In my fourth installment of “Freshman Prospects Before New Year's”, I explore Anthony Bennett, one of the nation’s most productive freshmen and someone who has really captured the national spotlight early on. Prior to joining UNLV’s squad, Bennett was a relatively late bloomer who rose to prominence at high school powerhouse Findlay Prep after growing up in Brampton, Ontario. Coming into this season, Bennett’s talents were overshadowed by bigger ‘name’ players, but his impact offensively has been unmatched by any freshman at this juncture of the season.   

So far this year, Anthony Bennett has dominated on the offensive end of the floor, where he is averaging 19.50 points per game, second only to Shabazz Muhammad in freshman scoring. Standing at a bulky 6’7 239 lbs, Bennett has worked hard to shed weight, while still retaining his strength advantage. As it currently stands, Bennett is one of the more versatile prospects at the collegiate level today. He scores his points in a variety of different ways, from facing up in the post to dialing in from beyond the arc. He is most effective vying for position in the post and then employing his faceup game to attack the basket. Bennett does a good job of utilizing his lower body strength to pin his man on the block. Once he receives the ball on the catch, Bennett typically faces up for an easy jumper in the paint, or attacks the rim with reckless abandon. He has a deceptively quick first step, and is explosive and powerful enough to get to the rim and finish over multiple defenders. Bennett has a flair for the spectacular and likes to make statement dunks to shift his team’s momentum.

In order to drive past his man, Bennett employs a believable shot fake that often draws the defender off his feet. He also boasts an improved handle, which he utilizes to get to the rim from anywhere on the court. On several possessions that I witnessed, he was able to bring the ball all the way up the floor and go coast to coast for an easy lay in through contact. Few players at his size possess that kind of versatility. With that said, I believe that he will only be able to attack the basket from the free throw line in at the next level. His handle is serviceable enough, though, that he will likely be able to translate his post faceup game to the NBA level.  

Due to his aggressive “slashing” mentality and his willingness to draw contact, Bennett is drawing fouls at a very high rate. In fact, his 7.2 fouls drawn per 40 minutes currently ranks 18th in the nation. Bennett must look to maintain this same level of intensity on the offensive end and avoid settling for jump shots, as he did against North Carolina the other night. With that said, Bennett is strong with the ball on his drives, and rarely turns it over. He ranks eighth in the Mountain West Conference in Turnover Percentage, despite having the ball on 26.4 percent of his team’s possessions. In this regard, Bennett understands his limitations and plays well beyond his years.

While he is effective attacking the rim following a post entry feed, Bennett’s back to the basket game is largely undeveloped. He has good pivoting footwork on his faceup moves, so he may be able to develop this facet of his post game down the road. He also has a low enough center of gravity to back his man close to the rim.   When he does opt to faceup and shoot over his opposition, Bennett displays good balance and a highly effective shooting form. He is capable from the mid range as well, and is not shy squaring and connecting on jumpers off the bounce. As a result of these abilities, he is currently converting 61.0 percent of his two point attempts. 

Bennett’s range extends to the college three point line, where he had been shooting the ball pretty well in early action, but has struggled as of late. Overall, he is hitting a mere 31.6 percent of his three point attempts, but he continues to shoot, even when contested. Despite those below average numbers, it is clear that he possesses the range to keep defenses honest at the next level. And, he has put considerable time into his jump shot, so I expect this to be a strength of his down the road, even if he is currently struggling. With this in mind, Bennett must improve his shot selection and not try to force the issue from three point range. In fact, against UNC, he limited himself by camping out beyond the arc and not out-working McAdoo and Hubert for position inside. 

Anthony Bennett also shows some promise in the pick and roll game. He uses his wide body to get in ideal position for picks and usually is able to free up his guards. Bennett then does a nice job of carving space on rim runs, and he is very quick exploding to the basket. Because of his versatility, Bennett will also be able to fade to the outside after setting screens and free himself for open mid range jumpers depending on how opposing defenses are situated. Further, Bennett has a great motor and is able to get out in transition and finish. 

In terms of his ability to collect rebounds, Bennett shows some promise on the glass. He possesses solid box out fundamentals, leveraging his lower body to prevent players from rebounding over the back of him.  Bennett also has a knack of anticipating where the ball is going to be once it hits the rim, and he is able to cover ground in a hurry to chase after rebounds and loose balls. Bennett has a very high activity level on both ends of the floor, and is willing to dive into the crowd to create extra possessions for his team. Currently, Bennett ranks seventh in the MWC in Defensive Rebounding Percentage and ninth in Offensive Rebounding Percentage. These numbers do not fully capture Bennett’s assertiveness and impact on the glass though. This is because he has a tendency to bite on fakes at the defensive end, which continuously puts him at a disadvantage when trying to secure rebounds. 

With regard to his overall impact defensively, Bennett’s post defense leaves a lot to be desired. Bennett constantly opts to front the post, with mixed results. At times, he is able to corral the ball when the post entry pass is telegraphed. However, when the post entry feed is less obvious and the ball is in the hands of a skilled passer, this playmaker is typically able to lob the ball right over the top of Bennett for an easy lay in. I suspect that such plays will consistently occur at the next level as well, unless Bennett is willing and able to change his approach to post defense. Instead of constantly fronting the opposition, Bennett should use his wide base to ‘chest’ his man off the block. When he has played back on post players so far this season, Bennett has given up deep post position, which makes it difficult to recover defensively.  With this said, Bennett is very active defensively, and does a nice job of contesting without fouling when he decides to play positional defense. Bennett has good lateral quickness for a four and is able to stay in front of his man in the post. 

With regard to his physical capabilities on this end, despite his below average height for an NBA power forward at 6’7, Bennett compensates with a 7’1 wingspan. He currently has the fourth best Blocks Percentage in the Mountain West Conference, and this is a testament to his length and athleticism. While he is capable of blocking shots, Bennett is not especially effective as a help defender, sometimes even standing in the way of his teammate and watching the opposition go to the hoop for an easy lay in. Bennett must improve his awareness as a help defender and look to step in and take more charges. With that said, he is able to step out on the perimeter and defend post players who are capable of stretching the defense. When he is defending on the perimeter, though, he is often prone to biting on shot fakes.

In addition to these struggles, Bennett is also a very poor pick and roll defender. Bennett has poor hedging techniques and rarely forces the opposing team’s guard to change directions on pick and roll plays. Instead, he often appears to be mechanically going through the motions, and steps out only momentarily before getting back to defend the rim. On other occasions, he does not hedge at all and allows open perimeter jumpers. In the instances where he does provide a momentary hedge, Bennett rarely recovers quickly enough to get back to his man and is usually stuck on a switch off. Of all the areas he must improve, Bennett’s pick and roll defense needs the most work. 

All in all, Anthony Bennett is one of the most efficient offensive weapons in the country as a freshman (ninth in Offensive Rating among those who use 24 percent or more of their team’s possessions, and 85th best overall). He exhibits considerable promise as a faceup post player who can step out and hit from the mid range. With that said, Bennett has a lot of room for growth on the defensive end. While he possesses the physical tools to improve considerably, his mental approach to defense will need some fine-tuning at the next level. Due in large part to his intriguing offensive skillset, look for Bennett to climb up draft boards and cement himself as a late lottery selection in the upcoming 2013 NBA draft.