Anthony Bennett, forward
2015-2016: 4.4 MPG, 1.5 PPG, 1.2 RPG, 0.0 APG, .3 SPG, 0.0 BPG, 29.6 FG%, 21.4 3PT%, 90.0 FT%, 19 GP
Who is Anthony Bennett?
To the casual fan, Anthony Bennett is probably the fourth-most known member of the Brooklyn Nets, and not for the right reasons. Currently in the conversation, if not leading it, for worst no. 1 overall pick in NBA history, Bennett is more infamous than he is famous at the moment. If one is feeling generous, perhaps more of the onus for that ignominious distinction lies with Cleveland’s surprising, and, in retrospect, completely questionable decision to take Bennett with their pick in the draft.
If you’re new to the NBA and missed experiencing this in real time, Bill Simmons’ reaction during ESPN’s draft coverage pretty much says it all.
So, how did we get here, from top of the draft to veteran’s minimum, in three short seasons? In his one, and only, season at UNLV, Bennett, a 6’8 true power forward, averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds per game, even managing a 37.5 three-point percentage on a decent amount of attempts. With numbers like those, even looking back, it’s (somewhat) understandable that Cleveland was willing to take a flyer on Bennett in an underwhelming draft class. It isn’t until you get to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at 8 or Steven Adams at 12 that you find anyone you would really want on your basketball team, unless you’re sold as Victor Oladipo as the heir apparent to Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City.
If Bennett’s freshman season at UNLV was the highlight of his career — and even that includes an NCAA first-round loss as a 5 seed to 12 seeded California — then where does the bottom lie? For that read on to the next section, if you dare.
Bennett only played in 19 games with the Toronto Raptors last year, so it feels more accurate to categorize his season as what it was: a D-Leaguer trying, and largely failing, to catch on with an NBA squad. In those games, Bennett came far closer to averaging a Mark Titus Trillion than he did any numbers befitting a former top draft pick. Needless to say, his numbers were all career lows, though its not as if Bennett had far to fall. In his one season with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he averaged 4.2 points and 3 rebounds. Then, after he was an after-thought toss in for the Kevin Love trade, Bennett ticked-up slightly to 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 2014-2015.
The best thing one can say about Bennett’s stint with the Raptors last season is, with all sincerity is that there’s literally nowhere for him to go but up — unless, of course, it’s to the Long Island Nets, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
What Did The Pundits Say?
Mike Mazzeo of ESPN said:
“But Brooklyn, which is coming off a 21-61 season and does not have total control over its own first-round pick until 2019, needs to find diamonds in the rough.
The Nets are hoping that Atkinson’s strong track record for developing players translates into helping Bennett turn around his career.”
And Matthew Hallett of Hoops Habit added:
“Put Bennett against starting centers and he will be eaten alive. He is not big enough. However, against back up centers, not known for their offense, he should be hard to stop.
The slashing and cutting to the basket will lead to some easy points for the Nets.”
What Does Bennett Bring to the Table?
While most NBA pundits and talent evaluators have already written off Bennett as a lost cause, it appears he may have one believer left in the person who matters most: head coach Kenny Atkinson. In a recent report by Brian Lewis of The New York Post, Atkinson was essentially effusive — all things considered — in his praise of Bennett’s play in the preseason so far.
“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”
This preseason, Bennett has put lines of 4/1, 15/5, 11/ 3, and 2/1. However, in those four performances, he only hit 40% from the floor once, with 11 of his 15 points coming from the free throw line. In the game against the Miami Heat, Bennett managed a 3-5 night from beyond the arc, but has missed every other three he has taken in the preseason otherwise.
With Bennett, all the tools are there on the table. He has the size, athleticism, and raw abilities to make it in this league — but, this far, the whole has added up to far less than the sum of his parts.
The Bennett Highlight Reel Theater:
If that doesn’t sum up your 2016 Brooklyn Nets, I don’t know what does.
The Bottom Line:
This is one of those rare seasons where everyone — coach, player, fans, media, etc — all know exactly what this chance is and no one is operating under any delusions. Up until this point, Bennett’s career has been, in no small terms, an unmitigated failure. He was dealt away by the team that drafted him no. 1 overall after a single season. The team that traded for him then let him go after just another season. To wrap it all up, the Raptors, his hometown team, had more use for him in the D-League than with the big-boys.
Both the Nets and Bennett are in the same leaky boat: neither’s prospects are particularly rosy, so they might as well sink or swim together. Bereft of both talent and draft picks, the Nets can afford to take a flyer on a player like Bennett, and can cut the cord easily if things go poorly.
As a lottery team playing without any upcoming lottery picks, why not take a chance on someone who only three years ago was equal to all the ping-pong balls in the hopper.
What else do they have to lose?