Minnesota Timberwolves Anthony Bennett is in Toronto preparing for the Pan Am games with Team Canada and Head Coach Jay Triano suggested this 240 lb 6’8 forward isn’t a three, he’s planning to use him at center in certain lineups.
“(Bennett will) probably (play) the four and the five,” Triano said. “I don’t mind him playing the five spot, especially if Andrew Nicholson is spreading the floor as a stretch four. He has got that ability where he, depending on who he is on the floor with, he can be a guy who can stretch the floor or he can roll and do damage inside.”
After watching the very similarly-sized and skilled Golden State Warriors Draymond Green do amazing things to the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, imagining Bennett in that role suddenly gets a lot easier to believe.
It has been a rocky start to Bennett’s NBA career. Shoulder surgery just before the 2013 NBA draft followed by being taken first overall by the Cavaliers in a move that, in Bennett’s words on twitter, “I am just as surprised as everybody else.”
A one-and-done at UNLV, Bennett showed the makings of a do everything forward at the next level. He could rebound, shoot the three and finish around the basket. He didn’t seem to have many weaknesses, but no one saw him as the number one pick and that notoriety has hung a bust label around his neck that on-going injury problems have made impossible for him to shake.
Not surprisingly, Bennett had shoulder issues at the start of his first NBA season – no kidding – and right knee, then left knee problems later on. He only played in 52 games for the Cavs, but seemingly got a second chance when he was traded to the Timberwolves in the summer. A promising first month to the 2014-15 season quickly tailed off and then his year was trashed by leg and ankle injuries. It’s been rumored Minnesota would like to trade him.
There are signs hidden in the numbers that Bennett is better than his bust-like first impressions. He was grabbing a respectable 20.2 percent of the available defensive boards while he was on the court in his first two seasons and that solid three-point shot he had in college is showing signs of reappearing. It isn’t easy adjusting to the NBA after just one-year of college and it had to be a lot harder trying to do while constantly rehabbing injuries, but Triano believes those days may be behind Bennett.
“The body is healthy,” Triano said after watching Bennett working out with Team Canada. “He is as fit as he’s ever been. He is in great shape. He still does all the things, he’s an energy player. He has a great skill-set. He can do a little bit of everything. He can make plays. He can put the ball on the floor. He can rebound the ball for us and that’s the big thing for (Team Canada) right now. We want him to rebound the ball for us. He will find ways to score. It will come out of our offense.”
Playing for Team Canada this summer at the Pan Am Games and later at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Mexico is another second chance for Bennett. An opportunity for him to show that he is healthy and all those great things scouts noticed about in college are still there and can translate to the NBA. And maybe, just maybe NBA teams will stop thinking about Bennett as a combo or small forward. Bennett is a big man and sometimes the best place for a big man is at the center spot.
As Raptors GM Masai Ujiri seems to be the process of looking for training camp invitees that will likely end up with Raptors 905 in Mississauga, maybe he should take a look at Brady Heslip? After all, those defensive specialists the Raptors have been lining up could use a really challenging offensive player to work against and the Raptors new D-League team will need someone that can score.