By: Kayla Mortellaro
June 23, 2016
The Phoenix Suns selected 18-year-old Dragan Bender with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Bender, from Croatia, stands 7-feet tall and 225 pounds. His size and length fills a need on the Suns roster. From Bender’s power forward position, he played in 25 games in the Israeli Premier League for Maccabi Tel Aviv. He averaged 13.4 minutes and 5.5 points a game on 47.9 percent shooting.
The 2016 Suns draft got underway by once again taking the youngest player in the draft. In 2015, the Suns drafted then 18-year-old guard Devin Booker from Kentucky with the 13th selection, marking back-to-back years the Suns picked the youngest player.
The Suns are getting a player in Bender who is said to be very fluid and agile for his large frame. In addition, he is a very skilled ball-handler and passer who has great vision.
“I guess just versatility on both ends of the floor,” Bender said on what he can bring to the Suns team. “Defensively just being able to switch a lot of positions on the court, and then staying in front of the guard on the perimeter. And offensively just being a guy that can stretch the floor, and can help a lot with passing and delivering the ball to the right places and just handling the ball in the open court.”
General Manager Ryan McDonough echoed the sentiments about Bender.
“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. “We really liked what we saw with him.”
Prior to the draft Bender and Marquese Chriss were heavily tied to the Suns with the fourth overall pick. The Suns chose Bender but that didn’t stop the front office from making trade moves to jump back into the fray.
Just four picks later in the draft, the team made a trade with the Sacramento Kings. The Kings selected Marquese Chriss with the number eight pick. With the proposed trade, Chriss is headed to Phoenix and the Suns sent the number 13 and number 28 picks in the 2016 draft to the Kings, as well as, Bogdan Bogdanovic and a 2020 second round pick.
Bogdanovic, who’s rights now belong to the Kings, elected to stay in the Euroleague for the 2016-2017 season. Bogdanovic was taken by the Suns with the 27th pick in 2014. Due to the NBA bargaining agreement, anyone signing with their NBA team within three years would have to sign on a rookie scale. Bogdanovic would have been set to make just over a million dollars. Now that Bogdanovic has decided to stay in Europe, he can sign for a max contract next season with the Kings. He averaged 14.3 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.7 assists a game in the Turkish league last season.
The Suns are welcoming Chriss to the Valley of the Sun, whose 19th birthday is July 2. Chriss played his collegiate basketball at the University of Washington. At 6’10” and 223 pounds, Chriss averaged 13.7 points per game in 24.9 minutes for his freshman season.
“Marquese Chriss, my goodness,” McDonough said. “Just an explosive athlete, vertical athlete. Came on to the game late. Was a football player and got injured. Took up basketball late.”
Chriss’ main knock at Washington was his inability to stay on the court as he averaged 4.1 personal fouls a game. When he was on the court, as a power forward, he knocked down 53 percent of his shots and 35 percent from behind the arc.
“It’s something that I worked on toward the tail end of the season and it’s something that I acknowledge and I just think it’s going to get fixed in time,” Chriss said about his foul troubles.
Joining the Suns organization with the team also selecting a young power forward doesn’t deter Chriss at all; instead it excites him and he is ready to relish in the opportunity.
“We are both going to come in and work hard and compete,” Chriss said. “I mean I am just going to enjoy the moment and I am blessed to be on a team like this. Having someone who is going to go hard at me every day in practice, I think is just going to bring out the [best] in both of us.”
McDonough is more than thrilled to have been able to figure out a way to get back into the draft to select Chriss after making the decision to go with Bender at number four.
“Those two guys, we went back and forth and deliberated,” McDonough said. “It was split almost right down the middle among our staff. We were all going back and forth for weeks now. And then earlier today, we were like ‘what if we can get both of them?’ Sacramento at eight liked what we had to offer. And we were ecstatic that Marquese was still there.”
After trading away their 13th and 28th selections, the Suns had one final pick left in the 2016 draft. And at number 34, the Suns selected point guard Tyler Ulis from Kentucky.
“I felt it had been too long since we had drafted a Kentucky guard,” McDonough joked after the draft.
On a more serious note, McDonough raved about Ulis’ ability as a guard and the fact that he’s a winner.
“But then Tyler Ulis at 34, and we think frankly the only reason he’s there is because of his size. Again, he’s SEC Player of the Year, SEC Defensive Player of the Year and in some ways, I think a coach on the floor.”
Last season for the Wildcats, Ulis averaged 36.8 minutes a game with 17.3 points on 43.4 percent shooting and 34.4 percent from behind the arc. Ulis was a true point guard in getting his teammates involved by averaging seven assists a game.
“I think these guys might surprise some people,” McDonough said. “These guys have unique talents, unique abilities. ‘Does that translate to winning NBA basketball games?’ I don’t know. Historically, it doesn’t when you’re playing young players.”
It is a long road ahead for the Suns. But the first step was to draft the key areas of concern and Phoenix did just that Thursday night to put the 2016 NBA Draft in the books.