CBB Insider: Bender Brings Combination Of Upside, Unknown

Arizona Sports News online

This is around the time of the year many NBA, including the Phoenix Suns, simply have to trust their homework and in many ways, their instincts.

A tremendously disappointing has led to a Top 5 draft pick and whispers of who general manager Ryan McDonough and the Suns’ decision makers view as ‘the guy’ if they hold on to the fourth overall selection on Thursday night.

There is no sugar-coating the fact Phoenix needs to get bigger in their front court.

The most popular name linked to the Suns’ first pick is 7-foot-1 Dragan Bender who has drawn comparisons to New York Knicks’ sweet-shooting big Kristaps Porzingis who burst on the scene last year as a rookie.

As with nearly all draft picks there are risks but Bender comes with even more simply because of the unknown.

“I would have liked to see more of him in some of the bigger tournaments but he’s really skilled,” Sporting News college basketball insider Mike DeCourcy told Sports360AZ.com in a recent phone interview. “He’s so big and so skilled. You don’t want to get caught up in the idea that, ‘well, Porzingis was this so therefore he’s that’ because you’ll wind up in the same spot a year ago when Porzingis was taken and everyone was coming him to [Nikoloz] Tskitishvili from a decade ago. You just have to evaluate each player on their individual ability.”

The key word from DeCourcy’s quote is “evaluate.”

McDonough has had more draft hits than misses since he arrived in Phoenix but no pick will be more scrutinized, over-analysed and monitored than number four. The franchise appears to be hitting the reset button (again) after being buried near the bottom of the loaded Western Conference.

What we do know is the 18-year-old Bender was born in Bosnia and Herzegovina and plays for Croatia. He learned English by watching sitcoms like “Friends” and “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” and told The New York Times he was “pretty terrible” when he started playing basketball as a youth.

Those times have certainly changed but the questions remain as teams at the top end of the draft try to decipher and crystal ball Bender’s future.

“I wonder about his toughness,” DeCourcy explained. “I wonder about how hard he’ll go for 82 games. Those are things that I worry about with him but in terms of his skill and his size: good athleticism. I think he’s got a lot of good qualities and given that the draft itself is not overwhelmingly gifted it’s hard to go wrong with a guy who has the package that he does.”

Although the draft hasn’t started, in many ways, McDonough and the Suns are already on the clock.