The move came a good two years too late, but the “demotion” was a long time coming. Toronto forward Anthony Bennett was sent to the team’s D-League affiliate on Sunday, becoming the first No. 1 overall pick to play in the NBA’s minor league. The highest previous selection was Hasheem Thabeet, the second overall pick in 2009.
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Bennett, whom the Cleveland Cavaliers drafted tops overall in the 2013 NBA draft, will last just one game with Raptors 905 (the name of the team’s affiliate) as it squares up with Delaware on Sunday afternoon, before heading back to the team on Sunday as it preps for its contest against the Sacramento Kings. Don’t be on the lookout for Bennett playing double-duty, however, as he’s managed just 48 minutes all season in nine games with his third team in three years.
"Anthony came to us asking to use this double-header as an opportunity to work on his game," said Jeff Weltman, Raptors executive vice president of basketball operations.
"This is an example of how we envisioned using our D-League team to improve our players."
The former UNLV scorer was a surprise top pick in 2013 in what was even known then as a weak draft. He still had genuine lottery talent, but Mike Brown’s style of win-now coaching and a shoulder separation dogged Bennett from the beginning. Brown and the Cavaliers, somehow, assumed they could make the playoffs that season (they went 33-49), and their top pick was lost in the shuffle as a result.
It was posited by us and others that Bennett would be best served by taking both development and rehab minutes with Cleveland’s D-League team back in 2013, but for whatever reason the team’s administration chose to save face and not demote their star – clearly in their egos’ best interests, not in Bennett’s. He ended up playing just 12.8 minutes a game in his rookie year, averaging 4.2 points and three rebounds while shooting 35 percent.
The Cavs, after whiffing on both Bennett’s selection and development, then dealt him to Minnesota as part of the package that landed Cleveland Kevin Love. Anthony improved slightly in his second season, but still played fewer than 16 minutes per game prior to being waived by the team. Bennett, who is Canadian, later signed a one-year deal for the league minimum with Toronto.
The native’s return hasn’t gone well. He’s missed 11 of 14 shots on the year, rarely getting even mop-up duty for the 17-11 Raptors.
Even in a weak draft, Bennett probably should not have been the top overall pick. For him to be outperformed by players chosen 30 or 35 picks below him (Cleveland’s 31st selection, Allen Crabbe, is killing it in Portland right now), however, is unacceptable given his talents. In a pointless bit of pride-mongering, they both refused him the minutes usually afforded a top pick, and ignored the D-League even when it became clear that Anthony Bennett – badly—needed reps.
The Cavaliers’ former general manager (Chris Grant) and former coach (Brown) failed him, and it likely will unalterably affect his career arc (presuming he hasn’t already crested). With that in place, Bennett is not without fault – he often lopes through plays during his cameo showings and takes far too many 3-pointers. We still give him the benefit of the doubt, mainly because he looked so potent in college, and also because spot minutes at the end of blowouts are a strange time of the game to try to develop your career.
Anthony Bennett has talent, and he won’t turn 23 until March. We just hope the Raptors can learn from Cleveland’s mistakes, and allow him to redefine his rhythm for a longer stretch of D-League time, rather than Sunday’s yo-yo move that returns him to Toronto’s bench almost immediately.
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