This season was a train wreck for Anthony Bennett. Simply googling his name results in “Anthony Bennett bust” as the second Google autocomplete option. Drew Garrison captured the struggle at its peak in January, and the numbers in that piece are simply baffling. A 1.1 PER? A horrific Cavs team being six points worse with him on the floor? How does that happen? Bennett did get better as the season closed, improving his PER to 6.9 by the end of the season, but the damage had been done. The question now becomes: How do you follow up the worst rookie campaign ever produced by a number one pick?
The answer, hopefully, lies in Anthony Bennett’s post All-Star break improvement. Bennett became a completely new player around the end of January, and while it’s a smaller sample size than his period of ineptitude, here are the splits, via NBA.com.
The difference is definitely noticeable in both the raw numbers and the advanced metrics. Bennett improved from posting 3.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game pre All-Star to 5.7 points and 3.6 rebounds post All-Star in just over a minute of added playing time. His net rating improved from -8.9 to +4.0, a near 13-point swing that does coincide with improved team play, but is still indicative of better play from Bennett. And perhaps most importantly, his shooting improved dramatically, from an effective field goal percentage of 35 percent to 49.1 percent. That’s a 14 percent increase, and is actually an acceptable number! Basically, Bennett improved from abject failure to legitimate NBA rotation player from late-January or early-February on. It’s just a shame that he ended up missing the last few weeks of the season with a patellar tendon strain so we could make a better case that this wasn’t random.
Granted, these are not eye-popping numbers, and certainly still would not live up to the expectations set forth by the words “No. 1 overall pick”. However, it is important to remember the context of the situation. The 2013 Draft class might hold the title for the worst draft class ever; the reigning Rookie of the Year just shot 40.5 percent from the field after all. Also, few graded Bennett as a top-three prospect in this draft, much less the top prospect overall. Grading Bennett on the curve of former number one picks in a vacuum is a somewhat pointless endeavor due to these two factors. Bennett sucked. But he got better as the season went on, and that’s what should count.
For Bennett to shed this unnecessary stigma, however, he’s going to need to sustain his late improvements in his second season. His improvement came as a result of improved conditioning and more minutes at the power forward spot. Both of these things are easily sustainable. It appeared late in the season that the team gave up on the “Bennett can play three!” plan that Chris Grant was big on, and Bennett stopped lurking on the perimeter and actually got into the paint. Bennett also became an underrated transition finisher, a runaway freight train of a man that Kyrie Irving and Jarrett Jack loved to feed on the break. If Bennett can continue to fill out his role as the bulkiest stretch four ever, he could be a very useful asset.
Summer League will be huge for him; he and Matthew Dellavedova will likely be the two most experienced players on the team, and he’ll get to work on his game against subpar competition, which will be good. It’ll keep his conditioning up, and he can experiment with things like actually developing his 3-point shot, or working on his defensive game. A full offseason after last year’s was taken up by shoulder surgery will go a long way towards Bennett’s overall development. Given what we saw towards the end of the season, I think the possibility is real that Bennett could take a leap like we saw Tristan Thompson make from his rookie season to his second year.