• The clock is ticking on the 7’1” Croatian as he enters his sophomore season. The Suns had very high hopes for him after selecting him 4th overall in the summer of 2016 but the expectations have slowed down after a rookie year that was cut short by an ankle injury. Regardless, he was never expected to make a difference immediately as he is only about to turn 20 years old.

    Bender has all the necessary tools to become a prototypical stretch four but he needs to continue improving as he looks more like a perimeter player trapped in a big man’s body. He averaged 14.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting 39.4 percent from the field in 31 minutes of action in this year’s Las Vegas Summer League and he is coming out of a very productive preseason where he showed glimpses of his ability to impact the game with his long and lanky figure.

    His presence at the 2017 EuroBasket with Croatia was a major disappointment, as he struggled with averages of just four points and two rebounds in 15 minutes of action. His thin frame was exposed over and over again as opponents were able to bully him on both sides of the floor, making it impossible for his coach to keep him on the floor. There is limited statistical data from his career in the NBA and overseas which doesn’t tell the entire story about his game, and the potential for him as a fantasy contributor is immensely high.

    The Good

    Bender can be a good source for points, threes and blocks but the bar shouldn’t be set too high as he’s neither a sharpshooter nor has he shown the consistency required to be considered an offensive weapon at the highest level. Keep in my mind that although Bender has been playing professionally since a very young age, the competition level he has been exposed to is relatively low.

    He has a quick release that is hard to block but his shooting mechanics aren’t always consistent and he changes his shot when opponents close out at him.

    As expected, he has deep range and is very comfortable as a spot up shooter when he gets the chance to set his feet and release without any hesitation. It’s no surprise that Phoenix’s head Coach Earl Watson talked about wanting his young forward to shoot at least 10 threes per game.

    The Croatian sensation is very fluid for his size, something that helps him run the floor and get easy points in transition.

    His long body and his game are not fitted for a run and gun style of basketball but most of the times his defender isn’t quick enough to keep up with his pace and won’t follow him to the other side of the floor. The guards that initiate fast break opportunities will always be on the lookout for him in the open court.

    Additionally, Bender has the rare ability to play the pick and roll as both a ball handler and as a screener, creating defensive mismatches where he can easily exploit his opponents. Unfortunately, this has not happened yet in Phoenix as his role is that of a spot up shooter and a cutter. It’s definitely something that is worth monitoring in case the Suns really want to see what they have in him.

    Although he has been a below average defender so far, it seems that this is more a matter of concentration and not skill, as Bender makes his bread and butter on help defense either on the perimeter or deep in the low post. His 1.4 blocks per 36 minutes is a great indication of his ability to be an effective defensive presence.

    The Bad

    Field goal and free throw percentages are where Bender hurts his owners. His offensive arsenal is somehow limited as he can’t create off the dribble and he will get pushed around when trying to post bigger opponents. He has no mid-range game and is very easy to defend as he depends almost entirely on his right hand. Stronger players can bully him on the post and although he has developed a nice hook shot around the basket his release is not dynamic as he tries to avoid contact. For a player his size he has a hard time finishing around the basket – something that translates into missing easy buckets and not getting to the free throw line consistently.

    Speaking about free throw shooting, even though he has the reputation of a good shooter he has struggled so far in his career, never registering a consistent mark of over 60 percent.

    The Questionable

    Defense is one area where Bender needs to put in more work as his physical skills provide a very high ceiling and an opportunity to contribute in rebounds and blocks. Although he was the youngest player in Suns history to record a double-double by tallying career-highs of 11 points and 13 rebounds on December 26 at Houston, that was probably more of an anomaly.

    He is a mediocre rebounder who sometimes forgets to box out, and advanced stats do support the case of him being a below average rebounder as his per 36 minutes rebounding rate is at a very modest five per game. His height, on the other hand, makes him a force at the offensive end where he averages 1.4 rebounds per 36 minutes.

    What can possibly make Bender a game changer is his ability to initiate the offense in transition after securing the rebound. He has an above average basketball IQ and is a very good passer for his height; a true playmaking center that approaches the game in an unselfish manner and is able to manufacture assists by looking primarily for the extra pass.

    Additionally, with the ball in his hands he is able to identify cutters or find the open man at the right spot. Here’s Bender operating like the point guard of the Suns:

    And here’s him finding T.J. Warren for the easy layup:

    The growing pains of his ball handling skills are also visible at times as he is just trying to do too much which translates into bad turnovers (although his turnover rate is not that high at only two per 36 minutes).

    Durability and stamina are where Bender needs to show dramatic improvement if he wants to spend more time on the floor. His thin frame is a target for opposing teams that will not hesitate to switch quickly and have their best post-up player go against him. This leads to plenty of silly off-ball fouls like this one here:

    In addition to the lack of strength that severely limits him, Watson has talked a lot about a lack of confidence in Bender’s game, as he is sloppy and usually does things too fast which leads to turnovers or bad shots.

    Summary

    The jury is still out on Dragan Bender. I have been following him closely since his rookie year and I have to admit that I can’t see any real progress on his body frame. Giannis Antetokounmpo had a noticeable muscular change from year one to year two which led to a rapid upgrade of his game but this does not seem to be the case for Bender yet.

    There is a case to be made on a lot of pressure being put on Bender. At the age of 14 he played for the U-16 European Championship with Croatia. He made his professional debut at the age of 15 with KK Split and then signed a seven-year contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv before even turning 17 years old. Watson has repeatedly talked about boosting Bender’s confidence by allowing him to do more on the court and this is the year where we will get to see that. I’d expect him to see approximately 20 minutes of action and if his shot starts to fall he might be able to elevate his game to another level. If that happens, owners should be ready for a good dose of bad percentages along with plenty of rebounds, blocks, threes and occasionally points.

Fantasy News

  • Eric Gordon
    SG, Houston Rockets

    Rockets guard Eric Gordon has improved his diet, focused on sprints, and has apparently shed 12 pounds in the process, according to Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

    Gordon has battled knee ailments for essentially his whole career and has dealt with his fair share of nagging injuries this season as well. Losing weight to create a lighter frame would seem sensible, especially with the knee issues. The Rockets, remember, fully adopted the "small ball" lineup and move fast so Gordon is smart to keep his endurance and fitness at high levels. He's going to have to play well and make shots for the Rockets when the NBA returns to action, otherwise coach Mike D'Antoni won't be able to justify giving Gordon minutes. We don't anticipate much fantasy value out of him if and when the league starts back up.

    Source: The Athletic

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN is reporting that the NBA is planning for a Board of Governors vote on Thursday, during which they are expected to approve Adam Silver's proposal for re-starting the season in Orlando.

    The trend lines are all moving in this direction, and this adds another bullet point on the schedule as the league prepares for launching games on July 31. Adam Silver has been able to bridge any divides between ownership and the players, and has been taking into account all his key constituent's views as we approach approval of a plan for moving forward. We still have plenty of items to resolve before we see game action, but the NBA is gaining momentum as these details come into place.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Bradley Beal
    SG, Washington Wizards

    On Friday, the Wizards resumed holding voluntary workouts at their practice facilities.

    The Wizards have joined a chorus of teams that are returning in limited capacities to their facilities at this point. The NBA as a whole is continuing its march towards the resumption of play with a target date of July 31 now established. The District of Columbia also entered phase one of reopening today, and it makes sense for the team to proceed on a similar trajectory.

    Source: Candace Buckner on Twitter

  • Julius Randle
    PF, New York Knicks

    Part of the Knicks' off-season thinking is to shape the roster around RJ Barrett, and it unclear where Julius Randle will fit in those plans.

    Barrett and Randle have similar offensive styles, as they typically have an advantage relying upon their strength to attack the basket, but neither has a component deep ball at this stage in their careers. As Barrett is the younger option it makes sense that the Knicks want to sign shooters to give him more space to operate with. Randle's lousy percentages and turnovers has made for a disappointing season with the Knicks thus far, and Barrett will also need to make some strides in the shooting department to become a 12-team asset. Randle is under contract for next season is owed at least $4,000,000 in 2021-22.

    Source: https://www.sny.tv/knicks/news/heres-who-knicks-could-target-as-leon-roses-front-office-reshapes-roster/313481746

  • Jayson Tatum
    SF, Boston Celtics

    On Friday, the Celtics' announced that their practice facilities would reopen on June 1.

    That leaves us with four NBA teams without access to their facilities. Things are beginning to accelerate throughout the league as teams ramp up activities in hopes of resuming competition in Orlando on July 31. So far so good, but the NBA still has many hurdles to overcome on the path to resuming the season.

    Source: Celtics PR on Twitter

  • RJ Barrett
    SF, New York Knicks

    The Knicks reopened their practice facility for voluntary workouts on Friday.

    Another step in the right direction for the NBA's return to action at the end of July. It's still unclear if the Knicks will even be involved in whatever plan is agreed upon, but it is good to learn that the players can now access their facilities in New York. Only five team facilities have not opened up in some capacity at this point.

    Source: Knicks PR on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    On a call with the Board of Governors on Friday, Adam Silver and the league office confirmed July 31 as a target date for the resumption of the NBA season, according to a report from Shams Charania.

    We have to imagine that this is just one of the possible options on the table, as the league still has much to figure out. Charania adds that the league has four scenarios for the return: 16 teams move directly to the playoffs, 20 teams engage in group/stage play, 22 teams have games to determine seeding with a play-in tournament, and all 30 teams reconvene for a 72-game season with a play-in tournament. It's seemed unlikely that we'll have a full 30-team return given the stated priorities for player safety. There are still tons of logistical hurdles to clear but the NBA is getting its ducks in a row for a potential return.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Andre Iguodala
    SF, Miami Heat

    Andre Iguodala returned to South Florida after living in California since the NBA season was suspended.

    Iguodala returning to the market where his team is could mean that he believes team workouts will begin soon. However, there is no official timetable on when team workouts will begin and Jimmy Butler has yet to return to Miami.

    Source: Ira Winderman on Twitter

  • Zach LaVine
    SG, Chicago Bulls

    K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported that the Bulls were cleared by the Governor of Illinois and are in talks with city officials to open practice facilities on Friday for voluntary workouts that would follow the NBA guidelines.

    The NBA's guidelines currently state that a maximum of four players are allowed in the facility at any given time and there can only be one player per hoop. The Bulls are currently eight games behind the Orlando Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls may not play again this season given how far behind they are in the standings and the recent reports of proposals to not continue the regular season.

    Source: K.C. Johnson on Twitter

  • Luka Doncic
    PG-SF, Dallas Mavericks

    Marc Stein of the New York Times has reported that the Mavs plan to open their practice facility on Thursday.

    This news would make the Mavs the 23rd team to have their facilities open for "voluntary and socially distanced player workouts". Continue to monitor the wire as we should learn more about the potential of the league resuming in early June.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter