the time, but when he played, he at least looked like a No. 1 pick."
Bennett averaged just 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds as a rookie in Cleveland. He was traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves — along with theNo.1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, Andrew Wiggins — in the trade that brought Kevin Love to Cleveland. Bennett showed a slight improvement in Minnesota, averaging 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 57 games (three starts).
However, Timberwolves ended up buying out his contract the following offseason. Last season, Bennett struggled through a 19-game cameo with the Toronto Raptors.
“He had some injury things in Cleveland, and he’d admit this, at times not in the best shape,” Atkinson said. “He got caught up in circumstances. I think him and us, we’re both looking at it like this is a fresh opportunity.”
With the regular season approaching, and the rebuilding Nets not viewed as contenders, Bennett will have a chance to establish himself – for the first time – as a serviceable NBA player. If successful, he’ll move farther away from draft busts such as Darko Milicic and Kwame Brown, and closer to more productive draft busts like Shawn Bradley and Sam Bowie.