When the Phoenix Suns decided to add not one but both of their coveted power forwards from the questionable 2016 draft, they created a polarizing and as-yet unresolved logjam for the title “best future big man” on the team.
Compounding the polarity among coaches and fans is that the two players couldn’t be much more different from each other, despite profiling to play the same “stretch four” role in their NBA primes.
Both are under 21. Both are unproven. Both are hard workers. Both want to be great. But BOTH are unlikely won’t succeed on equal levels in the NBA. The question is which will be better?
Bender vs. Chriss
Dragan Bender, drafted 4th overall, had long been on NBA scouting radars and was projected as a high pick the moment he aged into eligibility. He was long, skilled, crafty and naturally talented in many ways - scoring, rebounding, passing - while also being a rare Euro prospect quick enough to project as a reliable defender in the NBA.
Bender, still just 19 years old entering his second NBA season, flashes all of those skills but has not yet honed any of them to the point he has a defined role in every game. He can be a wing, a power forward or a center for stretches, and this summer his coaches even flashed him at a playmaker for a time.
It’s quite possible Bender tops out at what he is today - a player who can do a lot of things, but none of them very well or with any consistency craved by coaches. Bender is active, but generally not productive in the stat sheet so his impact on a game is invisible to most casual viewers and relegated to those savants can see “beyond the stat sheet”.
Marquese Chriss is very nearly the exact opposite player. Chriss, also very young at just 20 years old, fills the stat sheet in impressive fashion - scoring (mostly on dunks and threes), rebounding, blocks, steals, fouls committed and technicals drawn.
But while he’s a starter, he often can’t get traction in games due to a combination of accumulating unnecessary fouls and floating aimlessly on defense.
While Bender is active and every move has a purpose even if that’s just to advance the ball or switch on defense, Chriss is generally just a body on the court unless the play is coming to him.
And while Chriss is ultra-aggressive when he's engaged on either end of the court, Bender is more inclined to stay within the flow of the offense than take the play over and finish.
Bender AND Chriss?
Will they ever be able to play together for significant minutes of NBA action? If so, one will always be somewhat out of position.
Put Chriss on the other team’s power forward, and Bender must spot time defending the center or the small forward on the other team. Likewise, have Bender take on the other’s power forward, and it’s Chriss who has to drop into paint protection or glide out to the perimeter to take on a wing.
I can envision a quality defense with these guys tag-teaming those duties throughout the game, covering for each other and collectively defending half the court enough to win more games than they lose.
But I can also envision the Suns deciding some day that they’d rather have a pure center guarding the rim and a pure small forward (Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren) taking on the perimeter most of the time. If that’s the case, one of these prospects will eventually be traded. Hopefully, the Suns trade the right one.
Because of how different these prospects are, it appears that fans have generally already decided which player is more likely to reach his potential. While neither will probably ever be an All-Star, there’s still a lot of growth potential in each player’s future.
Let’s have a Bright Side poll to see split we are on Bender vs. Chriss!
Which player will have the better career?
This poll is closed