For the first time in its history, the Toronto Raptors feature two Canadians on the roster as tip-off to the 2015-16 NBA season approaches. The homecoming of former San Antonio Spurs point guard Cory Joseph received plenty of attention from both fans and media members alike, but the addition of fellow Canuck Anthony Bennett has been an afterthought in many NBA circles.
That's because Anthony Bennett is a forgotten man. In just two and a half years, the 22-year-old has gone from No. 1 overall pick to getting bought out by the 16-66 Minnesota Timberwolves. Fresh off signing with the Raptors for the league minimum salary, the UNLV product is already on his third team in three seasons and is likely one more unproductive year away from officially being labeled a bust - further cementing his light speed fall from grace.
Now that he's landed back in Toronto, is this the year that Bennett finally finds his path in the NBA? It's too early to say so, but the good news is there's nowhere to go but up.
At the least, Bennett adds depth to a revamped roster that very likely will take some time to develop chemistry. It would be foolish to expect Bennett to log significant minutes and contribute right away, but if injuries take their toll throughout the regular season, he provides a safety net for head coach Dwayne Casey at the end of the bench. If he continues to struggle, there's a roster spot for him in Mississauga as the anchor of the Raptors' new (and badly needed) D-League team.
Thanks to solid performances at the Pan American Games and the FIBA Americas Championship, Bennett has seemingly found some confidence heading into the new campaign. For the first time since his forgettable rookie year with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he appears to be in good shape and has focused on improving his conditioning which can only work in the Raptors' favour.
Even in one of the worst draft classes in recent memory, the Cavs' decision to select Bennett first overall turned heads in 2013. The most casual NBA fan could tell you how the Brampton native obviously struggled with the expectations of being a top pick in Cleveland and, subsequently, Minnesota.
Since the Raptors took a flier on him while his stock was low, the pressure he's feeling will solely come from himself now to prove his worth instead of the lofty goals he's been failing to meet since entering the league (aside from the fact that he'll sport the same number previously worn by one Vincent Lamar Carter, obviously).
The Raps took a chance on Bennett when it became clear that no one else would, meaning it's very likely this could be his last attempt to make it in the Association if he performs poorly again. Toronto has nothing to lose and Bennett has everything to gain from the gamble, which could be the perfect mixture for the downtrodden Canadian to prove himself once and for all and silence his very vocal critics in the process.