The 2013 NBA Draft has consistently been described as one of the weakest classes in recent history, and arguably one of the least talented in the last 15 years (although we’re still going to leave that spot for the 2000 Draft class). The top of this year’s class isn’t stockpiled with future Hall of Famers, but there are a few prospects that stand out from the rest of the potential role players that’ll be selected on June 27.
Anthony Bennett is one of the most talented players in the 2013 Draft. That point is not debatable. As a freshman at UNLV, Bennett produced one of the best seasons of any first-year player in the country. He scored 22 points in three of his first four collegiate games, and out of the Running Rebels’ 16 out-of-conference games, Bennett recorded double-doubles in seven of them. Yet Bennett shined brightest in an early December game against the Cal Bears, scoring 25 points, on 53 percent shooting, and pulling down 13 rebounds.
However, conference play revealed a completely different side of Bennett. By that point the focal point of many scouting reports, the 6-7, 240-pound Canadian found it a lot harder to be as dominant as he was at the beginning of the season. In 19 conference games, Bennett was held under double-digits seven times, even scoring zero points against Wyoming (left after four minutes with an injured shoulder) and one point against Nevada in 17 minutes of action.
UNLV has produced many NBA players, 20 in total, but no player entered the NBA with more hype and attention than Larry “Grandmama” Johnson. Depending on when you were born, you either remember Johnson as an elite physical specimen with strength and athleticism beyond the wildest imagination, who occasionally wore dresses, or as a stocky stretch four that sent the New York Knicks to the NBA Finals in 1999 thanks to a four-point play against the Indiana Pacers. Well, neither of these descriptions do “LJ” full justice.
In his first year at UNLV, he averaged 20.6 points and 11.4 boards a game, shooting 62 percent from the field and 34 percent from beyond the arc. In short, he could do just about everything. At only 6-6/6-7, Johnson wasn’t the tallest of forwards, but what he lacked in size he made up for with will, strength and athleticism. No one voluntarily stood in front of LJ when he came thundering down the lane and no one could keep him off the boards if he went to get a rebound. Johnson’s talent landed him a First Team All-American spot, as well as a national title for the Runnin’ Rebs.
He returned for a senior season that saw him average 22.7 points and 10.9 rebounds a nigght, while upping his shooting percentages to 66 percent (field goal) and 35.4 percent (three-point). Johnson took home a stack of awards as well — NABC Player of the Year, Nasimith Award, Sporting News Player of the Year, USBWA Player of the Year and the Wooden Award — but was unable to capture a second NCAA championship. Still, Johnson was the undisputed No. 1 selection in the 1991 NBA Draft and the Charlotte Hornets soon unleashed “Grandmama” on a national scale.
Anthony Bennett didn’t have as decorated a career as Johnson at UNLV, but in the 35 games he did suit up in white, red and black, Bennett made his presence felt. The Mountain West Freshman of the Year led the Runnin’ Rebels in scoring and rebounding, was second on the team with 43 blocked shots and his 1.2 blocks per game were fourth-best in the Mountain West. He led UNLV in three-point shooting percentage at 37.5 percent and was second in the Mountain West in field goal percentage at 53.3 percent. In one year, Bennett proved he has the tools to excel in the league the same way Johnson did.
In addition, Bennett received an honorable mention for the All-American team; the Brampton, Ontario, native was also named as a member of the Sporting News’ All-Freshman Team and was a part of the United States Basketball Writers Association’s Freshman All-America Team. He was one of 15 players appearing on the final ballot of the John R. Wooden Award and was included as a finalist for the USBWA’s Oscar Robertson Trophy and Wayman Tisdale Award, given to the National Player and Freshman of the Year, respectively. An All-Mountain West First Team selection, Bennett is the 16th UNLV player to earn AP All-America honors.
Yet, there are players that have received numerous awards during their college stints and never turned into anything as NBA players — I’m talking about you Adam Morrison. It’s not the awards that make Bennett special, it’s his talent and how he uses it. There were points this season when Bennett would slam home a dunk with such force that it would be reminiscent of Shaq during his LSU and Orlando Magic days. He has the quickness and nimbleness to effectively work his way around in the paint, almost like a poor man’s Zach Randolph, and even though Bennett measures at just 6-7, his 7-1 wingspan more than makes up for his perceived lack of height. Lastly, there’s the fact that he can handle the ball as well as some guards and has a shooting stroke to match.
Advance statistics even back up that Bennett is the real deal. Stat geek general managers and front office employees like Daryl Morey and John Hollinger would be salivating at a chance to draft him. He led the Mountain West Conference in Player Efficiency Rating at 28.3. He was first in win shares at 5.7, fourth in defensive win shares with 2.3, and second in true shooting percentage at .609. With the change in the way big men, mostly power forwards, are used in the modern NBA, the fact that Bennett is able to play both facing the basket and with his back to it will make him an even more valuable asset.
Over the past year, names like Nerlens Noel, Shabazz Muhammad and Victor Oladipo have fluttered in the discussion as possible selections for the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft. But it is Bennett that has the highest upside of any player in this year’s class. One of the things working against him right now is the fact that he has been sidelined for all of the predraft process after having surgery to repair the rotator cuff in his left shoulder. As the saying goes: out of sight, out of mind. Since he has been unable to workout, his name has naturally slipped away from top pick consideration. Five years from now, Bennett could be the player fans look back on and wonder how he wasn’t selected higher than he was on June 27.
What kind of player will he be in the NBA?
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