The Curious Case of Dragan Bender

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Dragan Bender – 7’1”, Center/Power Forward, Croatia, 18 Years Old

Dragan Bender has rose to the top of the NBA draft discussion ever since his showing at Eurocamp 2013 and his MVP performance over at Basketball Without Borders last year. He has strengthened his image as a top prospect in the upcoming draft and he’s still just 18 years of age.

Currently playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv, the Croatian doesn’t get too much playing time; however, his season with the club is just a small piece of the whole pie. Bender is expected to immediately come over to the states for the NBA next season and is likely to be one of the top five picks in June.

Now I know the question that’s lingering in your mind right now: why is he considered a top pick even though he doesn’t get too much playing time? Well the bad news is scouts have no clue how good Bender is now. But the good news is they’ve been watching him since 2013.

Strengths

Dragan Bender is 7’1 – he has the size of a center while having the flexibility of a forward. He won’t wow you with his athleticism, but he’ll definitely surprise you with his mobility as a 7’1 forward.

He also has a great stroke from beyond the arc that will translate well in to the NBA. He has great mechanics on his jump shot, and he has shown no hesitation whatsoever when pulling up from 25 feet. He doesn’t have an explosive first step but he has the body control to finish off one foot. The scariest part of his offensive game is when he goes coast-to-coast after grabbing a rebound on the other end.

Another promising sign is his footwork defensively. He by no means is a rim protector, but he’s quick enough to stay in front of defenders and block shots from the weak side.

His passing is what makes him one of the best prospects in the draft. He’s a strong passer who understands where his teammates need to get the ball to set them up for success. Not to mention that with his size, he can easily see above most defenders.

Weakness

Even though he’s 7 feet tall, Dragan Bender hasn’t shown any rebounding prowess, and that’s mostly because he weighs just a little over 210 pounds. He needs to gain a little more weight in order to fight for those rebounds.

Most of his time in Europe he has fought against older pros, but he lacks the strength and explosiveness to finish around the rim. He’s also not a very good one on one scorer, and he isn’t really a go to option when it comes to scoring.

So I guess the biggest question mark of all is: “Is he strong enough to compete with the pros in the NBA?”

NBA comparison

Bender represents Nikola Mirotic with a lot more potential. Like Mirotic, Dragan Bender likes to face up against defenders and he does most of his damage from beyond the arc. He’s not as good as Mirotic from midrange but his ceiling is definitely higher than Mirotic’s. He can give you shooting from the power forward spot, but don’t expect him to create a shot for himself. He’s an excellent target for pick and pops, but he’s not a threat down in the low post.

Ceiling

It’s not everyday you see a 7 footer with his skillset. He can shoot, pass, and run the floor like a guard. His ball handling skills are not too shabby, plus he has the potential to be a great defender.

With the right team and the right environment Bender might actually be one of the most unique big men in the NBA. If he continues to work hard on his game then I won’t be surprised if he becomes an All-Star for a playoff team that has him being the second or third option.

Floor

While he has All-Star potential, he also screams bust when you look at his frame. I’ve said it a couple of times, but he’s not gonna be the number one option for any team.

If it doesn’t work out for him, I can see Bender being a backup stretch four for a playoff team. Don’t expect him to be the next Darko Milicic or Jan Vesely because he has more basketball IQ than those guys, and he actually has a serviceable jumpshot.

All in all, the outcome of his future solely depends on himself. Will he be a bust? Will he be the next big thing in the NBA? I guess we just have to stay tuned.

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