With a healthy ankle and added muscle, Dragan Bender is shining in the days leading up to Summer League.
“What a difference a year makes, last year he was hurt a little bit” Coach Marlon Garnett said. “Hopefully he continues to build on that brick and that foundation.”
Bender looks comfortable and confident as he’s embracing a new role: point-forward. General Manager Ryan McDonough and Head Coach Earl Watson have both praised Bender’s playmaking potential and now the proof is on the court.
“Growing up I did it a lot,” Bender said about his ball handling. “Just playing with the ball, playing pick and roll. Just being that point-forward guy. That distributor on the offensive end trying to pass the ball to open shooters on the floor and trying to spread the court.”
The seven-foot-one big man uses his height advantage and vision to make passes that most players can’t. This unique versatility can keep opposing defenses off guard and create constant mismatches throughout a series.
“I was just watching a clip yesterday from the practice,” Garnett said. “He got a rebound and pushed it down the floor, defense collapsed in the paint and he kicked it out to the corner to Derrick Jones.”
Bender grew up playing this type of basketball and has learned from other front-court distributers in the NBA.
“Draymond Green is a stereotype of that guy,” Bender said. “In the past there was a lot of guys who were trying to play that way. The guy I was watching growing up was Toni Kukoč. I was growing up in the same club, growing up in the same city. He was the guy I was trying to steal some of those moves from him.”
Not only are his skills on display, but his work in the weight room is beginning to show off. At the start of last year he weighed in at 225 and is currently up to 240.
“Definitely stronger,” Bender said. “I came pretty early back here just to work on that stuff in the weight room with the guys here. Just trying to put my game at a higher level.”
The Croatian point-forward will display his new role on Friday when the Summer Suns take the court against the Sacramento Kings in Vegas.