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DX guru provides indepth look on Croatian Dragan Bender, talks toughness, motor

We know that Dragan Bender has the skills to become a good NBA player, but the big question about any young player is his drive and toughness. Bender has those in spades.

No one really knows much about the youngest prospect in this year's NBA draft. He's a bit like Sid Finch, in that he's a complete unknown yet somehow the one of the most talented players on the planet.

Such is the draft profile of Dragan Bender. Contributing to the intrigue, Bender will likely follow in the footsteps of Kristaps Porzingis a year ago and offer only small, group workouts defended by not much more than a chair.

What we do know is that Bender has made it clear he wants to come to the NBA, and that he wants to do so this coming year. There is reportedly a very manageable buyout in his contract this summer that can mostly (if not all) be paid directly by his drafting team, with any leftover coming out of his first-year salary. As a top 5 pick, Bender would still make a lot more money in the NBA than he is making in Europe.

The Phoenix Suns reportedly have been doing their due diligence and have spent time with Bender overseas to assess his true intentions for the coming season.

Back to the Porzingis comparisons.

Remember that Porzingis was nearly as unknown as Bender - but not quite so mysterious - so much that the casual fan was shocked he ranked in the top five of the draft prospects and eventually went to the Knicks at #4 overall.

Of course, 18-year old Bender doesn't mind riding the Zinger's coat tails if he can. Here's what he said to DX's Jonathan Givony about Porzingis recently.

"I did play against Porzingis. It was a junior tournament in Barcelona, a Euroleague tournament. I was playing with guys that were born in 1995, so two years older, with my brother. ... It was a pretty competitive game. It was really nice. At that point he was also a really good player, with an outside shot and a mid-range jumper.

"We have a lot of similar stuff in our game. We can both shoot from 3-point range, we can lead the break, we can pass the ball, we can defend multiple positions. He has a lot more experience than I do, playing in Europe and in the NBA."

Bender is not the same prospect as Porzingis and won't have the same rookie impact. Prozingis is taller (7'3" vs. Bender's 7'1"), older (20 vs. 18), bigger (230 pounds vs. Bender's 215) and was much more experienced in pro ball overseas. A year ago, Porzingis was coming off his second season of regular minutes, topping out at 11 points and 4.5 rebounds in 2014-15 in the ACB and Eurocup.

But at 18, Porzingis barely played. Much the same is true of Bender. A huge question is how long it will take Bender to adapt to the speed and physicality of the NBA.

DraftExpress guru Jonathan Givony recently caught up with Bender's team for more background, and he came away impressed.

While tools and skills are the rage, and have already been covered in his prospect preview, what I liked about Givony's article was this...

Bender's most underrated quality is his toughness. Some may look at his lanky frame and assume he's just another soft European 7-footer who only wants to hide on the perimeter and jack up 3-pointers, but in reality that couldn't be further from the truth.

Bender is a competitor who has a relentless motor. He was forced to sit out the initial part of a recent practice we attended to continue to rehab his foot injury (causing most of the dozen NBA scouts in attendance to leave), but begged his way back onto the floor. He proceeded to throw his body around with reckless abandon in five-on-five action. Maccabi's staff urged him to take it easy, but Bender simply doesn't know how to do that at this point in his career. He ended up tweaking his ankle after pursuing a rebound, which finally put him back on the sidelines.

"The kid is simply special," a member of Maccabi's coaching told The Vertical. "I've never been around someone that age with that kind of character. He's not afraid of anything or anyone."

After watching Devin Booker exhibit unusual character for a 19-year old, I wouldn't mind seeing Bender bring some of those same qualities to the front court.

Bender's quote on the topic is impressive as well.

"When you step onto the court, its either 100 percent or it's zero. ... I did put a lot of work in the weight room, but I tried not to lose agility. It's important for me not to lose all those things, to keep my quickness and speed.

"I am definitely not in a rush with the physical part. I am in a rush with all these fundamental things. I know that this physical part will come with the years and the extra work, with food supplements and food programs. Those things are going to come, I am focused on these little things, these little details in my game."

Givony concludes that the draft projection which puts Bender as the third best prospect in this year's draft is still right on the money.

The question is not whether Suns GM Ryan McDonough wants to draft the youngest guy in the draft pool for the third time in four years (Goodwin, Booker), it's just a matter of how the board shakes out.

If the Suns jump into a Top-2 spot, then they will most certainly take Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram. Both have high NBA ceilings offset by a much higher floor.

But if the Suns stick in the 3-5 range, you have to think Bender will be too hard to pass up in favor of Jaylen Brown, Kris Dunn or another combo guard.

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