Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender: a starters comparison

Phoenix Suns Dragan Bender Marquese Chriss (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns Dragan Bender Marquese Chriss (Photo by Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Marquese Chriss and Dragan Bender have each started a number of games this season for the Phoenix Suns. But have either actually shown to be better in that role than the other?

Suns fans could not be more critical of General Manager Ryan McDonough’s 2016 NBA Draft selections as all three players (two in the top-10) appear to be at or near the chopping block already, only two years into their respective careers.

As their second NBA seasons inch ever closer to a merciful end, both Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss have already ventured deep into “bust” territory, players who have not as of yet shown that they will ever have the talent to guarantee themselves regular starting roles in the NBA – if not long careers in general.

Many fans have been critical of both players at times, each for their own unique weaknesses.

Chriss’ greatest flaw is not necessarily his game, but his attitude. A short-fused hot-head, Chriss will literally take himself out of games with technical fouls, and almost worse, with time lost on the court complaining to referees or pouting as a defensive play develops in front of him while he stays behind in a pool of sorrows. Chriss too is not yet an efficient scorer and is a generally poor 3-point shooter meaning he cannot yet be leaned in as a stretch-four, the specific role that may ultimately save his career. His athleticism is off the charts but if he cannot keep himself in games or shoot with any modicum of consistency, then he’ll never find himself the regular starter he once was with the Suns his rookie season.

Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Suns /

Phoenix Suns

Bender’s flaws emanate from an apparent youthful fear of screwing up. He is often tentative on offense, fearful to take an assertive role, he regularly passes up open shots even occasionally passing to a player on the perimeter when he has the much closer shot. When Bender does decide to drive, he lacks the strength to bang with his power forward contemporaries and has the ball slapped out of his hand with such regularity that one might assume that was his intention all along.

While Chriss’ rookie season was a boon for him professionally, being offered a starter’s position seven games into the season never to relinquish it, Bender’s was fraught with injuries and poor/inconsistent minutes when healthy.

This season, however, the two have shared the starting power forward position, Chriss opening the year in a similar role as last season, with Bender slowly working his way to the top of the rotation (partially due to his flexibility to play both the power forward and center positions) having not relinquished the position with any consistency since mid-January.

Yet, one might point out: neither of them truly deserve  the role, rather, Suns coaching has not yet had a player more worthy than them to steal away the position.

Both still only 20-years-old (the single-most compelling argument in defense of both players that they are not – or will not remain – busts), both players have had significant time this season as starters, Chriss so far with 41 starts, and Bender with 25, although should he remain healthy, a likely 37 by the end of the year.

Comparing the two stats throughout the year shows that the two players are not that far apart statistically from one another, Chriss averaging 6.8ppg to Bender’s 6.2; Chriss averaging 5.0rpg to Bender’s 3.9; and Bender averaging 1.6apg to Chriss’ 1.1. Neither are efficient scorers for their size, Bender shooting an abysmal 38.3% from the field with Chriss only a hair better at 40.3%. Bender is a superior 3-point shooter at 37.5% vs Chriss’ 31.1%, although Chriss did open the season shooting surprisingly well from the outside (41.7% through his first 14 games), while Bender has shot 39.7% over his past 18 games.

Yet, it is the player’s starting stats that are most important, as those are the games that each player receive the most minutes, play with the team’s best players in the top rotation, and of course play against the most talented opponents.

Surprisingly, the two players are even more  similar to one another statistically as starters than they are in general.

A simple peek at their stats illustrates just how much (and little) each player has accomplished as starters in their sophomore season and how alike they are statistically:

Marquese Chriss – 7.3p/5.3r/1.3a/.9b/.8s while shooting 41.1% from the field and 27.4% from 3. Chriss has a 93 ORtg and a 107 DRtg.

Dragan Bender – 6.8p/5.0r/2.3a/.5b/.2s while shooting 38.3% from the field and 36.6% from 3. Bender has a 95 ORtg and a 118 DRtg.

And while this isn’t a fair qualifier for either player as the team as a whole is not built to win, the Suns are 16-25 when Chriss starts, while only 3-22 when Bender starts (this could be the very reason that Bender has been starting as well, a tanking maneuver veiled in a simple rotational switch.

Hopefully these two player’s starts to their careers are not indicative of terrible careers in general, and in fact, their slow starts can be entirely defended due to their young age and lack of fully developed bodies. Heck, they could each still be growing tall  at this point in their lives yet are already finishing up their second seasons in the NBA against mainly fully-grown and well-rounded men.

They too are playing on a team without much veteran leadership and have been thrust into the lion’s den of professional sports, given the green light to play as much as possible, generally with very few consequences following poor play.

NBA fans have seen time and again slow starts to careers due to age and a poor team around them only to see such players grow and develop into well-rounded athletes if not full-fledged stars by their third and fourth seasons.

But this season and last is all we have to decide the future fate of these two former lottery selections. One if not both could be moved in a package for a star, or a salary dump, and begin their career’s anew for another franchise. Unfortunately at this moment, their stats, especially as starters, does not appear to bode all that well for Ryan McDonough should he package either one of them up in a such a trade.

Next: The next Suns All-Star tandem: Devin Booker and Josh Jackson

As it stands, neither are impactful starters for the Phoenix Suns, for myriad reasons, thus neither has staked a true claim to that role should McDonough look elsewhere to improve the roster at that position.

Hopefully if both or either are back next season they show the type of improvement that makes all “bust” references a thing of the past.