The Milwaukee Bucks have reportedly made what will almost certainly be the final addition to their roster, with Dragan Bender rumored to sign on a two-year deal.
According to a report from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, that search may now have come to an end thanks to a two-year deal with Croatian big man Dragan Bender.
The Bucks could and likely still will sign further players to training camp deals that would give them G League rights for younger free agents, but the events preceding Bender’s signing offer up plenty of reason to believe his money will have at least a guarantee in the first year.
Prior to this agreement with the Bucks, the 21-year-old looked to be headed back to Europe, so this makes for an interesting about turn for the former fourth overall pick.
According to Nikos Varlas of EuroHoops, Bender had come to terms on a verbal agreement with Russian heavyweight CSKA Moscow and was intent on finalizing that deal “unless there’s an interesting NBA offer for him in the 11th hour.”
In that regard, the Bucks appear to have offered Bender an NBA lifeline sooner than he was necessarily expecting to receive one.
Since entering the NBA as the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, Bender has played over 170 games with the Phoenix Suns, although his opportunity and role fluctuated significantly across that span. Part of that comes with the territory when a team changes coach on an annual basis, though, as Bender played under Earl Watson, Jay Triano and Igor Kokoskov in Phoenix even prior to Monty Williams‘ arrival this summer.
The Bucks will hope that a more stable environment can bring out the best in a player that’s still only 21 years old, and may be able to tap into the kind of potential that made him a source of real fascination in his draft class.
Bender is 7’1″ with a 7’3″ wingspan. That leaves him on the tall side of most modern NBA centers, yet Bender has always possessed a wide range of skills that make him look like much more of a forward in spite of that stature too.
Coming from Split, Bender demonstrated glimpses of floor-spacing ability, and although he’s been inconsistent in the NBA, his 36.6 percent three-point shooting on 3.9 attempts per game in his second season in Phoenix provides real cause for belief. Similarly, Bender is also much more comfortable with the ball in his hands than most players of his size, while those physical gifts give him obvious potential as a shot blocker too.
Bender came into the NBA immensely raw, and that description of his game likely still holds up today.
Having said that, as low cost flyers go, the Bucks couldn’t have taken on many more intriguing gambles than this reclamation project of a physically rare, highly skilled, 21-year-old who was a top-5 pick just over three years ago.
With Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez holding down the center spot, and plenty of versatility between Milwaukee’s forwards in terms of being able to slide up to the 5 spot, there’s no pressure for Bender to play right away, or even to necessarily contribute across the course of the season.
Instead, the focus should be working behind the scenes on his confidence, his body, and his shooting stroke. If something clicks across the span of Bender’s two-year deal, the Bucks may have found themselves a real gem on the scrap heap.
Without a rookie to keep an eye on next season, Bender’s development will undoubtedly become a source of plenty of interest among Bucks fans. Given the track record of Budenholzer and his assistant when it comes to development, there’s plenty of cause for optimism too.