He Didn’t Pick Himself Number One Overall
The sports world can be cruel and unforgiving. Even more so in a world of lists and rankings that are subjective and heartless.
You’d be hard pressed to find any list of NBA draft failures that didn’t include Anthony Bennett near the top, as he is generally considered one of the biggest draft busts of the modern era, but is that really his fault?
Rewind back to the 2013 NBA Draft, the top names at the time included Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, Georgetown’s Otto Porter, Jr., Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel and Kansas’ Ben McLemore.
All were considered the top names regardless of whose mock draft, scouting guide or TV report you listened to. UNLV’s Anthony Bennett was mentioned in the top 10, but few thought that Bennett was the top pick, right up until then NBA commission David Stern announced him.
It was an unexpected blessing, that in hindsight has become an unbelievable curse for a player that genuinely has NBA ability and just now shaking the emotional weight of failing at such a high level.
Bennett had success last year, winning a Euroleague championship with Fenerbahçe Doğuş in Turkey, and is currently in the NBA’s G-League with the Northern Arizona Suns. Not only is he trying to play his way back into the NBA, he’s trying to leave the past behind him.
“I guess at the time it was just I didn’t have someone on the team to talk to,” Bennett told Basketball Insiders. “Didn’t happen in Cleveland. In Minnesota, I kind of had Wiggins and all the young guys, but I didn’t want to open up to them.”
Bennett admits that he didn’t know how to deal with all of the things going on in his career and struggled to open up, choosing to internalize his struggles, which only made things worse.
Imagine for a moment unexpectedly being the top overall pick and failing. Bennett got injured early in the draft process and underwent surgery. He gained a ton of weight while rehabbing and was never able to get himself right from a physical standpoint. Then, he was traded and then traded again. Suddenly, he found himself spiraling downward as things slipped from his grasp.
“It wasn’t until I got to the Raptors, when I was with Luis Scola, that’s kind of when everything just changed,” Bennett recalls. “I saw how he worked and you know he was on my side because he saw how I played in FIBA. He was like ‘This is not how you play, you know just play it free, play it loose. I know how you do, just go out there and play’. That’s when I kind of followed him and he walked me through what his day was like, his routine. And then again in Brooklyn, he was there as well. That was where things started flowing for me, but things didn’t go right in Brooklyn then I went out to Turkey. At the same time, I wasn’t going to let that routine stop.”
Bennett spent his summer at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, training twice a day with NBA players like New York’s Kyle O’Quinn and Philadelphia’s Amir Johnson. He was looking for a chance in the NBA.
“I was trying to go to the Suns,” Bennett explained. “There was just a whole bunch of injuries at the wrong time. I felt nice with hard work during the summer. I felt like I was ready to go but just at the time everything just kind of hit me. It was my back, my ankle, just a lot of things I couldn’t really push through.”
The Suns suggested Bennett consider the G-League as a means to stay in their program.
“I definitely got the opportunity to come down here, still show what I got, still stay close to home. I have a 5-month old son and you know I don’t want to go too far especially with him being here.”
After Bennett’s success in Turkey he had a number of high dollar international offers.
“It was different out there. Everything switched, it just completely switched. Going to a whole different country on the other side of the world pretty much,” Bennett said of his experience in Turkey.
“I didn’t know any Turkish at all. So, I was like an alien out there. But you know I am thankful to the guys that helped me out, brought me in, welcomed me with open arms when I was over there. They showed me the ropes, pretty much made sure I learned the plays. It was definitely tough, especially playing for a coach like Obradović. He just wants perfection every time and it kind of changed the way I look at things now, I guess. But it was definitely a great experience.”
Spending any amount of time around Bennett, it becomes clear that he’s finally found some peace with everything behind him. He just plays and plays loose, something he wasn’t able to do in previous stops in the NBA.
“I got nothing to prove,” Bennett said with a smile. “I’m out here with all these guys just trying to win games. At the end of the day, just trying to get everybody involved. I know my role and I am just trying to fulfill that to the best of my abilities.”
Some of that sounds cliché, but there is some truth to how Bennett approaches the game now.
“I wouldn’t say it’s more drive, it’s just every time I work out I know what I can do,” Bennett explained. “I know what I need to work on, and I need to know what I can improve on. I take workouts very seriously. I try to be the best. Do a lot of things like push myself like during workouts, even if I’m tired during workouts. That’s one of the things I try to do the most.
“Working out in Vegas, at Impact throughout the whole summer, with all those guys coming in, playing in runs. It was just like an opportunity for me to go because I never really got that up and down feel for a long time. Just play free and that’s what it was in the summer and that’s what kind of got everything going.”
Bennett is far and away the most notable name on his team’s roster. It would be easy for them to treat him differently, as his story isn’t like many of theirs, but the connection they all seem to share is genuine and that’s been helpful for Bennett too.
“Everybody’s pretty cool. We laugh and joke but at the same time when things get down to it we’re pretty serious in what we need to do,” Bennett said. “Everybody just treats everybody like family. I could talk to anybody about anything that’s going on. Everybody is all ears and that is one thing that I’ll say is different. It’s not just everybody trying to get theirs. Like at the NBA level, if you talked to someone in the same position, they may use that against you and tell coach or whatever. But here everybody is just on the same playing field.”
It is easy to write Bennett off as a draft bust, but when you look at the 2013 NBA Draft class today, Bennett was hardly the only player that never lived up to the draft status.
Equally, Bennett didn’t select himself number one overall. He just has to find a way to live with that burden. The 24-year old from Ontario, Canada seems like he is figuring out how to do that for the first time in his career, its likely why he’s playing some of the best basketball since his UNLV days.
Bennett may never be the franchise NBA player some expected when he was the first name called in 2013, but it’s pretty clear that the still young Canadian isn’t giving up, even though so many people have tried to write him off.
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The Six Things We’re Watching
Spencer Davies takes a look at a handful of storylines surrounding the NBA as the league’s suspension continues.
The NBA is at a standstill. Even as we approach the midpoint of April — over a month since the league ceased its in-game operations — the needle has yet to move due to the coronavirus pandemic, as the whole sports world continues to attempt to figure out its next course of action.
While we wait, let’s go over Six Things We’re Watching here at Basketball Insiders.
With one announcement on Thursday morning, Jalen Green made history. In an unprecedented move, the widely-considered top high school basketball prospect from Fresno will be joining the G League on its Select Team in Southern California. This is huge for the landscape of elite talent and a pathway to the NBA, especially considering the “traditional” nature of going through the NCAA ranks or traveling overseas to play professionally.
According to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports, G League president Shareef Abdur-Rahim is at the forefront of the concept, which will include a lucrative salary and a college scholarship to receive an education if the participating prospect chooses to. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony reports that Green will make over $500,000 in the program.
As far as the Select Team is concerned, it will not operate as a regular team in the league would. There will be a handful of open roster spots for the high school talents — Isaiah Todd is another player who has gone this route, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania — while the rest of the team will be comprised of veterans. Givony says the Select Team’s competition will range from regular G League squads, foreign national teams and worldwide NBA academies. Though most of these contests will be played in an exhibition, the main goal will be to mature on and off the floor. As reported by Givony, former NBA head coach Sam Mitchell is expected to be a top candidate to lead the Select Team. Uncommitted prospects such as Makur Makur, Karim Mane and Kai Sotto may follow Green’s lead, as well.
For a number of years, young athletes have been taking alternate paths to exclude the NCAA. Most recently, LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton decided to head over to Australia to prepare for the NBA ranks. Even a couple of years ago, Darius Bazley decommitted from Syracuse University with intentions to go straight to the G League — although, that turned into a million-dollar internship plus training. Green’s decision today, however, has the potential to set a brand new standard for NBA hopefuls coming out of high school. It will be fascinating to see how this G League Select Team program for elite prospects turns out.
Winds of Change
Out with the old, in with the new. This past week, the Chicago Bulls announced the hiring of Arturas Karnisovas from the Denver Nuggets as their executive vice president of basketball operations. The front office shake-up is the organization’s first major change in nearly two decades, and it’s about time. There is light at the end of the tunnel with this team as constructed; a borderline All-Star in Zach LaVine, an exciting young point guard in Coby White, a physical presence in Wendell Carter is a good starting place. It’s who’s molding those players and the leadership that could use a facelift.
Karnisovas has already gotten rid of former longtime executive Gar Forman, while John Paxson will transition into an advisory role. Those two are extremely close to the Reinsdorf family, which made it a difficult sell, but ultimately the franchise is moving on. Could a coaching change be the next on the list? Whether people deem it fair or unfair, Jim Boylen hasn’t exactly gotten rave reviews from his players in public. There seems to be a tension with LaVine, the team’s franchise player, which doesn’t make staying any more favorable.
We know that Karnisovas’ philosophy is high-pace with multi-positional players, identical to what he helped build with the Nuggets. He mentioned during his introduction that shooting and rebounding were glaring issues, so those will likely be areas addressed in the offseason. Will his desired style line up with Boylen’s? We’ll find out sooner than later because Karnisovas doesn’t want to waste time in kick-starting Chicago’s fresh direction.
As usual, our founder and lead publisher Steve Kyler is bringing forth top-notch work through his one-on-one podcasting sessions. His latest talk is with Jordan Fair of Progression Daily, a former basketball player-turned trainer for high-level collegiate and pro talent, as well as a high school head coach at Oldsmar Christian School.
Other guests on the podcast recently include Delaware Blue Coats assistant coach and former NBA guard Xavier Silas, veteran Detroit Pistons big man John Henson and one of the game’s highly-regarded trainers, Tyler Relph. You can find these interviews on our Insiders Podcast page.
What Could’ve Been (?)
A friend of mine texted me the other day about what could be lost if this season is indeed canceled.
The Milwaukee Bucks were rolling with Giannis Antetokounmpo and had a high chance to go all the way and win the NBA Finals. Could this be a situation like the 1994 Montreal Expos, where their best chance at a title was strictly halted by a league stoppage? Let’s not forget that this would result in one less year of Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee, and unfortunately for the franchise, his free agency comes up in 2021.
What about the Los Angeles Lakers, who seemed destined to bring a title back to the city behind LeBron James’ leadership in the most emotional year the team and league have ever seen? And the other squad in town, the Clippers — could all of those assets and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander sent to Oklahoma City potentially be worth one season of Paul George? That’s quite an all-in scenario, no?
As for the others — In a season most teams consider a failure or a success, is there more of a neutral outlook now? Maybe coaches who were on the hot seat before all of this get a little more time to sort things out. It will be interesting to see how those evaluations are made.
Player General Management
Before the Bulls hired Arturas Karnisovas as their next top front office guy, Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie decided to roleplay and have some fun on Twitter as player-general manager. Not too different from Jackie Moon — do you have the marketing skills in you, Spence? Anyways, it was a cool little project he put together and the results were quite intriguing regardless of actual possibilities and logistics. This doesn’t appear to be a tampering situation, and hopefully the NBA wouldn’t treat it as such.
Check out the results of Dinwiddie’s pretend GM activity for the Bulls on SB Nation.
The Cream of the Crop
If you’re looking to stir up a good, ol’ fashioned debate up with your friends, start with us! Over the past week-and-a-half, Basketball Insiders went ahead and ranked the top players by their respective positions, point guard through center, in our own unique ways. Check out what our writers came up with and let us know how you feel about these!
- Ranking The PGs: Matt John
- Ranking The SGs: Ben Nadeau
- Ranking The SFs: Spencer Davies
- Ranking The PFs: Drew Maresca
- Ranking The Cs: David Yapkowitz
Hopefully, you enjoy those articles and the content we’re putting out in these trying times we’re facing as one big basketball family. We will keep you updated as the information presents itself in real-time. In the meanwhile, please stay safe and stay smart!
Report: G League to Expand to Mexico for 2020-21 Season
The NBA G League, the NBA’s official minor league, and Capitanes, a professional basketball team based in Mexico City, today announced that Capitanes will join the NBA G League as its first team from outside the U.S. and Canada.
Capitanes becomes the NBA G League’s 29th team and will make its debut for the 2020-21 season. The team will play its NBA G League home games at the Gimnasio Juan de la Barrera in Mexico City.
Miye Oni — A Rare Breed
Matt John has a chat with Utah Jazz rookie Miye Oni about being the only Ivy League player currently in the NBA, the importance of education and adjusting to a new city.
Ivy Leaguers are hard to come by in professional basketball.
Coming into this season, there have only been 45 players in NBA history whose alma mater come from Ivy League schools. The most notable names among them have been Bill Bradley (Princeton), Rudy LaRusso (Dartmouth), Chris Dudley (Yale) and, of course, the most recent one, Jeremy Lin (Harvard).
This makes a fair amount of sense. As impressive as it is to get into a university as prestigious as an Ivy League institution, their basketball programs don’t get much exposure in the NCAA. There are plenty of colleges out there who may not have the same prestige as Harvard or Yale, but still provide great educational opportunities as well as top-notch basketball programs like Duke and UCLA.
In and of itself, it’s actually pretty impressive to be both a top-notch scholar and a top-notch athlete in the college ranks. However, because universities like Cornell or Brown don’t boast well-repped basketball programs, we don’t see a lot of their alumni make it to the NBA. Even when they do, they don’t last too long.
When Jeremy Lin wasn’t re-signed by anyone this summer and headed overseas — which by the way is still ridiculous — the NBA seemingly didn’t have anyone in the league who hailed from an Ivy League education at first glance. Upon further inspection, there actually still is one NBA player who’s an Ivy League guy.
He can be a little hard to miss because it’s his rookie year, but Miye Oni, who was drafted 58th overall by the Utah Jazz back in June, played his college ball at Yale. As the only player currently in the NBA who played basketball in the Ivy League, Oni believes he can do more to influence the younger generation.
“It’s crazy. I was talking about it with my friends yesterday that I feel like should do a little more with that,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “It’s a good platform to reach out to kids and let them know that education is important.”
Emphasizing the importance of education is obviously a great message to send to our children. For Oni, he believes that what he’s learned from his own story of becoming both a professional athlete and being a student at a top-notch university can send an empowering message about what it takes.
“Control as you can control it if you take care,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “I wouldn’t have been where I’m at without my education. At times it seems like I wasn’t going to play college basketball, so I always had my education to fall back on. I knew that if I had that, I would be able to have an opportunity to play and that’s what happened.”
In his three years at Yale, Oni majored in Political Science. In this modern-day and age, athletes are speaking out more and more about social issues that go beyond the sport they play in. In Oni’s case, he stresses that athletes should speak their mind because of what their point of view could do for the public.
“It’s important to an extent,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “Some people maybe try to overdo it a little bit, but… athletes have a large influence over a large amount of people, so it’s good to get a point of view from a different group.”
Again, most Ivy League basketball players don’t make it to the pros, and the ones that do usually don’t have long and prosperous careers. Oni could potentially be an exception to the rule. Even with the odds stacked against him, he was the first Ivy League player to be drafted into the NBA since 1995.
The reason why players who come from such well-respected schools don’t last for long in the pros is that the smarts a college athlete can have in the classroom usually don’t translate as well on the court. Salt Lake City Stars head coach Martin Schiller thinks the 22-year-old rookie on his roster is very much to the contrary.
“Often, smart school guys are not smart basketball players,” Schiller said. “In his case, I think it goes together so I sense a good smartness on the court from (Oni).”
Now, it’s led him to the Jazz. Much like a fair amount of rookies nowadays, Oni’s starting his career out with Utah’s G-League affiliate — in his case, the Stars — but Oni credits the team for helping him adjust to the next level of basketball.
“It definitely helps,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “Training camp was good. We learned a lot. We’re just getting more reps offensively and defensively, so it’s been good.”
Now, Oni starts his career off in Utah. As competent as the Jazz are as an organization, adjusting to Salt Lake City can be a tough — one, from the weather alone. Oni grew up in the hot and humid atmosphere that is Los Angeles before moving to the cold tundra that is the northeast. And so, he gets to start his professional basketball career in both a cold climate and at a high altitude. Even though the environment has changed around him a fair amount over the years, that doesn’t phase Oni.
“The altitude here is for sure crazy but you’re fine after the first day,” Oni told Basketball Insiders. “It’s probably the biggest change playing-wise, but I don’t think it impacts me there.”
As for his potential as a pro long-term, what Schiller’s seen of his abilities has gotten him to believe that Oni’s all-around game could make him a keeper for the Jazz.
“Miye is a very capable defender,” Schiller said. “Miye is a very capable driver to the rim. He will also develop into a good shooter. The last thing is… he can actually pass the ball. He’s a pretty good passer. He’s got the quality of potentially being a real three-and-D guy on the next level.”
Given the Jazz’s development with some of their young guys who have also played with the Stars in the past — Royce O’Neale and Tony Bradley as a couple of examples — Schiller’s analysis may not be too far off the mark.