Anthony Bennett on Joining Nets, Ignoring Critics, More

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Anthony Bennett has had one of the strangest starts to an NBA career imaginable. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft enters the 2016-17 season playing with his fourth team in four years, joining the Brooklyn Nets after previous stints with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Minnesota Timberwolves and Toronto Raptors.

However, “playing” may not be the right word to use in Bennett’s case, considering he has started just three games over the course of his NBA career and averaged only 12.8 minutes a night. Last season, he appeared in just 19 games for the Raptors and logged 4.4 minutes per game before being released in February.

Now, the 23-year-old is hoping to salvage his career with the Nets – a team that is desperately searching for young talent (since the Boston Celtics own their first-round picks for the foreseeable future) and an organizational identity under new general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson.

Typically, a top overall pick has time to develop and learn from their mistakes. However, in Bennett’s case, his playing time and opportunities were limited. Ultimately, it’s on the player to earn minutes and prove himself, but Bennett had just one year of college experience under his belt when he entered the league and would’ve benefited greatly from guidance, structure and stability. Had Bennett been drafted later or landed in a different situation, perhaps things would’ve been different since there would’ve been less pressure and expectations would’ve been more realistic. Instead, Bennett is trying to learn from his experiences and get his NBA career back on track in Brooklyn.

The Nets could offer the perfect situation for Bennett to become a productive NBA player, regain his confidence and ultimately silence the critics who have been quick to label him a bust.

Entering the 2016-17 season, the 23-year-old is hoping he can realize his untapped potential. Basketball Insiders recently caught up with Bennett to discusses his offseason training, untapped potential, the criticism he’s faced and much more.

Basketball Insiders: What has your training regimen been this offseason? Was there anything that you’ve changed from the past, and what aspects of your game were you working on?

Anthony Bennett: “I’ve been focused mostly on finding the balance between keeping my power coupled with my quickness and agility. I haven’t changed anything from my past, the only difference now is I’ve been healthy for long enough to really put in work the way I want to. This offseason, I’ve worked on footwork, different ways to attack the rim from the left and right, and how to get open for shots efficiently from all spots on the floor.”

BI: This is a big season for you. What do you hope to show with the Nets and what are some of your individual goals entering the year?

Bennett: “I just want to come in and become a part of the Nets family. My work ethic is something that I want to speak for itself. I want to show my ability to lead by example, a skill I got through playing with Team Canada. This year, one of my goals is to have fun with the game again. And I want to represent the city of Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Nets the best I can on and off the court.”

BI: People are sleeping on the Nets a bit – do you think you guys can surprise some people?

Bennett: “We have a great group of players who all have the same goal: to come out and work together. We just need to build chemistry during practices and have that translate to the court. [Our] great balance of youth and experience will definitely surprise a few teams this season.”

BI: You’ve moved from team to team throughout your career, which can’t be easy. How difficult has it been not having continuity and having to keep starting over in new situations?

Bennett: “I’m a firm believer in ‘everything happens for a reason.’ Yes, it’s been tough at times, but this business and life in general can be tough. I just have to continue to find ways to move past the adversity. This year, I am focusing on things I can control and how I can contribute to the team.”

BI: Why do you feel that the Nets are a good fit and what do you expect your role to be there?

Bennett: “Our mix of youth and experience is something that makes us unique. We have good chemistry, everybody seems to be unselfish and is playing the game the right way. I just want to fit in the best I can with the team, starting with my defense and rebounding. My offensive game will be an extension of those things.”

BI: Who are some players and/or coaches that you’ve leaned on for support throughout your career?

Bennett: “Luis Scola is someone that I have been around and learned a lot from. We played together in Toronto and now we’re both in Brooklyn, which is great and only helps my situation. He’s been in the league a long time, so he is definitely someone to get knowledge from.”

BI: Has it been tough to deal with the criticism you’ve received, and how determined are you to silence those critics?

Bennett: “To be honest, I don’t pay attention to what critics say. I focus on my family and those close to me. My motivation is not to silence anybody; my motivation lies within and making my family proud.”

BI: You are still just 23 years old. How much room for growth do you still have and do you think it’s kind of crazy that people are already trying to write you off and label you a bust?

Bennett: “Like you said, I’m only 23. To put it in perspective, I’d only be graduating from college this year, but instead I have three years in the league under my belt. I feel like I have a lot of room to grow, especially within this organization and with this team. Like I said, I don’t listen to the critics, I just focus on doing the things that got me to where I am today.”

BI: These days, versatile forwards are very valuable as opposed to being labeled tweeners (like they used to be). How much does that change in perception benefit you?

Bennett: “Being a ‘tweener’ was seen as a weakness when I was drafted, and now it seems to be where the league is headed. I guess it benefits me because people understand my type of game.”

BI: Is there anything that you regret looking back on your collegiate and pro career?

Bennett: “Like I said, everything happens for a reason so I have no regrets.”

BI: Do you think this can be a breakout year for you?

Bennett: “That’s in God’s hands. I can only work hard and prepare for every game, and the rest is up in the air.”