The Suns selected Dragan Bender with the No. 4 pick in Thursday night's NBA draft.
At 18 years old, Bender is the youngest player in the NBA draft. He averaged 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds in 12.9 minutes per game for Maccabbi Tel-Aviv.
Scouts may have their own hesitations on international players but Bender's game has been on display at international tournaments for years as a member of Croatia's national youth team.
Strengths: Bender possesses one of the draft’s most distinct skill sets. With oversized playmakers en vogue in a league that’s leaning small, his comfort and fluidity playing on the perimeter as a 7’0” big man gives him fascinating long-term potential. He’s held his own against older competition and dominated against his age group, and those experiences have helped him develop an excellent feel. It’s not totally clear what exactly he’ll be at the next level, but Bender has the tools and profile to be an impact player.
Weaknesses: The “tweener” label means less these days, but what does matter is being able to guard a position enough to stay on the floor. Bender’s unusual combination of size and skills make it unclear where he fits defensively. “What position does he play?” one scout asks. “Is he laterally quick enough for the new-age playmaking format? It’s one thing to see guys make plays, it‘s a whole different type of thing on our level.” As his lithe, 225-pound frame develops that should become clearer, but his height is working in his favor. The consistency of Bender’s jump shot will likely determine how much he can use his mismatch on the outside.
Grade: A. Phoenix has been stuck in the competitive middle, and sorely needed a power forward and an injection of elite talent. Long-term, Bender was the best four-man available. He’s the youngest player in the draft, and given his size, passing ability, ball-handling and shooting potential, could in time become a high-level cog in the Suns’ offense. Bender possesses an intriguing range of skills and fits the needs here perfectly. He and Devin Booker should be fun to watch together for a long time.