The Plight of Anthony Bennett
It’s Kinda His Fault
It all started the night of the 2013 NBA Draft, the draft that gave us Giannis and Steven Adams (I really struggled to find a second guy worthy of mentioning alongside The Greek) when Anthony Bennett of UNLV was taken first overall to the surprise of everyone watching, especially our friend Bill Simmons:
Up to the day of the draft, pundits were debating whether the Cavs, fresh off their second post-Lebron apocalypse season, would take Ben McLemore of Kansas or Nerlens Noel of Kentucky with the first pick, but nobody even considered Bennett.
Fast forward to now, Bennett has seemingly washed out of the league after playing with his fourth team in as many seasons, the last of which just happens to be the worst in the NBA. To most, he will forever be known as a “bust,” probably more so than Greg Oden or Kwame Brown. Despite barely touching the floor, Oden displayed flashes of his former dominant self and reminded everyone why the Blazers took him first overall, even if he never achieved what most hoped that he would. Although Brown never blossomed into the star that Michael Jordan hoped he would (which actually may be Jordan’s fault), he still enjoyed a 12 year career and made over $60 million. Anthony Bennett has never shown the signs of greatness that one would expect from a first overall pick, but in fairness to him that’s because he shouldn’t have gone first overall and that entire draft class has, for the most part, been extremely disappointing. The Ringer’s Jason Concepcion posed the question best when he tweeted: “if we re-ran the 2013 draft, does Giannis go first or super-mega-first”?
Think about it: who else noteworthy was drafted that year besides Giannis? Nerlens Noel, Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, Ben McLemore, Michael Carter-Williams? Aside from Giannis, who was still a risk at pick 13 (the dude looks like he’s playing against high schoolers), any of those guys would’ve been labeled a disappointment as a first overall pick. They’ve all found niches within the league but none of them have had the talent worthy of the first overall pick like Karl Anthony Towns does. I wouldn’t want to be building my NBA franchise around them, and that’s really what a first overall pick is supposed to be: a franchise player. Those other guys should really be thanking Bennett for saving their careers because who knows if they would be able to handle being called a “bust” by everyone under the sun.
That is not to say that Bennett should bear none of the blame for the way his career has turned out to this point. This season with the Nets was perhaps Bennett’s best chance to establish himself in the league. On the Cavs, he was a nervous rookie getting no more than 17 minutes a game on Kyrie Irving’s team. After that, he played on Andrew Wiggins’ T-Wolves, another terrible team in a vicious conference, and Derozan/Lowry’s Raptors where he warmed the bench while the team made a deep playoff run. The Nets are the NBA’s worst team, who just lost to an Anthony Davis-less Pelicans, with literally nothing to lose. If anyone had an incentive to give Bennett a shot to prove himself it was the Nets. But somehow Bennett earned himself a starting spot on the bench instead, backing up Trevor Booker, Justin Hamilton and Chris McCullough (who?).
In the two Nets games that I attended this season, Bennett played only 7 minutes (in one game) and grabbed two rebounds while shooting 2/3, but his mediocre performance wasn’t what stood out to me. What made an impression on me was how out of shape he looked during warmups and on the court. If you’re in the NBA, getting paid around $1 million a year, you would think that the easiest thing to do would be to stay in shape. But no. Bennett lumbered around the court, lackadaisically shooting his warmups and chatting with teammates. I was stunned. It was clear that all the talk about him being a “bust” had gotten to him. Some players, the best players, use adversity as motivation to push themselves to the next level but clearly this was not how Bennett had used it. He just gave up. It was sad to see.
Remember, Bennett is only 23, it wouldn’t be inconceivable for him to make a comeback. What he needs to do, more than anything else, is tune out the noise and play the game that inspired the Cavs to take him first overall in the first place.