No one from the 2013 NBA Draft has developed into a breakout star. Eight first-round picks have been traded, one has returned to Europe and one hasn’t played a single NBA minute. But former UNLV power forward Anthony Bennett, who was the No. 1 overall pick by Cleveland, is the player carrying the heaviest weight of unfulfilled expectations.
Traded after one season with the Cavaliers and waived after a season with Minnesota, Bennett played only 19 games last season with Toronto, which sent him to the D-League and ultimately waived him. Now, at the still-tender age of 23, Bennett has a one-year deal with the Nets and, to his credit, a sense of optimism about finding a home in Brooklyn.
“You have to be in the right situation with the right group of people around you,” Bennett said Monday after practice. “Coming here, there’s a lot of great guys from top to bottom, coaching staff, too. Everybody is helping me to get better. I feel a lot more comfortable here, and hopefully, this thing works out.”
As proof of his determination to make it in the NBA, Bennett took the extraordinary step of undergoing what amounted to a three-week tryout with the Nets last summer before they worked out a deal worth slightly more than $1 million. “He impressed in the time he was here,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “There was evidence this is a guy we should take a chance on.”
The proof was in the work Bennett put in to overcome his reputation as a player who isn’t always in shape and lacks a strong work ethic. The 6-8 Bennett now is a well-muscled 245 pounds after a productive summer working with the Canadian National Team and skills coach Drew Hanlen at his training facility in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“It’s a big commitment I wanted to see from myself,” Bennett said. “After the whole situation with the Raptors happened, I bore down and got extra focused and tried to watch what I eat and stay in the best condition for whatever is coming up next.”
So far, Bennett has concentrated on defense and rebounding with the hope of joining the mix at power forward along with free agents Trevor Booker and Luis Scola. “I just feel comfortable,” Bennett said. “A lot of guys have embraced me and helped me . . . It’s pretty much an open field. The main part is to focus on doing what you’ve got to do to help the team.”
Atkinson liked what he saw from Bennett in Saturday’s open scrimmage at LIU-Brooklyn. “He’s really showing flashes,” Atkinson said. “Really, the essentials are rebound and run. In the new NBA, he’s like that undersized middle linebacker. He’s long and fast. Even though he’s not 7-foot, he can play in this league because he can move. He’s a good system fit for us.”