Take a deep breath and relax.
Anthony Bennett is able to do that a lot easier now. Not just because the pressures of playing his first NBA season as the number one overall pick are behind him, or because he has rehabbed from injuries. Not just because Andrew Wiggins has taken his place as the all-eyes-on-me rookie, or because LeBron James is back to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers.
In May, Bennett underwent surgery to remove his tonsils and adenoids to help improve his sleep apnea. As a result, Bennett, who also has asthma, has found it easier to breathe while playing basketball following the operation.
“Since [having] my tonsils out, my adenoids, I have a lot more room to breathe,” Bennett said during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. “It was hard, definitely, with my tonsils in. I feel like taking them out was a huge step.”
It was a step in the right direction. Bennett began his NBA career while rehabbing from shoulder surgery and suffered a knee strain in March, limiting him to just 52 games. As a rookie, he averaged an underwhelming 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds in 12.8 minutes. The 6’8, 243-pound small forward fell short of expectations.
Of the many factors that played a role in his disappointing season, there were instances when he felt his breathing hindered him on the court.
“It acted up at times,” Bennett said. “There’d be times I was playing good, I wouldn’t really notice it. And then there’d be other times where it was real hard to breathe. But I just tried to push through it and do the best I can.”
Getting healthy and in shape were top priorities for the 21-year-old this summer. Bennett focused on his offseason workouts and made a commitment to playing up to the potential the Cavaliers saw in him at UNLV.
During Summer League, a noticeably slimmer Bennett showed what he had been unable to do last season. He stood out, averaging 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds in 29.8 minutes over four games. This included a 13-point, 14-rebound performance against the San Antonio Spurs.
“I feel like the conditioning was the biggest part,” Bennett said. “After I took my tonsils out, I felt a lot better.”
Recently-hired head coach David Blatt praised Bennett’s dedication, noting that he has “been happy with him since the camp started.”
Neither coach nor player want to dwell on Bennett’s rookie shortcomings. Both are looking ahead to a bounce-back sophomore season, one in which Bennett could be a contributor on a team that should finish near the top of the Eastern Conference.
“You’ve always got to work hard,” Bennett said. “For me, last year I was working, I was trying to recover from the shoulder stuff, so it was a setback for me. Pushing through that, trying to get healthy conditioning-wise, everything just built up on me. I feel like right now I’m healthy, I feel good. It should be a better season for me.”
That will be a breath of fresh air.