Anthony Bennett offers plenty of offense for Pelicans in draft

Associated Press photo by Julie JacobsonUNLV's Anthony Bennett reacts after hitting a 3-pointer against CSU Bakersfield this past season. Bennett is a possible first round pick in the NBA draft Thursday.
Associated Press photo by Julie JacobsonUNLV's Anthony Bennett reacts after hitting a 3-pointer against CSU Bakersfield this past season. Bennett is a possible first round pick in the NBA draft Thursday.

Georgetown’s Otto Porter would be just what the New Orleans Pelicans need, a prototypical small forward who is very good in many facets of the game, including defense, and is unselfish.

However, barring a trade, he will be long gone when the Hornets pick at No. 6 in Thursday’s NBA draft, with the Washington Wizards waiting at No. 3.

The forward ranked behind Porter, UNLV’s Anthony Bennett, also may be selected by then, likely by the Charlotte Bobcats at No. 4, but he could fall to the Pelicans. Just in case, Pelicans General Manager Dell Demps traveled to meet with Bennett last week, although he would not tip his hand.

Bennett is considered a skilled offensive player, but does he fit the bill for the Pelicans? At 6-feet-8, 240 pounds, is he the answer at small forward?

NBA director of scouting Ryan Blake said to look at Bennett’s position in a strict since is to make a big mistake.

“Positions in the NBA no longer are what they were years ago, when height and size played a big part in where someone played,” Blake said. “There are no longer just five positions. Look at Dirk Nowitzki, LeBron (James), Kevin Durant. Those are players who transcend a position, and I think that applies to Bennett because of his perimeter skills.”

Known as a scorer who can shoot with range, hit midrange shots, and drive and finish strongly at the rim, offense is not a concern with regard to Bennett, who averaged 16.1 points on 53.3 percent shooting, including 37.5 percent on 3-point attempts.

However, he is said to be less than enthusiastic about the other end of the court. There is no certainty Bennett can guard small forwards, who are, for the most part, the premiere athletes in a very athletic league.

Bennett’s coach at UNLV, Dave Rice, said anyone who has seen Bennett play knows he can succeed in the NBA at either forward spot. When it comes to defense, Bennett, 20, could stand to become better, Rice said, but the ability is there.

“He has good lateral quickness, and I just think as he matures and just gets older, he will become a more consistent defender,” he said. “He is a very good defender now. I just think it’s a matter of maturing.”

Rice said that as a freshman, one of the ways Bennett improved during the course of a 25-win season was that he learned to play with more intensity for entire games. Doing that on defense is his next step.

“We didn’t play much zone (defense),” Rice said. “Mostly man-to-man. So I know he has the ability.”

Bennett also averaged 8.1 rebounds per game. Rice said comparisons of Bennett to former UNLV forward Larry Johnson, the first player selected in the 1991 draft, by the Charlotte Hornets, are accurate.

Rice, however, who played with Johnson on the Runnin’ Rebels, acknowledges that Johnson was more of a power forward than a small forward, and also mentioned Charles Barkley, another player who transcended his position, in comparison.

“I think as long as people remember that when Larry Johnson got drafted, he’d been in college for four years,” Rice said. “And Anthony has only been in college for one year, so obviously there’s a three years experience difference.

“But (they have) similar skill level and athleticism, and both were great teammates.”

To Rice, Bennett has the highest upside of anyone in the draft. ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford agrees that Bennett is one of the draft’s “big upside guys” and also agrees with the comparison to Johnson. However, Ford is not sold on Bennett. Not as a power forward, and certainly not as a small forward.

“On the downside, he’s a bit of a ’tweener,” Ford said. “He’s probably a little bit more of a four (power forward) than a three (small forward) right now because of his length, but at 6-7, he’s a bit undersized.”

Ford also sees red flags. Bennett had rotator cuff surgery in May on his left shoulder. That has kept him from working out for teams and showing his ability. It also has prevented him from working out, period, and staying in shape.

“He has shown up at the last few (interviews) at about 261 pounds,” Ford said, “which is about 18 pounds over his heaviest playing weight at UNLV, and I thought he was overweight at UNLV.”

Ford said the NBA has had overweight players before, Barkley being one, but they lost the weight. The question Ford said, is does he have the will power. If he does, why would he let this happen now, when he stands to be drafted so highly?

Scouting reports say Bennett is strong and explosive, a good shooter with range who has a high basketball IQ, is tough and plays hard. Rice said all you need to know about Bennett is this: “He has great hands and length, and can grab a rebound, bring the ball up court and dunk it on people. And, he can hit 3-pointers.”

After Porter and Bennett, there’s a long drop to another able small forward, Shabazz Muhammad, who is only 6-6. Red flags or not, Ford understands why Bennett is likely to go in the top five of the draft.

“He is a natural scorer,” Ford said. “He can score inside and out. He has an NBA body. This guy is far ready, has the body of a man. He’s very skilled, he’s out there, aggressive, he looks for his shot.”