Maine Red Claws guard Daniel Dixon made his way from the left corner back to the top of the key with Tyshawn Abbott blanketing him. Trailing by two to the Delaware 87ers, the former William and Mary Standout caught the ball from Anthony Bennett at the elbow like a running back taking a handoff from a quarterback.
With a head full of steam, Dixon cut left and drove to the basket, drawing Abbott and Christian Wood - the 87er assigned to guard Bennett - into the paint.
With each step Dixon took, Bennett backpedalled out to the three point line. Once both Abbott and Wood had fully converged on Dixon in the paint, the ball was slung out to a perimeter where a calm and composed Bennett quickly caught the pass and effortlessly lofted it into the air.
The Red Claws went up, 63-62, and Bennett charged back on defense.
The three was one of seven on the night for Bennett, part of his season-high 31 points and 10 rebounds. He’s only hit seven three’s twice in his career, the other instance being in January against the Santa Cruz Warriors. He’s had a trio of games with Maine in which he’s hit six three pointers, too.
But not once in the NBA. Not at UNLV, either. In fact his seven three’s against Delaware were more threes than he hit in the 2015-16 season alone, and as many as he hit in the 2014-15 season.
He’s shooting 41.8% from deep with Maine on 8.1 attempts. That bests his NBA (26.1%) and college (37.5%) three-point percentages with ease.
Bennett’s sudden shooting ability isn’t due to a technique change, or one-on-one work with a three-point specialist. It’s actually simple; he found something he’s been searching for his entire career.
“Just having someone there that believes in me and tells me to keep shooting is definitely great to have in your corner,” he said. “While I’ve been [in Maine], I definitely have that from everybody. Down the line from the coaches to the players. It’s definitely an important piece to anybody’s game, just having that confidence.”
Since Bennett arrived in Maine via trade in late December, he’s had the green light from deep. That’s reflected in his eight attempts per game, and he’s rewarded the Red Claw’s coaches by stepping up as a focal point on offense and defense, averaging 16 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
Historically, Bennett has lived in the paint. Just 25.3% of his field goal attempts in college were from behind the arc. That number dropped to 21% in the NBA.
In the NBA, 78.5% of his shot attempts came from within three feet of the basket. Bennett was cognizant of that, and looked at this season in the G League as an opportunity to refine his outside shooting abilities.
“I just want to show people that I’m getting more consistent from three,” he said. “It’s definitely something I’ve been working on - the consistency - just as much as much as the spots on the floor, especially the corners. Definitely just being consistent and knocking them down.”
The corner-three has developed into one of Bennett’s best tools. On pick-and-rolls, he’ll set a screen for the ball handlers and roll to the corner for a wide open three.
“Definitely a lot more comfortable,” Bennett said in regards to the corner shot. “Like I said, I’ve been working on it. Just working on the consistency as well. Coach gives me the confidence to take them. He draws up plays to shoot the corner three as well. Just having all that around me just shows that everybody is confident in my shooting ability.”
In addition to having the entire team behind him and believing in his ability, Bennett cited the ability to play “carefree” as a huge reason for his numbers in the G League.
“It’s definitely a big piece, especially in the system I’m in,” he said. “The coach that I’m playing under really cares about effort on the defensive end, or just effort in general. Just playing under that, playing under him and with these guys has kind of helped me to I guess, relax on the court, and play relaxed. The G League is definitely a place that I feel like you can come back and get your confidence.”
Bennett’s shooting might jump off the stat sheet as the 23-year-old’s biggest improvement since joining the G League. But he’s not done yet. He still is looking to improve his mid-range game, and his ability to move with the ball in his hands.
With newfound confidence, Bennett still wants to prove that he’s no fluke.
“Just being able to prove to myself that I’m here to stay,” he said. “That I got picked No. 1 for a reason. Just got to fix up on a couple of things and remain healthy. Just go out there, play carefree like I’ve been doing and remain confident.”