2016 NBA Draft: Dragan Bender scouting report
Dragan Bender 2016 NBA Draft scouting report
Dragan Bender scouting report
By Kevin O'Connor
Dragan Bender averaged 4.4 points and 2.5 rebounds in 13 minutes per game this season playing for Maccabi Tel Aviv, but don’t read into the stats when assessing him. The 18-year-old Croatian plays in one of the best leagues in the world, which includes many former college players now in their primes. The fact Bender is even playing says something about his ability to be a 7-foot-1 floor spacer that can pass and defend.
Bender models his game after Toni Kukoc and you can see how when you watch him play. He’s 7-footer that can space the floor (37.5 percent from three); his ability to stretch the defense is valuable in today’s NBA. Consider how Kelly Olynyk makes a positive impact on the Celtics anytime he’s on the floor. Bender could fill a similar role, though he has higher overall upside.
He’s also a tremendous passer for his size, which is something he doesn’t get enough chances to do playing for Maccabi. His outlet passing is a thing of beauty and in the half court he can deliver accurate passes off the bounce. He’s not just stretch forward. He’s a playmaking forward.
What sets Bender apart though is his potential to be a multi-position defender. He’ll generally defend both forward spots, but when teams play small he can operate as a center. He lacks the bulk to defend the Andre Drummonds of the world, but he could develop the foot speed to contain guards and wings. Bender’s high basketball IQ also bodes well for him to learn complicated defensive concepts in the NBA.
Bender is the youngest player in this year’s draft class, so it’s unsurprising that he needs to pack on some weight. He gets overpowered whenever he defends the low post overseas, so that could be even more of an issue early in his NBA career. He also doesn’t quite have the ability to be a shot blocking due to his lack of explosiveness, though he can protect the rim.
His lack of elite athleticism also hurts him on offense. He doesn’t have great speed, so he’s not always able to turn the corner off the dribble. And he isn’t much of a leaper, so he’s an average finisher in the paint. Developing a mid-range jumper and improving his ball handling would compensate for his weakness, but it’s difficult to predict whether or not he’ll improve this area.
Bender makes a lot of sense for the Celtics based on their recent history of using small ball lineups and their desire for players that can pass the ball. The Celtics switch screens when both Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko are on the floor, and Bender would allow them to operate the same way.
Bender would probably be used like Jerebko early in his career, as a versatile defender and spot up shooter. But Bender has higher upside in virtually every category and he’d immediately be a better passer and ball handler.
The common knock on Bender is that he’s “just a role player.” But we’ve seen around how “role players” can perform like “stars” in the right situation. There aren’t a lot of guys in the league that can shoot, facilitate, rebound, and defend multiple positions. Bender someday might be one of them.
If the Celtics want to select Bender, they’re in a perfect position with the No. 3 pick. Fans might have to wait for him to make an impact though, so patience will be required if the selection is made.
Kevin O’Connor can be followed on Twitter @KevinOConnorNBA.