Of all the Michigan players in the NBA Summer League, no one has done more for himself than Oakland University great Keith Benson. Playing for the Atlanta Hawks, Benson has averaged 14.3 points per game on 58 percent shooting, 7.0 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in just over 24 minutes per game.
The production isn’t surprising to me, but then I’ve always felt that Benson had a future in a NBA rotation. I’m also not necessarily the appropriate source, though, since I’ve only been watching summer league games from my computer this year and on top of that, as a fellow Oakland alum, I’m openly biased and rooting for Benson, the first Oakland player ever drafted, to stick in the NBA. With that in mind, I decided to ask for some non-biased outside feedback on Benson. After all, he was cut by the Hawks last season and the team has a lot of depth in its frontcourt, including All-Star level players in Al Horford and Josh Smith. I asked a couple of prominent Atlanta Hawks writers for their takes.
“Keith Benson has impressed this summer and has been one of the more consistent players for the Hawks during summer league. One of the things we heard about him during training camp was that he was not aggressive but he has certainly not looked that way this summer. I would be very comfortable saying that Benson has at least earned the opportunity for an invite to the Hawks veteran camp and could be in the mix for one of the last roster spots.”
“If the Hawks re-sign Ivan Johnson and/or keep Jordan Williams, Keith Benson has no chance of making the team and playing outside of garbage time. So far, by the numbers, he’s had a solid Summer League but the Hawks, with Pachulia as a very strong 3rd big man in the post rotation, have little in the way of openings (barring a major trade) in the rotation.
“All that being said, given his age, collegiate record, one preseason and this summer, Benson seems a Ryan Hollins type tweener who might trade lack of functional value for a good team for energy on a bad team.”
I think those are both fair evaluations — no matter how well Benson plays this summer, he, like any non-roster player in Summer League, is at a disadvantage when playing for a spot on a roster full of guys with guaranteed or partially guaranteed contracts, especially a team like the Hawks that doesn’t have a glaring need for frontcourt help like some other teams might.
But what is incredibly encouraging to me is Willis’ comments about the aggressiveness Benson has played with. A knock on him coming out of college was that he was more of a skilled finesse player who would have to adjust to the physicality of the NBA. The fact that he’s competing on that front, along with the fact that he’s producing statistically, bode well for his chances of finding NBA employment, whether it is ultimately with the Hawks or somewhere else. Basically, Benson has played himself into a position where he will get the chance to keep playing. That’s a huge win for any Summer League player seeking a roster spot.