Suns get young Croatian forward Dragan Bender with 1st pick
PHOENIX (AP) The Phoenix Suns knew they'd be choosing between Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss in the NBA draft.
Turns out they got both of them.
The Suns took Bender with the No. 4 pick overall Thursday night and got Chriss at No. 8 in a trade with the Sacramento Kings.
''It was really close between those two guys with the fourth pick,'' general manager Ryan McDonough said. ''We went back and forth on it. They're both tremendous young players. It's really hard to find talented, young big guys.''
Both players are 18-year-old power forwards, a position of need for Phoenix, and have huge potential but aren't considered ready for the NBA game just yet. Both worked out individually with the Suns in Phoenix last week.
''I think it's a great thing for the Phoenix organization,'' Bender said in a conference call, ''just to have young guys combined with older guys that can help us to adjust ourselves to the NBA as soon as possible. ... I guess it's going to be even better in the practices to compete against each other every day.''
The Suns are sending the No. 13 and No. 28 picks this year along with the rights to Bogdan Bogdanovic to Sacramento.
Bogdanovic, the 27th pick in the 2014 draft, has not played in the NBA and recently told the Suns he will play another season in Europe.
With their second-round pick Thursday night, the 34th overall, the Suns chose Kentucky point guard Tyler Ulis, the SEC player of the year who fell in the draft because he is 5-foot-9. Phoenix now has five guards from Kentucky on its roster.
The 7-foot-1 Bender, the youngest player in the draft, doesn't turn 19 until Nov. 17. Chriss will be 19 on July 2.
It's the second year in a row Phoenix has picked the youngest player in the draft. Devin Booker was 18 when the Suns chose him at No. 13 last year and he went on to make the all-rookie team last season.
The 6-foot-10 Chriss is a marvelously athletic player who is considered a raw talent with a big upside. With a nice shooting touch, he averaged 13.7 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in his one season with the Washington Huskies.
He said he thought that after the Suns chose Bender there was no way he'd be going to Phoenix.
''When they passed on me, I was like, `aw, man,''' Chriss said. ''I really like the organization all around and I respected them for that and I'm truly grateful that they went to that amount of effort to get my on the team.''
Bender is even younger than Booker was when the Suns drafted him.
''If he were born six weeks later he would not be eligible for this year's draft,'' McDonough said. ''He's a high school senior. So if you look at him like a high school senior, he's 7-foot-1 barefoot, he's got a 9-foot-3 standing reach, he shoots 36-37 percent from 3.''
Chriss has been playing competitive basketball just five years.
Early last season, he struggled, particularly with foul trouble.
''He just kept getting better and better and better,'' McDonough said, ''went from having a decent game every second or third game at the beginning of the year to at the end of the year he was playing pretty well almost every night and making some spectacular plays that not many guys at the NBA can make.''
Bender didn't get much of a chance to show his skills last season, playing sparingly for Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he averaged 5.5 points per game on a veteran team.
''For me as an 18-year-old guy it was really tough to find minutes on the court,'' he said. ''... but I did find time to work individually and work on every aspect of my game to improve it.''
Chriss described his game as ''dynamic.''
''I feel like I can shoot from 3, I can take the ball and put it on the floor and I can attack the rim,'' he said.
Although McDonough said both are a ways away from being ready to be significant contributors, he thought the pair ''might surprise some people.''
They will add to the young foundation of a franchise that has failed to make the playoffs for six years in a row and won only 23 games last season.