Why Anthony Bennett Needs Minutes with Rubio


When the details of the Kevin Love blockbuster trade became official this summer, to say I was excited would be an understatement.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think the Timberwolves could get all three of Andrew Wiggins, Thad Young, and Anthony Bennett. With a good group of veterans returning, Thad coming off of a career year, and a potential superstar in Wiggins now in the fold, the Wolves’ future was bright.

While many people were praising the acquisitions of Thad and Wiggins, I was also thrilled that Flip managed to land Big Daddy Canada. Last season, Bennett stumbled through arguably the worst rookie season of a No. 1 overall pick in NBA history. But Bennett, having the best nickname in the history of sports, was not a lost cause in my eyes.

Bennett had a ton of issues during his rookie season, many of which he got fixed. He was out of shape and had vision problems, asthma, and sleep apnea.

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This offseason, Bennett changed his diet and underwent a vigorous conditioning regimen, slimming down to his ideal playing weight of 240 pounds. He also had LASIK eye surgery and had his tonsils and adenoids removed. This fixed his sleep apnea and has helped him overcome the effects of asthma.

Bennett entered training camp “a new man.” Being gifted a fresh start, Bennett had an outstanding preseason. If you throw out the game in which he only played 8 minutes, he averaged 12 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while shooting 53% from the floor. He even had a double-double with 12 points and 11 boards in the second preseason game of the year. After scoring 17 points against the Pacers, Timberwolves beat writer Jerry Zgoda echoed the optimism felt all around Minnesota.

Bennett then had a nice start to the regular season. In the first three games, he averaged 8.3 points and shot 12-19 (63.1%). He also got a decent workload, averaging 16 minutes across those three contests.

Just as Flip began to trust him more by giving him more minutes, Bennett hurt his right knee after less than a minute of action against the Orlando Magic on November 7. His sore knee forced him to miss the following game against Miami, and by the time he returned, the dynamic of the Timberwolves season had changed: Ricky Rubio destroyed his left ankle.

Next: Why the Wolves Probably Won't Trade Kevin Martin

As the weeks of Rubio’s absence turned into months, all excitement surrounding Bennett fizzled like a sparkler on the 4th of July; it was exciting for such a short amount of time that you could hardly remember any joy it brought you. However, I still had hope.

Bennett occasionally showed flashes of talent in Rubio’s absence, most notably on November 21 against the Spurs, when he scored 20 points on 9-14 shooting.

Bennett’s season took a nose dive in December and January. He averaged just 4.3 points on 36.5% shooting from the floor. His +/- was -29.8. According to NBAwowy.com, when Bennett was on the floor in December and January, the Timberwolves scored 88.3 points per 100 possessions. That’s… bad. With him off the floor, the Wolves scored 106.2 points per 100 possessions.

But with Ricky playing alongside AB, the Wolves have scored 103.3 points per 100 possessions, vs. 92.5 with Bennett on and Ricky off.

Bennett plays much better with Rubio, and it’s no surprise. Just judging by the eye test, AB is a completely different basketball player with Ricky on the court. He runs the floor and gets open looks. As he gets rewarded by making a few open shots in a row and getting easy dunks, his confidence will only increase — something that is huge for a young player already labeled as a bust. Take the following video for example:

As soon as AB realizes Ricky has the ball on a fast break opportunity, he puts his head down and sprints to the basket. You just didn’t see this kind of activity from Bennett with Zach LaVine or Mo Williams running the point.

It’s a small sample size, but in the three games that Rubio has been back, Bennett seems to be playing with more confidence. The cliche is that Rubio makes everyone around him better. That’s true, however, and it’s especially true for Bennett. AB has been pretty bad for the majority of his short career, but he hasn’t had a whole lot of help, either.

If Bennett is ever going to become a serviceable NBA player, he needs someone to play alongside that will find him when he’s open and give him chances to make plays. Who is better at doing that than the Spanish wunderkind? If Rubio stays healthy and Bennett gets some minutes with him, AB has the chance to become a good role player.

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