Posted Jun 25, 2013 9:25 AM
He was bored in his dorm room, which it turns out is possible even when the dorm room is in Las Vegas. The comparisons had been coming at him like a fast break.
Anthony Bennett went to the computer. His mind wondered, his fingers typed.
Bennett had never met LJ, but knew him well. Johnson was in New York, back with the Knicks after a 10-year playing career there and in Charlotte with the Hornets. But Johnson might as well have been in Vegas, the way his legacy had come front and center again.
As Johnson once tore through defenses as an undersized power forward at UNLV, Bennett was tearing through defenses as an undersized power forward at UNLV. So they were joined. People were constantly connecting Bennett to Johnson.
Bennett was curious. He clicked.
The first link?
UNLV vs. Duke in the national-championship game on April 2, 1990, in Denver.
Yeah, that'll do.
"It was crazy," Bennett said.
It was UNLV 103, Duke 73, with Johnson rolling up 22 points and 11 rebounds in 30 minutes.
That was their introduction. And then it was over. Bennett watched a few more highlights via YouTube, but didn't submerge himself in Johnson's college career. Of course, he didn't really need to. Enough people had told him about Johnson in his pre-Grandmama days.
Bennett now looks forward to the chance to talk to LJ in person one day. "Just to ask him how it was in the league with everybody saying he was an undersized power forward," Bennett said. "Just like me."
There is an obvious duplication in school and a near-duplication in stature. Johnson was listed at 6-foot-7 and 250 pounds as a rookie. Bennett, who did not take a physical at the Chicago pre-Draft combine because of a shoulder injury, says he is 6-foot-7 ¾ and 240-245 pounds when he is able to work out. The two also share a similar stock at Draft time, with Johnson going No. 1 in 1991 and Bennett with a chance to go top three (and likely no lower than sixth on Thursday night).
Yet there are important differences.
Bennett is a good athlete. But Johnson, pre-back injury, was explosive in a way that allowed him to counter his lack of size.
Bennett's advantage is playing in a time when more and more there is no such thing as a typical power forward. He can score from the post in the old-school ways or step out to use his quickness and hit 3-pointers. He is the new model of the stretch-four, the power forward that can make opponents pay from the perimeter.
That's a particularly nice fit next to a center with limited offense. Hello, Bobcats, who pick fourth and have the jump shot-challenged combo of Bismack Biyombo and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the frontcourt.
"It's accurate," Bennett said of the comparisons. "There's a lot of things I actually do that he did all right and there's stuff that he did perfect that I cannot. It's mix and match. I've heard people say I'm like a more-athletic Zach Randolph. I've heard that because he's versatile and can go inside and out. I also heard Carmelo [Anthony]. He's so versatile. He can shoot, he has post moves."
The concern is who Bennett defends. If he were 6-foot-9, he probably goes No. 1 on Thursday. Some teams rate him the third-best prospect after Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore. There is a lot to like.
Bennett said the recovery from a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder is going well and that he should be back on the court in August. He'll miss Summer League, which won't help, but he should be back and in playing shape for his first training camp.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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