International Hoops Notebook: Dragan Bender Is Not Kristaps Porzingis

David Pick@@IAmDPickInternational Hoops InsiderJune 15, 2016

Dragan Bender does not want to be compared to 2015 NBA draft pick Kristaps Porzingis.
Dragan Bender does not want to be compared to 2015 NBA draft pick Kristaps Porzingis.JACK GUEZ/Getty Images

Sometimes the easiest pro comparison for an NBA prospect is the most unfair one. That may be the case with European 2016 NBA draft wunderkind Dragan Bender, who's earned plenty of comparisons to New York Knicks sensation Kristaps Porzingis (present publication included).

Porzingis has set a new bar for lanky European prospects, but Bender and his closest mentors aren't fond of the comparisons to the Latvian superstar.

"Dragan doesn't care what scouts think of him. He doesn't like being compared to Porzingis," said Nikola Vujcic, the general manager of Bender's European club, Maccabi Tel Aviv. "He always says, 'I want to be Dragan Bender and build my own legacy.'"

Here's a telling excerpt from that conversation about Bender, who many experts believe will be a top-five pick.

Bleacher Report: Do you think Dragan-Porzingis is a fair comparison?

Seth Wenig/Associated Press

Nikola Vujcic: No. It's hard to compare them. It's not fair to Dragan. Kristaps has a two-year advantage over Dragan. Similarities are in the size, and they're both European, but it ends there.

B/R: What are the expectations for Dragan as an NBA rookie?

NV: Porzingis was a huge surprise. Dragan would love to have the same rookie season, but he is just 18 years old. No player [that age] came into the NBA in recent years and dominated or made a difference on a championship team. Maybe only LeBron James. It's not fair to put such expectations on Dragan.

B/R: How does Dragan handle the pressure?

NV: He played this season under enormous pressure at Maccabi. We got kicked out of the Euroleague and Eurocup, and fans booed him. No kid, even Porzingis in the Spanish League, dealt with such pressure like Dragan did. He did great.

B/R: What are Dragan's selling points in his NBA workouts?

NV: His motivation to be the best. He is skilled, he can shoot, run the floor like a point guard and is mature and hungry to prove himself.


Bender is currently working out privately in Washington before he auditions for NBA teams selecting in the Nos. 3-5 range during the upcoming draft, according to Vujcic.

Maccabi Tel Aviv's Croatian player Dragen Bender (L) fights for the ball against Hapoel Jerusalem's US player Josh Duncan during a Winner League match between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem at the Pais Arena in Jerusalem on March 21, 2016.

THOMAS COEX/Getty Images

His first NBA audition starts Thursday in Minnesota for the Timberwolves, who own the fifth pick. He'll then head to Phoenix (picking fourth) to work out Saturday for the Suns. His last workout is scheduled for Tuesday, June 21, for the Celtics in Boston (owner of the 3rd pick). All three teams scouted Bender multiple times in person in Israel.

"Brad Stevens will talk with [Bender], since my dad [Danny Ainge] and I spent time with him in Tel Aviv," Austin Ainge, director of player personnel for the Celtics, told Bleacher Report.

Workout routines for top prospects normally run light, between 45-60 minutes. Bender will likely fly in the day before each workout, have lunch or dinner with the head coach or general manager, audition and then head out of town.

He'll work out alone in a one-on-none format. Teams usually draw physical measurements and evaluate prospects through a series of offensive drills. They give strong consideration to social media and monitor prospects' Facebook pages and Twitter handles for red flags. Most teams also have psychiatric tests, but for the most part, at this point, there isn't much mystery.

"In the workout, we will put him in a variety of situations and see how he does. He is a very skilled player, so he will do well," Ainge added.


Spurs' Potential Addition Is 5 Years in the Making

Laboral Kutxa's Latvian forward Davis Bertans (R) vies with Panathinaikos' US forward Vince Hunter (L) during the Euroleague group basketball playoff match Laboral Kutxa Vitoria Gasteiz vs Panathinaikos Athens at the Fernando Buesa Arena in Vitoria-Gastei

The San Antonio Spurs are contemplating bringing over 2011 draft stash Davis Bertans, sources with knowledge of their intentions told Bleacher Report. Sources said in December 2015 that the Latvian sharpshooting small forward was headed to his NBA rights holders.

An official agreement hasn't been reached yet, but Bertans would give strong consideration to making the jump to the NBA for a two-season package deal worth $4 million total. He is under contract in Spain but has an NBA opt-out clause until mid-July for the standard $650,000.

Bertans' shooting mechanics are terrific, and he has an ultra-quick release. He can knock down shots running off screens or creating off the dribble. During the recent Euroleague season, he was one of the most accurate snipers from distance, at one point going 18-for-31 from deep.

He buried a clutch three-pointer down the stretch against Barcelona, coming off a dribble-handoff situation with former second-round draft pick, center Colton Iverson (the broadcaster's reaction was awesome). Bertans also hit a crazy game-winning turnaround triple against Real Madrid in the Euroleague Top 16.  

His team, Laboral Kutxa Vitoria, plays in the Spanish ACB—the toughest league in Europe. Bertans has dealt with serious knee injuries, having torn the same ACL twice, but he hasn't shown signs of limitations since he returned. He could become a solid NBA contributor.


Former Golden State Warrior Gets Second NBA Chance

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 10: Ognjen Kuzmic #1 of the Golden State Warriors blocks the shot of Michael Carter-Williams #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers on February 10, 2014 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agr
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Former Golden State Warriors center Ognjen Kuzmic has accepted an invite to play for the New York Knicks at the NBA's summer league in Orlando, his agent Chris Patrick told B/R.

Kuzmic, a 2012 second-round draft pick by the Warriors, was stashed in Malaga, Spain, before heading to the NBA the following season. He appeared in 37 games for Golden State during 2013-14 and 2014-15, averaging 0.9 points and 1.0 boards over 4.4 minutes per contest.

Patrick said Kuzmic attended minicamp with the Knicks and demonstrated a good understanding of the triangle offense. He had spent the current season in Greece with Panathinaikos Athens, averaging 4.6 points and 4.1 boards in the domestic league and 5.1 points with 4.2 rebounds in the Euroleague before falling out of the rotation and leaving during April.


Jimmer Time in Minnesota? He'll Have Competition

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 01:  Jimmer Fredette #32 of the New York Knicks looks on before he shoots three free throws in the final minutes of the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Madison Square Garden on March 1, 2016 in New York City.The Portland Tr
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The Minnesota Timberwolves have invited eight free agents to a point guard workout on June 17, and one of them might snatch the third-string role off the bench. The list, according to sources, includes 2011 No. 10 overall draft pick Jimmer Fredette, as well as Phil Pressey, Marquis Teague, Ryan Boatright, Mike James, Ra'Shad James, Mark Lyons and Aaron Craft.

Most notable from overseas are Mike James and Lyons. James is a 25-year-old, 6'1" dynamite guard with lights-out shooting ability. He spent the season with Laboral Kutxa Vitoria, and was a strong boost off the bench.

Lyons, a former Xavier/Arizona point guard, played a key role in Maccabi Rishon LeZion's historic championship run in Israel, scoring 19 points during the semifinals against Maccabi Tel Aviv, then chipping in 11 points and seven assists during the title game over Hapoel Jerusalem. He was ranked top 10 in the league for points (16.2), assists (5.1) and free-throw percentage (81.8).

He also won the 2015 dunk competition after jumping over 7'2" teammate Robert Rothbart.


Former NBA Guard Joins Summer League Despite Staying Overseas Next Season

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 16: Scottie Wilbekin #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers drives to the basket against the Washington Wizards during the preseason game on October 16, 2015 at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User express
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Oklahoma City Thunder's summer league backcourt will include former NBA draft selection Scottie Wilbekin, according to the guard's agent, Andrew Vye.

Wilbekin has a team option on his contract next season with Turkish Euroleague club Darussafaka Dogusthe team that hired former Cleveland Cavaliers head coach David Blattbut he is making a run at the NBA.

Vye said the Turks confirmed triggering the option to keep the University of Florida product in Istanbul. Wilbekin averaged 12.9 points and 2.7 dimes, shooting 39 percent from distance and 87.4 percent from the charity stripe over 30 league games.

Washington Wizards Eyeing a Champion

Israel's Shawn Dawson (R) vies with Russia's Semen Antonov (L) during the group A qualification basketball match between Israel and Russia at the EuroBasket 2015 in Montpellier on September 5, 2015. AFP PHOTO / PASCAL GUYOT        (Photo credit should rea

Shawn Dawson, a 6'6" swingman out of Israel, will play for the Washington Wizards at the NBA's summer league in Las Vegas, the 22-year-old combo forward told Bleacher Report.

He led underdog Maccabi Rishon LeZion to its first national title, knocking off powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv in the semifinals. He then helped beat Hapoel Jerusalem during the finals, scoring 21 points in 35 minutes.

His father, Joe Dawson, a former import baller who resides in Israel, told NBA teams to avoid selecting his son in the 2015 draft. Shawn was a late second-round projection but indeed went undrafted. He is under contract for next season but has a free NBA opt-out clause, according to the team president. He averaged 15.7 points on 35.8 percent shooting from distance, alongside 6.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.8 turnovers through 31.7 minutes in the Israeli competition.

Dawson has nice size for a wing with an NBA frame (6'6") and athleticism. He's explosive, finishes well around the rim and goes left with confidence. On the flip side, he's foul-prone and struggled defending stronger wingmen and post-ups. His motor is inconsistent, his jump shot hasn't warranted respect and his decision-making needs tweaking.

He shot a combined 2-for-20 from deep in the six playoff games through the semifinals but came up clutch in the finals, going 5-for-7 from beyond the arc.


D-League Select Team or NBA Summer League?

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - FEBRUARY 4: Patrick Christopher #19 of the Iowa Energy shoots against Reggie Williams #14 of the Tulsa 66ers during an NBA D-League game on February 4, 2014 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User
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The Portland Trail Blazers extended a summer league invitation to 6'5" guard Patrick Christopher, who is mulling that and an offer from the D-League Select.

Christopher, 28, who registered 20 games in his third tenure with the Iowa Energy, averaged 15.3 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.5 dimes per game this season. He played overseas in Turkey and France, winning the President's Cup in 2012 with Besiktas Istanbul.


David Pick is a veteran pro basketball reporter covering overseas hoops and American players abroad since 2010. Follow him on Twitter at @IAmDPick.


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