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Stiffs NBA Draft series: Dragan Bender

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Like European bigs before him, Bender has a high ceiling, but can he do what others have failed to do and actually live up to the hypel surrounding him?

Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images

-The Denver Stiffs will be covering all of the top prospects in the 2016 NBA draft in our Stiffs NBA draft series. Check back daily for video, stats, and analysis of the projected first round talents

Dragan Bender

Stats

Bender's stats are an accumulation of his play for Maccabi Tel Aviv in EuroLeague, EuroCup and BSL.

Minutes Points Rebounds Assists Blocks Field Goal % Three Point % Usage
12.1 4.5 2.2 0.64 0.7 43.1 38.5 17.5


Strength

Footwork: At 7'1 you could expect Bender to be a slow, lumbering big who can only play inside the paint. This could not be further from the truth, Bender is essentially a wing in the body of a power forward/center. He has excellent footwork both inside and outside the arc which allows him to utilize his height to great effect; be it in post up situations or getting himself space to chuck up a 3. Defensively Bender has shown he has the foot-speed to switch onto smaller, quicker forwards while positioning himself to make an impact with defensive blocks.

Size: Bender is only 18 years old yet he stands at an impressive 7'1 and has played both the small forward and power forward positions. He has also seen time at center which may ultimately be where he ends up if he can add mass to his already impressive frame. At just 18 years old he's got a long way to go before he reaches his peak physical condition but his positional versatility will be his most unique weapon.

Shooting Touch: Bender has an impressive shooting touch for somebody his size. In catch and shoot situations he keeps the ball high and gets it up quickly. Bender shot an impressive 38.5% from three over the 2015-16 season, managing to put up 2.5 attempts per 40 minutes. Given help from NBA shooting coaches, Bender should be able to elevate his shooting into an every day weapon, potentially into a featured front court option.

Weaknesses

Frame: While Bender is an impressive 7'1 he only weighs 216 pounds. Its not a major concern as other European bigs have entered the league with a similar frame, gotten into NBA conditioning/weight programs and bolstered their frame. However, at this point he struggles in and around the paint, he tends to get overpowered in crowds, and doesn't have the build to properly establish himself in the crowd.

If Bender cannot add weight/muscle to his frame this raises some serious questions. Will he be able to develop a defensive identity or contribute as a rim protector? Will he be able to fight through traffic and finish at the basket?

Rebounding: At 7'1 you would be forgiven for thinking that Bender is a good rebounder...he isn't. Bender only averaged 2.2 rebounds throughout the entire '15/16 season. Some of this was due to him playing more as a wing but when given the opportunity to rebound (when playing minutes as a center) he still didn't make much of an impact. Bender only put up a rebounding percentage of 11.5, which is well below the NBA average for bigs. Bender's weight/muscle is a pretty big factor in his inability to rebound, given his lack of build he struggles to box out true centers.

Pro Comparisons

Kristaps Porzingis: This is probably one of the laziest comparisons to make but its probably one of the more accurate also. Porzingis entered the draft last season with a reputation as being a shot blocker and good shooter. Both Porzingis and Bender play primarily around the arc so given the success we saw Kristaps have this season I wouldn't be surprised to see Bender utilized in similar ways. While Bender does not have the mid-range game of Porzingis he arguably has quicker feet which allow him to move off the dribble and create space for himself.

Jonas Jerebko: Jonas Jerebko is the definition of a utility player. He doesn't put up flashy numbers but he contributes to every team he is on. As an undersized power forward he can rebound, assist and score, all things that Bender should be able to do with ease at the next level. Whilst Bender is taller than Jerebko and probably more athletic he could fill a very similar role within a good NBA team, Bender's ceiling may ultimately be much higher than Jerebko's he has a game which may well end up very similar down the road.

Andrea Bargnani: Okay so this is almost definitely a 'worst case scenario' for Bender but the comparison I believe is fair. Bargnani came into the NBA with a reputation of being a 7-footer who could shoot the three. Obviously it didn't quite work out for Bargnani, he could never figure out the NBA game and never did shoot the three as well as he did in Europe. Bender possesses a similar game in that their offensive identity is predicated on being able to shoot the three, if he doesn't add more to his game (such as the ability to finish in traffic/at the rim) then Bender may see a similar fate to the former number one overall pick.

Fit with the Nuggets

The Nuggets need a young, healthy stretch 4. Over the past couple seasons they have experimented with Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler at the 4, all seeing mixed results. Bender doesn't possess the overall game that Gallo and Chandler have but he has health and youthfulness on his side and both Gallo and Wilson will be entering the '16/17 season coming off injuries. Over time, Bender can take that spot.


Nikola Jokic is widely regarded as a potential building piece for the Nuggets who might be able to play as both a power forward and a center. In an NBA which revolves around three point shooting, being able to lineup Bender at the 4 next to a stretch 5 like Jokic would give oppositions a mismatch nightmare. Some Nuggets fans really wanted Porzingis heading into the 2015 draft, maybe there is a chance they end up with a similar guy in 2016.

Projected draft spot

SB Nation - 3 (Boston Celtics)

Draft Express - 4 (Phoenix Suns)

CBS Sports (Vecenie) - 3 (Boston Celtics)

Bleacher Report (Wasserman) - 4 (Phoenix Suns)

NBADraft.net - 4 (Phoenix Suns)


Final Thoughts

I really like Bender as prospect. Having watched other European bigs with similar skill-sets excel in the NBA, it's hard for me (a European) to not get too excited about watching Bender play in the NBA. Like Andrea Bargnani, Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis before him, Bender is going to get the Dirk Nowitzki comparison thrown at him at some point. Its unfair but its what happens when you're a 7-foot European who can shoot threes. I don't think Bender will ever make an impact on a franchise like Dirk has but if put in the right situation, with the right coaches/players around him he can develop his body as he matures and build on an already impressive offensive game.


I also wouldn't expect a similar immediate impact to that of Kristaps Porzingis, he was playing with a true superstar in Carmelo Anthony. There is a good chance Bender becomes one of the top options on a really bad team.