The Phoenix-Golden State pipeline is apparently a very strong one.
After the team’s signing of ex-Phoenix Suns lottery pick Dragan Bender, Golden State Warriors assistant GM Kirk Lacob joked about the pattern.
“We’re into former Suns,” said Lacob, per Logan Murdock of NBC Sports. “I don’t know if you noticed that.”
In addition to Bender, the Warriors also have on their roster Marquese Chriss, who was Phoenix’s other lottery pick in 2016. Furthermore, Suns great Steve Nash continues to work in Golden State as a player development consultant.
The Warriors’ fondness for ex-Suns actually runs even deeper than that too, and it’s probably about time that somebody noticed the trend.
At just 21 years old, Dragan Bender appears to be on his way out of the NBA.
Nikos Varlas of EuroHoops.net reported on Wednesday that the former No. 4 overall pick Bender has verbally committed to play for CSKA Moscow next season. Varlas adds that Bender will proceed with that multiyear deal unless there is an intriguing NBA offer for him at the eleventh hour.
The seven-footer was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in 2016 but failed to meet expectations with averages of 5.3 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in his three seasons there. Bender is a native of Croatia and played professionally both in his home country and in Israel before making the leap to the NBA.
There was once a time when Bender was thought to have enough upside to be included in a potential trade package for Kyrie Irving, but times have clearly changed. The good news though is that Bender is still young enough that a return to the Association at some point is far from impossible.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are far from solving their Kyrie Irving crisis, but an enticing trade offer may be coming from out West.
In an episode of “The Scoop” podcast this week, 1500 ESPN’s Darren Wolfson said that the Suns, while they are not willing to include No. 4 overall pick Josh Jackson in a potential trade for Irving, would trade Eric Bledsoe, Dragan Bender, and a future first-round pick for the All-Star guard.
While LeBron James does seem to covet Jackson, he has a close relationship with fellow Klutch Sports client Bledsoe, as we have definitely seen recently. The 19-year-old Bender makes for a riveting case as well — he’s still incredibly raw, but as a sweet-shooting seven-footer with versatility on defense, he might help the Cavs match up better against the Warriors.
Meanwhile, Irving next to Devin Booker in Phoenix would be an elite offensive backcourt, so there’s certainly a lot of intrigue to this latest trade rumor.
One of the basic truths of the human experience is the charming mystique of the unknown. Sometimes, life is just more fun when we don’t quite know what to expect, what’s to come, or even what the heck is going on. It’s why we
crave travel, why we seek exposure to different cultures, why we thirst for exciting new experiences like skydiving, or horseback riding, or petty theft (OK, maybe strike that last one). It’s why the JFK assassination is so fascinating because we still don’t know what exactly transpired in Dealey Plaza that day some five-plus decades later. It’s why Keyser Söze is one of the greatest villains in the history of cinema. It’s why the anticipation of the new Frank Ocean album is still so high, even if we’re all growing increasingly worried that the dang thing might never actually come out. And it’s why social media is so much more fun when LeBron James (obligatory edit in light of recent events: three-time NBA champion and premier basketball overlord LeBron James) is subtweeting the life out of some poor unidentified soul.
The same goes for the NBA Draft. It’s especially so in a year like this one with so many supremely skilled prospects having so many unresolved issues hiding as skeletons in their closets. Sure, most of the top-tier guys seem like fairly certain commodities. We know that Ben Simmons is a potentially transcendent athlete/playmaker with a moldy jumper, while Brandon Ingram is a scarecrow who does a little bit of everything but might just blow over in a strong gust of wind. Meanwhile, Kris Dunn was probably genetically engineered in a point guard factory, whereas Jaylen Brown, Buddy Hield, and Jamal Murray have all become synonymous in the English language with the phrase “get buckets.” But for some guys, there’s a bit more nuance to it than that. I’m talking about the players who could get a GM fired for drafting them as quickly as they could get another GM fired for passing on them. These are the talents who exemplify Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. The ones who are akin to drawing a Chance card in Monopoly. The dudes who are out to singlehandedly prove (or disprove) that hopping into the high-risk, high-reward boxcar is not a zero-sum game. They may not necessarily be the players we need, but they’re definitely the players we deserve.
Without further ado, here are the five biggest wild cards of the 2016 NBA Draft.
Denzel Valentine, SG/SF, Michigan State
Ahem…[Dramatic voice] “What if I told you that Ben Simmons’ game existed in a body with Brandon Roy’s knees? A riveting tale of risk, reward, and Tom Izzo’s tears. Presenting the latest installment in ESPN’s 30 For 30 series: The Curious Case of Denzel Valentine.”
And what a curious case it is, indeed.
Denzel Valentine won almost every major accolade imaginable in his senior year at Michigan State in 2015-16 and cemented his status as a do-it-all swingman/nightly triple-double threat. But a troublesome report recently surfaced that Valentine may be suffering from cartilage damage in both of his knees. By now, NBA teams have seen enough Greg Oden and Joel Embiid-esque spook stories that they are pretty much conditioned to recoil in horror at the sheer sight of such a report. But the payoff may simply be too great to allow Valentine to slip very far.
The 2015-16 AP Player of the Year provides an unusual and unique blend of playmaking, long-range sniping, and leadership for a wing player. He also attacks the boards with purpose, often showcasing a flair for pulling down contested rebounds and has a condor-like wingspan that makes him a handful on both ends. While his athleticism relative to other Spartan products may be a tad closer to Zach Randolph than to Jason Richardson, and his underwhelming foot speed/defensive smarts undermine his value in a league that demands their wings to be of the 3-and-D variety, Valentine is simply too talented and too versatile to not go in the top-20, even despite less-than-favorable medical circumstances.
As a four-year senior, Valentine may not be the seductive reservoir of untapped potential many of these other guys are. But as a mature, NBA-ready talent with a strong work ethic and a valuable skillset, the 22-year-old has what it takes to thrive in the league for many years to come. Now the only thing left to do is take bets on which team will be the one petitioning to move Valentine’s Day from February 14 to June 23.
Thon Maker, PF/C, Australia