Can Anthony Bennett Shed Premature Bust Label with Minnesota Timberwolves?

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Can Anthony Bennett Shed Premature Bust Label with Minnesota Timberwolves?
USA TODAY Sports

After a disastrous rookie season, there's little that can be more beneficial than some re-calibrated expectations and a fresh start somewhere new.

By being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves as a part of the Kevin Love deal, Anthony Bennett will get just that.

The Cleveland Cavaliers shocked the world when they took Bennett with the first overall pick in the 2013 draft. Then he put forth one of the very worst rookie campaigns we've seen out of a top overall pick in quite some time.

Sean Highkin of Sports on Earth explained why things went wrong:

Bennett's rookie year was a nightmare on every level. Coming off shoulder surgery that ended his UNLV career, he showed up out of shape, averaged just 12 minutes per game while missing 30 games, and was generally awful when he did play for the Cavs. He averaged just 4.2 points and three rebounds per game and became the first No. 1 pick to not make either the first or second All-Rookie team due to non-injury reasons since Kwame Brown in 2002. His college nickname, "Big Daddy Canada," became less about his impact and more about his weight. Even in a draft as weak as 2013, the pressure of being a top pick weighed on him and destroyed his confidence. At one point, he temporarily deleted his Twitter account because the hateful messages became too overwhelming.

"I just put a lot of pressure on myself," Bennett said on Sunday. "Things weren't going right for me. Everything just collapsed and built up. I got down on myself."

It's not hard to see the path that led Bennett to failure in his rookie season. His injury led to poor conditioning, his conditioning led to missed jump shots and his missed jump shots led to a crippling lack of confidence.

Without any success to remind yourself of at the pro level, things can spiralboth physically and mentallypretty quickly for a young player.

Bennett was prematurely labeled a bust for his tough rookie season, but he's already setting out to turn things around and get his career on track.

At the Las Vegas Summer League, playing in front of his old UNLV fans, Bennett looked notably trimmer and more assertive with the ball. Although he wasn't dominant, he looked like a top pick should.

Jack Arent/Getty Images

"I'm really happy with the way Anthony has come to our camp," Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt told Zach Lowe of Grantland in a Q&A earlier this offseason. "He's worked extremely hard, has improved his body, has improved his approach. He's maturing. He's on the right track. We're gonna see what we can do with him."

While it's hard to blame the Cavs for shipping out Bennett, this year's top pick (Andrew Wiggins) and a future first-round choice to land an established star like Kevin Love, it obviously wasn't ideal to move Bennett with his trade value as low as it will ever be.

In Minnesota, however, the focus will change.

Instead of having to be a piece capable of sharing floor time with LeBron James, Bennett won't face much pressure in Minnesota at all. The majority of it will instead be with Wiggins, as Thaddeus Young will almost certainly replace Love as the starting power forward.

Here's Josh Haar of Bleacher Report:

Bennett can now start anew with the Wolves. He will likely play bench minutes throughout 2014-15, but the forward will carve himself a larger role moving forward—if he reaches his full potential, that is. Let's not forget his lone season at UNLV, in which he generated 23.7 points, 12.0 rebounds and 53.3 percent shooting per 40 minutes (via Sports-Reference.com).

If Bennett can revert to the versatile scoring machine he was in college, he will certainly establish himself as a more significant threat. Losing that extra weight is a step in the right direction. On a developing Minnesota squad, he holds the opportunity to revitalize his career and aid the Wolves' future advancement.

In a bench role, Bennett can take his time and develop out of the spotlight a bit.

Moreover, while Kyrie Irving is undoubtedly a very talented point guard, his focus was often to score instead of distribute. In Ricky Rubio, Bennett can rest easy knowing that if he's open, he'll get the ball.

David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

The reduced minutes of a bench role should help Bennett's overall effectiveness. Although you hope conditioning is no longer an issue, playing in short spurts should allow Bennett to be more active crashing the offensive glass, where his size and athleticism can really cause problems for defenses.

It's easy to fall in love with the potential of what Bennett can become, even if he doesn't project as a strong defender.

Bennett is comfortable as a pick-and-pop big man around the top of the arc, but he can also face up and take slower power forwards off the bounce. Stick a small guy on him at the 4, and he can post up and move his weight around.

There's a lot to like here, even if we saw only brief glimpses of it in his rookie season. By having some of the pressure removed in Minnesota, though, Bennett almost gets a mulligan on his rookie year and gets to try again in a completely new situation.

Zach Harper of CBSSports.com has more on Bennett:

He may never live up to his No. 1 selection, even in a weak draft. But there is a difference between ending up like every other player on that list of historically failing rookies and being the first player on that list to show it was an outlier to their career. There is a difference between being a bust and being able to consistently fill a role in the rotation for your team.

Bennett surprised us on draft night by being selected with the first pick. Let's see if he can surprise us again.

As Harper explains, it's far too early to shut the book on Bennett and assume he'll be the bust he was in his first season.

Bennett won't need to do a whole lot to improve upon that campaign, and with positive momentum so easily achievable and the expectations relatively low, Bennett should change a few minds with his play for the Timberwolves this season.

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