A majority of scouts have rated Croatian forward Dragan Bender as "top of the draft" material for years. Now that he is eligible for the NBA draft, he's still rated exactly where everyone thought he'd be.
After Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram come off the board at #1 and #2 overall, the 18 year old Bender would be the most talented player remaining. But the big question for teams drafting 3rd, 4th and 5th is whether the little-used Bender will ever realize that potential enough to justify his lofty draft status.
No one wants to be the team that takes the next Nikolos Tsikisvili, Jan Vesely or Darko Milicic while passing up a sure scorer like Buddy Hield or Jamal Murray, or a more-proven domestic athlete like Jaylen Brown or Marquese Chriss, or a potential great all-around point guard in Kris Dunn.
Yet, Bender seems destined to be off the board with by the time the New Orleans Pelicans are on the clock for the 6th overall pick.
To wit, Bender has only scheduled US-based workouts with the teams drafting 3-5 later this month.
Source: Dragan Bender has NBA workouts scheduled in US with Celtics, Suns, Twolves.— David Pick (@IAmDPick) June 6, 2016
We have reported on here several times that the Suns, picking 4th, have particular interest in Bender, and that the Suns developmental timeline with building a team around SG Devin Booker is a perfect environment for a prospect like Bender.
As well, it appears the Minnesota Timberwolves, picking 5th, would just be adding to one of the best young cores in the league if they could slot Bender into their open PF slot around Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and Zach LaVine. Bender's playmaking and defense would be an excellent fit even as he fills out.
Source: Twolves like Dragan Bender with No. 5 pick. Scouts Calvin Booth and Zarko Durisic seen him here in workouts.— David Pick (@IAmDPick) June 5, 2016
The Celtics, on the other hand, are looking to go deeper into the playoffs next season and might not be a good place to develop the 18-year old. Remember the last time a playoff team lucked into a top pick, took a developmental Euro, and effectively began their ultimate demise as a result? Yep, that was the East-leading Pistons taking Darko Milicic. He never got a chance to play in Detroit.
Yet, it's the Celtics who are picking 3rd and hold all the Bender cards. Some team a bit lower down the draft board is going to fall deep enough in love with Bender to offer a nice package for the 3rd overall pick. I could see the Wolves giving up a future pick to swap slots 3 and 5, letting the Celtics still take one of the best players on the board at 5. Same goes for the Pelicans at 6, or the Nuggets at 7.
At this point, the Suns just have to wait it out.
New Bender scouting info
DX recently updated their info on Bender, and it just gets more and more enticing to imagine him in a Suns uniform.
On Bender's lack of playing time this past season:
Bender was not in an optimal place for development, as Maccabi Tel Aviv (fresh off losing the Israel league championship last June) struggled through another tumultuous season, again missing out on an Israeli league championship with another semifinal loss. The storied franchise missed the Euroleague Top-16 for the first time in club history, while replacing their head coach mid-season, which hardly solved their problems.
You guys need to understand what David Blatt recently said about coaching in the NBA versus coaching overseas. He said that overseas is a coach's league while the NBA is a players' league. Coaches play veteran players that have been with them for years over 18 year olds just promoted from a lower level, no matter how talented that younger player might be. They are paid to win, and given the reigns to run the roster the way they see fit. Blatt recently took a two-year coaching job in Turkey after being fired from the Cavaliers despite leading them to the East's best record at the time.
Back to DX.
On Bender's defensive skills:
If Bender were limited to a seven footer [who can] block an occasional shot, he'd still have quite a bit of intrigue, even if he might be a little underwhelming as a top prospect. What sets Bender apart is how well he moves his feet on the perimeter, something that is almost unheard of for a player his size. Because of Bender's underdeveloped frame, he struggled mightily to defend post-up players, despite the size advantage he enjoyed most nights. This caused Maccabi to place him on a perimeter player more often than you would typically see for a seven footer. To Bender's credit, he was able to hold his own.
On where Bender fits in the NBA:
This combination of surprising perimeter mobility, length, and knowledge of how to play the angles and deny dribble penetration could come in handy in the NBA, where defensive versatility and the ability to switch ball screens have become a virtual prerequisite for the modern big man. Bender's unique combination of size, length, and mobility could become a real competitive advantage for a team, particularly as he continues to fill into his frame.
Read the whole scouting report, and watch the videos, to get the best feel for Bender. He's going to be a good one - not just a physical profile that people love, but the basketball IQ and non-box-score contributions that coaches love.
Suns workout update
Bender's Phoenix workout date is unknown at this time, but we do know one guy who's in Phoenix already.
The Suns today are going to work out Georgios Papagiannis, among others, as the workout grind continues. If you can't get Giannis, why not the Papa?
The 18 year old Papagiannis is a second round prospect from Greece that DX pens as a "talented, old school big man". In other words, he's got an NBA body but not really an NBA game.
Papagiannis has a similar physical profile to Dragan Bender - at 18, he's 7'1" with long arms who is not a freak athlete and not yet filled out. Neither is an explosive leaper, and neither is a workout warrior.
When I compare these two 18 year olds, I come to realize that Papagiannis is actually the player that many US fans think Bender is. And that's why some think Bender is overhyped.
But Bender brings that physical profile to the table ALONG with a high basketball IQ, playmaking skills, perimeter defensive skills, long-range shooting (36% on threes), open-court vision and finishing ability.