Suns’ Earl Watson wants Dragan Bender to play a little point guard

Jun 28, 2017, 11:53 AM | Updated: 3:14 pm
Phoenix Suns head coach Earl Watson looks on against the Denver Nuggets in the second half of an NB...

Phoenix Suns head coach Earl Watson looks on against the Denver Nuggets in the second half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 26, 2017, in Denver. The Nuggets won 127-120. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

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

If we’re judging by Twitter majority, Suns fans wanted Dragan Bender to play less at small forward in 2016-17 and more at power forward or even center.

Such a request wasn’t as easy to manage for coach Earl Watson with Marquese Chriss and Jared Dudley at power forward and Tyson Chandler, Alan Williams and Alex Len playing center. Adding to the questions, Bender got hurt just before the All-Star break as Phoenix began resting its veterans and didn’t return until the final five games of the year.

Waiting to see Bender’s defensive position will have to wait until the roster shapes out through free agency, but Watson already dropped a hint about the offensive role the Suns will try to carve out for him in Summer League.

Queue the “positionless basketball” conversation.

“We want him to take the ball off the rim as a rebound and push it. We want to see him make plays. We want to figure out a system where he can run some point, just let him open up his game,” Watson told Doug and Wolf on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station on Wednesday.

Bender, 19, averaged 3.4 points and 2.4 rebounds in 43 games as a rookie last season.


More and more, NBA draftees have dictated which team selects them by controlling their own workouts.

In 2016, Kris Dunn’s refusal to work out for several teams — those like the Suns who had too many point guards already on the roster — likely led him to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

This past draft, the Suns’ No. 4 overall pick, Josh Jackson, rubbed Celtics president of basketball ops Danny Ainge the wrong way when he canceled a workout as Boston brass was headed to see him work out in Sacramento.

That Jackson even had a workout in Sacramento, where the Suns eventually met with him, said a lot about how the pre-draft process has changed.

Top prospects are bringing NBA front offices to their own workouts rather than the other way around.

“You’re starting to see now these young guys coming into the draft, you must have a relationship or built a relationship very quickly with their support group. They’re not coming to Chicago (for the combine) anymore,” Watson said. “If you do not (have a relationship), it’s very difficult to actually get a workout.

“It’s starting to become a different game in the NBA, which to me we’re dealing with younger players. It sounds exactly like, to me, NBA staffs, they must start recruiting like college.”

Watson, who runs an AAU program in the Los Angeles area, should know.

He came into the NBA as a coach prepared with a recruiting book that looked more like UCLA’s than a professional team when he nearly helped Phoenix land then-free agent LaMarcus Aldridge.

Watson sees the draft the same way. While he didn’t say whether Jackson favored Phoenix over Boston because of a better relationship with the Suns, Watson added that he’d already built a relationship with the Kansas product before his freshman year of college.

“I met Josh and his mom probably like five years ago. I met them at an AAU tournament,” he said.

The GM-coach relationship

Watson didn’t hide his feelings that shutting down top veterans like Eric Bledsoe a season ago wasn’t his idea.

That said, he understands working with general manager Ryan McDonough and the front office comes with its disagreements. And Watson knows that everyone within the organization has the same goal.

“No one is saying ‘Let’s lose.’ Everyone wants to win so it’s not gonna always go your way and this is when you have to realize, people are not robotic — so you have to at least give someone some space to have some emotion,” the head coach said. “After that emotion passes we all have to find a positive out of whatever the situation is.

“We found that positive last year with Tyler Ulis having an amazing ending, Marquese Chriss getting better, and how about Derrick Jones coming from nowhere. Alan Williams, who changed his life out of a decision that really didn’t impact him, he took advantage of the opportunity.”

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Suns’ Earl Watson wants Dragan Bender to play a little point guard