Suns Select Dragan Bender with 4th Pick of 2016 NBA Draft
Entering the offseason, the Suns had needs in the talent and power forward departments.
They checked off both boxes less than a half-hour into the 2016 NBA Draft.
Phoenix selected Dragan Bender, a 7-1 forward out of Croatia, fourth overall on Thursday night. He was widely billed as the best international prospect available in this year's draft class, highly valued for his ability to shoot the ball as a big man as well as his overall untapped potential. He also fills an immediate need for the Suns, who do not currently have a power forward under contract.
"I can definitely spread the offense on the floor," Bender said. "[On] defense, I definitely think I can defend multiple positions, being able to stay in front of little guys and defend the rim."
The Suns, who have scouted Bender heavily since he played in the U-18 European Championships in 2014, feel that versatility can pay off in multiple ways. General Manager Ryan McDonough believes he will be able to play any and all of the frontcourt positions -- small forward, power forward and center -- thanks to his diverse skill set.
"Dragan has the size and the length and the passing ability and the ability to move his feet on the perimeter that is rare and unique," McDonough said.
Bender most recently played for EuroLeague powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv of Israel. His lack of playing time there and his age -- Bender is the youngest player in this year's draft -- led to him being one of the more unknown and intriguing prospects of this year's draft. Phoenix, however, had seen his potential flash from time to time even before playing in EuroLeague.
"If you watched him at the Croatian junior level," McDonough said, "you saw some of that passing, some of that magic feel he had with the ball. He’s a special player."
As for Bender, his workout visit to Phoenix turned out to be special in his own right. He left the valley with a particularly strong impression of the team's interest in his potenital -- and helping him reach it.
"How they pay attention to the smaller details," Bender mentioned as what impressed him. "They're trying to help the young guys to become NBA players at the highest level."
As the fourth overall pick, Bender becomes the Suns' highest-selected rookie since Armen Gilliam was taken second overall in 1987. He joins a roster that includes 2015-16 All-Rookie First Team guard Devin Booker, 2013 top-five pick Alex Len, and veterans Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight and Tyson Chandler.
"I think it’s a great team for the Phoenix organization," Bender said, "just to have young guys on the team combined with older guys that can help us adjust ourselves to the NBA as quickly as possible."