Anthony Bennett Gets A Second Chance
One would think that the life of a recent No. 1 overall draft pick would be all gumdrops and candy canes, with massive success raining down quicker than it would for lesser players and talk of MVP trophies and endorsements rushing in like a torrent every day.
It’s what is happening to Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis right now. Derrick Rose and LeBron James have been there before, too, and it looks like only a matter of time before Andrew Wiggins joins them.
However, Wiggins’ Minnesota teammate, 2013 No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett, has had no talk of All-Stardom and very little NBA success to date.
Does that mean it’s time to give up on the guy? Bennett himself will tell you he’s got a whole lot more to give this league than what we saw in his rookie season with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Missing the whole summer last year kind of set me back,” Bennett said right before the start of his first season with the Timberwolves. “I missed a lot of the pre-draft stuff, the combine and going right into training camp overweight. I wasn’t really myself, so I basically had to play catch up the entire year, trying to lose weight, learn the system, get my conditioning up and getting used to the new team. Everything was just kind of piling up.”
He worked at it, but never really got up to speed, averaging a scant 4.2 PPG and 3.0 RPG, good for a PER of only 6.9. Put simply, it wasn’t a strong season, but if you’re caught tying your shoe when the gun goes off at a race, there’s no way to catch up to the greatest athletes on the planet, no matter how fast you run.
This offseason, upon finding out he’d be traded to Minnesota, Bennett immediately hooked up with his new teammates and made sure that his sophomore campaign wouldn’t be quite so stressful and disappointing.
“A month before training camp Shabazz (Muhammad), Gorgui (Dieng) and I went out to Los Angeles and we were just working out with our trainer up there,” Bennett said. “We basically didn’t do anything with a basketball and just focused on our conditioning, getting our body right and eating well so when I came into training camp I was feeling great.”
The move to Minnesota has been an unexpected do-over for Bennett, who looks like a completely different player on a team that is stockpiling young guys. The expectations are lower, and Wiggins is the main attraction. That means the spotlight is completely off of Bennett, and that may be the best thing for him right now.
“Being a part of the young group of guys we have now where everyone is just committed to work is great,” Bennett said. “Even the vets are working really hard teaching the new guys the way around the league. I can probably say that I’m in one of the best situations that I can be in at this point in my career.”
He got there, of course, as part of the Kevin Love trade, which was odd in that it took a month to consummate. Like the rest of us, he knew it would happen long before it actually did, but riding out the wait was different for one of the guys actually involved in the swap.
“I kind of knew about a month before it happened, but you have to keep things like this on the down low,” Bennett explained. “My agent told me. He basically told me that this is the news and it might or it might not work so just keep your head up and just keep working.
“The trade talks were going on for a while, but when it just started happening, neither I nor Wiggins had any idea of what was going on. I was in Toronto and I guess he was in Los Angles working out, so we kind of just stuck to the ground when the rumors started coming up.”
From the moment the deal went down, Bennett knew he was heading to a better situation, mostly because his new organization was so welcoming.
“As soon as I got the news that I was traded, everyone welcomed me with open arms,” Bennett said. “Everyone from the rookies to the second-year guys all the way down to the vets, there is just so much you can learn from them, and even the coaching staff. It was just a real pleasure meeting them all, and I’m excited about the opportunity.”
He’s only averaging 14 minutes through the first couple games of the new season, but he’s scoring more efficiently and clearly is in much better shape. There aren’t any All-Star whispers yet, but his move to the Twin Cities has been a big step in the right direction. He just hopes he continues making the same positive progress throughout the new year.
Taj Gibson Hopes Bulls Can Live Up to Expectations
After watching the Chicago Bulls decimate the New York Knicks on Wednesday, only to watch New York turn around and knock off the new-and-improved Cleveland Cavaliers a night later, it would be easy to go ahead and crown Chicago as the cream of the Eastern Conference’s crop.
Taj Gibson, who looked unstoppable in the opener and should contend for Sixth Man of the Year this season, warns that fans need to temper their expectations this early in the season.
“It’s a good thing that people are talking about us, but we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Gibson said. “We have guys who have won championships, and they tell it to us straight, that we have a long way to go.”
No doubt about it, the Bulls are an incredibly deep team and there should be high expectations for a roster featuring so much talent. Gibson and his teammates just don’t want to get ahead of themselves.
“Everyone feels like we have something special, but also everyone feels that we need to stop playing around and get things going right,” Gibson said. “You can have all the talent in the world, but you have to come ready, and that’s one thing about teams that have high expectations. Everyone is praising us about what we can accomplish, but just like there are great champions and heavyweight boxers that always tend to slack off a bit, our job is to just stay focused, hungry and go out there and do our job.”
Of course, even the most successful heavyweight boxers and even NBA champions aren’t necessarily humble. There’s a swagger that players and teams need to win at the highest level, but Gibson feels like there has to be a balance between confidence and humility.
“You have to be humble and check yourself, because in reality we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Gibson said. “This is our first year together with this group even though we have a lot of pieces that have been here a long time. We have to be humble and just continue to work hard and go out there with that underdog mentality because know we have that bull’s-eye on our back this year. A lot of teams are going to be gunning for us, so we have to have that mentality of being humble and go out there and make people respect us.”
After one game, league-wide respect is there. Now, Chicago has 81 more games this season to keep it.
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