Dragan Bender may be living on borrowed time

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

On Monday, October 15, the Phoenix Suns pared down their roster to the mandatory 15. Dragan Bender was safe and remains here. However, he might not be for very long.

The Phoenix Suns have waived Shaquille Harrison, Darrell Arthur and will soon be moving on from Davon Reed.

Another young name that was speculated as one who might have potentially been waived but was not, is Dragan Bender.

This was an idea that I wrote about recently and then was doubled down on as a possibility by John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports on Monday, a sentiment that I concurred.

It didn’t happen. Bender is safe and he remains on the opening night roster.

But it does not mean that he is safe for the season – or even a month.

With the impending signing of 38-year-old Jamal Crawford, the Phoenix Suns are obviously in a mode where they want to play veteran players who have had professional success, and place them around the small core of young players with the hope that the veterans will help to raise the level of the young Suns’ play and guide them to a few extra wins this season.

This was the apparent plan under Ryan McDonough and appears to remain so with interim General Manager James Jones.

However, Dragan Bender no longer appears to be an expected piece of that center core and more than likely is spending his last days in Phoenix, whether his future exit occurs during the regular season, or sometime in the summer of 2019.

For now, what I believe kept Dragan safe, even following an abysmal Summer League and preseason in which he once again appeared to have shown zero growth in his game, is his 3-point shooting: last season Bender hovered just under 40% for most of the year (a dramatic improvement over his rookie season shooting) and finished at about 36%, a very respectable number, especially for a power forward/center.

First year head coach Igor Kokoskov has stated that his offensive game plan will include approximately 30 3-point attempts per game, a strategy that will only prove effective if the team is draining their 3’s at a decent clip (I have to imagine anything below 33% would be unacceptable and thus too inefficient to move forward with).

While Bender is most certainly not going to be a starter on this team, and might not even be a regular rotational player, his flexibility to play both the four and the five (against smaller front courts) will give his 3-point shooting a reason for Kokoskov to put him on the court.

If those 3-pointers just aren’t falling, though…there is almost no other reason for him to play.

And if there is no reason for him to play, then there might not be any reason for him to be on the roster.

Why Dragan might be on borrowed time is because his preseason 3-point shooting was so bad (both in form and in results) that unless his rate of 2-14 (14.3%) was an aberration and not a consistent stat, the lack of his greatest potential attribute might mean the end of his career in Phoenix.

It might take Bender shooting at a near 40% clip again over the first month of the season (36% would be an acceptable rate), to save himself. It might take a show of ability and talent that we have yet to see before in order for him to remain in the rotation (barring injuries to those ahead of him in the depth chart). It might take Dragan becoming the kind of player we all thought he could be when he entered the league to save his job, the unicorn-type who can shoot, pass, dribble, and play defense like a guard, but in a center’s body.

But if after a month he has shown none of that; his shooting has regressed to the preseason rate; his constant appearance of being lost on the court continues; his downright average defensive effort that seems to grow from a fear of contact hasn’t been improved; there is every reason to believe that a team trying to win as much as possible now, will no longer have patience with a player who cannot help them in any way.

Next. Even short term success is about the young stars. dark

Nobody wants the entire highly anticipated and much hyped 2016 draft to have been a complete and total bust.

Dragan Bender is that class’ last hope, for the Phoenix Suns.

If he can’t make 3’s though, then the franchise might still be best served moving on sooner, rather than later.