PHOENIX SUNS

Dragan Bender’s battle with aggression continues in second year for Suns

Jan 31, 2018, 2:07 PM | Updated: 6:36 pm
Phoenix Suns forward Dragan Bender, left, looks to pass the ball as Denver Nuggets forward Trey Lyl...
Phoenix Suns forward Dragan Bender, left, looks to pass the ball as Denver Nuggets forward Trey Lyles defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
LISTEN: Empire of the Suns

PHOENIX — Ask anyone in the Phoenix Suns organization about what the key is for second-year power forward Dragan Bender and they all use the same word: aggression.

Bender is not necessarily someone who is afraid to mix it up and be physical, as shown by how he can defend and contest shots at the rim, but the troubling part is the offensive end.

In three of the four last games, Bender has played at least 18 minutes and has scored zero points. Over the course of those 61 total minutes, he’s taken eight shots.

“I think he’s showed signs where he’s been aggressive and confident, that’s kind of where we want to get back,” interim coach Jay Triano said Wednesday.

“He’s had a couple games where he hasn’t been.”

The questions for Bender coming out of the draft were always about his offense. Would he be a consistent shooter? Would he be able to attack off the dribble? Can he create his own offense?

The good news is the shooting has been there. He checks in at 37 percent from deep prior to Wednesday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks.

The consistency, obviously, hasn’t been there for the rest of his offensive game.

Of his 96 made field goals this year, 70 percent of them (67 total) have been 3-pointers, a very high number.

Some of this does have to with Bender’s role. His game is not where it needs to be in order to be seen as more of an offensive focal point and the Suns desperately need spacing. Bender, as one of the team’s few good shooters, serves that role.

As a smart player and a good passer, leaving him on the perimeter to shoot or pass quickly before the defense rotates back isn’t the worst idea.

Per Cleaning the Glass, 24 percent of his shots come on corner threes, one of the highest numbers in the league.

Triano claimed that Bender putting up more shots is a little bit on him and the Suns consistently using different lineups throughout the season could be playing a role as well.

Trying to find more ways for Bender to get involved is something Triano wants to do and he has a few things in mind to do that.

But, that’s being kind to the Croatian, who simply has to be more, well, aggressive.

Playing 22.4 minutes a game this year, Bender has taken double-digit shots in only two games this season. In a not so shocking development, Bender scored 14 and 17 points in those two games.

When he’s feeling it, he will be aggressive, and he has shown signs of doing more than just shooting jumpers on that end.

Early in the season, he had 10 points in Brooklyn, and while that point total isn’t impressive, the two buckets he had off the dribble were a glimmer of hope that scoring off more than 3-pointers would be more a part of his game in year two.

The issue has been getting Bender to do this every time he gets the ball. Teammates are not openly seeking him out to score, so when he’s getting the ball outside of ball actions, he’s usually either open to shoot or has enough space to drive past his man and make a play.

No one is concerned about if he makes mistakes while doing this. Where the concern rests is the mindset to always be in attack mode needing to come next.

“The one thing with him is he understands the game of basketball so well and that ball movement is important so maybe if you’re thinking of not shooting you’re thinking about what’s better for the team,” Triano said.

A good way, Triano noted, for a player to get in rhythm is seeing the ball go in, and one of the easiest ways to do that is getting to the free throw line.

The trouble is, Bender’s rarely doing that. Only 3.4 percent of Bender’s shot attempts this year have come with a shooting foul, one of the worst numbers in the league, according to Cleaning the Glass.

There are reasons to be worried, but it all comes back to Bender being only 20 years old and still being one of the 20 youngest players in the league. As a No. 4 overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, it was understood that he was raw and his growth into an overall net positive on the floor would take time.

Triano, at least, does not share any concern.

“It’s not like we have an issue with him or anything, we’d just like him to play the way he was earlier in the year,” he said.

“We have no doubt it will come back.”

Penguin Air

Phoenix Suns

A basketball on the court during the game between the Washington Wizards and the Phoenix Suns at Ca...
Arizona Sports

Suns’ Ryan Resch becomes first openly gay basketball operations executive in NBA history

Ryan Resch, the Suns VP of basketball strategy and evaluation, became the first openly gay basketball operations executive in NBA history. 
1 day ago
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) shoots over New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14)...
Kevin Zimmerman

Deandre Ayton still Suns’ priority, says GM: ‘We want to keep it together’

Suns general manager James Jones said nothing has changed on the Deandre Ayton front over the past several weeks, from his seat at least.
2 days ago
General manager, James Jones of the Phoenix Suns before Game One of the Western Conference Second R...
Kellan Olson

GM James Jones clarifies ESPN article on Phoenix Suns’ draft strategy

Suns GM James Jones clarified an ESPN article that painted a detailed picture of the team's unorthodox practices in the NBA Draft.
2 days ago
NBA draft prospects pose for a photo with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, center, before the start of...
Kevin Zimmerman

NBA Draft live blog: Pistons deal for C Jalen Duren in trade-heavy night

Visit ArizonaSports.com for Phoenix Suns coverage as they stand pat without a draft pick or move into the Thursday action.
2 days ago
Tari Eason poses for photos on the red carpet during the 2022 NBA Draft at Barclays Center on June ...
Kevin Zimmerman

Paolo Banchero steals the show on 2022 NBA Draft red carpet

May all the green room invitees at the 2022 NBA Draft have as colorful of careers as they do draft-day getups.
2 days ago
Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner (42) shoots during the first half of Game 1 of the WNBA bask...
Nikash Nath

Suns’ Monty Williams: ‘It is time for (Brittney Griner) to come home’

Suns head coach Monty Williams on Thursday urged those to continue to keep pushing for Brittney Griner's safe return home.
3 days ago
Dragan Bender’s battle with aggression continues in second year for Suns