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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NBA PM: Jeremy Lin, Activist and Basketball Player
Racism in the United States continues to rise as the fight for equality continues. In the NBA, Jeremy Lin has stepped up and used his voice in support of the movement to end Asian hate.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a strong movement for social justice and human rights in America. Recently, the headlines have involved racist remarks and attacks on people of Asian ethnicities across the United States.
In the NBA, various teams and players have come out to voice their support for the movement to stop Asian hate such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and an Asian-American himself, Jeremy Lin. The basketball world has done an excellent job with social justice reform and human rights issues by highlighting them on the players’ uniforms, banners and signs throughout their arenas, while also letting the players express their thoughts on racism without backing down.
“As a part of our ongoing commitment to promote racial equality and social justice,” the NBA’s recent statement read, “We stand with the Asian community against any acts of hate and racism.”
Within the past few weeks, there was a mass shooting in Atlanta at a massage parlor that left six Asian women dead. The shooting occurred on Mar. 16 and has been highly publicized as a hate crime. This act of racism put the Asian hate movement in the spotlight once again, but, sadly, hate crimes towards Asians related to the coronavirus pandemic are not new.
Lin – always willing to stand up for what’s right, no matter the cost – used his platform as to speak out and highlight the hate seen against Asian-Americans.
“We have to keep standing up, speaking out, rallying together and fighting for change. We cannot lose hope!”
Lin, who has now played for the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers and Brooklyn Nets, has a large platform as an Asian American basketball player. Today, the point guard for the G League’s Santa Cruz Warriors has been a vocal leader of the movement to end Asian hate. But as one of three Asian basketball players in the NBA system, he serves as a role model for young Asians everywhere. For every three-pointer he hit this year in the G League, he donated to organizations for youth empowerment or human rights work, per CBS News.
Of course, during a G League game, Lin was called ‘coronavirus’ by another player – which led to him speaking out against Asian hate but did not name anybody as he did not want to contribute to more hate.
“What good does it do in this situation for someone to be torn down?” Lin said in a lengthy Twitter note posted in late February.
Listen to the voices that are teaching us how to be anti-racist towards ALL people.”
Experiencing recent hate while enduring numerous other instances of racism towards him, Lin is a powerful voice and a leader in the Asian American community.
— Jeremy Lin (@JLin7) February 27, 2021
As a player, Lin has had an up-and-down career while playing overseas in China – all following an NBA Finals win in which he played just one minute for the Toronto Raptors. Back in America and the G League where he famously got his start, Lin has tried to prove that he’s ready and able to contribute to an NBA team once more.
Appearing in nine games for the Santa Cruz Warriors, Lin posted averages of 19 points and 6.4 assists per game, plus a field goal percentage of 50.5 percent, a 42.6 percent three-point percentage and 87.9 from the free throw line.
Without a doubt, Lin still has a lot of good basketball left in the tank, but why hasn’t he been called up to the NBA? The Golden State Warriors are already in the luxury tax and the team’s other guards have performed particularly well. An unfortunate circumstance for him to be in, but Lin is one injury away from a call-up and a contract if the situation arises.
This season may not be the one where Lin makes his return to the NBA, but that isn’t going to stop him from trying. It was clear following his short G League stint that he can still play in the NBA and deserves to still be on a roster. Even if he is not in a large role, he can be an instant threat off the bench at any moment with his offensive IQ creating shots for himself and opening up the floor for others.
But as Lin works to re-fulfilling his dreams, it hasn’t stopped him from using his platform for good. Throughout his long, bumpy career – full of meteoric rises, brutal injuries and false starts – the veteran point guard has always been a source of kindness and thoughtfulness. And in this day and age, Lin stands to be a powerful voice for progress not only in the NBA, but in the country at large.
NBA Daily: Available G League Gems
David Yapkowitz breaks down which G League players could make an impact for a contender in the second half of the 2020-21 season.
The G League bubble wraps up this week, with the playoffs underway and the championship game scheduled for March 11. The NBA, meanwhile, is ready to pick back up after the All-Star break and, with the trade deadline a couple of weeks away and teams finalizing their rosters for playoff pushes or second-half development, there could be some G League players on NBA radars.
From young players looking for their first shot in the league to older veterans hoping for one more NBA contract, the G League has become a league where players can garner some serious recognition. But who might be the next player to make the leap to the NBA?
Alize Johnson – Raptors 905
The Raptors 905 have been one of the top teams in the G League the past couple of years and that’s no surprise given that their parent team the Toronto Raptors are one of the best-managed teams in the NBA. Johnson is no stranger to the NBA, either, as he played two years with the Indiana Pacers before landing in the G League this season.
Behind a very strong performance in the bubble, Johnson has popped up on the radar of several NBA teams. He’s an athletic wing who has put up 16.6 points per game, 13.3 rebounds and 4.2 assists. While didn’t play much with the Pacers, it would seem that he’s used his time since to significantly improve his game, particularly his playmaking ability. It’s almost a given that he’ll be on an NBA roster once the G League bubble ends.
Kenny Wooten Jr – Rio Grande Valley Vipers
Wooten was a rookie with the New York Knicks last season on a two-way contract, but he never saw any game action and they cut him before the start of this season. In camp with the Houston Rockets, Wooten joined their G League affiliate in Rio Grande when he was cut.
While Wooten’s scoring numbers might not jump out of the boxscore, he can rebound and defend with the best of them. His shooting might be what’s kept him from getting an NBA roster spot to this point, but that he’s improved in that area and would continue to were he to sign with the NBA team. Although not as big, Wooten fits a similar mold to that of Donta Hall, who recently received a call-up.
Tyrone Wallace – Agua Caliente Clippers
Wallace is another player with some brief NBA experience with the Atlanta Hawks and Los Angeles Clippers. Four years removed from his rookie season, Wallance played pretty solid when given the opportunity.
He’s also another player whose outside shooting has likely held him back from a consistent role at the NBA-level — his three-point percentage in the bubble is just 28.6 percent. That said, Wallace has stood out in almost every other aspect, from his scoring (16.6 points), rebounding (6.3 rebounds), playmaking (3.3 assists) and defense (1.5 steals). He still has a good chance at being called up this year, but a consistent three-point shot is would solidify a spot for him in the NBA.
Oshae Brissett – Fort Wayne Mad Ants
Brissett was a rookie with the Toronto Raptors on a two-way contract last season. Before training camp, his deal converted to a standard NBA contract, but he ended up being cut after a strong preseason from Yuta Watanabe.
Now, in the bubble, he’s looked much improved on the outside, shooting 33.3 percent from deep after knocking down just 28.9 percent of his shots last season. While that could improve further still, it bodes well for his shot at a roster spot that he’s touched up his efficiency. One of the bubble’s leading scorers at 18.6 points per game, Brissett has the size and tools to be a strong rebounding and defending small forward at the next level as well.
Jeremy Lin – Santa Cruz Warriors
Lin got his NBA start with the Golden State Warriors 11 years ago. Now, closer to the tail end of his career, he’s looking for one more NBA opportunity via their G League team. Lin briefly left the league to play in China last season, but returned this year to pursue perhaps his last NBA contract.
One of the best playmakers in the bubble, Lin dished out 6.4 assists per game before the Warriors were eliminated. That’s what he can contribute to an NBA team, being able to run a team’s second unit with efficiency. Speaking of efficiency, he showed that on the offensive end with 19.8 points and shooting 50.5 percent from the field and 42.6 percent from the three-point line. He’s more experienced than a lot of players in the G League and wouldn’t be a bad option for a team in need of a veteran floor leader.
The G League has grown in talent every season for a while now and it’s no longer viewed so much as a demotion or punishment for young NBA players. Rookies and second-year players can use the league as a way to get experience with game situations until ready to join their NBA team’s regular rotation.
Unlike when the league first came into existence, the current G League is a good place for NBA hopefuls to sharpen their skills and showcase their game to front offices, proving that they are ready for an NBA call-up.
8 Players To Watch In The G League Bubble
With the 2021 NBA G League season right around the corner, Tristan Tucker provides his picks for players to keep an eye on in the bubble.
With the NBA G League season tipping off on Wednesday, Feb. 10, Basketball Insiders will take a look at some of the stars that headline the bubble. Several two-way contract players and NBA assignees like Dennis Smith Jr. and Kevin Porter Jr. will play, but there are many that will make their cases to join or rejoin the NBA as teams will finalize rosters in March at the trade deadline.
On top of that, the league will welcome the G League Ignite, a brand new team that will feature some of the top prospects in the 2021 NBA Draft class, such as Jonathan Kuminga and Jalen Green. However, Basketball Insiders will focus on some of the players that might be flying under the radar in their pursuit of an NBA roster spot. Let’s take a look at eight of those players to watch out for during the upcoming season.
Jeremy Lin, Santa Cruz Warriors
The most anticipated G Leaguer in the bubble is none other than Jeremy Lin, one of the league’s fan favorites since the days of Linsanity with the New York Knicks. Lin last played in the NBA during the 2018-19 season, when he was acquired by the Toronto Raptors midseason and went on to win the NBA Championship.
Lin never fully recovered from a devastating injury he suffered after just one game with the Brooklyn Nets in the 2017-18 season, which eventually led to him remaining unsigned through all of last season. However, before his injury, Lin averaged 14.6 points per game in 37 total games with the Nets and was well on his way to establishing himself as one of the best role players in the NBA.
The Golden State Warriors tried to sign Lin to their training camp roster but encountered issues with acquiring his rights. Thankfully for Lin, Santa Cruz was still able to secure his rights via the NBA vet selection rule, extending Linsanity’ a direct chance to rejoin the NBA.
Alize Johnson, Raptors 905
Don’t be surprised if Johnson ends up on the Raptors as the next great player for the team like Chris Boucher, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell as another undrafted or late-round flyer. Johnson, the 50th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers, averaged 20.1 points, 12.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.4 steals last year in the G League while shooting 52 percent from the field and 33.9 percent from deep.
As is made clear by his stats, Johnson is a stat-stuffing big that can do just about anything on the court. And like many of the Raptors’ projects before him, Johnson is one of the most aware players in the entire G League. It’s no surprise that many scouts and trainers have likened Johnson to one Draymond Green.
Admiral Schofield, Greensboro Swarm
Schofield, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2021 NBA G League draft, figures to play a huge role on a talented Greensboro roster that is stacked with former Power Five talent. Schofield is no stranger to the G League, averaging 16 points and 5.5 rebounds per game in 33 appearances last season.
While Schofield didn’t have the best rookie season with the Washington Wizards, there is plenty of untapped potential for the Swarm to take advantage of. Schofield showed retention of his elite three-point shooting ability from Tennessee during his first season in the G League, shooting 36.8 percent on nearly six attempts per game from downtown.
Oshae Brissett, Fort Wayne Mad Ants
Brissett had a promising rookie season with the Raptors on a two-way contract, including an outing in which he scored 12 points and 6 rebounds. Brissett didn’t shoot well in his first season in the G League but averaged 15.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-7 forward out of Syracuse clearly did enough to impress the Mad Ants, who took him in the second round of the G League draft.
Allonzo Trier, Iowa Wolves
Trier is a highly anticipated addition to the G League bubble, having played very well in the NBA with the Knicks. The point guard played two seasons with New York but was inexplicably pulled from the rotation in his second season, seeing more sporadic playing time. In his first season with the Knicks as an undrafted rookie, Trier averaged 10.9 points per game on 44.8 percent shooting from the floor and 39.4 percent shooting from three in 64 appearances.
The Iowa Wolves took a flier on Trier, selecting him with the fourth overall pick in the G League draft. Trier will join a Wolves team without much NBA experience and should get his chance to prove his worth once again.
Vit Krejci, Oklahoma City Blue
Unlike many on this list, there isn’t much intel on Krejci, a prospect from the Czech Republic that played professionally in Spain. However, the Thunder must have liked what it saw on film, selecting Krejci with the 37th overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. The 6-foot-8 forward has point guard skills and sees the floor well, while shooting at a high rate. Krejci is a G League draft-and-stash prospect that’ll look to make his case for a roster spot on the Thunder in 2021.
Antonio Blakeney, Canton Charge
Blakeney is an able-bodied scorer that has efficiency issues but was an overall steady player in his time with the Chicago Bulls. Blakeney had a tremendous outing in the G-League from 2017 to 2019, averaging a whopping 31.2 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.9 assists over 34 total games with the Windy City Bulls. Blakeney joins a stacked Charge roster that boasts the likes of Devon Dotson, Marques Bolden and Ty-Shon Alexander.
Kenny Wooten Jr., Rio Grande Valley Vipers
Wooten quickly became a G League fan-favorite with his defensive chops while on a two-way contract with the Knicks last season. The Houston Rockets were able to scoop Wooten up as an affiliate player and he will look to build on a season that saw him lead the G League in blocked shots with 3.6 per game.
With the G League kicking off soon, expect to see plenty of call-ups and assignments across the NBA in the coming weeks. With extra depth extremely important in a COVID-19 plagued season, many G League players should get opportunities to latch onto NBA rosters. But who will emerge as the darling signee? Only time can tell.