With another marvelous NCAA tournament in the books, it’s time to shift our attention to the draft and evaluate prospects that could be suiting up for the Wizards next season.
Anthony Bennett, Freshman PF, UNLV
35 games: 27MPG, 16.1PPG, 8.1RPG, 1APG, 1BPG, 53%FG, 38% 3FG
2012-13 season: Bennett committed to UNLV as the 7th rated high school prospect in the country according to the ESPNU 100 list and immediately established himself as the alpha dog of the Running Rebels by dropping 22 points and grabbing 7 rebounds in a win over Northern Arizona. His offensive repertoire, while not fully on display under Coach Dave Rice, had its shining moments where he was able to shoot the three or go coast to coast and finish through contact. The offense often times stagnated throughout the season as zone defenses continued to frustrate their guards, and their perimeter/isolation oriented offense hurt their chances of advancing in the NCAA Tournament, which concluded a second first round exit in as many years for the sophomore coach.
Strengths: The first (and sometimes only) thing scouts and draft evaluators bring up in regards to Bennett is his versatility. He’s quite adept at handling the ball; he’s an adequate three point shooter for his size, and despite concerns about his height- finishes well at the rim due to his large wingspan (measured in at 7’1 at the Nike Hoops Summit) and explosiveness off the hop. His dribbling ability gives him a leg up on defenders closing out hard on him from the three point line, as he’s able to get in position to score at the rim or get fouled (averaged over 5FTA’s a game last season). This was on full display in the tournament game against Cal- unable to get it going offensively, he showed some craftiness in getting his man to jump on shot fakes, especially on hard closeouts against the zone defense.
Bennett often relies on his size and leaping ability, for better or worse, to remain a threat on the glass. Offensively, he does a great job establishing position in the low post to either be ready for the entry pass or to anticipate a miss- and he combines it with soft touch around the rim, although it’s not very consistent.
Weaknesses: Defense, defense, defense. No seriously, Bennett always seems to go half speed on this end of the floor, and it’s very easily scrutinized in the grand scheme of things. He has a tendency to ball watch; he’s always late rotating, shies away from contact, and seems more worried to leak out in transition rather than securing a defensive rebound or keeping his man from attacking the glass. Part of this is attributed to Bennett’s general lack of interest on this end, but frustrations over getting quick baskets in transition rather than walking the ball up court and facing the vaunted zone remains a huge culprit. His inability to properly hedge on screens and rotate back to his man will be problematic at the next level as he will be the target of a lot of switches.
With such a unique skillset for a PF, it’s a bit of a shock to see Bennett show a lack of interest in creating for others. His full court dashes to the rim feature him handling the ball (quite spectacularly, by the way) with his head down and with no regard for his teammates. His 1:2 assist to turnover ratio puts it all into perspective. This has haunted UNLV on a number of occasions this year, and his poor shot selection has hijacked the Rebels offense from time to time. He has the green light to do whatever he pleases under Dave Rice, but that doesn’t bode well for his pro prospects once he’s relegated to a third option in an NBA offense. Bennett tends to overcompensate for his rather rudimentary post game by taking contested fadeaways versus a simple lefty/righty hook over his defender. The tourney game against Cal bodes as his biggest detractor as he went 3-10 from the field while missing a bevy of shots from inside 3 feet.
Pro potential/Wizards fit: There have not been many frontcourt players in the past few years to come out with an offensive repertoire quite as advanced as Anthony Bennett’s. Finding the right system will be a challenge in itself, and masking his defensive deficiencies while continuing to fine tune his fundamentals will be a task worth monitoring for the next 3-5 years. He’s not a player you can plug and start from the beginning of the season despite the allure of a stretch 4 in this league.
In hindsight, Bennett fits the mold of a pick and pop forward beside Wall and Beal. He would also make a terrific high/low partner for Nene, and could significantly improve what was the NBA’s worst rated offense in 2012-13. It’s important for a draft prospect to have at least one elite skill coming out of college, and for Bennett it is his shooting touch. It also wouldn’t shock anyone to see him be regular in Randy Wittman’s doghouse either as the feverish coach attempts to light a fire under the lottery pick.
At the end of the day it comes down to whether the Wizards deem Bennett’s shooting worthy of a lottery pick. His versatile game has certainly intrigued fans and the possibilities with Wall and Beal are endless, but is there room for improvement? Will he impact the game in any other way? The jury is still out on the former, but the latter seems unlikely.