Dragan Bender’s 2017 Eurobasket has been a learning experience, to say the least.
Even though his Croatian national team gave him the most run he’s seen throughout the tournament against the Czech Republic on Thursday, the theme — learning how to become an impact role player — remained the same.
Nonetheless, scoring 10 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing four assists to go with a steal and two blocks in 28 minutes was a step in the right direction.
In a 107-69 blowout win, Bender shot 4-for-6 and hit both of his three-point attempts, but those limited opportunities came as he continued to float in the weakside corners on offense.
The good news is that both of his spot threes were in rhythm and with arc.
The bad news is that his flat shot returned in one of his only isolation touches, a 12-foot turnaround over one of the smaller Czech defenders.
Of Bender’s assists, three of them came as what could be compared to a catch-and-shoot jumper; Bender would receive a pass standing along the three-point arc and immediately make the secondary pass to a cutter, spot-up shooter or post-up man.
His fourth assist came when he pushed the ball in transition and rewarded teammate Ivan Buva for running the floor and sealing off a defender with a postup.
Defensively, Bender caused problems with his length as usual, but as Kellan Olson noted in his column of Bender’s Eurobasket thus far, there were a few too many mistakes.
Notably, Bender was biting while recovering against shot-fakes, resulting in less-than-athletic (in NBA terms) guards blowing by him.
There were also more signs of awareness problems that, the Suns would hope, can be eliminated through experience. A few of Bender’s passes were so well-thought-out and premeditated (presumably because he sees what’s happening) that, by the time Bender was making the pass, a defender had gotten in the way. Once, he put the ball on the deck on the right wing but quickly lost it as a smaller defender reached over into his driving lane.
It’ll be interesting to see where Bender’s minutes go from here.
He started against the Czech Republic as coach Aleksandar Petrovic, the brother of late NBA player Drazen Petrovic, tinkered with an inconsistent lineup — as he had been with Bender every game leading into Thursday.
An expected blowout that took awhile to become just that saw Croatian stars Dario Saric and Bojan Bogdanovic come off the bench and play 22 minutes apiece, a sign that maybe there’s a method to the rotational madness.
Twice after pulling Bender, cameras showed Petrovic speaking to his young player on the sideline — he once began repeatedly pounding the sideline advertising wall between him and his bench as emphasis.
The promising result from that: Bender came off the bench in the second half looking more engaged.
The optimist would seem to think Bender, after 28 minutes on the court Thursday following a 20-minute performance in a matchup against the four NBA big men on Spain two days prior, is being challenged in the opening games to earn his role through tough love.