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Bjorkgren upbeat after Dragan Bender’s summer struggles

Phoenix Suns' Dragan Bender (35) gets fouled by Denver Nuggets' Mateusz Ponitka (20) to send him to the free throw for two shots and to break the tie score with one second on the clock in the NBA Summer League quarterfinal game at the Thomas & Mack Center on Saturday, July 16, 2016, in Las Vegas. Bender missed the free throws but the Suns still won 82-81 in overtime. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal via AP)

LISTEN: Nate Bjorkgren, head coach of the Summer Suns

In one of his first showings in the NBA, the Phoenix Suns’ Dragan Bender struggled to get anything going, but Summer Suns’ head coach Nate Bjorkgren saw some bright spots in the rookie’s performance.

“The biggest thing I noticed with Dragan is his feel for the game and how well he knows how to play and how well he understands it,” Bjorkgren said on the Burns and Gambo show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “With his length, he can cause problems for a lot of people.

“He had untraditional matchups the entire time and I thought he did a heck of a job with it.”

In five games, Bender averaged 8.6 points with 5.6 rebounds and one assist. He also got to see the court a lot. The third overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft started every game he played in and averaged 32 minutes a game.

“He’s very, very good at the corner threes right now and he’s shot that, you know, international line his whole life,” Bjorkgren said. “That three-point game is going to really come along and he’s got a nice off-the-dribble game when people start flying at him and really running him off the line.”

Although Bjorkgren said Bender was very good from the corners, he struggled to get shots to drop. Over half of his shots were taken from deep and only 26.5 percent found the bottom of the net.

Bender’s passing wasn’t all there either. He only had five assists against 19 turnovers in five games.

Adding to his shooting woes were his free-throws. Bender went 6-12 from the charity stripe, including back to back misses in a tie game with less than a second to go against the Denver Nuggets.

It may have been a lackluster Summer League performance for Bender but he and the rest of the rookies received a lot of much-needed experience in the NBA.

“We put so much emphasis on defense,” Bjorkgren said. “And now, guys like Dragan Bender, who we’re speaking about, he’s going to come into that first day of training camp for regular season knowing how important defense is and the emphasis we place on it.”

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