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Bennett: A Player Ready To Show His Full Potential

Dane Mizutani
Web Editorial Associate

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Anthony Bennett ambled around the State Fairgrounds about a week and a half ago, and aside from the small posse of people around him, looked like a normal 21-year-old at the State Fair.

Bennett, a Toronto native, partook in the stereotypical State Fair things. He tried deep-fried alligator. He devoured some Sweet Martha’s Cookies. He had his very first Pronto Pup.

“You’re tall,” a small boy chimed in as Bennett walked passed him. “Do you play for the Wolves?”

“Yes,” Bennett replied unobtrusively before signing an autograph for the young fan.

That same interaction happened a few more times over the next couple hours. It was clear fans had an inkling that Bennett was a member of the Wolves, though those same fans weren’t exactly sure who he was most of the time.

That will change this season if Bennett has any say in the matter.

Though he hasn’t earned anywhere near superstar status yet, the Toronto native has his eyes set on making a name for himself this season. Bennett has had a healthy offseason for the first time in his career and had a fairly impressive stint at Summer League in Las Vegas. He’ll also have tons of opportunity this season as a member of a rebuilding Wolves team.

That could be recipe for success for Bennett — at least he hopes so.

“I just want to show people that I can play,” he said. “I never really got a chance to showcase that last year.”

Bennett comes to Minnesota by way of Cleveland. He was the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft and didn’t live up to the hype as a rookie in his only season with the Cavaliers. Bennett averaged just 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds in 52 games. He showed flashes of brilliance, and then would go MIA for extended periods of time. There was no consistency in his game.

That stemmed from a host of injuries. Bennett was never fully healthy during his rookie season after he underwent shoulder surgery that forced him to miss most of the offseason workouts leading up to his first season in Cleveland.

“I played in preseason last year and had one game where I kind of blew up, but I never really continued to play like that,” he said. “I just want to come out this year and play well.”

Bennett got a much-needed change of scenery a couple weekends ago when the Wolves finalized a blockbuster deal that brought Bennett to the Twin Cities along with Andrew Wiggins and Thaddeus Young.

Wiggins will be looked upon to develop into a superstar for Minnesota, a true No. 1 option. Young will be looked upon to replace some of Kevin Love’s production at the power forward spot. As for Bennett? A majority of pundits saw him as a throw-in piece in the Kevin Love deal, a boom-bust guy that, more than anything, helped balance out the salary caps.

Not Flip Saunders.

“We feel that Bennett has the potential,” Saunders said. “He's underachieved to this point. … We're excited about his ability and to be able to come in here with a clean slate and work from the beginning and try to reach the vision and potential he had coming out of college.”

Bennett was no joke coming out of college. He played at UNLV and was one of the best freshmen in the nation as he averaged 16.1 points and 8.1 rebounds in 35 games. He might have been a bit of a reach as the first overall selection in the 2013 NBA Draft, but an argument can be made for Bennett as he possesses a unique set of skills not often seen in NBA post players.

“He's a big guy that has the ability to really shoot the ball,” Saunders said. “He has great hands. He has the ability to handle the ball. He can pass the ball. He's a multidimensional player.”

Bennett flashed that skillset at Summer League in Las Vegas. He came to the competition in great shape compared to his rookie season and that seemed to positively impact his game. He ran the court well and averaged 13.3 points and 7.8 rebounds. Bennett looked to be at full strength again and actually looked like he wanted to be on the court after Year 1 of his professional career was marred by criticism.

“I'm good,” Bennett said, adding that he feels like he’s at 100 percent. “I've been working the whole summer to be ready for the season.”

While he claims he’s fully prepared for the season, Bennett won’t have to play a huge role on the Wolves. He’ll have this season to play under a veteran presence like Young and will develop from there.

Bennett likely won’t be a household name for another few seasons, though if he has anything to say about it, he will be someone fans at least recognize by face.

“I just want to go out there and play hard,” Bennett said, “and I just want to reach my full potential as a player. I know if I do that the rest will take care of itself.”