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Where Are They Now? Part II: The 2016-2017 High-Lottery Trio

The Suns’ present state makes the disappointing tenures of Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss, and Josh Jackson a bit easier to swallow

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Cleveland Cavaliers Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Phoenix Suns hit the jackpot when Devin Booker fell to them in the 2015 NBA draft. Book’s scintillating game and Kobe-like devotion provided hope to a team bereft of a franchise-altering talent in the post-Nash era. Armed with a trio of high picks over the following two years, Ryan McDonough and Co. believed that the selections of Dragan Bender (4th in 2016), Marquese Chriss (8th in 2016), and Josh Jackson (4th in 2017) would combine with Devin to create the young core the franchise needed to escape the league’s basement. That vision never came to fruition.

February 7th, 2018 should have marked the start of a special era. That evening against the Spurs was the first game that Bender, Chriss, and Jackson would all start together. Instead, the contest resulted in an embarrassing blowout that typified the haunted trio’s Phoenix tenure. By the end of the 2018-19 season, each of the three had played their last games with the franchise. The quartet of Booker, Jackson, Bender, and Chriss never started a game together.

Dragan Bender

Phoenix Tenure

The lithe Croatian was hyped as a versatile 7’1 defender, solid shooter, and nifty playmaker coming into the draft via international powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Dragan never quite put it together over three seasons with the Suns, ultimately resulting in the team declining his fourth-year option. While the organization may not have provided the Baby Dragon an ideal environment to flourish, the reality is that he did not perform well enough (5.3 PPG, 3.8 RPG, and 39% FG in 171 games) to justify either his draft status or an extension.

Post-Suns

Bender signed a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks before the 2019-20 season. Although he enjoyed an impressive G-League run (20.5 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.2 APG, and 1.7 BPG in 13 games), Milwaukee released him after just seven appearances with the big club. He finished the season reunited with Marquese Chriss on the Warriors, where he put up twenty-three points, seven rebounds, and three assists in the season finale.

Bender rejoined Maccabi Tel Aviv last year, where he posted 7.2 PPG, 4.1 RPG, and 0.8 BPG across 53 games in the Israeli SuperLeague and EuroLeague. Sadly, this year Dragan will be looking to rehab the ACL tear he suffered in May’s Israeli playoffs.

Marquese Chriss

Phoenix Tenure

Quese was highlight incarnate during his two seasons in the desert, providing the Valley a steady dose of dunks and rejections, as well as the occasional trey.

Although talented, Chriss’s inconsistent production, inefficient scoring, and propensity to commit fouls contributed to his expedited exit from the organization. Over two years with the Suns, Marquese averaged 8.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, and 0.9 BPG, and earned a spot on the All-Rookie Second Team following the 2016-17 season.

Post-Suns

Chriss was sent to Houston as part of the deal that brought Ryan Anderson and De’Anthony Melton to Phoenix. Quese never found his footing with the title-hungry Rockets (just 6.5 MPG over a 16 game cameo), and was jettisoned to Cleveland to finish out the season.

After signing with the Warriors during the 2019 off-season, Chriss enjoyed the most productive campaign of his career (9.3 PPG, 6.2 RPG in 20.3 MPG). Quese’s performance for the Splash Brother-less Dubs made waves within the organization, and inspired teammate Draymond Green to offer an unsavory evaluation of the Suns’ culture.

Unfortunately for Marquese, he missed almost all of last season with a broken leg. After being traded to the Spurs and waived toward the end of the year, Chriss signed a non-guaranteed deal with the Blazers this off-season.

Josh Jackson

Phoenix Tenure

It may seem like an eternity, but it was under four years ago that J-Jack went toe-to-toe in a late-season clash with fellow rookie standout Jayson Tatum.

After ending that year on a tear (22.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 3.6 APG over his last 10 contests; voted All-Rookie Second Team), big things were expected of Josh for his sophomore campaign. Unfortunately, a turbulent personal offseason and bricky Summer League performance set the stage for a disappointing second year. Jackson’s season was marred with statistical regression (lower minutes, points, field-goal percentage, rebounds, and steals than his rookie year) and more off-court calamity.

Post-Suns

Phoenix was so keen to move on from Jackson that they dumped him, De’Anthony Melton, and a pair of second-round picks to the Grizzlies for Kyle Korver (who never played for the team) and Jevon Carter during the 2019 off-season. Josh spent the majority of the 2019-20 season balling out with the Grizzlies G-League squad (20.4 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 4.3 APG, and 38% 3PT in 26 games) before a call-up to the parent team.

Jackson signed with his hometown Pistons last December following his lone season in Memphis. Although his shaky three-ball and penchant for turnovers remained present, Josh solidified a spot in Dwayne Casey’s rotation. He posted the highest scoring average of his career, including a 31-point outburst during an April shellacking of the Wizards. He enters this season back with the Pistons, looking to provide high-end wing depth.

Bottom Line

In an alternate universe, maybe the supporting cast of Bender, Chriss, and Jackson helped the Suns to last year’s NBA Finals rather than Deandre Ayton, Mikal Bridges, and Cam Johnson. It is a testament to the talent and work ethic of that latter group, as well as James Jones and Monty Williams’ cultural renovation, that the Suns have come so far just a half-decade removed from utter dysfunction. Given the current talent on the roster, it looks like the franchise will not have the opportunity to make another lottery mishap for a long time.