There are very few certainties going into this year’s NBA Draft, but Anthony Bennett being far and away the most polished frontcourt player at the offensive end is unquestionably among them. While he may look like an undersized four at 6-foot-8, the UNLV standout is a multidimensional scorer and a terrific threat both in the lane and from the perimeter.
Bennett is freakishly athletic for his size, finishes at the rim extremely well with either hand and surprisingly has some touch in the paint when pushed away from the basket.
While the Toronto native has the length and athleticism to be a terrorizing force down low, it’s his knack for the three-point shot that really gives opposing defenders reason to panic. As a freshman, Bennett averaged exactly one three-point field goal make a game and shot 37.5 for the season. On four separate occasions, he made three or more in a game. Although it’s not his primary offensive weapon, Bennett’s ability to face up to the basket and hit jump shots with confidence will almost certainly play an important role in how successful he is at the next level.
Heading into the draft process, Bennett’s defensive laziness, up-and-down motor and size were among the major concerns NBA scouts had, but at this point, those are secondary to his health.
On May 8, the UNLV forward went under the knife to repair the rotator cuff in his left shoulder. At the time of Bennett’s surgery, his recovery time was listed at about four months – meaning his draft stock wouldn’t be influenced by the NBA Combine or individual team workouts.
Bennett’s shoulder issue presents a small red flag only because he was injury-plagued throughout his last two years in high school as well. His surgeon, Dr. David Altchek, however, said the damage done to his rotator cuff was by no means considered career-threatening and that Bennett is expected to make a full recovery.
While teams would have liked to have seen what Bennett could do in a controlled setting like the NBA Combine, all and all, his absence shouldn’t affect where his name is called on June 27.
“You always would prefer a guy is healthy, works out for you and can play in summer league,” one GM told ESPN.com. “However, I don’t think in this case that it will really matter. We got a good feel for his game. He’s one of the most NBA-ready prospects in the draft. I wouldn’t blink taking him in the Top 5 as long as the surgery is successful.”
Although he spent just a year with the Running Rebels, Bennett did more than enough to prove his worth as a top 5 pick. The former McDonald’s All-American has all the traits that make for a great low-post scorer — 7-foot-1 wingspan, impressive footwork and an ability to create space for himself in the lane or at the basket — but he also has a few that are not common for one-year college prospects.
Among NCAA frontcourt players, Bennett was as efficient as they come in 2012-13. Per 40 minutes, he averaged over 26 points per game and had a true shooting percentage around 60 percent.
He can score in just about every way imaginable – dunks, tip-ins, eight-foot floaters, free throws three-point shots – and did so at a very consistent level as a freshman.
Laziness might be a concern at the defensive end but it’s never been one for Bennett at the offensive end. He is relentless on the glass, an above-average ball handler and a threat to score regardless of where he is on the floor.
Few other players being considered in this year’s lottery can say that.
How would he fit with the Suns?
The Suns desperately need a low-post scorer and Bennett would seem to fit the bill rather nicely. In the absence of Amar’e Stoudemire, Phoenix has relied on the likes of Channing Frye, Hakim Warrick, Luis Scola, Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris to pick up the production in and around the paint, but the problem is none of those guys have above-the-rim athleticism or a desire to bang in the post.
Bennett can space the floor and has the threat of a jump shot Markieff Morris and Scola, but he also has the quickness to beat his man to the basket and isn’t afraid to get physical on the glass – skills the aforementioned Suns players don’t exactly have in their respective repertoires.
It’s hard to see how he fits in only because of the logjam that currently exists at the four (Morris twins, Scola and potentially Frye if healthy), but if Ryan McDonough wants to start building over the roster, drafting Bennett isn’t a bad place to start.
And 1 … A second-rounder to consider
In a draft full of talented shooting guards, the Suns might have the opportunity to snag one with their late second-round pick. Illionis’ Brandon Paul is by no means as gifted as a Ben McLemore, Victor Oladipo or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but he’s a low-risk prospect that could grow into a nice piece in the coming years.
Despite being a tad undersized at his position, Paul, who led the Illini in scoring (16.6 points per game) his senior year, has the skill set to succeed as an NBA two-guard. He has terrific length, an explosive first step and never shies away from finishing at the basket or above the rim.
The former Mr. Basketball of Illinois has a clean shot in terms of mechanics, but he did struggle with his consistency in 2012-13. While Paul has a tendency to rely on his jump shot an awful lot– 70 percent of all shots this past season came on jumpers – his efficiency (40.1 field goal percentage and 32.5 three-point percentage) leaves something to be desired. He has a terrific crossover dribble and can create space for himself at any time, but still relies on playing from the perimeter a little too much.
It’s never a bad option when you can get a guy who finished seventh in the NCAA in points per-40 minutes pace adjusted with the No. 57 pick. Paul might not yield big rewards right away, but with his offensive prowess, the former Illinois guard has late-round steal potential written all over him.