In conjunction with ESPN’s #NBARank, we’re unveiling the third installation of our very own #TwolfRank. This year we have more opinions from HTW as well as around the web, thanks to your undying support of the Wolves. For the next few weeks, we’re going to lay out our rankings of all the Wolves players. We’ll share our thoughts, opinions and even give some predictions for each player and the upcoming season. Don’t forget that we want your help in evaluating these players, so be aware on Twitter when we need your help using the #TwolfRank!
Almost from day one, Anthony Bennett’s ride in the NBA has been a less than ideal experience for any player, let alone a former number one draft pick. The big man out of UNLV’s rookie season has been dubbed as one of the worst rookie seasons from the top pick in the draft of all time, and midway through last season he was on pace to have one of the worst seasons for any player ever. This led to the dreaded “b-word” being thrown around. Not everyone may know the struggles Bennett has had to deal with, though. Even before last year’s Summer League, Bennett had to have surgery on his shoulder to repair a torn left rotator cuff, forcing him to miss almost all of Cleveland’s offseason workouts, and gain a few pounds in the process. Then, last October, it was revealed that Bennett was diagnosed with sleep apnea and asthma, which he claimed drastically affected his cardio. Bennett had a PER of 1.1 in January, leading to article after article asking if he could already be declared a bust. As Canis Hoopus wrote: “Last season, Bennett posted not just one of the worst seasons for a lottery pick, but arguably one of the worst of any player in NBA history, posting negatives in nearly every cumulative statistical category.” Dayumn.
The Wolves made some huge offseason moves and, of all the new faces joining the team, Bennett is definitely the biggest question mark. Now, Bennett was able to boost his PER to 6.9 by season’s end, but his final stat line still wasn’t very impressive. In 52 games played (zero starts), the 6-foot-8 former Mountain West Conference Player of the Year averaged 12.8 minutes per game, 4.2 points per game and 3 rebounds per game. While he shot 53.3 percent from the field in his lone year in college, Bennett put up a paltry 35.6 field goal percentage last year, draining only 24.5 percent of his shots from behind the arc and going 63.8 percent from the charity stripe. Looking at stats like that leads one to wonder how the former five-star prospect became the top pick in the 2013 draft in the first place. To put it this way, Gorgui Dieng went 21st in that draft to the Jazz before being sent to the Wolves, and there’s no one in their right mind who would take Bennett over Dieng after each of their first seasons.
Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, which is why taking a look at Bennett’s one-year collegiate career paints a bit of a clearer picture. Playing in all 35 games for the Runnin’ Rebels in the 2012-2013 season, Bennett started 32 of those games and played a respectable 27.1 MPG. Along with Bennett’s quality shooting percentage overall, he made 37.5 percent of his three-point attempts, 70.1 percent of his free throws and shot an outstanding 74 percent at the rim, which was a top-ten mark in the NCAA. Bennett scored in double-figures in 28 of the 35 games, posting 12 double-doubles. He wasn’t the most dominant of rebounders, but he was solid, pulling in 8.1 RPG – nearly a third of which were on the offensive end. However, despite his 7-foot-1 wingspan, Bennett only averaged 1.2 blocks-per-game (0.2 in his first year in the NBA). UNLV would spend the first 10 weeks of the season ranked on the AP poll, 11 on the coaches, and made it to the conference championship where they lost to New Mexico. As a five-seed, the Rebels of the Runnin’ variety were bounced in the second-round by the ever-feared 12-seed, California.
And that was that.
Bennett left UNLV for greener pastures and became the highest draft pick as a Canadian at the time. Bill Simmons was SHOCKED, as I think many of us were, at the former Findlay College Prep standout being selected first. Upon talking to Shane Battier after being selected first by the Cavs, Bennett mentioned making history and said: “…hopefully we can repeat it next year, you know, with Andrew Wiggins coming in.” That much sounded reasonable at least, but who would’ve thought that it’d be Cleveland who would once again find themselves drafting in the top spot?
Bennett sat behind starting Tristian Thompson last year, who played and started in all 82 games last season. While seeing guys like Spencer Hawes and Luol Deng come in for decent chunks of the season, playing time wasn’t exactly there for Bennett as he finished 14th in MPG for all players that played for Cleveland last year, which has almost everything to do with the pathetic year statistically speaking.
So what’s there to be excited about?
For one, it does appear that Bennett’s work ethic is better than a certain Derrick Williams you may be familiar with. Bennett’s first order of business this offseason was his health, which started with getting his tonsils and adenoids removed to deal with his sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the more common of the two kinds of sleep apnea as our pals at WebMD will tell you, “is caused by a blockage of the airway, usually when the soft tissue in the back of the throat collapses during sleep.” Some of the common characteristics for having OSA are: being male, being a big dude, having a large neck size and having large tonsils. Large. Tonsils! The worst kind of tonsils! Once those things were out of the way, Bennett hit the gym hard, constantly working with coaches, joining in with Shabazz Muhammad on Chameleon Training in California, and even hiring his own personal chef to help manage his diet.
Reports have varied, but Bennett has dropped 15-25 pounds in his effort, which has shown in his improved quickness on the court during Summer League games and his ability to play nearly 30 MPG. “He’s improved his conditioning, he’s improved his physique,” Cavs head coach David Blatt said. Blatt would also mention that: “He’s really, really trying to do a lot of different things on the court to help the team win and not being under pressure to do one thing, just to stay on the floor.” Bennett averaged 13.3 PPG and 7.8 RPG – his point totals being only second on the Cavs’ Summer League team behind Wiggins’ 15.5. Bennett showed an improved effort on defense, which was one of his biggest weaknesses coming out of college. Watch some footage of him in college and you’ll see backdoor cut after backdoor cut being made on him – *cough cough* James Harden.
Now, offensively, Bennett still needs to improve his game with his back to the basket, being more aware of the shot clock and be a bit of a better passer – or at least more willing to be one. But Bennett can be explosive and is a powerful finisher inside and driving to the hoop, which opens up his shot from outside. He’s a good ball handler for his size and, if he continues to make an effort to improve his defense, his 7-foot-1 wingspan could create yet another defensive threat coming off the bench with Dieng.
Wolves fans might not be the most excited about Bennett coming in, but the 21-year-old, who would only be a junior in college right now, can’t go anywhere but up from here.