NBA Position: PF/C
General Information: 18 year old, played for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Isreal. From Caplijna, Bosnia.
Measurables: 7'0.5", 216 lbs, 7'2" wingspan, 9'3" standing reach, 23.5' no step vertical, 27.5' max vertical.
2015-16 Season Statistics: 5.5 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.5 SPG, 0.8 BPG, 0.6 TOPG (38 games played, 12.9 minutes a contest) - 42.3% FG, 71.9% FT, 33.8% 3P
Bender—the youngest player in the draft—is a gifted offensive player with great size, foot speed, and range, and is more NBA-ready than his seasonal statistics indicate. He needs to add some serious weight, and his defensive game is less developed, but he's a smart player with great potential across the board. Bender seems like a science experiment bent on making the picture-perfect modern NBA big man.
Bender's most immediate NBA skill is his shooting; he's a capable shooter out to the three-point line, and has a dangerously high release thanks to his massive length. Bender has been the most successful three-point shooter of the lottery-likely stretch fours, and he's shown serious improvement over the past year. His improvements as a shooter—26.7% three-point rate to 33.8% rate this year highlight's Bender's dedication, at least when it comes to the most tantalizing NBA-tool for a big. That shot has been inconsistent, especially lately; in his last 10 games, he's gone 6/24 (25%) from three, which tanked his seasonal average (it was 36.9% before the start of April). His future team will have to tweek his shooting motion to improve this consistency, but he's got a solid foundation as a long-ball shooter.
Bender is a major threat in transition—aside from his 7'2 wingspan, he flies down the court like a two-guard. His fluidity and footspeed are elite for a big man, especially one of his size, and he moves well without the ball and can attack the basket against slower opponents. He was mainly used outside of the post for Tel Aviv, and while his quickness and off-ball movements helped set him up for some good post shots, he's not going to be a threat in the NBA paint when he weighs as much as some shooting guards. Adding on weight and developing a back-to-the-basket game is a must for Bender's long-term development.
One aspect of Bender's game that has gone underutilized in the past two years has been his passing. At the FIBA U18 European Championship in 2014, he averaged 6.7 assists per 40 minutes and a near 3/1 assist/turnover ratio, both of which shattered the Euro U18 records for a 6'10 or taller big man—hat tip to SI.com for this stat. Bender wasn't utilized as a passer for Tel Aviv (.66 assists per game this season, which equates to just over 2 per 40 minutes), but he has shown flashes of great court vision. If this vision and passing instincts aren't mirages, that would seriously add to his offensive versatility, especially in the modern NBA which stresses ball movement.
Bender has good potential as a defender due to his length, size and footspeed, which should all combine to help him cover a wide range of players, but he's not as ready for an NBA defense as he is an NBA offense. He's a smart player who reacts well, and he averaged 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals per 40 minutes, but he also averaged 7.4 fouls per 40 minutes. He's not a lax defender, but he needs to get smarter, improve his awareness, and get much, much stronger. His length and footspeed will only help him so much in the NBA—teams will aim to get him in iso situations in the paint until he adds the bulk to muscle up to fours.
While blessed with great size and length, Bender isn't an explosive player, and his small bulk hurts him on the glass. He snags only 5.9 defensive boards at an adjusted 40-minute rate, and was constantly pushed off the block by smaller players. He's got good instincts and quick reactions, but again, it comes down to his ability to add muscle.
Youngsters get little to no playing time in the Euro League which stresses veteran players, so it's not surprising that an 18-year-old (even one as talented as Bender) would get limited action.
While the too obvious comparison for Bender is Kristaps Porzingis (due to their European origin, outside shot, and exceptionally skinny frame), Bender is aiming to model his game after Draymond Green, citing Green's versatility (No one mention this to Brad if he gets drafted by the Kings).
"He's the guy who is trying to organize the game," Bender said. "He is passing the ball, he is rebounding, he is scoring, he is all over the court, so that is what I am trying to be."
He also says he's "careful" about gaining weight so he doesn't lose his speed and agility, but he won't become a double-offensive threat until he can stay under the basket with NBA power forwards. Fluidity and a 7'2 wingspan will help him compensate, but he'll be facing many small forwards who have significantly more weight than his 215 lbs.
It's tough to armchair scout Bender to the level of the college players without full-game footage (especially due to the lack of full Maccabi Tel Aviv games on Youtube in which Bender played at all), but check out the always reliable DraftExpress breakdown below. Also check out this SI.com article from 2014, which talks in depth about Bender's performance at the FIBA's U18 European Championship. I'd also recommend checking out Kevin O'Connor's breakdown on the SB Nation mothership. If anyone has full-game footage for a contest this year that Bender played more than 5 minutes, pass it along!
Fit with Sacramento:
Sacramento wants to add a stretch four, and in a class of high-risk, high-reward bigs who fit that mold, I think Bender has the highest floor and the highest ceiling. He's a gifted, smart player who—when he adds muscle—will be able to impact every aspect of an NBA offense. His defense is more than acceptable for an 18-year old, and unlike many prospects his age, effort was never an issue defensively.
With his versatility on offense and long-term potential on defense, he fits in beautifully with the Kings current roster; he adds much needed shooting and another ball-handler, and with his footspeed and length he'll be a major threat in transition. Much depends on his ability to add muscle without losing his quickness, but I love the idea of any combination of DeMarcus Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Bender. The three could even play together, since Cauley-Stein and Bender both have the footspeed to keep up with many small forwards, and the Kings could start a big man revolution with three uniquely gifted, versatile players. Given Bender's modern value and high ceiling, it seems unlikely that he'd fall to No. 8.
As always, check out the DraftExpress breakdowns.