Celtics

Is There Still a Chance for Anthony Bennett?

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Five years have passed since the notorious 2013 NBA Draft, widely recognized as one of the most disappointing in basketball history. While Victor Oladipo and Giannis Antetokounmpo became stars, and Otto Porter, Steven Adams and Rudy Gobert emerged as formidable NBA players, busts peppered the first round. The most legendary of these flops was the first overall selection: UNLV forward Anthony Bennett.

His first NBA stint was nauseating. After being drafted by the Cavaliers, Bennett was part of the Kevin Love-Andrew Wiggins blockbuster trade in 2014. He was then waived by Minnesota following the season, and spent the next two years on two separate teams. Bennett wore out his NBA welcome after being released by the prospect-starved Brooklyn Nets. He posted career averages of 4.4 points, 3.1 rebounds and 0.5 assists per contest while shooting just 39.2% from the floor and 26.1% from long range. His Player Efficiency Rating was just 10.8 (a league-average PER is 15).

A short stint overseas brought depressing results for the former top pick, and he returned to the U.S. on a contract to play for the Suns’ G-League team. After yet another trade, Boston’s own G-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, acquired the forward.

A Change Occurs In Portland

Suddenly for the first time in his career, Bennett showed promise. He averaged 16 points and 7.6 rebounds per game and scored with volume and efficiency from behind the arc (41.8% on 8.1 three-point attempts per game). Bennett’s PER reached 17.4, and while his defensive game was weak, he was still a net positive player.

Bennett is now 25 years old and long-removed from his pre-draft ceiling. David Griffin said per The Athletic that Bennett “had no desire to overcome adversity whatsoever. As soon as it was hard, he was out.” He does hold one record: the only #1 pick to ever start in a G-League game. Until 2017-18, Bennett had shown poor talent and poor work ethic in every professional basketball environment.

However, Bennett could, just maybe, claw his way back to the Association. Advanced stats and game logs show flashes of domination and dynamic spacing ability in Maine. He shot above 50% from the 20-24 foot range last season with over 89% of those makes coming off an assist. He increased his rebounds per game across each subsequent month on the Red Claws. In winter, Bennett scored 20 or more points in five straight performances. He nearly averaged a double-double per 36 minutes (19 points and 9 rebounds), and projected to average 11 and 7 as a pro.

Road to the Rotation

Bennett fits into the mold of a younger, more valuable Celtics prospect: Guerschon Yabusele. Yabu’s per-36 minutes statistics are similar (20 PPG, 8 RPG, 37% from three). But he has one thing Bennett does not: trade value. Yabusele is just 22, still unproven at the highest level, and a more recent first round draft choice. He does not come with questions about drive and athleticism. If the Celtics decide to make a trade, he could prove to be a useful asset. Bennett leaves a bad taste in fans’ mouths while Yabusele intrigues.

If he is moved, a roster spot could open up. Three-point shooting is valued in today’s game. Stretch fours are the latest fad. The stars are beginning to align. There is a path to an NBA role on a well-coached organization. Bennett’s ceiling is no more than a one-dimensional role player, but even those players contribute to winning.

This optimism is also loaded with question marks. He may not have the athleticism to survive in the NBA. He currently does not know how to play meaningful defense. His work ethic is still suspect. He may not care about proving himself. These are all quite rational concerns, and for each question, the answer could very well be no.

Anthony Bennett will never be an All-Star. He will never be an impact player at the top level. Fans will forever remember Bennett as the pinnacle of the terrible 2013 draft. But that does not mean he is finished as a pro basketball player. Somewhere is the talent that made nine of ten Cavaliers executives vote to select Bennett first overall. He needs to transform his mental tenacity and push through adversity like he has never faced before.

The path is long, exhausting and clouded with uncertainty. With enough determination and no shortage of luck, that path takes Anthony Bennett back to the NBA.

All statistics courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference.

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About Ethan Fuller

Hailing from Portsmouth, NH, Ethan is a journalism student at Boston University and writes about the Celtics for TLSM. His chief basketball teams are the Celtics and Minnesota Timberwolves. Ethan is also a still-growing ultimate frisbee player.

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