Philadelphia 76ers Would Be Smart to Gamble on Anthony Bennett's Future

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Philadelphia 76ers Would Be Smart to Gamble on Anthony Bennett's Future
USA TODAY Sports

Former top pick Anthony Bennett had such a disastrous NBA debut season that even the loss-column-embracing Philadelphia 76ers want nothing to do with his past.

But the forward-thinking franchise appears interested in his future. Considering the depth of his talent base, the positive changes he's already made and the room he has left to grow, he could be a valuable addition to the potential-rich puzzle general manager Sam Hinkie is patiently building.

Of course, the current Cleveland Cavalier needs to actually move to the City of Brotherly Love to become a part of that puzzle. While nothing has hit the league's official transaction log yet, it sounds as if that news could be coming soon.

ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst said during a recent appearance on ESPN Radio 98.7 FM (h/t NBA.com) that a "deal is done but not done" between the Cavaliers and Minnesota Timberwolves involving Kevin Love and Andrew Wiggins. While Wiggins cannot be dealt until August 23 after signing his rookie contract, Windhorst said "there is this handshake agreement" to get a trade done after the monthlong moratorium.

Why does this matter to the Sixers? Because Windhorst said he believes Philly forward Thaddeus Young will be sent to Minnesota during this process, while Bennett "could get re-routed" to Philadelphia for Young.

Sixers fans might cringe at the news, and honestly, that would be an appropriate reaction. The former UNLV forward had a cringe-worthy run as a rookie.

USA TODAY Sports

He played 52 games in total, posting dreadful per-game averages of 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds. He missed the first 16 shots of his career, and his shooting woes continued throughout the campaign. By year's end, he had converted only 35.6 percent of his field-goal attempts and misfired on 40 of his 53 long-range looks.

The total package was atrocious. Bennett had a worse player efficiency rating (6.9 compared to 11.8) and fewer win shares (-0.4 to -0.3) than infamous draft flop Michael Olowokandi had in his debut season, per Basketball-Reference.com.

There is no way to sugarcoat Bennett's massive struggles, but there are ways to better understand them.

He fought an uphill battle from the beginning. Before the Cavaliers piled on the pressure by making him the No. 1 overall pick, he had surgery on his left shoulder that cost him the critical development step that is the summer league.

When he arrived at training camp, he was out of shape. His poor conditioning was compounded by the fact he was dealing with asthma and sleep apnea.

"It's been tiring to watch him because every time I watch him he's (gasping)," former Cavs coach Mike Brown told Tom Withers of the Associated Press. "It makes me tired, so I try not to look at him."

Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Over time, Bennett's conditioning improved, and his numbers followed suit. After failing to crack double-digit points in his first 32 games, he went for 15 points and eight rebounds in his 33rd game. He reached double figures four more times over his next nine outings, a stretch highlighted by a 19-point, 10-rebound effort on February 11.

But his playing time fluctuated, and his production tapered off. Then, a left knee strain sidelined him in March, keeping him out of competition until the season finale.

As rough as his first go was, his talent was evident at times when his body was right. Perhaps spurred by that knowledge, he has spent his summer working to ensure that he can leave his physical problems behind him. He had his tonsils and adenoids removed in May to address his sleep condition and has already noticed improvements.

"Since [having] my tonsils out, my adenoids, I have a lot more room to breathe," Bennett told Jessica Camerato of Basketball Insiders at Las Vegas NBA Summer League. "It was hard, definitely, with my tonsils in. I feel like taking them out was a huge step."

More importantly, it wasn't the only step.

He hired a personal chef and hit the gym to help redefine his body, per TSN's Josh Lewenberg:

Unlike a lot of the offseason claims of physical transformations, Bennett's came with visual evidence.

In the summer league, he moved better, played with confidence and looked more comfortable than he had during his rookie season.

More importantly, he felt more comfortable.

"My whole first year I was kind of buried in pressure," he said, per Holly MacKenzie of The Canadian Press. "I put a whole lot on myself. I just want to go out there and play."

And that's what he did in Sin City.

He didn't dominate, but he played at a high level. He scored in double figures during each of his four games, averaged 7.8 rebounds in 29.8 minutes of action and flashed some of the explosiveness that vaulted him up the draft board last summer.

NBA fans never saw the real Bennett last season. The chance for him to produce at the level he's capable of just never materialized.

"AB's biggest trouble last year was he never really had the opportunity to play enough," Cavs coach David Blatt told CBS Sports' Zach Harper, "because he was either hurt or not in good physical shape. As you can see, he worked very hard at that."

Bennett's body is what punched his NBA ticket, but that weapon was essentially stripped from his arsenal in 2013-14. When he has all of his physical tools available to him, he's a potential matchup nightmare.

"He's what I like to call a power athlete because of his vicious explosiveness attacking the rim," Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman wrote in February 2013. "But along with his power comes speed and agility. Bennett can fly down the court and face the rim from the perimeter."

Just think about what Hinkie and head coach Brett Brown are assembling in Philly.

Should the Sixers try to trade for Anthony Bennett?

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Over the last two drafts, the Sixers have added—among othersMichael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. Philly averaged a league-high 101.6 possessions per 48 minutes last season, per NBA.com, and that number theoretically could rise as more of these blossoming athletes are added to the mix.

At full strength, Bennett should fit right in with the franchise's vision. He's powerful, athletic and a handful in the open floor.

Plus, he's a potential bargain who could bring an incredible return down the line.

"Bennett for the Sixers would be genius," wrote CBS' Sports Matt Moore. "It's a chance to buy low for a high-upside talent."

With so little at stake and so much to gain, the Sixers would be wise to answer opportunity's knock.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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