The Phoenix Suns should be worried about Dragan Bender

Phoenix Suns Dragan Bender (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns Dragan Bender (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Dragan Bender had a terrible opening night to the 2018-19 five-game slate for the Phoenix Suns. It might finally be time for the Phoenix Suns and their fans to be worried that he will never develop into a player worthy of the fourth overall pick.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

You hate to watch a fourth overall pick turn into nothing but a wasted selection, but sometimes that happens, and it might have happened to the Phoenix Suns.

Two seasons in and now a single preseason game into Dragan Bender‘s career, a single game in which he finished a game worst -17 with no fewer than three airballs and nothing but poor-formed, rushed shots, it might be time that the Phoenix Suns – and their fans – to be afraid that Dragan Bender will never be anywhere close to the unicorn we all hoped  he’d be when selected only two short years ago.

I have been a huge proponent of Bender’s. I believe that his skill-set is unique in the NBA and if he could only hone in some of his specific skills, he’ll be a decent role player in tie league at worst, and a regular starter at best.

Maybe not the star we were hoping he’d be, but at least a guy that’ll will have a spot in the NBA for a long time.

For lack of a better reference, a Ryan Anderson-type.

Bender too showed last season some improvement in his game: his outside shooting.

Phoenix Suns
Phoenix Suns /

Phoenix Suns

Sure, we complained throughout the entire year that his shot had remained flat, and even in the higher movement-based offense of Jay Triano he still seemed to always camp out in the corner of the court. But even so, he hovered around 40% from outside for much of the year, and only after a late season slump did it drop to the 36.6% (on 322 total attempts) that he settled at.

Let’s also not forget that after a rookie season that involved mid-season surgery and chaotic minutes in the Earl Watson rotation in which he might start one night and not play for the next, Bender still managed to play in all 82 games in 2017-18, the only player on the roster to do so.

Do not forget that he is still only 20-years-old (he’ll turn 21 in mid-November) so even after two seasons and a preseason game fans shouldn’t immediately jump to the conclusion of “bust.” It was said when he was drafted that he was two years away from being two years away, which means that he is officially two years away.

The problem with Bender, it seems, is that no matter who is coaching him, or no matter how much playing time he is given, he just doesn’t seem to be getting any better. He literally looks exactly as he did when he first stepped foot on the court two seasons ago: lost on offense, afraid of physical contact on defense, and with an unbelievably inconsistent 3-point shot, whether it be rushed or with a flat arc.

Defensively he has shown plenty of times that he can stay in front of even quick guards, however he never makes body contact or use his height to intimidate his opponents. I can imagine that in his rookie year he’d feel out of place, especially in a new country in a new league. But at this point he’s had two years to acclimate himself and yet on the first night of preseason against the Kings he still showed the same defensive timidity that we’ve unfortunately grown accustomed to.

Now that’s not to say that the Phoenix Suns should give up entirely on him, yet. As stated, if he was draft as a player that was two years away from being two years away, he’s now projected to be only two years away.

But maybe once the regular season begins they should play him less in favor of Ryan Anderson – the very player he should emulate (at least on offense. On defense he should mimic Trevor Ariza as best as possible). It is time for the Suns to start winning and Anderson is going to provide the team a better opportunity to do so than Bender can.

We have to certainly hope that with a new coaching staff – a stable one that will almost certainly be here for a minimum of three seasons – will work closely with Dragan and over the course of this season we will finally see the changes in his game that we have wanted.

Unfortunately for he and his fans, until those changes begin to form – if they do – he needs to remain on the bench, sliding behind those veterans who can make a positive difference on the court and young players who’s games are showing growth.

The Phoenix Suns should be afraid though. They should be afraid that after two seasons Bender just doesn’t look any better than when he was first drafted. They should be afraid that a fourth overall pick (in an admittedly weak draft) will have been lost in a period of tanking in which those picks were as valuable as platinum.

Next. Deandre Ayton had the kind of debut the Phoenix Suns wanted. dark

If Bender doesn’t eventually show any improvement, he probably won’t be traded, unless in a package with someone else where he will be needed to meet the number of players needed to make the move happen or the salaries to match.

Hopefully it doesn’t get to that point, but after one preseason game, it just doesn’t look like he is any better than his first two seasons in the league.