Dragan Bender is eager to step out of Kristaps Porzingis’ enormous shadow. He believes he can contribute to a team in ways the 7-foot-3 Latvian cannot.
The Phoenix Suns rookie is honored by the comparisons, but he doesn’t want to be limited by it. Carving his own destiny is one of his main priorities heading into the 2016-17 season.
“There are some similarities. We are both European guys, 7-footers coming from overseas to the NBA. And we both can shoot the ball and move well for the position,” Bender told NBA.com. “It’s great that people compare you to a guy like him, but I’m just trying to be myself on the court.”
At 18 years old, Bender was the youngest player selected in this year’s Rookie Draft. He isn’t setting pompous expectations for himself in his rookie campaign.
Bender just wants to gain some experience and be competitive at a high level. He believes his brief tenure with Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of Europe’s most storied basketball franchises, has given him a glimpse of what to expect in the NBA.
“It definitely helps me a lot. The first year I was adjusting myself as a foreigner in a different country playing outside of Croatia with different guys,” said the 7-foot-1 Croatian. “This last season we had some trouble, you know, but all this pressure around the club and everything helped me for this move from Europe to the states.”
The Phoenix Suns breathed a sigh of relief when the Boston Celtics drafted win-now prospect Jaylen Brown with the third overall pick. Bender, who many considered as the third best talent in his draft class, fell to the Suns at No. 4.
At the conclusion of the Las Vegas Summer League in July, Jonathan Tjarks of The Ringer was duly impressed with Bender’s physique and body control. The NBA analyst said Bender was deceptively fluid for his age and height. He is a better shooter than No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and taller than No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram.