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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Report: Darius Bazley Opt to Not Join G-League
Darius Bazley blazed his own path in the basketball world when the top-10 prospect in the 2018 high school class announced his decision in March to decommit from Syracuse and enter the NBA G League. Now, Bazley tells The Athletic that he has decided not to play in the G League and will instead use the year to train and prepare himself as a professional.
“Talking about it over with my group, we felt confidently that the G League wasn’t going to be needed and now I can use this time to work on my craft,” Bazley told The Athletic. “It’s mainly me talking to [agent] Rich [Paul], he knows so much, and whenever he speaks my ears perk up. When Miles [Bridges] was in Cleveland for his predraft workouts, whenever he got a chance to work out in front of NBA teams, I was working out in the gym, too. So that played a part in it, me playing well in those workouts for us to say there’s no upside in the G League. If you play well, it’s expected. If you don’t play well, you’re not NBA-ready. That’s what they’ll say. For me, working out and preparing is the best route.
Source: Shams Charania of The Athletic
The Los Angeles Lakers’ Success with the G-League
The Lakers effectively used the G-League to develop players and add depth to their roster when needed this season, writes David Yapkowitz.
The NBA recently announced that player salaries in the G-League will increase beginning with next season. In addition, players will also receive housing and insurance benefits. The league will also expand to 27 teams with the newest franchise being the Capital City Go-Go’s, the affiliate of the Washington Wizards.
The G-League has seen an increase in popularity and coverage, and five-star senior Darius Bazley withdrew his commitment from Syracuse in favor of spending a year in the league preparing for the NBA draft. Teams are now beginning to utilize their G-League affiliates more; this season saw a record of 50 players called up to the NBA.
One team that has found success with their G-League team is the Los Angeles Lakers. By the end of the season, the Lakers had seven players on the roster who either started the season with the South Bay Lakers or spent time being called back and forth. With a rash of injuries the last month or so, most of those players featured prominently in the rotation.
“The G-League has turned into a great resource for the NBA, for the development of young players and for finding people who help your team win,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton told reporters prior to their final game of the season. “You look across the league, almost every single team at some point this year has got a lot of help from someone either on a two-way or who they signed for ten days. These guys have grown up their whole lives playing too. They’re hungry, they mostly have an edge, they have a chip on their shoulder because they haven’t had the same opportunities.”
Most teams took advantage of the new ability to sign players to two-way contracts, having them split time between their NBA team and G-League affiliate. The Lakers originally had longtime G-League standout Vander Blue and Alex Caruso signed to two-way contracts. But they cut Blue in January and replaced him with Gary Payton II.
Payton, the son of former NBA star Gary Sr., has had some NBA experience prior to this year He was a rookie with the Milwaukee Bucks for the 2016-17 season and he began this season with them before being cut in December. He caught on with the Lakers on a two-way contract and he spent most of the season with the South Bay Lakers.
He started out his career in the G-League after going undrafted out of Oregon State in the summer of 2016. He started out with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers before being called up by the Bucks. He’s also spent time with the Wisconsin Herd.
“The two years I’ve been in the G-League going back and forth has really helped develop my game, and it’s transferred over,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “Down there they really help develop player’s games. I get my opportunity to just come in and help facilitate.”
Payton only appeared sparingly in six games as a rookie and was inactive during the Bucks 2017 first round series against the Toronto Raptors. This season started out with more of the same. He saw 12 games of action with the Bucks, mostly in garbage time, while shuffling back and forth with the Wisconsin Herd.
When he signed with the Lakers, Payton immediately made an impact with South Bay. In 17 games, he put up 17.2 points per game on 47.2 percent shooting from the field and dished out 5.1 assists. When South Bay’s season came to an end in the playoffs at the hands of the Austin Spurs, Payton rejoined the Lakers.
Injuries to key players saw Payton thrust into the rotation for the final few games of the season. On the final night of the regular season, Payton had his best performance as an NBA player in a win over the Los Angeles Clippers. He scored 25 points on 11-19 shooting, including 3-7 from three-point range. He also grabbed 12 rebounds.
“I just do what I do, try to carry over what I brought in the G-League and just try to be aggressive,” Payton said. “They tell me every time I’m up here and get an opportunity to just be aggressive and make plays for my teammates.”
Another player who has used the G-League to get an opportunity with the Lakers is Payton’s South Bay teammate Travis Wear. Wear is no stranger to the NBA. He went undrafted out of UCLA in the summer of 2015 but was able to make the New York Knicks roster following a strong training camp.
With the Knicks, Wear saw action in 51 games and displayed an ability to stretch the floor by shooting 36.7 percent from the three-point line. A back injury cut his rookie year short and he went overseas the following season. He returned stateside to begin the 2016-17 season and ended up in South Bay, when the team was still known as the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Now that he’s back in the NBA, Wear credits his experience in New York as helping him learn what the NBA is all about.
“I kind of knew what to expect coming into this NBA game and the style in which it’s played,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “It definitely prepared me. It was three years ago but I was able to look back on that experience and change some things from the past.”
Wear had a breakout season in the G-League this year and that strong play was what caught the Lakers’ attention. He was one of the best players in the G-League all season long. He put up 16.2 points per game, 8.1 rebounds and shot 41.9 percent from three-point range. Wear is a high energy player who is active around the rim and can draw opposing defenses to the perimeter with his shooting ability.
He shot 36.2 percent from downtown in the 17 games he received playing time after being called up to the Lakers. On Mar. 16, in a one-point loss to the Miami HEAT, he scored 11 points and shot a perfect 3-3 from long range. On Mar. 24, in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies, he scored 11 points and had two steals while shooting 3-7 from three.
Wear believes his time in the G-League has really helped prepare him to make an easier return to the NBA.
“Since I’ve been here, I pretty much come in, space the floor, knock down shots and play good defense,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “They know I can shoot so that’s how they’ve been utilizing me. I was definitely refining my skills down there. I just got a lot of confidence in my shooting ability from the G-League. It gave me the confidence to come up here and do the same thing.”
While Wear has had a successful end to the season, there is no guarantee that he’ll be back with the Lakers next year. His contract was only guaranteed through the end of this season. The Lakers have an option to extend him a qualifying offer this summer, which would make him a restricted free agent.
Although he wouldn’t mind sticking with the Lakers, Wear knows that the NBA is a business. He feels he’s shown enough that if it doesn’t work out in Los Angeles, another team will surely come calling.
“Whoever I can get an opportunity to get a contract with somewhere. There are things I need to improve on my game in the offseason and come back better,” Wear told Basketball Insiders. “But it’s been phenomenal, a dream come true.”
Report: NBA to Increase Salaries for G-League Players
The N.B.A. is instituting a long-anticipated salary increase in its developmental league, the league announced Tuesday.
Effective next season, players signed to G League contracts will earn $35,000 — or $7,000 per month — in addition to housing and insurance benefits over the course of the league’s five-month regular season.
Players under G League contracts previously earned either $26,000 or $19,000. The increase will represent a pay raise of 35 percent or 84 percent, depending on the player’s classification.
The N.B.A. pays all player salaries in the G League.
Source: Marc Stein of The New York Times