Patrick J: So Flip Saunders went and did the impossible, turning a depressing Kevin Love trade situation into an extremely exciting one that netted the Wolves the last two number one overall picks in the NBA Draft, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett.
It was inevitable that the Wolves would have to trade Love. He wasn’t re-signing in Minnesota and the Wolves couldn’t let him walk away and get nothing in return. It was not inevitable that the Wolves’ take from a Love trade would be a good one. The Warriors offered David Lee and Harrison Barnes, but refused to include Klay Thompson in any trade for Love. The Bulls reportedly offered Nikola Mirotic and reserve defensive stopper Taj Gibson for Love. Those would’ve been pretty terrible deals for Minnesota.
Getting a prospect with as much realizable potential as Andrew Wiggins at least gives the Wolves a chance at recouping the value they were going to lose anyway when Love departed Minnesota.
Everyone and his crazy uncle has dissected the Wiggins aspect of the trade. There’s been constant debate about how good Wiggins will really be, and a ton of scrutiny of the current imperfections in his game. Punch-Drunk has contributed its fair share to the cacophony.
We won’t repeat what has already been said. (Eds. Note: If that’s what you want, go over to google.com and type “Andrew Wiggins” + “Timberwolves” in the search box. You can make an afternoon of it.)
While (most) Wolves fans are celebrating the fact that (1) Andrew Wiggins is going to be a Timberwolf next season, and (2) Flip Saunders managed to complete what appears to be an improbably good deal, we want to take this opportunity to zag while everyone’s zigging. We want to welcome Anthony Bennett to the Timberwolves and mention how excited we are about what he can bring to the team.
Here at PDW, we have been enamored of Bennett’s mix of potential and (offensive) skill since he was a lottery prospect after coming out of UNLV after his freshman season. (Eds. Note: All of the gory detail can be found by clicking here.)
This post is a celebration of what just happened in Minnesota. It’s about sitting back, enjoying the moment, and being excited about the Wolves again. It’s about the Wolves now having their coolest young core in place since Starbury and KG was a thing.
Zach Harper perfectly captured the excitement of the new Wolves order that will be built largely around Andrew Wiggins. We want to add to the fun by highlighting what Punch-Drunk favorite Anthony Bennett can add to the mix.
Patrick J: In the spirit of Zach’s Wiggins/Lavine dunk-off montage, there’s this:
That’s pretty fun. Right?
Andy G: Yes it sure is.
I wanna talk about Anthony Bennett since we’ve been hyping him since before he was even drafted. (And he unknowingly showed us some respect back by praising some Punch-Drunk photoshop in a piece for the Washington Post.)
Anthony Bennett has a very rare combination of size and skill; particularly bulk, on the size front, and particularly shooting mechanics, on the skills front. His shoulders are massive, and at 6’8” he moves around gracefully, like a small forward. This, even though he’s big and strong enough to bang down low with power forwards and probably even some centers.
Grantland’s Mark Titus nicely captured all that there is to be excited about Anthony Bennett The NBA Fan’s Guide to March Madness, in March 2013:
Bennett is the interior version of Marcus Smart. He’s the most versatile player in college basketball from the standpoint that he shoots 38 percent from the 3-point line but also has the ability to dominate on the block. Actually, I got that backward — he’s a guy who dominates on the block but also has the ability to step out and knock down 3s. This is an important distinction. Far too often, tall guys who can shoot get mislabeled as “versatile,” when in reality they’re just tall guys who can shoot.1 Bennett, though, is a legitimate post threat who can bang on the block with anybody, and oh, by the way, he can shoot from anywhere and put the ball on the deck, too. Assuming his jump shot continues to improve, he could potentially play three different positions in the NBA and create mismatches against just about anybody who guards him. This is why it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he ends up being the best pro player from this rookie class.
I could go on all day about Bennett, but there’s nothing I can say about him that his performance at Cal last December can’t say about him 100 times better. Two things to look out for: the sequence that starts 23 seconds into the video, and the baseline drive and dunk with a minute left in the game.
While I’m quoting other pieces, I should include David Thorpe’s extremely detailed piece for espn.com, from back in February when NBA fans — perhaps a bit too obsessed with his small, injury-affected sample size of statistics — were quickly writing Bennett off as a bust.
Thorpe’s piece (Insider) breaks down the reasons to hold out hope for a lot of Anthony Bennett improvement, and his own advice on how the young player can get better.
In closing the piece, he laid it all out:
Players as talented as Bennett, such as Lamar Odom and Rasheed Wallace, can get lost in their variety of skills. The best NBA players, though, become elite at one thing, then add to their game year by year or month by month. For Bennett, though, it’s his day-by-day development that can spell success this season:
Making wise eating choices. Getting extra cardio work in on off days. Studying game film to see where he can make more rim runs or be more explosive. And choosing to make an impact in the paint each night while not even trying to be a perimeter player.
If he focuses on those kinds of small details each day, it will help him become more of a factor in games. He had a small dose of success recently and should see increased playing time as the Cavs likely fall out of the playoff picture and prepare for the draft. Bennett should be encouraged to make progress daily, rather than hope to suddenly wake up as a great player. Forget about any rookie awards at season’s end; Bennett needs to work toward just being a solid rotation guy now.
If he can finish the season strong, he’ll have something to build on this offseason, when he’ll have months to prepare for his first summer league (he missed the one last July because of injury). And that is where the new Bennett can make his debut.
A new Bennett can be a terrific player who impacts the game all over the court, one who can be a top player on a good team. To get there, though, will require a level of dedication and work we have yet to see from Bennett. It is a mistake to wonder whether or not he can get there, but it remains fair to ask if he will get there. Only a Bennett fully invested in outworking people can make that question go away.
I’m not sure what to add, other than that I agree with Titus and I agree with Thorpe. Bennett can become a VERY good NBA player, but he needs to work harder to perfect certain skills, and — more importantly for him — he needs to become a dedicated professional who stays in shape. It is not possible to even fit in on an NBA floor without being in great shape. And last year, Bennett arrived in HORRIBLE shape, after his shoulder surgery and struggles with sleep apnea.
Consider what Mike Brown, his coach at the time, had to say about Bennett’s conditioning:
“It’s been tiring to watch him because every time I watch him he’s (gasping),” Brown said. “It makes me tired, so I try not to look at him. I tell him, `If you need a sub, just tell me. Otherwise I’m not going to look at you.”
It’s reasonable to wonder if Bennett *can* get into good shape. His health issues (asthma, sleep apnea) are not insignificant. (Though he did look better in Vegas, this summer, and was obviously very good at UNLV.) But what is not reasonable is taking his rookie stats at face value, ignoring their context and the fact that he was not in physical condition to be playing basketball.
We have no idea what type of NBA basketball player Anthony Bennett will become, but his body and skill set provide a genuine basis for some optimism.
Any parting shots?
Patrick J: Welcome to Minnesota, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins.
To Flip Saunders: You popped the trunk on this deal. You had a great summer wearing your POBO hat. In a few months, we’ll see what you can do with these guys while wearing your coaching hat.
But lest we get ahead of ourselves, we at Punch-Drunk hope you’re doing this: