Earlier last week, news of Ben Bentil’s release from Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) side Xinjiang Guanghui Flying Tigers must have caused a few consternation considering how the Sekondi-born Forward’s career has played out since turning professional.
However, the move was followed by Bentil’s move to the US to sign with NBA Development side Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Leaving one of the world’s best leagues to feature in a lower tier division strangely represents the best move of Bentil’s fledgling career since the NBA’s lower league offers more benefits than what the CBA does, including money.
Bentil is a hero after becoming the first player raised in Ghana to be drafted into the NBA in light of his selection by Boston Celtics in the 2016 NBA Draft. Selected 51st overall in the draft that had Australia’s Ben Simmons drafted first overall, Bentil’s career had a major bump to scale from the get go since Boston drafted five players alongside Bentil on top of Boston’s hoard of second year players who had little playing time the prior season.
Finding playing time hard to come by in Summer League games, Bentil was unsurprisingly cut from Boston’s final roster before signing with Indiana Pacers reigniting hope of the West African nation’s NBA debut. However, he was assigned to the Pacers D-League affiliate Fort Wayne where he played just a game for the side before heading east to China.
After averaging 13.7 points in 11 games for the Tigers, Bentil’s performance was good enough to stick around in the league following his “Andray Blatche return from injury” induced release.
Due to the CBA’s cap on foreign players, Bentil had to be let go to reinstate the former Washington Wizards Center operating on a $2.5 million contract this season. Returning to Fort Wayne represents Bentil’s chance of making good on that much awaited NBA debut basically because the league is just a step below the world’s best basketball league. Many players have carved lengthy careers in the NBA after spells in the league since players in Bentil’s situation on draft day normally get extended runs to show their talent.
Miami Heat Center Hassan Whiteside is an example of a second round pick who took this same route. The 7 foot Center signed a four year $98 million contract in the past offseason after returning to the NBA following a call up after extensive runs with Iowa Energy and Sioux Falls Skyforce. Like most players drafted in the second round-Whiteside was 33rd in 2010- he struggled to get minutes on the court with Sacramento Kings before globetrotting his way through the Middle East and China. The CBA offers loads of opportunities for physically gifted players like Bentil who are taller, stronger and faster than average players in the league. That edge easily translates to higher scoring numbers usually associated with such players; for the record, the top four lead scorers have averages above 34.9 points per game and coincidentally are former NBA players. Jimmer Fredette formerly of Sacramento leads the way with 36.9 points per game.
As such Bentil could have improved his ratings by staying longer in China but developing the Ghanaian’s general game is key and he couldn’t have been able to do that in the Middle Kingdom. Not with China’s multitude of restrictions that include minute restrictions on foreign players and the genuine lack of quality the league has to offer looking at the extraordinary performance of NBA rejects. The lack of quality won’t be any better in improving weak areas pointed out during Bentil’s draft workout including his overall feel for the game and poor rebounding numbers.
Listed 6 foot 8 inches per his draft measurements, the former Providence College Forward’s rebounding numbers in his time in China for instance, did not improve as he averaged 4.8 rebounds. He will have the chance to do so in the cutthroat world of the D-League where in the name of getting to the NBA, every sinew is stretched to the elastic limit and every jump is fiercely contested, it is a sure bet Bentil’s education will continue whilst the possibility of playing in the NBA remains close by.
Many success stories have treaded the path Bentil is on and such stories remain key pointers to harbor hope of making it in the big league. Jonathan Simmons of San Antonio Spurs, Jeremy Lin of Brooklyn Nets and Seth Curry of Dallas Mavericks are perfect examples of recent D-League success stories in the NBA. Bentil has got off to a slow start on his return though as he has scored just eight points but since turning pro, there has never been a better chance to play in the NBA than this.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah