Last August, at the Wiggins-LaVine-Thad-Bennett introductory press conference at the Minnesota State Fair, there was an incredibly sad moment between Anthony Bennett and a reporter. After the on-stage festivities were over, the players did individual scrums with media members off to the side. It was already apparent that Bennett is a quiet, shy young man, at least in public settings. Near the end of his session, someone – I cannot remember who (he was not local) – initiated the following exchange:
Reporter: “Did LeBron ever contact you after he decided to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers?”
Bennett: (Surprised) “Uh… No.”
Reporter: “So neither LeBron nor his representatives ever got in touch with you about remaining in Cleveland?”
The look on Bennett’s face during the follow-up question still sticks with me. It only flashed for a second, but he looked simultaneously hurt and confused. “Why are you asking me this? Why today?” The trade to Minnesota was a fresh start for Bennett, yet questions about the past, what went wrong in Cleveland, his lost rookie year, and whether his inclusion in the Wiggins-for-Love megaswap was really a carrot or a stick followed him to that day, every day since, and will continue to follow him throughout his career.
Bennett’s second NBA season (and first in Minnesota) was cut short due to injuries; ankle and leg issues robbed him of more than a month of action. Yet appeared in the fifth-most games of anyone on the team, behind only Chase Budinger, Gorgui Dieng, Zach LaVine and Andrew Wiggins. He had a chance to seize playing time after Thad Young was dealt away, but that was right when he got hurt. We would have a lot more on-court information to decipher if he had played 30 minutes per game between late February and the end of the season.
But alas, he did not, so as far as on-court production, all we have to judge him on are the 894 minutes of time he logged during the 2014-15 season. The 22-year-old Canadian native averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game on 45.8% True Shooting. He held the dubious distinction of posting the worst Net Rating on the league’s worst team; when Bennett was on the court, the Wolves were outscored by an average of 16.5 points per 100 possessions. He was routinely given a quick hook by Flip Saunders for blowing defensive assignments and questionable shot selection, and the Wolves sending away a future first-round draft pick for another rookie who plays the same position as Bennett (Adreian Payne) may have been a subtle referendum on what the front office thinks of AB. If you’re not a fan of Bennett going forward, this paragraph is probably pretty much all you need to see.
If you are a fan of Bennett, and you believe he can still turn it around, what you probably cling to are flashes of ability he shows, as well as the belief he can overcome the litany of bad luck that has befallen him throughout his career. His jumper looks smooth, with a high, repeatable delivery. He possesses excellent athleticism for someone his size. He was a highly disputed number one pick in a weak class, yet he’ll always have the “number one pick, draft bust” label stuck to him by people who are too dim-witted to realize not all number one picks are created equal, nor do they guarantee superstardom. After dealing with shoulder injuries throughout his rookie season, he also overcame sleep apnea issues (helping him breathe and sleep better) and eye problems (his vision was awful until corrected via a Lasik procedure, apparently). He got into great shape last offseason, but just couldn’t put it together on the court. Can it really be all his fault, especially given the youth, inexperience and turnover of the roster? Would it really be wise to cut bait on a 22-year-old with so much raw potential?
The answer is probably somewhere in the middle of the two viewpoints, but the ticking clock on Bennett’s time in Minnesota is his contract. The Wolves must decide whether to pick up Bennett’s fourth-year option for the 2016-17 season (at $7.3 million) by late October. Will they? Should they? Do they have enough time to be patient with him? The cap is going up, and most of the Wolves’ core is locked in to very team-friendly rookie-scale deals. But is a guy with a ton of talent, yet no discernable, refined skills, really worth $7.3 million? Is he destined to put it all together elsewhere, on a cheaper deal? Or to play in China? Should he have stayed in school? Can Kevin Garnett help mold Bennett’s skill set into something useful?
Bennett arrived in Minnesota a mystery. One year later, not much has changed. This was a fresh start for him, but that’s over, now. The cold, impersonal facts of the business are starting to settle in.