Milwaukee Bucks

Will Dragan Bender live up to his potential on the Bucks?

As a former No. 4 overall draft pick, Dragan Bender disappointed with the Phoenix Suns. Will he live up to his potential with the Milwaukee Bucks?

When the Phoenix Suns drafted Dragan Bender with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, they were hoping to find a future franchise cornerstone, a diamond in the rough that was raw but still had enough potential to someday become a star.

However, things did not work out that way and the success he had in Israel as a member of Maccabi Tel Aviv eluded him in the NBA. After three disappointing years with the Suns, Phoenix declined to pick up Bender’s fourth-year option, making him a not particularly sought-after free agent.

Still, with a player as young as him, a 21-year-old who was expected by some to be a very good player one day, it is not altogether surprising that a team finally decided to take a chance on him. According to ESPN‘s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Milwaukee Bucks agreed to sign Bender to a two-year deal on Thursday.

Milwaukee promises to be a better spot for Bender to develop than Phoenix, a team with a revolving door of coaches and players that’s always trying to win now without ever really having the personnel to do so. The Bucks are a title contender, and while it may be hard for him to initially find minutes over the Brothers Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, he will finally be in a stable environment that’s proven itself capable of successfully developing young talent — exactly what he needs at this point in his career.

There may also be a new sense of freedom that comes with no longer being on a team that had invested a lottery pick in him, a sort of looseness that comes with merely being a bench player expected to fulfill a particular role.

In Phoenix, Bender struggled with inconsistent minutes and equally inconsistent performances whenever he made it onto the floor. Because of this, it’s hard to know exactly what to make of what we’ve seen from him except that he is, to be generous, a project.

While he was drafted to be a stretch-big, he has only made 32 percent of his 3-point attempts so far in his career and posted a career-worst 21 percent from deep last season. If he can return to the form that allowed him to make 36.6 percent from 3 on nearly four attempts per game in the 2017-18 season, he’ll be a great addition for the Bucks and make their loss of Nikola Mirotic much less painful.

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One promising development from last season was his improved shooting within the arc, as he made over 72 percent of his shots near the basket last season, per NBA.com. The problem is that was the only place he shot well, going a combined 22-for-106 elsewhere.

It’s doubtful that Bender, young as he is at just 21, will ever come close to being the player Phoenix hoped he would be when it drafted him three years ago, but if he’s going to revitalize his career and showcase that he has something to offer in order to stay in the league for an extended period of time, Milwaukee appears to be a good place for that to happen. The problem is that, even after three seasons, any glimmers of potential have been just that: glimmers that ultimately promise nothing.

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