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Bender getting deep look for top-flight draft position

The big man from Bosnia and Herzogovina is drawing comparisons to Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis

POSTED: Jun 17, 2016 2:08 PM ET

By Scott Howard-Cooper

BY Scott Howard-Cooper


Bosnia and Herzogovina's Dragan Bender is being compared to 2016 Rookie of the Year runner-up Kristaps Porzingis.

Kristaps Porzingis had a good 2015-16 for the New York Knicks, good enough to finish second in balloting for Rookie of the Year, good enough to immediately establish himself as the foundation of the New York future when most front offices around the league figured he would need at least a season to begin to play into his high-ceiling potential.

Good enough to influence the Draft a year later.

The No. 4 choice in 2015 is clearly having an impact on 2016 selections as general managers consider a landing spot for Dragan Bender Thursday, as high as No. 3 or maybe, really sticking to the storyline, one place lower and into the exact same spot as Porzingis.

The possibility comes with the important disclaimer: Bender is not Porzingis. Bender is a better ball handler and passer, Porzingis a better shooter with range. Bender was born in Bosnia and Herzogovina, plays for Croatia and spent the last two seasons in Israel while Porzingis is from Latvia and played in Spain before coming to the NBA.

But, several front offices say, Porzingis' rookie season matters now because the similarities are either an actual selling point for Bender or simply good cover for teams picking in the top five or six

"It allows you the ability to draft a player like that without being second guessed, as you would have been previously," one executive said.

A player like that. Porzingis (7-foot-3, 240) and Bender (7-foot-1, 225) are tall and lanky but needs to get stronger. They work best offensively from the perimeter. Both are from Europe and left home early to play professionally in other countries. Both could end up as top-five picks, with Bender projected to go third to the Celtics in the latest mock draft. Both will have reached North America as teenagers, with Porzingis 19 at the time of his selection and Bender now 18.

"Sure," the executive said of Porzingis' immediate impact mattering to Bender's stock. "Absolutely. It has to factor in. Porzingis more than (Nikola) Mirotic. He (Porzingis) turns the dialogue that Bender now is not overlooked as just another European shooter. He's fast, 7 feet tall, can run and jump and shoot. Sure. There's a similarity."

With Mirotic as well -- likewise a perimeter threat with size at 6-10 and 220 pounds, likewise a European who moved from his home country, Montenegro, to play elsewhere, in Spain, before moving to the NBA. Mirotic's production with the Bulls, including as a rookie in 2014-15, helps the case for Bender. There was not, however, nearly the same pressure selecting Mirotic at No. 23, originally by the Rockets in 2011 before being traded to Chicago, compared to the spotlight that followed Porzingis at the draft and will be attached to Bender next week.

"I think Bender has the opportunity to be better than Porzingis," one general manager said. "His size, the way he plays. He's probably the most talented European I've seen since Dirk Nowitzki."

News and notes

Teams are routinely having trade discussions to get an idea of their options, but the real conversations are not expected to begin until Monday or Tuesday. Talks will become more intense once front offices hear the clock ticking in advance of Thursday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., just as the urgency increases every February in the final stretch before the trade deadline.

Chirss climbing draft boards

The rise of Marquese Chriss has been as stunning a climb as anything in several drafts. "The second half of the season, there hasn't been a riser like him in a while," a front-office vet said. Teams intrigued by the combination of athleticism plus perimeter shooting at power forward have gone from moving the Washington freshman into the first round and then into the lottery and now possibly into the top five, at No. 4 to the Suns in the mock with some belief around the league he could go third to the Celtics, or third to someone if Boston uses Brooklyn's spot to deal for an experienced player in the bid to make a playoff push in 2017.

A view on Utah center

One scout's take on Jakob Poeltl: "I think he has a chance to be a version -- underline 'version' -- of Pau (Gasol). He can pass. He has a feel for the game. He hasn't played that long. The leaps he made last season really impressed me." Poeltl was relatively inexperienced when he arrived in Salt Lake City from his native Austria, but playing for former NBA big man and Bucks coach Larry Krystkowiak at the University of Utah has been an obvious benefit to Poeltl on the fast track. That he has become the top-rated center is an accomplishment even in a down year for the position.

Kings mulling options

While the Kings are setting up to possibly trade down if one of their preferred targets is not available at No. 8 -- leg work that likely won't be needed since someone on their list will almost certainly still be on the board -- they are also fielding calls for the very available Ben McLemore. McLemore plus No. 8 doesn't get Sacramento up the board far, if at all, so it would any move could be a separate deal or part of a larger package. With Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray among the potential options, along with Jaylen Brown at small forward or Kris Dunn at point guard, obviously depending the first seven selections, the Kings could go shooting guard Thursday.

After top two, it is anyone's guess

It's not just Sacramento. Beyond Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram unanimously expected to go 1-2, in some order, three through eight are paper in a hurricane. Most teams agree on the names: Bender, Chriss, Brown, Dunn, Hield and Murray. But the order is very subjective. Any outcome around the middle of the lottery is possible.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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