At 2015’s NBA Draft, little known Latvian power forward Kristaps Porzingis was taken by the New York Knicks with the fourth overall pick, a choice that was roundly booed by the Knicks fans in attendance, most of whom had never seen Porzingis play.
Fast forward a year and Porzingis is now established as a fan favourite at Madison Square Garden after his superb opening season in the league, which saw him come second in voting for Rookie of the Year and become a key part of the Knicks future.
Therefore, hopefully the attitudes on display by the supporters of whichever franchise elects to take Croatia’s Dragan Bender in tonight’s draft will be of stark contrast to last year, with NBA fans having had their eyes opened to the potential of players who may be unknown to them.
Where could Bender be drafted?
After the instant success of Porzingis, Bender’s similarities to the Latvian mean he is projected to be a high pick in the draft, with the consensus being that he is at least a top 10 pick, with some even having Bender as high as number three on their draft board.
Being picked at number three would see Bender join up with the Boston Celtics, however, in recent weeks Boston appear to be shifting further away from the Croatian, instead focussing on other areas or on trading away their pick.
If Boston do not take a chance on Bender then it is likely he will end up at any of the next four teams with picks four to seven, Phoenix, Minnesota, New Orleans and Denver.
Phoenix and Denver have so far been the two teams that have shown the most interest in the power forward, and therefore appear to be probable landing spots, but, of course, that may change if Minnesota or New Orleans have their first choice taken by a team ahead of them in the draft.
Of the five teams mentioned above, Boston and Minnesota are the two looking for the most immediate success, so it would, therefore, be a surprise if they were to take a slightly longer term project.
The other three teams are very much in rebuilding mode, much like the Knicks when they drafted Porzingis, which would allow Bender to have at least his first season in the NBA with less pressure to perform.
Why the comparisons to Porzingis?
Not only does Bender also come from Eastern Europe and will be an unknown commodity to most, his game and stature are also extremely similar to that of the Knicks power forward. He is just over seven feet tall, with an extremely thin body type and also plays the same position.
As well as this his skills match that of Porzingis, as he is already a very good shooter and, even if his defensive ability needs work, his length will be able to help him early on, as we saw with Porzingis averaging 1.9 blocks per game last season.
Will his impact be immediate?
We may not see the same instant impact as there was in New York last year, because Porzingis was a true revelation immediately and people will now expect that Bender may be able to do the same, however he can certainly give teams that are lacking quality a real boost.
He provides an opportunity to space the floor with his long-range shooting, something that is crucial in the modern NBA, and in the future when he is more developed it is almost certain that there could be periods where Bender could play small-ball center, something that is expected more from Porzingis this coming season.
Tonight is the start of Bender’s NBA journey, when he will finally find out which franchise he will be representing, but we will have to wait until October to see if Dragan can set fire to the NBA…