The Suns made their first of three picks in the first round and it has some international flavor. They have selected Dragan Bender, the 18 year old from Croatia.
It has been well documented that the Suns wanted to add a stretch four in this draft and Bender has all the tools of a new age power forward in today’s NBA. He is 7-1, 216 pounds who can stretch the floor with his ability to shoot from the outside. He came up in basketball as a point guard and grew into his seven foot frame. With a point guard background, he has much better skills, footwork, speed and ability to pass and shoot than most at his position. He will thrive in the Suns system with his lateral quickness and ability to pick-n-pop.
“Versatility on both ends of the floor,” said Bender on what he brings to Phoenix. “Defensively just being able to switch a lot of positions on the court and then staying in front of the guard on the perimeter. Offensively just being a guy who can stretch the floor and can help a lot with passing and delivering the ball to the right places. Just handling the ball in the open court and half court.”
Bender’s professional career actually began at the age of 15 when he suited up for KK Split in Croatia’s A1 league. Last year, he played in the Israeli winner’s league where hehe played in 26 games averaging 13.7 minutes, just 5.4 points and 2.7 rebounds off the bench.
Croatians have had some success. The first really to have a major impact in the NBA was Toni Kukoc who happens to be someone Bender is a big fan of.
“He was my role model growing up,” Bender explained. “Just watching all the tapes, him playing in Jugoplastika when they won three titles and then he was in Benetton Treviso. Then coming overseas with the Chicago Bulls and winning the titles with them. He was a great player overall and he was sombody I was looking up to growing up.”
At 18 years of age, he is still raw and will take some time to develop. But the Suns now have their power forward of the future to pair with the shooting guard of the future they selected last season in Devin Booker. Between the two, three pointers will a plenty with the way both can shoot the ball.
The Suns made moves shortly after selecting Bender as they traded back into the top ten to select Marquese Criss eighth overall. Bender is looking forward to the opportunity with another young forward coming to Phoenix in this draft class.
“It’s always good for young guys that there’s a couple guys on the team that are the same age,” Bender stated. “It’s a good thing for Phoenix for sure, for the organization and for the future. Also good for practice. You always have someone, young guys on the practice floor that you can battle with and just go with each and every day against each other…I guess it’s going to be a really good thing long-term.”