CAMP COUNTDOWN: SHOOTING GUARD
Can Bender Follow Artest
with a Breakthrough Season?
By Conrad Brunner | Sept. 29, 2004
One breakthrough down, one to go. Ron Artest took his leap into full-fledged NBA stardom last season, making his first All-Star team, earning third-team All-NBA and winning the league's Defensive Player of the Year award. All this came after a season in which he averaged career highs of 18.3 points and 5.3 rebounds while doing a great deal of rehabilitation to an image that had been tarnished the year before.
Next up: Jonathan Bender.
Opportunity and preparation are converging for Bender, creating an ideal scenario for the gifted Mississippian to establish himself as a consistently productive NBA player. After missing 96 games due to nagging injuries the past two seasons, he will report to camp standing 7-1 and weighing 240 after a busy offseason workout and conditioning regimen.
"Suffice it to say he’s spent more time than he’s ever spent making sure his body is ready to endure an NBA season," said Coach Rick Carlisle. "That has really been the only question in his career – the durability question. He’s gone to great lengths this summer to address that. And we’re very optimistic."
With Al Harrington dealt to Atlanta, Bender becomes the primary backup at small forward, although he could play some power forward, as well.
"I really think Bender is going to be the guy to back up Ronnie at the three position," Carlisle said. "At the same time, we’re going to use him some at the four, and that’s something we have not done since I got here. We’re excited about the prospect of that. But we have a lot of depth. We’ve got (Stephen) Jackson and we’ve got (Austin) Croshere who’ve (both) played a lot of three, so we’re well-covered."
Artest will still handle the lion's share of the minutes. As much as he improved last season, the staff is intrigued by the possibility for continued growth in his game.
"People look at our team and see some guys that have become household names in terms of NBA basketball, guys like Jermaine O’Neal and Ron Artest," Carlisle said. "But sometimes you forget these guys are only 24 or 25 years old. When you realize that, you also realize these guys have got a lot of room for growth."
Jackson (6-8) is primarily a shooting guard, while Croshere (6-10) has been most productive at power forward. Both can play small forward if Carlisle wants to go with an unorthodox lineup. Camp invitee Randy Holcomb (6-9. 220) is with his fourth NBA team. A second-round pick of San Antonio in 2002, he subsequently was traded to Philadelphia and Atlanta, but has yet to make an NBA appearance.