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Suns’ Earl Watson pleased with what he sees from Dragan Bender

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
LISTEN: Earl Watson, Suns head coach

As losses continue to mount for the Phoenix Suns, the questions concerning the workload for young players ring louder.

In recent weeks, many have wondered out loud when first-round pick Dragan Bender would start getting consistent minutes.

Bender, the fifth-overall selection in June, has seen his already spotty minutes reduced in recent weeks since forward T.J. Warren returned from a head injury. In his last seven appearances, the 19-year-old averaged just 8.1 minutes per game.

That changed Monday night in Houston. The Rockets blew out the Suns 131-115, but Bender saw his playing time increase. The rookie played 26 minutes in the game, scoring a career-high 11 points and grabbing 13 rebounds for his first professional double-double. He added two assists, three steals and two blocked shots.

Head coach Earl Watson was pleased with Bender’s effort in the loss.

“I said it before, a lot of people compared him to different players,” Watson told Doug and Wolf Tuesday morning on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “I’ve always thought he was most like Lamar Odom — he can do a little bit of everything. Sometimes, he’s going to have 20-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and 10-plus assists all in the same game.

“You saw it (Monday) night, with his points, his rebounds, blocked shots and steals and hustle.”

Bender got on the floor early Monday. With less than three minutes remaining in the first quarter and Houston already leading by 16 points, the Croatian native subbed in for Eric Bledsoe, and immediately made his presence felt. Bender had three defensive rebounds and a blocked shot before the end of the quarter.

Watson is aware of the growing pains the roster will experience with so much youth featured.

“Our thing is we want all of our young guys to arrive, but we want them to arrive at different times,” the coach said. “Just for the production and the development of the entire group, so we’re excited about Bender.”

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