Why the Wizards Should Roll the Vegas Dice on Canadian Star Anthony Bennett
Sporting an oversized polo shirt and fuzzy facial hair, Anthony Bennett sheepishly strolled over to the gathered media for his interview at the Verizon Center last Thursday. The NBA prospect looked like a deer in headlights. Bennett immediately admitted to being shy, an unenviable characteristic when having to face a hoard of cameras and journalists. Washington, D.C. is not Chicago or New York in terms of sports media, but this is not the Mountain West, either. By the end of the 11-minute session, the 20-year-old gradually opened up about his fear of heights, poked fun at his own shooting stats, and told a funny story about a fan locating him in the lobby of his Chinatown hotel. A college player being green in these situations seems pretty routine, and Bennett didn’t have the benefit of working up a sweat beforehand. Due to surgery on his rotator cuff in mid-May, Bennett did not actually work out for the Wizards, but the UNLV star out of Ontario, Canada, revealed that his recovery was progressing on schedule.
“It is going pretty well. I spoke with Dr. Altchek—he is the one that did my surgery—I spoke with him yesterday and he said everything is going fine,” Bennett said. “The first week of August, I should be 100 percent, full contact, back into the game of working out.” Dr. David Altchek should also be noted because he helped determine the nature of John Wall’s stress injury last September. CSN Washington’s Ben Standig previously reported that Bennett was about eight weeks out from full contact but has been cleared to do some basketball things.
“[Altchek] said light shooting. I can dribble and do all that but no contact. Nothing crazy. No dunking or anything,” Bennett confirmed.
Although the top of this year’s draft is in flux, conventional wisdom has the Wizards likely choosing Bennett or Georgetown’s Otto Porter with their third overall draft spot. Bennett, named to Sporting News’ All-Freshman team, averaged 16 points and eight rebounds in his one season for the Runnin’ Rebels, leading them to an NCAA tourney berth. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward displayed a keen ability to score inside and out with his soft shooting stroke, which is why he is a virtual lock to go in top seven of this draft. This versatility has also led to questions of what his position would be in the NBA. To that, Bennett says this:
“I just see myself as a basketball player—go out on the court and help the team, whatever I need to do,.I feel like most 4 men (play outside) now. They can either can go out and shoot or can go inside. I will just fit right in. Probably the only thing I need to do is get stronger.”
Asked about his bread-and-butter, Bennett replied, “my jump shot.”
“I can shoot the 3. I can shoot the mid-range. I can go inside. I can shoot free throws. I can do all of that. Helps open up things for me.”
Andy Glockner of Sports Illustrated’s “Point Forward Blog” wrote this scouting report on Bennett:
“Bennett’s biggest strength is his polished outside game. He has a really nice handle for a big man and very legitimate range that extends out beyond the college three-point line. He shot 37.5 percent from the arc last season and also converted almost 59 percent of his twos last season on a Rebels team that lacked a traditional point guard. Part of that can be attributed to Bennett’s success in transition—he made 30 of his 41 shot attempts last season on the break, per Synergy Sports Technology—but he also has nice touch and is a decent finisher around the rim. (As an aside, Bennett’s curiously poor 9-for-30 mark in pick-and-pop situations is an indicator of Vegas’ point guard inexperience. He obviously can shoot from the perimeter.)”
If Bennett wants to flourish as a pro, the ability to knock down open jumpers after screening is imperative. When I asked him about his poor pick-and pop numbers last season at UNLV (9-for-30), he was unaware of the data set. “I never knew I was 9-for-30,” said Bennett. “I thought I was doing pretty good. Coming from Findley Prep, we had set plays, it wasn’t really pick-and-roll, pick-and-pop. It is something that I got used to in college. I felt like I got better at end of the season.”
As far as being a potential fit in Washington, Bennett had glowing words for the young Wizards:
“It is a young team, run-and-gun. They like to get up and down the court. Couple years to come, they could be one of the top teams in the East. That is what I feel like.
“John Wall, quick guard. Likes to get out in transition, likes to pass. Bradley Beal, he can shoot. I spoke with him a couple times. He just tells me Washington is a great place. He likes it here a lot. He was giving me advice and all that.”
Look at Beal, already selling Washington as a desirable spot. Nice work, Bradley.
One of the more difficult aspects of evaluating Bennett is his distance from the local viewing public, compared to Porter, Alex Len, or other nationally known entities like Victor Oladipo and Nerlens Noel. Your average Wizards fan likely had no clue who Bennett was six months ago and is now in a heated debate over whether he’d be a good fit in D.C.
Bennett was on my radar all college season, but I saw little of his games live. I felt the need to get an educated take on Bennett by someone who watched him play all season, so I reached out to Danny Webster, the sports editor of UNLV’s school newspaper, “The Rebel Yell.” Webster is on the Runnin’ Rebels basketball beat and covered the team throughout their 25-12 season. I posed some questions to Webster and he provided the thoughtful responses below, which might be some of the sharpest analysis that you will read on Bennett.
What are your overall impressions of Anthony Bennett’s game? Does he have strengths that will translate to NBA game?
Bennett is built like a tank, and he’s versatile. He has good 3-point range and he has a good mid-range game. With him being versatile, he has the ability to play multiple positions. For the majority of the year, he played power forward, especially when Mike Moser went down with his dislocated elbow. When Moser came back, UNLV coach Dave Rice would also use Bennett at center while sliding Moser to the 4 spot and bring Khem Birch off the bench. He doesn’t use his strength to his advantage, though. At times, he where he’d drive to the basket from the perimeter. [Ed. Note: Red Flag Alert!] If he got the ball, more times than none, he’d take the shot even if it was contested. But no one can deny he has a pretty good jumper, good athleticism, he’s a great rebounder (especially on the offensive glass) and is a freak of nature that, when used properly, he can be a pretty good player. He’d be a fun guy for John Wall and Bradley Beal to play with, that’s for sure.
Did Bennett’s presence change the direction of UNLV hoops?
From the minute he stepped on campus, he brought this buzz that put UNLV in the title conversation. In non-conference play, he looked like he was the Player of the Year, averaging almost 20 and 10 a game. By the time he got to conference play, however, he struggled heavily. He scored over 20 points only four times and held under 10 points seven times. Much of that was due to the physicality and the size that the conference brought, the other part of it was due to that hero ball I mentioned earlier. But it was clear that when he was on his game, UNLV was tough to beat.
Did you get a sense about the kind of teammate he was?
He came off as a good teammate, but his teammates weren’t afraid to get on him when he wasn’t performing well, especially the veterans. He does come off as shy, as you’ve said, but there’s the case of a possible immaturity factor that was brought to light against Fresno State in the last home game of the year. Whether Bennett had anything to do with that, remains to be seen. But from what I’ve gathered, he was a good teammate in the locker room.
What happened in the Fresno State game?
The Fresno State game was an instance where Rice said that a lot of players felt overconfident heading into that game. They won five in a row heading into that game, so that explains it, but they were up against a team that kicked their tail a month earlier. Looking back on the story I wrote, the exact words he said were, “I just think our immaturity showed up again, as it has all season long.” Rice didn’t mention anybody specific, but the first people to look at were the freshmen. Bennett only played 17 minutes that night, so draw up the speculations as you wish.
Was he coachable?
Dave Rice loved him. Any time he’d have a great game, Rice would rave about him, just like he would any other players. The one thing about Rice is that when you have a great game, he’ll let the press know it. And with Bennett, he always talked about how great of a player he was. When he declared for the draft, he was the same way, saying how terrific of a person and player he was at UNLV.
People knock Bennett’s defense and conditioning. Is this overblown? Fixable?
It’s not overblown. He struggles heavily on defense. Like I said before when he doesn’t use that strength to his advantage, he also doesn’t use it on defense. When he was at Findlay Prep, he was considered this player with a great motor on both ends of the floor. You hardly saw that at stints last year. He didn’t deliver a hard foul until the game against Cal in the NCAA Tournament. It’s a problem that can be fixed once he realizes his strengths.
[Bennett's answer to his defense being a weakness: "That is something that I can improve on. I go hard playing defense, but I don’t know how things end up. I feel like if I work on my quickness, everything will be alright.”]
As someone who watched and covered Bennett, what are some of the misconceptions that you have seen in the national media or among scouts?
Everything I’ve heard from the media about his talents are dead on. Nothing anyone has said has been wrong, but people need to look at his weaknesses a little more carefully, even though there’s a good chance he can change everything in the NBA.
Do you think that asthma contributed to his issues with fitness? Did you see any effects of it on his play? (Bennett downplayed his asthma during his interview at the Verizon Center. He emphasized that he takes medicine, follows doctor’s orders and watches his diet.)
I don’t think his asthma played as big of a role this year. He logged a lot of minutes and even went over 30 in some instances. It’s not as big of a problem as everyone lays it out to be.
What is something ‘under the rader’ that people should look out for?
The one thing that’s going under the radar is that shoulder he just had surgery on. It’s something to definitely take note on. The problems first began before the February 23 game at Wyoming, where he only played four minutes. He was treated for brachial neuritis, which is a rare condition in which the nerve group coming off the neck to the shoulder is inflamed. The recovery process could range from a couple of weeks to 18 months. He did play well in the conference tournament, but he struggled in the games prior to that and during the NCAA Tournament game. It’s something that trainers should monitor and take a heavy look at.
Many thanks to Danny Webster. You can follow him on Twitter at @DannyWebster21. He is more than willing to answer any questions about Bennett.
Bennett has been spending time preparing for the draft in Long Island, NY, and he recently blogged about his experiences in Gotham City for NBA.com:
I’m living in Long Island, NY, with Ramon Galloway out of La Salle University. It’s low key out here, which is good because it makes it that much easier to stay focused. The area is quiet, so I spend most of my time going to rehab, resting and slowly getting back into the gym. The cool thing about living in Long Island is that I’ve been able to visit New York City a bunch of times. I’d been to New York a couple times before for basketball, but this has been the first time I’ve really been able to explore the city. I went to see the Statue of Liberty, which was real cool! I always heard about it, but I finally had the chance to see it for myself. I skipped the Empire State Building though because I’m afraid of heights!
I had to find out more information on his acrophobia. It turns out Bennett eventually visited the Empire State Building, but said it was a terrifying experience: “I went there one time and I was scared, man. I cannot even lie. The elevator was going up and I was just shaking.”
Hold up. A big man who skies for dunks is frightened of being up in the air?
“I don’t even get that high, but everybody say that I do,” laughed Bennett. “I have been flying around a lot—that is something that I am not really used to, because once the plane starts shaking, I am scared, man.”
Otherwise, Bennett’s New York experience appears low-key, but constructive.
“It is cool. We are not in the city per se, like 40 minutes out. Real quiet and dead. I just got to focus, go to rehab, watch TV, go to sleep. Do the same thing over and over.”
The day before his interview with the Wizards, Bennett tweeted out, via Instagram, the below Photostopped picture of him and Otto Porter which was given to him by a fan.
Of course, I just had to ask him what was up with that encounter.
“Oh yeah, that was crazy. It was after dinner. I got dropped off and there is just a fan sitting there (the lobby of the Hotel Monaco). At first I didn’t really pay attention. I was going upstairs. He goes, ‘Hey, Anthony.’ I looked and he had a whole bunch of pictures with him. He goes, ‘Hey, can you sign this?’ I go ‘No problem.’ Then the last picture he showed me was me and Otto Porter. It was real cool, so I had to take one. So I signed one and was like, ‘Let me get the other one.’ He goes, ‘Alright, cool.’”
My nomination for obsessive and clever hoops fan of the year is in.
Bennett comes across as a solid young man, and Wizards fans should be satisfied if a humble guy with good character brings his talents to Fun Street. A nice Canadian … is that not the stereotype? After the cameras stopped at the Phone Booth, Bennett and I continued to chat about the super fan and social media. He said that he’s started to experiment with Vine and embarrassingly laughed when I told him that I enjoyed his “Dancing Elmo” Vine.
Bennett’s signature game at UNLV was his 25-point, 13-rebound effort in a road win at Berkley versus the Cal Bears. “I guess that is kind of where I blew up,” Bennett told me.
The analytis crowd should be swooning “Oh, Canada!” for Bennett. His numbers in the Mountain West Conference were phenomenal (conference rankings in parentheses):
- Effective Field Goal Percentage, .580 (2nd)
- Player Efficiency Rating, 28.3 (1st)
- True Shooting Percentage, .609 (2nd)
- Offensive Rebound Percentage, 10.3 (10th)
- Defensive Rebound Percentage, 21.8 (9th)
- Total Rebound Percentage, 16.3 (9th)
- Block Percentage, 4.6 (5th)
- Turnover Percentage, 12.3 (10th)
- Usage Percentage, 27.5 (5th)
- Points Produced, 488 (5th)
- Offensive Rating, 17.6 (4th)
- Defensive Rating, 89.3 (4th)
- Offensive Win Shares, 3.5 (4th)
- Defensive Win Shares, 2.3 (4th)
- Win Shares, 5.7 (1st)
For all the knocks on Bennett’s defense, he ranked surprisingly high in several defensive categories, even if individual defensive prowess is still damn-near impossible to measure with statistics. As Danny Webster noted, he might have relied too much on his jumper at times, but his shooting percentages were still outstanding. So called “shot jackers” do not lead a conference in Win Shares and Player Efficiency Rating.
All prospects need to be scrutinized, especially when making a potentially franchise-altering decision. Of the four potential players the Wizards will likely choose from—Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Otto Porter and Anthony Bennett—Bennett provides the most opportunity to be a home run. Right now, I rank him second behind Noel on my draft board.
Victor Oladipo’s lock-down defense and ability to finish make him an intriguing option. Yet picking him would create a roster imbalance of having Washington’s three young building blocks being guards under 6-foot-4. This seems like an unwise concoction if the goal is to win a NBA championship. History doesn’t provide many guard-heavy title teams.
Kentucky’s Noel would be a tantalizing running partner with Wall, skying for dunks and protecting the rim with timely rejections. But his knee injury and offensive rawness means that true development could be years down the line. This does not mesh with Washington’s quest to be a playoff team next season.
Porter’s exceptional all-around game would be a boon to a squad without a young small forward. Taking Porter would also likely put into question the resigning of Martell Webster for the Wizards, which has long-been assumed a top priority for the club. Porter, Webster and Trevor Ariza would create a glut on the wing. [Ed. Note: Martell Webster saw 12 percent of Washington's minutes at the 2 last season and has before made claim that he can play "guard."] For all the praise heaped upon Porter, few are projecting him to be lock to be an NBA All-Star, and he’s seen as more of a third or fourth scoring option. Porter’s strength is blending in instead of standing out. Can the Wizards afford to take a glue guy with the third overall pick?
Bennett has the best chance of helping the Wizards next season, which should be a priority of Randy Wittman and Ernie Grunfeld should they want to keep their jobs. Taking a calculated risk on Bennett soon becoming an elite player could be the difference-maker in competing for a championship under the more restrictive salary cap under the CBA.
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix reports that many exces think Bennett has the most potential of this year’s crop of youngsters:
“Several NBA executives believe Bennett has the biggest upside in the draft. ‘He’s ridiculously talented,’ a Western Conference general manager said. ‘There’s a superstar in him.’ “
Matt Youmans, UNLV beat writer for Las Vegas Review-Journal, told Ben Standig: “I just think he has every tool you need on the offensive end to average 20 points a game in the NBA.”
It is fair to question Bennett’s conditioning and willingness to defend. And if taken by Washington, Bennett will quickly realize that defensive lapses are quickest way into Wittman’s doghouse. I have faith that the coach and his staff can correct Bennett’s defensive issues, because that’s what coaches are paid to do. Bennett also appears willing to accept instruction. Player development has been a bugaboo in recent years for Washington, and it is easy to allow the paths of Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Trevor Booker, Chris Singleton, and even Jan Vesely to cloud judgement. But the individual situations of those players has no direct bearing on if Bennett will make the most out of his potential. Bennett is far more offensively polished entering the league than any of them.
Rarely do team have a chance to add a 20-year old player with natural basketball gifts like Bennett’s. He would be a match-up nightmare for opposing defenses with the go-to offense from anywhere on the court that the Wizards need. Bennett is a legitimate double-double threat who can fill lanes, gobble up misses, and be a threat from long distance. Most importantly for Washington, he wouldn’t have to overwhelmingly rely on Wall to set up his looks. This would alleviate some offensive pressure off of both Wall and Bradley Beal.
For comparison’s sake, I see Bennett as combo of Elton Brand and Jamal Mashburn. He has the ability to face-up, shake, and slash like Mash. He can also display the power rebounding and elbow jumper capability of Elton. There is a sprinkle of confident scorer (but also volume shooter) Carmelo Anthony in Bennett, too. The Larry Johnson similarities are also there.
After the 2011 Vesely/ Singleton/Shelvin Mack draft debacle, and the 2009 Mike Miller/Randy Foye trade mishap, Monumental Sports & Entertainment ownership cannot screw this draft up. Grunfeld could find redemption for his lottery failures if Bennett blossoms into an All-Star. It would help rewrite some of the tarnished legacy that his long career in basketball management currently leaves.
Sure, there is pressure for team brass to go the safe route and take the local kid in Porter. The marketing aspect has to factor in somewhat. Many Georgetown alums buy tickets to Wizards games and carry sway in Washington. Team owner Ted Leonsis is an alum and on the board of directors at Georgetown University, and the school plays its home basketball games in the arena Leonsis owns. Can a relationship between a college and pro hoops team get any more closer than that? Passing on Porter could have negative repercussions. But this draft must be based on sound logic with a long-term vision, not by emotional sentiment. Does Leonsis want to be a hopeful but unlikely playoff contender like the Joe Johnson-era Atlanta Hawks, or does he want to brew something up like Indiana or Memphis did this year’s playoffs? Does he want to take the next Tayshaun Prince (Porter) or the next Carmelo Anthony (Bennett)?
Give me a Canadian ‘Melo, throw in “Real Deal” Beal and “Game Changer” Wall, and let’s roll the dice on Washington being an elite team in the NBA for years to come.
6-foot-7, 239 lbs, 7-foot-2 wingspan, 8-foot-9 standing reach
Bennett’s Social Media
NBA Workout Status:
Bennett has met with Suns, Wizards and Magic. He has scheduled visits with the Charlotte Bobcats and Cleveland Cavilers. Those teams make up top five teams in the draft. Bennett confirmed that he has no workouts with any other NBA teams planned.
Draft Express Video: