WALTHAM, Mass. – Danny Ainge recently returned from a week-long trip overseas with stops in Croatia, Serbia and Israel. With eight picks in the June 23 draft, more than any team has ever had going into a draft since the league went to a two-round system in 1989, Boston is definitely keeping an eye out for potential draft-and-stash players.
“Potential” is the operative word in describing 7-foot teen sensation Dragan Bender, a player many anticipate will be drafted by the Celtics with the No. 3 overall pick in the draft later this month.
Ainge, addressing the media shortly after the team announced contract extensions for both him and head coach Brad Stevens on Wednesday, acknowledged that the Celtics did get to spend some time working out the 18-year-old who currently plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The workouts, according to Ainge, were 1-on-none and 1-on-1 with Bender facing off against his older brother Ivan who plays at the University of Maryland.
“And then we watched him (Dragan Bender) in a full practice which we thought was actually better than the games,” said Ainge who added that they had seen him play in games on video as well as in person.
But there’s little to glean for the Celtics when it comes to games because Bender has seen limited action while playing for one of the historically strong teams overseas.
Because his body of work has been so limited recently, it has made tough to get a true feel for his strengths and weaknesses.
However, that difficulty is a common problem for NBA teams when it comes to assessing international players, especially in comparison to athletes from the college ranks.
“I’ll see most of the college players in the draft a few times a year, sometimes as many as seven or eight times a year,” Ainge said. “The European game, you may go over there and they play one game against a bad team and another game against a really good team. It’s hard to evaluate the level of competition that they’re playing against every night. But there are some exceptions. There are some leagues over there that are better than college basketball. So it’s a little bit more challenging, sure.”