European prospect Dragan Bender has been heralded as a possible surprise star in this year’s NBA Draft, but in recent weeks, that interest has been shaky.
The 7’ 1” post is a strong defender around the rim and can also score from outside, along with using his obvious size to make power plays in the paint. In May, draft experts Chad Ford and Kevin Pelton declared him the second best player available, according to statistical calculations.
“I think there’s a case to be made that even No. 4 is too low for Bender,” they said. “Bender’s consensus projection is for 3.5 WARP — second in this year’s draft behind Ben Simmons. Nobody else is above 3.0, with Brandon Ingram at 2.9. Murray (2.6) and Dunn (2.3) are far below Bender.”
He’s been compared to Kristaps Porzingis, another European post with strong skills from outside who the Knicks took fourth last year. Many have said that if the Lakers had known how strongly Porzingis would perform this year, they wouldn’t have passed him with their second pick. And although many consider Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram to be shoo-ins for the first and second picks, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak has said that he doesn’t believe there is “as dramatic a cliff as people think” between the supposed top two picks and other talents.
Bender, however, has also received his share of skepticism, and this has built in the past few weeks as the draft nears. NBA reporter Steve Kyler reported that he has not “found a team that’s in love with Bender,” and says that some have him completely outside their lottery. For Bender, it might come right down to the wire to see how teams feel about taking the risk on the European big man.
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