KG explodes back to greatness

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KG explodes back to greatness

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

MIAMI You notice it the most when he goes up for a rebound.

Actually, "goes up" doesn't do the motion any sort of justice. He explodes. He literally jumps as high as he can, like a wannabe-NBA-rookie getting measured for his pre-draft vertical.

Even when he has the most basic rebound in front of him one of those boards where the other nine guys have already released by the time the ball falls off the rim he grabs it with nothing less than reckless abandon. He'll snatch the rock on his way up, slap it so hard that James Naismith's original peach basket can feel it, and then he'll just float in the air for a second. He'll let out a little scream, or violently kick one of his legs out to the side. He'll act without hesitation, or concern for himself and his surroundings.

Kevin Garnett does all this because he can.

If we're being honest, it feels wrong, maybe even a little insulting to write a paragraph (or two) commending one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history on his ability to jump, rebound, or do anything you'd expect out of even the Joel Anthonys of the world. It's like marveling over a 90 MPH Roy Halladay fastball or an LT touchdown run.

But anyone who watched Kevin Garnett over the course of last season which I assume includes anyone who's still reading this story realizes how fortunate they are to once again see him perform at this current level of legitimacy.

To see him run down the floor without looking like he just stubbed his toe. To see him hit the ground and get up without limping, looking down at his knee or screaming, "I'm OK! I'm OK!" like he was trying to convince himself of something that clearly wasn't true. To see him go up for loose rebounds in traffic by jumping off and coming down on both legs, instead favoring his left leg on every landing. To see him not only fight for position on the block, but actually win those fights.

To see him play like Kevin Garnett.

Honestly, did you ever believe you'd see that again?

I didn't. Sure, we knew Garnett would be better this season, a full year removed from his surgery. We expected him to be faster, stronger, more confident, and to brush off at least some of the rust that had built up over the previous 18 months. He showed glimpses of that in last year's playoffs. He looked like he was getting better. But he still had such a long way to go. He still wasn't even a shadow of the guy whod helped raise Banner 17.

It's easy to forget this now, but Garnett literally couldn't catch an alley-oop last year. He missed more lay-ups in 69 games than he had in the previous 16 seasons combined. He was routinely getting punked by the likes of Andray Blatche, Al Harrington and Kris Humphries.

He looked like he lost it. And most of the time in this league, when a guy like KG who started young, and went on to play an ungodly amount of minutes loses it, it's lost. Look what happened to Tracy McGrady. A few years ago he was averaging 25 points a game. Then he suffered a knee injury, and now hes a mop up man for the Pistons. And he's only 31.

KG's 34. You knew his mind would never quit, and that's why you still held out hope that he'd come back better this season. But you had to wonder how much his body had left in the tank.

At least I did. But I'm not wondering anymore.

On Thursday night in Miami, Garnett posted his fifth double-double in only his ninth game of the season. Last year, he had 10 double-doubles in 69 games. He already has three games with three or more steals, after doing that only twice all of last year. His scoring is up, but even more impressive is how he's scoring. Yeah, there's still a lot of jump shots. But he's also running the floor. He's finishing at the rim. He's converting on dunks, alley-oops and put backs which, I know, still only count for two points, but are also so indicative of what he's able to do and how much he's able to trust in that knee.

And even then, it's not really about numbers with KG. It never is. It's about that movement; that agility; that fire and explosiveness. It's about how much space he can cover on defense, how many jump balls he can win off the glass, how much he can effect the ebb and flow of every single game by just being wild and crazy KG.

Last year, that wasn't there. Last year, he would have been eaten up by Chris Bosh. Hell, he wouldve been dominated by Joel Anthony. But last night, he was in control. He was dominating.

Listen, I can't sit here and claim that Garnetts been transported back into the prime of his career. The Garnett we see now isn't as good as the man we saw in 2007, never mind all those legendary seasons before he was here. But while to this point, much of his season at least from a national perspective has been marred by the Charlie Villanueva incident. For those who care more about KG the basketball player, this season has been about one of the game's all-time greats once again returning to greatness.

Maybe he's not the old KG. In reality, he'll never again be the old KG. But at least now hes back to being KG. At least now, for the first time since he limped off the court that February night in Utah, you watch him and never forget that seeing one of the greatest power forwards in NBA history.

And if you haven't seen it yet, just watch the next time he goes up sorry, explodes for one of those rebounds.

I promise you it's there.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Celtics should roll the dice on Dragan Bender

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Celtics should roll the dice on Dragan Bender

Danny Ainge recently hinted on Toucher & Rich that the Celtics were interested in drafting Dragan Bender.

And they need to do exactly that. 

No, I'm not crazy. Neither is Danny.

Drafting Bender is the Celtics' best option. As Ainge pointed out, his job is to make the move that's best for the team. Not just for the short term, but for the long haul.

Now, I can't say I've been to Croatia to work out Bender. Like many of you, I 've only seen him via the Internet.

It is easy to look at him and think he’s a project. That’s because he is. He’s 18 and, even though he's 7 feet tall, he only weighs about 220 soaking wet. He's a kid, too skinny at the moment for the NBA, and would no doubt get killed if you put in the post today.

And, like I said, I'm not crazy. I'm not committed to Bender. If  Sacramento calls and offers Boogie Cousins for any combination of picks the Celtics have, the deal should be made immediately. To a degree, I feel the same way about Jimmy Butler. However, the consensus is those two players aren't going anywhere. (And even if they are available, suppose the Lakers decide to dangle the No. 2 pick for either of them? That would make a trade nearly impossible for Boston.)

But if the Celtics keep the third pick -- and he isn't taken by either Philly or L.A. (highly unlikely) -- Dragen Bender should be Ainge's choice. And it will be the right move.

Let’s break it down.

There's just no one else in this draft with Bender's upside. Buddy Hield is a 22-year-old shooting guard who completely disappeared in the NCAA championship game. He has a shot to be a very good NBA player, but he won’t transform the organization. Neither would Jamal Murray from Kentucky. Nor Kris Dunn from Providence.

The risk for Bender is HUGE. The reward is even HUGER. Ah, that’s not a word, right? Well then, BIGGER THAN HUGE! Or HUGEST!

Bender could be that guy.

And, I also admit, he also wind up playing in Europe or Israel.

Still, Danny has to roll the dice on this guy.

Bender can handle the ball, block shots, shoot the 3, and -- like all European players -- is fundamentally sound. The issue for this kid is toughness in the low post and getting stronger. I put my money on Celtics strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo to get him ready for NBA life.

And I'm not one those boneheads who are pushing for Bender because Kristaps Porzingis has worked out for the Knicks. One has nothing to do with the other. For every Porzingis there's at least one Stojko Vrankovic. Or Darko Milicic.

Take Bender, Danny. In two years this guy may have gained 15 to 20 pounds of muscle, learned the rigors on and off the court of the NBA, and look like the next Porzingis, Or Dirk Nowitzki or Porzingis. Then use the other two Brooklyn first-round picks, and the Celtics could be back on their way to greatness.

But if you play it safe, Danny, and don't take Bender, the Green will simply be stuck in the mud of mediocrity.  

Ben Bentil ready for opportunity to showcase his talents in the NBA

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Ben Bentil ready for opportunity to showcase his talents in the NBA

BOSTON – Opportunity.

Ben Bentil learned at an early age to recognize it and in doing so, make the most of it when it presents itself.

That’s how a 15-year-old kid from Ghana, who grew up wanting to be a professional volleyball player at one point winds up playing basketball and soccer at one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the United States (St. Andrews School in Wilmington, Del., which is where the move Dead Poets Society was filmed in 1989).

That’s how that same kid goes from being a role-playing freshman at Providence College last season, to the Big East’s leading scorer a year later – and doing so in the shadows of Kris Dunn, a high-scoring guard who is a consensus top-10 pick in next month’s NBA draft.

“I’m glad I had the best point guard in the country on my team,” Bentil, who averaged a Big East-leading 21.1 points per game this past season for Providence, told CSNNE.com. “We took advantage of it.”

And with the June 23 NBA draft on the horizon, Bentil once again finds himself in position to make the most of an opportunity that so few saw coming this quickly in his career.

“It’s been an unbelievable journey,” said Bentil who averaged 6.4 points and five rebounds per game as a freshman.

A journey that by all accounts is far from over.

Prior to deciding to stay in this year’s draft, the sophomore big man wanted to see how he stacked up against other draft hopefuls at the NBA pre-draft combine in Chicago. He took advantage of a new rule that allows college players to participate in the combine and return to college if they don’t sign with an agent.

This would prove to be yet another opportunity that Bentil made the most of.

In his first game, he had 15 points and 11 rebounds in just 20 minutes.

The next day he had 17 points and six rebounds in just 19 minutes.

Those strong performances combined with really good feedback from NBA executives at the combine and afterwards, made Bentil’s decision to stay in the draft a no-brainer.

A league executive contacted by CSNNE.com in reference to Bentil said he’s “a solid second round pick now,” adding, “and could work his way into the late first-round depending on workouts.”

A second league executive contacted by CSNNE.com via text on Tuesday morning echoed similar sentiments.

“Good second round pick,” the text read. “Could impress teams, play his way into mid-to-late 20s of first round.”

That jibes with the factors Bentil said would likely need to be in place for him to stay in the draft.

“If I know I’ll go in those ranges, I’ll probably stay in,” Bentil said.

In addition to his scoring and rebounding, Bentil also eased the concerns a number of teams had about his size.

At the combine he measured out at 6-8 ¼ with a solid 7-1 ½ wingspan. In addition, Bentil’s hand length was 9.50 inches, which tied 7-footer Dedric Lawson for the longest hands at the combine. Bentil also showed his shooting touch from the perimeter as he knocked down 14-of-25 NBA 3s taken from five different spots on the floor.

And at Providence, the Friars did a lot of switching defensively which often meant Bentil had to guard smaller, seemingly quicker players – the kind of challenge he’ll face in the NBA where teams live on a healthy diet of pick-and-roll sets.

Knowing that Bentil has the quickness to hold his own defensively on switches and the length to where being undersized won’t be as big a detriment as feared on the boards or in getting his shots off offensively, Bentil finds himself in good shape to take advantage of what should be increased opportunities leading up to next month’s draft.

Bentil worked out for five teams initially, but a representative with Octagon basketball told CSNNE.com that Bentil’s list of teams to work out for will be expanded. In addition, Octagon has a pro workout day this week with several teams (the Celtics are expected to be among them) having representatives in attendance to watch the workouts of Octagon clients.

And that will present yet another opportunity – there’s that word again – for Bentil to showcase his talents.