Three and a half seasons after being drafted four spots apart in the 2016 NBA Draft, and 22 months since they last played together with the Phoenix Suns, the unlikely twin pairing of Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender are back together again with the gap-year Warriors.
If you recall, Bender was taken 4th overall and Chriss 8th overall by the Phoenix Suns in the 2018 Draft, a draft boasted by national media as a big win for a rebuilding Suns franchise. Chriss and Bender were teenagers, both 6’10’+ height, 7’0”+ wingspan, super athletic and able to shoot a three pointer. They were two versions of the new modern NBA big man.
Yet they profiled at the same position — stretch four — and struggled badly when sharing the floor in the same lineup with one of them playing the center role. In 637 possessions on the floor together in the 2017-18 season, they were outscored by 24 points per 100 possessions (the equivalent of about a full game). To be sure, they played poorly by themselves too. But playing together was just worse.
Lots of factors played a part in their lack of development in Phoenix, but the record shows the league-worst Suns were somehow 15 points per game WORSE when they shared the floor (minus-24 per 100 vs. minus-9 per 100).
So, the Suns traded Chriss and tried to make it work with Bender alone. That didn’t work either. The 2018-19 was even worse for both players than the year before, and both were out of the league in the summer of 2019.
For those who have not been keeping track since these guys left Phoenix: Chriss has now been traded or waived by four different NBA teams, while Bender is two-deep on the latter front.
Chriss was traded away from the Suns in August 2018 to the Houston Rockets for, effectively, rookie D’Anthony Melton, and then the Rockets traded him to the Cavaliers in February 2019 for, effectively, Wade Baldwin IV. I say “effectively” because each time he was attached as a sweetener in a larger salary-swap deal. After the season, Chriss was waived by the Cavaliers, spent the summer unsigned, latched onto the Warriors with a two-way contract, got waived by the Warriors, signed to a 10-day by the Warriors, and then signed to a multi-year non-guaranteed deal by the Warriors (much like Ray Spalding with the Suns last year, and Shaquille Harrison the year before).
Chriss is currently thriving for the 12-43 Warriors, thankyouverymuch. He has worked his way into the starting lineup for the Warriors, and recently posted 19 and 12 against his former Suns team.
Chriss has appeared in 54 games this year (12 starts), averaging 8 points on 43% shooting, and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes per game.
In two years with the Suns, Chriss averaged 77 games (62 starts), 8 points on 53% shooting, and 5 rebounds in 21 minutes per game.
Dragan Bender was waived by the Suns in April 2019, signed by the Bucks to a partially-guaranteed deal, then waived by the Bucks a week ago and now has a 10-day with the Warriors.
Bender had been signed to a non-guaranteed contract by the Milwaukee Bucks this past offseason, but found himself released a week ago in favor of contract-buyout veteran Marvin Williams. Now, he signs with a Golden State squad that had traded away a good portion of their roster at the deadline on February 6.
Bender appeared in just 7 games for the Bucks, averaging 3 points on 47% shooting, and 3 rebounds in 13 minutes per game.
In three years with the Suns, Bender averaged 57 games (21 starts), 5 points on 39% shooting, and 4 rebounds in 20 minutes per game.
Bender and Chriss are still full of potential and still just 22 years old, and I really hope they succeed.
I can’t wait to see how a very good Warriors coaching staff can mix and match the minutes of Bender and Chriss, and hopefully it will go better for the Warriors than it did for the Suns.
Chriss and Bender last played together for the worst team in the West in the 21-61 Phoenix Suns.
They are now reunited for the worst team in the West in the 12-43 Golden State Warriors.