Dragan Bender

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Dragan Bender
Dragan Bender (2).JPG
Bender with Maccabi Tel Aviv in September 2015
No. 35 – Phoenix Suns
Position Power forward
League NBA
Personal information
Born (1997-11-17) November 17, 1997 (age 20)
Čapljina, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Nationality Croatian
Listed height 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m)
Listed weight 225 lb (102 kg)
Career information
NBA draft 2016 / Round: 1 / Pick: 4th overall
Selected by the Phoenix Suns
Playing career 2012–present
Career history
2012–2013 Split
2013–2014 Kaštela
2014–2016 Maccabi Tel Aviv
2014–2015Ironi Ramat Gan
2016–present Phoenix Suns
Career highlights and awards
Stats at NBA.com
Stats at Basketball-Reference.com

Dragan Bender (born November 17, 1997) is a Croatian professional basketball player for the Phoenix Suns of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He stands 7 ft 1 in (2.16 m)[1] and plays the power forward and center positions. He was selected by the Suns with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft. Bender represents the Croatian national team, with experience in the FIBA Europe junior tournaments. Before playing in Israel, he competed with multiple teams in Croatia and in Nikola Vujčić's academy.

Early life[edit]

Bender was born on November 17, 1997, in Čapljina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, a city on the Croatian border, and he later moved to Split, Croatia.[2] At 12 years of age, he started playing at Nikola Vujčić's basketball academy as a point guard.[3] Vujčić was a former Maccabi Tel Aviv star and became Bender's guardian.[4] At the academy, Bender became a more versatile player and he "learned how to play all the positions on the court."[5] Bender played there along with his older brother, Ivan, with Bender also playing against guys that were Ivan's age when he first started playing.[6] Bender also played with the KK Split youth teams at this time, and he appeared for the Croatian under-16 national basketball team.[7] He idolized and modeled his game after Toni Kukoč, a former Croatian NBA player, while growing up and watched his old game tape.[2][3] He mostly watched EuroLeague games but would sometimes tune into the NBA as well. One of his favorite EuroLeague players was Šarūnas Jasikevičius.[6]

Professional career[edit]

Croatia (2012–2014)[edit]

Bender made his professional debut at 15 years of age with KK Split. He played only a total of six minutes and added two points and one rebound.[7][8] For the following season, Bender remained in Croatia and signed with KK Kaštela, who played in the country's second-best league.[9] With his help, the team was promoted to the A-1 Liga, the top league in Croatia.[10] Most notably, he made a game-winning shot with three seconds remaining against KK Gorica to help his team secure the promotion.[10] Later, in February 2014, Bender joined the KK Cedevita junior team for the Euroleague Basketball Next Generation Tournament. He put up 21 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists vs the junior team of the Serbian club KK Mega Basket.[11]

Israel (2014–2016)[edit]

In 2014, Bender signed a seven-year contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv, a team that played in the Israeli Basketball Premier League and the EuroLeague.[12] He was soon loaned to Ironi Ramat Gan of the Liga Leumit, the second-tier level league in Israel, for the 2014–15 season.[13] He made his debut on October 21, 2014, posting 13 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 assists vs Ramat HaSharon.[14] He recorded another double-double on December 12, with 23 points and 12 rebounds in a win over Maccabi Ra'anana.[15] Bender scored a season-high 25 points as his team defeated Barak Netanya by one point on January 1, 2015.[16] After 28 games, he finished the season averaging 9.7 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.1 blocks.[8] As the season came to a close, Bender returned to Maccabi Tel Aviv.[17]

Bender debuted for Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Israeli Premier League on October 11, 2015, with 5 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 blocks in a win over Maccabi Kiryat Gat.[18] He scored double figures for the first time with the team in a rematch with Kiryat Gat, adding 15 points.[7][19] Bender scored a season-high 16 points on December 31, 2015, as his team defeated Hapoel Holon.[20] In 2015–16, he helped Maccabi Tel Aviv repeat as winners in the 2016 Israeli State Cup, and he was named a foreign All-Star for the 2016 Israeli All-Star game.

On April 6, 2016, Bender declared for the 2016 NBA draft.[21] His contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv was later bought out for $1.3 million.[22]

Phoenix Suns (2016–present)[edit]

2016–17 season[edit]

On June 23, 2016, Bender was selected by the Phoenix Suns with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft.[23] He was widely billed as the best international prospect available in the draft, highly valued for his ability to shoot the ball in various ways as a big man, as well as his overall untapped potential in other facets of the game.[24] As the fourth overall pick, Bender became the Suns' highest-selected rookie since Armen Gilliam was taken second overall in 1987,[25] and the highest-selected Croatian to be taken in an NBA draft. On July 7, he signed his rookie scale contract with the Suns and joined the team for the 2016 NBA Summer League.[26] In five Summer League games, Bender averaged 8.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game.[27] Despite his inconsistency throughout the event (primarily with shooting), Bender earned praise from scouts for his on-court abilities and flexible playing style.[28] Bender came to Phoenix with his personal coach, Croatian coach Mladen Sestan, who worked with Bender almost daily in the six years prior to entering the NBA. He continued to work with Sestan outside Suns workouts heading into his rookie season.[29]

Bender made his debut for the Suns in their season opener on October 26, 2016 against the Sacramento Kings. In just under 12 minutes off the bench, he scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting in a 113–94 loss.[30] With Bender playing alongside Devin Booker and fellow rookie Marquese Chriss, the Suns became the first NBA team to get three teenagers on the floor in the same game.[31] Bender also joined Booker and Giannis Antetokounmpo as the only 18-year-olds to score 10 points in a game since 2006–07.[32] He had his second 10-point game of the season on November 8 in a 124–121 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.[33] He then had his third 10-point game of the season on December 3 in a 138–109 loss to the Golden State Warriors.[34] On December 26, Bender recorded his first career double-double with season highs of 11 points and 13 rebounds in a 131–115 loss to the Houston Rockets.[35] On February 8, 2017, Bender underwent a successful routine arthroscopic procedure on his right ankle to remove a bone spur. He was subsequently ruled out for approximately four to six weeks.[36] He returned to action on April 2, 2017 against Houston.[37]

2017–18 season[edit]

In July 2017, Bender re-joined the Suns for the 2017 NBA Summer League, being coached by Marlon Garnett this season.[38] In five games, he averaged 14.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.4 assists per game. On November 13, 2017, Bender scored a career-high 15 points in a 100–93 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers.[39] On December 16, 2017, he set a new career high with 17 points in a 108–106 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves.[40] On January 7, 2018, he scored 17 of his then career-high 20 points in the second half of the Suns' 114–100 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. He made a career-best six 3-pointers, going 5 of 6 in the second half.[41] On February 10, 2018, he scored a career-high 23 points in a 123–113 loss to the Denver Nuggets.[42] On April 8, 2018, Bender recorded a double-double of 14 points and a career-high 14 rebounds in a 117–100 loss to the Golden State Warriors[43] This season would also have him play all 82 games this time around for the first time after missing nearly half of his rookie season earlier on, which also made him the only player on the Suns to play all 82 games of the season.

2018–19 season[edit]

On July 1, 2018, Bender re-joined the Suns' Summer League squad once again for the 2018 NBA Summer League, this time having European coach Igor Kokoškov leading the way as head coach this season.[44]

National team[edit]

Junior national team[edit]

Bender competed for the Croatian national Under-16 team at the 2012 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship. in Latvia and Lithuania. Through five contests, he averaged 2.8 points and 1.4 rebounds in 5.6 minutes per game.[45] The following year, he came back to the 2013 FIBA Europe Under-16 Championship in Ukraine, improving through 9 games to 9.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 4.1 assists in 35.4 minutes per game.[46] Bender improved even further, while playing with the Croatian national Under-18 team, at the 2014 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship in Turkey. In 9 games, he averaged 14.4 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists in 29 minutes per game, helping his team win the bronze medal, and being named to All-Tournament Team in the process.[47]

In 2015, Bender was selected by Croatia for the 2015 FIBA Under-19 World Cup in Crete, Greece, but he was forced to withdraw because the team's players were obliged to wear Jordan Brand clothes and shoes, due to a sponsorship agreement. Bender had signed a similar agreement with his sponsor Adidas, which prevented him to wear other brands.[48] Bender expressed disappointment in the Croatian Basketball Federation's decision, even saying they had no reason to attack his loyalty to Croatia, or his family's loyalty to it.[49] Adidas later designed a logo-less pair of shoes for Bender, in order for him to play with Maccabi Tel Aviv, since they are also sponsored by Jordan Brand as well, as a response to the Croatian Basketball Federation's stance.[50]

Senior national team[edit]

In June 2017, Bender was granted permission from the Phoenix Suns to play for the senior Croatian national team at EuroBasket 2017.[51] At EuroBasket 2017, he averaged 4.3 points, 2 rebounds, and 1 assist per game, in 6 games played.[52]

Player profile[edit]

Bender has been strongly compared to Kristaps Porziņģis to the point where NBA executives figured he's a Top 5 selection similar to Porziņģis because of their playing styles, either due to it being a selling point or being a good cover overall.[53] However, while Porziņģis may be the stronger shooter and scorer, Bender is consistently labeled as the stronger passer and ball-handler.[53]

Career statistics[edit]

  GP Games played   GS  Games started  MPG  Minutes per game
 FG%  Field-goal percentage  3P%  3-point field-goal percentage  FT%  Free-throw percentage
 RPG  Rebounds per game  APG  Assists per game  SPG  Steals per game
 BPG  Blocks per game  PPG  Points per game  PIR  Performance Index Rating
 Bold  Career high

Note: The EuroLeague is not the only competition in which the player participated for the team during the season. He also played in domestic competition, and regional competition if applicable.


Regular season[edit]

2016–17 Phoenix 43 0 13.3 .354 .277 .364 2.4 .5 .2 .5 3.4
2017–18 Phoenix 82 37 25.2 .386 .366 .765 4.4 1.6 .3 .6 6.5
Career 125 37 21.1 .378 .345 .694 3.7 1.2 .3 .6 5.4


2015–16 Maccabi Tel Aviv 7 0 10.5 .333 .250 .500 1.4 .6 .3 .4 2.1 1.1
Career 7 0 10.5 .333 .250 .500 1.4 .6 .3 .4 2.1 1.1

Personal life[edit]

Bender's older brother, Ivan, is a redshirted junior that plays college basketball as a forward for the Maryland Terrapins.[54]

In order to learn the English language at a young age, Bender watched American sitcoms like Friends and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.[55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Dragan Bender". nba.com. 
  2. ^ a b Leo, Phil. "Dragan Bender: Future NBA Star is REAL Talent". Grinberg News. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  3. ^ a b Sinai, Allon. "Mac TA's Bender braces for added attention in next step en route to NBA". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  4. ^ Pick, David. "Meet 17-Year-Old European Dragan Bender, Who Could Be 2016's Kristaps Porzingis". Bleacher Report. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  5. ^ Wonsover, Michael. "International Prospects Bender and Gentile Impress in American Tour". Today's Fastbreak. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  6. ^ a b Fischer, Jake. "Croatian Dragan Bender at epicenter of historic Maccabi-Milano rivalry tour". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  7. ^ a b c Givony, Jonathan. "European Dispatch: Getting to know Dragan Bender". Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  8. ^ a b "Dragan Bender player profile". Eurobasket.com. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  9. ^ "Bender, Dragan". Euroleague Basketball. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  10. ^ a b "Bender zakucavanjem odveo Kaštelane na prag A1 lige". Kastela.org (in Croatian). Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  11. ^ "Dragan Bender Game Logs". RealGM. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  12. ^ O'Donnell, Ricky. "The future of basketball looks a lot like Croatia's Dragan Bender". SB Nation. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  13. ^ "2015 adidas Eurocamp: Day One". DraftExpress. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  14. ^ "Ironi Ramat Gan - Ramat Hasharon 87-83". Eurobasket.com. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  15. ^ "Maccabi Raanana - Ironi Ramat Gan 73-88". Eurobasket.com. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  16. ^ "Netanya - Ironi Ramat Gan 95-96". Eurobasket.com. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  17. ^ "Maccabi Tel Aviv out to avenge recent flops as BSL season tips off". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  18. ^ "Maccabi T-A - Maccabi K/G 89-65". Eurobasket.com. Retrieved 6 April 2016. 
  19. ^ "Maccabi K/G - Maccabi T-A 63-88". Eurobasket.com. Retrieved 6 April 2016. 
  20. ^ "Maccabi T-A - Hapoel Holon 93-75". Eurobasket.com. Retrieved 6 April 2016. 
  21. ^ Dragan Bender Declares For NBA Draft
  22. ^ Source: Top prospect Dragan Bender has $1.3 million buyout
  23. ^ "Suns select Dragan Bender with No. 4 pick". SI.com. June 23, 2016. Retrieved July 12, 2016. 
  24. ^ Suns Select Dragan Bender with 4th Pick of 2016 NBA Draft
  25. ^ Phoenix Suns take Dragan Bender No. 4 in NBA draft
  26. ^ Suns Sign Dragan Bender, Marquese Chriss and Tyler Ulis
  27. ^ 2016 Summer League Player Profile
  28. ^ Five Observations From NBA Summer League in Las Vegas
  29. ^ Phoenix Suns' Dragan Bender, an old pro at 18, knows the grind
  30. ^ "Kings vs. Suns – Box Score". ESPN.com. October 26, 2016. Retrieved October 27, 2016. 
  31. ^ Opening Night Game Preview: Phoenix Suns kick off season against Sacramento Kings
  32. ^ Bender is first @NBA 18y/o to score 10+ in a...
  33. ^ Suns vs. Trail Blazers – Box Score
  34. ^ Suns vs. Warriors – Box Score
  35. ^ Harden scores 32 points and Rockets cruise past Suns 131-115
  36. ^ Dragan Bender Undergoes Successful Surgery
  37. ^ Rockets, without Harden, send Suns to 12th straight loss
  38. ^ Phoenix Suns announce roster for NBA Summer League in Las Vegas
  39. ^ "Clarkson scores 25, Lakers beat Suns 100-93". ESPN.com. November 13, 2017. Retrieved November 13, 2017. 
  40. ^ "Suns' Dragan Bender: Scores career-high 17 points Saturday". cbssports.com. December 17, 2017. Retrieved December 27, 2017. 
  41. ^ "Reserves Bender, Jackson help Suns beat Thunder 114-100". ESPN.com. January 7, 2018. Retrieved January 7, 2018. 
  42. ^ "Nuggets use big second-half run to beat Suns 123-113". ESPN.com. February 10, 2018. Retrieved February 11, 2018. 
  43. ^ http://www.nba.com/games/20180408/GSWPHX#/boxscore
  44. ^ https://www.nba.com/suns/press-release/suns-announce-2018-summer-league-roster
  45. ^ "Dragan Bender". FIBAEurope.com. FIBA. Retrieved 6 April 2016. 
  46. ^ "Dragan Bender". FIBAEurope.com. FIBA. Retrieved 17 July 2016. 
  47. ^ "Dragan Bender". FIBAEurope.com. FIBA. Retrieved 17 July 2016. 
  48. ^ "Just for Kicks: Rising star Bender leaves FIBA U19s over sneaker dispute". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 13 March 2016. 
  49. ^ Dragan Bender, a top NBA draft prospect, talks about Kristaps Porzingis, Croatia and sitcoms
  50. ^ Adidas designs shoe without logo for Croatian PF Dragan Bender
  51. ^ Finally some good news for the Croatian NT...
  52. ^ Croatia 17 - Dragan Bender.
  53. ^ a b Bosnian big man getting deep look for top draft position
  54. ^ Ivan Bender Bio
  55. ^ 5 Things to Know about Suns Top Pick Dragan Bender

External links[edit]