PHX-bound? Dragan Bender declares for NBA Draft

Posted at 10:59 AM, Apr 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-06 13:59:48-04

The man whom many NBA Draft experts believe could be headed to the Valley has officially decided to toss his hat in the ring.

On Tuesday, ESPN reported Croatian 7-footer Dragan Bender has declared for the 2016 draft, which will take place June 23 in New York.

Multiple mock draft experts have the Phoenix Suns selecting the 18-year-old Bender with their first pick in the draft.

"He can theoretically protect the rim, and he can definitely shoot threes. Those are the two most valuable skills in basketball right now," said Sports Illustrated's Andrew Sharp, who projects Bender going to the Suns with the third overall pick.

"He's still young, and will need to get much stronger in the NBA, but the skills alone will make him very difficult to pass up ... In Phoenix, his perimeter game could be a nice long-term fit next to Alex Len. And with Devin Booker's emergence along with a healthy backcourt returning next year, there's a chance that grabbing Bender at the top could make this whole miserable year worth it."

Bender currently plays for Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel, where he put up 43 points and 21 rebounds in a single game earlier this season.

Of course, all of this depends on whether the Suns actually end up with the third overall pick, which won't be determined until the NBA Draft Lottery takes place May 19.

If the Suns have some bad luck and are saddled with a lower pick, Bender may already be off the board by the time the Suns are up on draft night. If they get a higher pick, they may opt to take one of the two men currently projected to go No. 1 or 2 in the draft, LSU forward Ben Simmons or Duke forward Brandon Ingram.

And, of course, there's the minor detail of the Suns actually wanting to draft Bender. But based on what we already know about the Croatian phenom, it's tough to see Phoenix passing on him if Simmons and Ingram are already taken.