Our prospect profiles on the top players in the 2013 NBA Draft continue with UNLV's Anthony Bennett.
Position: Power forward
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College career: Bennett arrived at UNLV with incredible fanfare. The latest in a line of well-known basketball recruits at prestigious Las Vegas school Findlay Prep, Bennett ultimately decided to stay in the area. He warded off offers from Florida and Kentucky and finally settled on UNLV over Oregon after getting a push from former AAU teammate Khem Birch, who was about to transfer into the program.
UNLV had signed kids from Findlay Prep before -- the school's founder was a former UNLV player and is a longtime booster -- but Bennett was the symbol of their return to national prominence. UNLV had been in the NCAA Tournament for the previous three years under Lon Kruger and Dave Rice, but Bennett was their top recruit since ... Stacey Augmon? Larry Johnson? It had been a long time since UNLV had reeled in a top-10 guy. With Mike Moser returning to school, UNLV was poised to ride their two forwards to glorious places.
Things started off well. Bennett dropped 22 and 10 in a 83-79 loss to the Ducks in November, showing them a glimpse of what they missed. A couple weeks later, he had his true national breakdown, scoring 25 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in a tight win over California on the road. Bennett became a fixture on the national highlights when he slammed down this thunderous right-handed dunk with the game in the balance.
Unfortunately for the Rebels, Moser suffered a gruesome elbow injury in this game. He rushed back a few weeks later, but was not the same player. Dreams of pairing Moser and Bennett never materialized, with the two often playing separately rather than together.
Bennett-mania faded a bit after that December game, as the freshman was more inconsistent in Mountain West play. He had some fantastic games, dropping 17 and 12 in a home upset win over New Mexico and 21 and 12 in a victory over fellow draft prospect Jamaal Franklin and San Diego State. But he also struggled at times, particularly in road losses to Colorado State and Fresno State. A shoulder injury suffered in late February against Wyoming -- the same one he had surgery to repair -- inhibited him late in the year, and his season ended meekly in the NCAA Tournament at the hands of the same California zone defense he dominated in December.
Offense: Bennett is an explosive two-foot jumper with an array of perimeter and post skills that should make scouts drool. His broad, wide shoulders allow him to power through contact, and his soft hands allow him to catch and finish almost any pass around the rim. Watching him, it's immediately clear why he evoked comparisons to LJ from UNLV faithful.
Bennett is most devastating when turning and facing on a slower big man. His perimeter game and footwork are extremely advanced for someone his age. When he's isolated on a player 17 feet from the hoop with a live dribble, he's incredibly tough to stop. He has an excellent turnaround and pull-up jumper that keeps defenses honest and is really good at using his jab steps to get separation. His long strides lunging to the rim ensure that he'll get past his defender if they are off-balanced, and he can elevate over defenders or power through them. His signature move against Cal was a wing isolation in this manner. He used a shot fake to get the defender off-balanced, then took a long stride with his right foot out of the triple threat position to get to the rim for the one-handed finish.
Bennett is also a really good finisher around the basket. When used in the pick and roll, he can dive to the rim and handle almost any pass. (This proved important because UNLV's guards weren't exactly the best at throwing clean passes). His explosive leaping ability also makes him a major threat on the offensive glass. Scouts talk a lot about "rejumpability," i.e. being able to get off the ground a second time before everyone else leaps for the first time. Bennett has the ability to do that.
Bennett also has an advanced perimeter game that will allow him to play well out on the floor at the next level. He shot just 33 percent on threes in college, but that was more due to his shot selection than his stroke. With more space and a defined role, Bennett should see his percentages rise. He's also got excellent mechanics on pull-up jumpers and shot fakes, so he should be a threat to drive past closing-out defenders.
Bennett's biggest weaknesses are his court vision and shot selection. He averaged just 1.3 assists per 40 minutes last year, which is down there with noted non-passers like Shabazz Muhammad, Jeff Withey and Christian Watford. One has to wonder how Bennett will respond to the elaborate double-teams and weakside zones that he'll see in the NBA. His shot selection also left something to be desired, though that can be cured with experience and a more defined role. Nevertheless, these two shortcomings help explain why Cal's zone defense took him out of the game in the NCAA Tournament.
Overall, though, there's a ton to like. Few prospects in this draft has Bennett's scoring polish and upside.
Defense: It's hard to avoid hyperbole here: Bennett might be the single most unaware defensive prospect I've ever seen. There is nothing he does well on this end, and those shortcomings are due entirely to his effort.
Simply put, Bennett does not compete on the defensive end. He spends most possessions standing upright, unconcerned with what's happening around him. It's a miracle when he actually shows on a pick and roll. It's even more of one when he anticipates a team's play and helps a teammate recover by briefly switching onto his man off the ball. Like some young bigs, he has little concept of defensive responsibility besides checking his man. The simplest off-ball movement confuses him, which is potentially a huge problem if he's asked to check the stretch 4s at the next level.
Bennett's post defense is OK when he tries, but that doesn't always happen. He can get bullied inside, and while many would attribute that to him being undersized, his wingspan and length should theoretically allow him to compensate. The real issue is that he's either unable or unwilling to use his strength to leverage position. He also will sometimes give up offensive rebounds because he doesn't do his work early.
In Bennett's defense, he wasn't exactly subject to much accountability at UNLV. As the program's highest-rated recruit in three decades, Bennett couldn't exactly be benched for inferior players. The injury to Moser also hurt UNLV's frontcourt depth and forced Bennett to play out of position at center for a stretch until Birch became eligible. Bennett has probably never had a coach who demanded effort out of him defensively. The hope for the NBA team that drafts him is that the intensity of the NBA game will force him to shape up to get playing time.
That could potentially come, which would make Bennett an even better prospect. He certainly has the length and athleticism to be an OK defender. But he has a long, long, long, long way to go to get to that point.
Pro potential/Wizards fit: The Wizards desperately need a big man that can stretch the floor and score, and nobody available in the lottery can do that better than Bennett. In the most basic sense, that makes him a tantalizing player that may be impossible to pass up if available. Bennett is supremely talented, and with the right kind of coaching and development, he could turn into a potential star.
But he will require enough coaching to at least be passable defensively, and that's going to be tough. The only way for him to learn to give proper effort is for him to sit when he doesn't. Randy Wittman will get fed up with the kind of defensive effort he showed in college. It's going to require a solid plan, a lot of hard work and a ton of sticks and carrots for the Wizards to cultivate some defensive intelligence in Bennett's brain.
Nevertheless, Bennett has an incredible amount of upside, and in a draft not known to be top-heavy, the Wizards should take an awfully close look.
Reminds me most of: Brandon Bass, Corliss Williamson, Jason Maxiell.
More BF draft coverage:
• Lessons about player development