As they prepare for the next chapter of the rebuilding process, the Phoenix Suns (22-48) will call it quits for the 2016-17 season. Now sitting at the fourteenth seed in the Western Conference, there’s nothing else left but to look ahead for the upcoming summer.
The Suns, who will miss their seventh-consecutive postseason, while it being their fifth since trading Steve Nash to the Los Angeles Lakers (in the summer of 2012), Phoenix has a long way to go before being relevant again.
Although, the process isn’t going to be as difficult as one would presume.
Even though they chose to shut down guards Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight for the remainder of the season, the Suns have a highly-talented rotation of backcourt players. By that matter, it appears that Bledsoe and Knight could be expendable in the upcoming offseason, with sophomore Devin Booker, as well as rookie Tyler Ulis making great strides.
However, guard-play isn’t the issue for this desiring Suns team. Phoenix has an overwhelming logjam at the power forward and center positions. This group consists of Tyson Chandler, Marquese Chriss, Alex Len, Alan Williams, and even 7’1″ rookie Dragan Bender.
It hasn’t been a season to remember for the Croatian Sensation. The Suns selected Bender with the fourth-overall pick in last year’s draft, with the expectation that he could contribute right away. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case.
In fact, we can now say for the first-five lottery picks of the 2016 NBA Draft, Ben Simmons (hasn’t played this season due to fractured foot), Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, Kris Dunn, and Dragan Bender are all yet to make a large impact at the professional level. But for later picks, such as Buddy Hield, Jamal Murray, Chriss, and Skal Labissiere have performed better — in what could go down as an extremely poor draft.
But for Bender, his experience with the Suns has been quite different, in comparison to the other top lottery picks. He only managed to appear in 38 games before having arthroscopic surgery in his right ankle, back in early February. He’s now expected to miss the remainder of the season.
Side note: Suns rookie Dragan Bender – out after minor ankle surgery – is indeed out of his protective boot. Suns hope he returns this year
— Doug Haller (@DougHaller) February 23, 2017
Bender’s most productive game as a pro was on December 26th against the Houston Rockets, in which Phoenix suffered a 115-131 defeat. Dragan scored 11 points while pulling down 13 rebounds, as he added 2 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks in just over 26 minutes.
With only five games of scoring in double-figures, Suns head coach Earl Watson simply hasn’t been able to give the 19 year-old center much time to work with, as he’s played in just 12.7 minutes per game.
Dragan played in five games for the Suns’ Summer League team (Las Vegas) last summer. He only averaged 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds through five games, but there were some very promising moments.
The Suns have a blend of youth as well as veterans to compete at a high-level every night. As we mentioned fellow rookies Ulis and Chriss, they’ve already proven themselves as solid rotation players down the line. And for an athletic interior presence who can also space the floor such as Bender, his time will come.
And while he’s still very young, Bender must adapt to the more physical-style of play in the NBA, and once he does that, more minutes will be thrown his way. Whether it’ll be in Phoenix or not, remains to be seen.