By Rahul Lal
With the 2016 NBA Draft fast approaching, we’re taking a detailed look at and comparing some of the elite players expected to be drafted in the lottery in our Draft Dilemma series. These players will have a chance to be a part of the next generation of NBA stars and that legacy begins on draft day. The NBA Draft will be held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York on June 23 at 7 p.m. ET.
Dragan Bender vs. Marquese Chriss
Dragan Bender (Bosnia) and Marquese Chriss (Washington, Fr.) are considered the top forward options in this year’s draft. While both of these players will be taken off the board relatively quickly, they each are considered mystery players. Bender is billed as the next European sensation and has accumulated two Israeli League Cups and was named an Israeli League all-star this past season. Chriss, whose draft stock sky rocketed quicker than any other prospect since the conclusion of the series, was named as an honorable mention to the Pac-12 all-freshmen team in 2016.
Dragan Bender’s Measurements and Stats:
Age: 18, Height: 7’1″, Weight: 216 lbs., Vertical Reach: 9’3″, Wingspan: 7’2″
5.5 PTS, 3 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.9 BLK, .466 FG%, .733 FT%, .369 3P% (in 14.5 mins)
Marquese Chriss’ Measurements and Stats:
Age: 18, Height: 6’10”, Weight 233 lbs., Vertical Reach: 8’9″, Wingspan: 7′
13.7 PTS, 5.4 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.9 STL, 1.6 BLK, .431 FG%, .654 FT%, .294 3P%
He is not Kristaps Porzingis, he is not Kristaps Porzingis, now say it one more time with me: “he is not Kristaps Porzingis.” Now that we got that out of the way, Bender is an incredible offensive prospect in his own right. He grew up playing point guard and developed into a 7-foot prospect who moves like a wing, has incredible court vision and can shoot from deep. His size allows him to line up at just about any position including a small ball center (because that’s a real thing now). He has above average transition offense and stays within his limitations offensively. While he has plenty of positives, he really struggles with contact and can be shut down by athletic and stronger defenders. Given his size, his post game should be further along than it currently is.
Marquese Chriss is a bit of an anomaly. He played a full season in Washington and most people are still a little unsure how to categorize his game. To take my best stab at it, he’s a stretch four. His game is jump started by his incredible leaping ability (pun definitely intended) and is added on to by his shooting ability. Chriss shot 35 percent from three-point range and uses his high release to shoot over opponents. Forget the Clippers, wherever Chriss goes has the potential to be the next Lob City due to this guy’s incredible athleticism and body control. He was also one of the better offensive rebounders and had a nose for the ball while cleaning up the boards. What he has in raw ability, he lacks in polish. He struggles with his ball handling and is still clearly learning to dribble through traffic with his head up – a bad sign for a future NBA player and he tries to do more than he should at times. Comparing Bender’s 9’3″ vertical reach to Chriss’ 8’9″, Chriss is significantly lower than not only Bender but many prospects and that hurts his chances at being a proficient post player.
Verdict: Due to the versatility, I have to give the upper hand here to Bender. He has so much room to grow and is already a dark horse to be one of the most dangerous offensive players in this draft.
Bender is a very unique player on the defensive end. A player as big as him shouldn’t be able to guard the perimeter as well as he can. He uses his quick feet, effort and instincts to frustrate a player and get steals or blocks. He has the ability to guard both positions in the pick and roll, which is huge in this new era of basketball and he contests just about every shot to the point that he will make the shooter change his shot. The category he struggles most in is his low post defense. He isn’t athletic enough to be a true rim protector and due to his build, he can get buried under the rim while boxing out for a rebound. These will need to be addressed but can be with an NBA training program.
Chriss is a bit different, his defense is centered around his athleticism coupled with his quick feet and agility. Those are very important as they help him switch to guard some smaller players out on the perimeter and jump the gap for steals. I’m very concerned about his defensive game as it presents itself currently. He had a problem rebounding… that’s the last thing you want to hear about a power forward. In college, Chriss only averaged 4.1 defensive rebounds per 40 minutes. What’s even more concerning is that there were countless situations that he never even found a man to box out – something players are taught right away. He also averaged 5.7 fouls per 40 minutes, which is a stat that can really hurt his development in the NBA. While he’s a tough player, he simply gets muscled by larger offensive players and might even give up on the play at times. His highlight tape makes him look like a better defender because of the blocks but he has a lot of work to do. That being said, he has a lot of defensive potential if he can learn to grasp some of the defensive fundamentals.
Verdict: Again, Bender definitely holds the upper hand. Chriss does have the defensive potential to turn into a better defender but as is, The Dragan (can we refer to him as ‘The Dragan,’ please?) wins again.
Dragan Bender’s motor is tough to assess. While he possesses great talent and has played on a big stage for a while now, we still haven’t gotten much of a chance to really see him play. As consistent with most European leagues, no player gets to stay on the court for too long during a game and they really don’t have to worry about being “the guy” on any team or handling lots of individual pressure. While we know he’s a good hustle player, we have absolutely no idea how he’ll react when put into a tough situation or placed on a team where he’s asked to deliver right away.
Chriss is also a bit of an unknown as we don’t know too much about his ability under pressure either. Just like Ben Simmons’ LSU Tigers, the Huskies failed to make it to the NCAA tournament and struggled in what is considered a relatively shallow conference. Just by watching his game, you can tell he’s an emotional player but that can affect a player and his development in two very different ways. He never struck me as a true competitor and never had the game-to-game consistency. By the end of the season he began to get it going recording consistent points, blocks and rebounds as long as the minutes came his way.
Verdict: It’s like I’m staring at two buildings under construction. One has a lot of really good amenities in the process of construction while the other is simple and has a giant budget. Each player has a world of potential, we just have no idea how they’ll each turn out yet. As of right now, I think I’ll go with Chriss only because we’ve seen some proven success towards the end of the season but this one is truly a toss up and I could eat my words in a couple short months.
Potential and NBA Readiness:
There’s a lot to appreciate here when it comes to Bender. The Dragan has – no? Okay, sorry. Bender has years of experience on his side as he’s been playing professional basketball against grown men since he was 14. This makes his floor incredibly high. By the time he plays his first NBA game, he’ll still be 18 (turns 19 in November). He could step in to quickly become a stretch four or a secondary ball handler and could develop into a talent the NBA rarely gets to see.
Chriss isn’t exactly receiving AARP benefits either. Chriss is only four months older than Bender and has only been playing competitive basketball for four years, the same amount of time Bender has been playing professionally. It’s safe to say he’s gotten pretty good, pretty quick and that’s one of the most interesting things about rolling the dice on a prospect like him. Along with his frame, athleticism and shooting, he has the ability to develop well. But, given how his game is right now, he will struggle immediately in the NBA and has a lot of developing to do before he plays his best basketball, which will likely be a number of years from now.
Verdict: Bender’s experience is very important for me. When people talk about the level of competition abroad, it’s usually talked about negatively but looking at the NBA readiness of several top international prospects in the last few years (Kristaps Porzingis, Mario Hezonja and Emmanuel Mudiay from last year alone), these players come out ready to contribute and more battle tested than players who were playing against high school players just a year ago. I would trust the high floor on Bender and really trust the skill set to develop as opposed to Chriss’ developing skill set.
Rahul Lal is an LA native stuck in a lifelong, love-hate relationship with the Lakers, Dodgers and Raiders. You can follow him on Twitter here.