5 Things to Know about Suns Top Pick Dragan Bender

By now, you've probably heard all about Dragan Bender's gifts on the basketball court.

Throughout the buildup to the 2016 NBA Draft, the 7-1 forward was consistently one of the most popular names linked to the Suns. The team made the union official last Thursday when it selected the Croatian fourth overall.

Now that Bender has arrived in the Valley of the Sun, we dug a little deeper to find some lesser-known tidbits about the man Phoenix hopes will help anchor its frontcourt for years to come.

1. He modeled his game after Toni Kukoc

Bender was born on the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia. In that region of Eastern Europe, perhaps no player past or present is more beloved than Kukoc, a three-time NBA champion, three-time Euroleague champion and three-time Croatian Sportsman of the Year.

Bender idolized Kukoc as a kid, watching old highlights of the former Chicago Bull and mimicking his moves on the court. Bender, 7-1, appreciated how Kukoc, 6-11, played with athleticism and finesse despite his size.

"I love how he moved his body on the court so easy," Bender told Sports Illustrated. "He is so smart as a player and always finds his teammates in better position with the extra assist."

During the 2014 European U18 Championships, Bender averaged a whopping 6.7 assists per 40 minutes. Obviously, the Suns hope Bender will eventually be an elite scorer and rebounder at the next level, but it's the forward's ability to do it all that made him such an attractive prospect.

"In one Kukoc interview, he said a basket makes one person happy, but an assist makes two people happy," Bender recalled. "I liked that."

2. He left home at the age of 12

For young Americans growing up in basketball, the best opportunity for development and exposure is typically the local AAU team.

Bender, however, had no such option in his hometown. Instead, his family packed up and moved to Split, Croatia, to begin training at the academy of Nikola Vujčić, a 6-11 Croatian legend who won two Euroleague championships.

There, Bender actually learned to play the guard positions, which helps explain his ability to excel away from the rim. He later turned pro at 15 and soon thereafter signed with Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel.

3. He learned English by watching sitcoms

In an extensive Q&A with The New York Times earlier this month, Bender revealed that his language tutors as a kid were none other than the casts of "Friends" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air."

Bender was seven years old when "Friends" went off the air, but he later found the show online and binge-watched all 236 episodes.

"I love it," he said. "I've watched every one. My favorite charecter is Chandler."

The youngster's new go-to series? "Now I like 'Game of Thrones'," he said.

4. His big brother plays at Maryland

Bender got his start in the sport because he wanted to emulate his older sibling, Ivan, who is two years his senior.

Throughout his childhood, Bender played alongside Ivan against kids two grades ahead of him. The forward credits that strong competition for his rapid development and maturity.

While Bender makes his NBA debut this fall, Ivan will be playing at the NCAA level for the Terrapins. He finished his freshman campaign last year, appearing in 10 games off the bench for a Maryland squad that reached the Sweet Sixteen.

5. He appeared on ESPN's "Sports Science"

Bender's measurables were put to the test and compared against several of the NBA's brightest stars.

The segment concluded that the apex of Bender's three-point shot matches the likes of two-time reigning MVP Steph Curry. Another nugget from the video is that the teenager's release time (0.47 seconds) is nearly 15 percent faster than the average NBA player (0.54).

On defense, Bender is able to cover an area of 66 square feet without even jumping, the show estimated. That's a bigger range than that of two-time defensive MVP Kawhi Leonard, who owns a wingspan that is almost two inches longer than Bender's.

For more on Bender, watch this beautifully-made Sports Illustrated short film on his upbringing and evolution.