It’s not that the road has been long, it’s just the traffic and constant detours that keep rerouting Anthony Bennett’s career.
Back in the day NorthPole Hoops had been following AB’s progress for a few years through the Team Canada circuit and glimpses at other events like the Ontario Alumni Game (where he threw down the hardest dunk I’ve ever seen live) but never would have believed the hype he’d generate just months later.
His selection as the first overall pick to the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2013 shocked everyone and it came with lofty expectations. All the sudden Bennett went from a solid NBA player with upside to an expected star supposed to carry a team within a few years.
Now playing for the Nets on a two-year deal he’s a high-upside, low risk pickup – still just 23 years old – needing stability and having played varying roles on four different teams in his four years in the league.
“He’s had flashes of being a really productive player,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “He had some rough times in the beginning, all the pressure and some injuries. When he came to us he was in great shape and I think that’s number one he got in great shape to impress us to want to sign him.”
“It’s a good fit,” Bennett says of the Nets, who worked him out in Brooklyn for three weeks this summer before signing him. “A lot of great teammates and the coaching staff as well. They push me along the way and push me through the mistakes. In the past I never really had that chance and it’s definitely a cool feeling to go out there and play with a clear mind.”
The Nets have limited resources, rock bottom expectations and have already mortgaged their future by giving up their first round picks to Boston in 2014, 2016, (right to swap picks in) 2017, and 2018 in the Kevin Garnett trade of 2013.
It makes for an environment forced into patience where they’ll try anything and see if it sticks, which bodes well for Bennett who has already appeared in 19 games for the Nets matching last season’s total with Toronto.
“Continue to enjoy the game and continue to work on his craft because he has every tool that you need to have,” said Dwane Casey of his former charge. “He has every tool. I’m not in his head and don’t know where he is mentally but that would be my recommendation.”
He’s attempting more three pointers than before and currently shooting a career-best .480 eFG%, finding his spots while still working to uncover who he is as an NBA player.
A suggested role like that of former player Shane Battier as a defensive specialist and bigger three-point shooter especially from the corners would be useful to emulate.
“I think at this point a lot of it’s confidence, just being able to break through that confidence level where he really really believes in himself and his teammates believe in him and his coach believes in him,” said Atkinson. “He’s starting to gain that confidence and that trust and we’re looking for him to keep assembling that and we’re really happy with his progression so far.”
The Nets are playing to his strengths and seem committed to putting him in a position to succeed. In early December Bennett drew his first start with Brooklyn and logged seven points and a career-high 14 rebounds.
He’s also been playing in the NBA D-League for the Long Island Nets where he’s averaged 18 points and 8 rebounds in two games, in line with what he put up as an NCAA star with UNLV. It’s the 35 minutes he’s able to play there that are most useful.
Those tools Dwane Casey talked about will help Bennett stick in the league if he uses them to his advantage. And another old friend from Toronto knows just staying around and building a professional career can be defined as success enough.
“I see him more mature,” said Luis Scola, Bennett’s former Raptor and current Brooklyn teammate. “I try to talk to him, everybody tried to talk to him, but what I try to tell him is that being number one, being in Minnesota, all those things, they are in the past. This is a fresh start for you. You take that off your shoulder and things are going to be better and I think he understands that and he comes to work and he’s enjoying it a lot more than when he was in Toronto with me. He’s getting better. He’s playing well, he’s had a lot of great games and he’s getting into the rotation.”
“I think there is a future ahead of him. He needs to believe in that, that’s the important thing. He’s going to have a great career, that’s the important thing.”