In any mock you might around the webyoung PFs Marquese Chriss of Washington and Dragan Bender of Maccabi Tel Aviv are listed in the top 10. Bender is usually top 5. Chriss is as high as #3 in Draftexpress. Since most mocks are a reflection of what the websites are hearing from their league sources, it is safe to assume that both players have been wowing the scouts in workouts.
Bender and Chriss both look the part. Both players are tall, long and active with 2-point range like the modern prototype PF needs to be. They’ll both still be 18 on draft day, making them 2 of the youngest prospects available giving them more upside than most. While both players are projects, they have flashed a lot of promise as scorers and defenders. The problem is neither one could grab a rebound if his life depended on it this year. Because rebounding is an essential skill for PFs, this makes both shaky prospects.
If you ignore the R40, the numbers look pretty solid for PF prospects in their first seasons at this level. In addition to the physical attributes that have scouts drooling over both players, there are solid defensive numbers, promising scoring efficiency and in Bender’s case passing skills. But that rebounding number is way too low for any serious PF prospect to bring. Most SFs I have on my list, 21 of 29, are better rebounders than these two. Brandon Ingram and Gary Payton II rebounded at a higher rate than both Bender and Chriss. This is a serious issue for either player and I can’t see how either is a top 10 prospect as a PF with such an obvious flaw in their game.
So the questions would be:
- Is there any evidence that either player is a better rebounder than they showed this year?
- Could either player make the switch to SF and play a Toni Kukoc-type of role?
Dragan Bender: I pulled these numbers from Bender’s RealGM profile. The first 3 seasons are for low minutes in the junior leagues. In each case he played a few games and just over 120 minutes. I have no idea about the competition or the pace the game was played at. His numbers for 2016 are for Maccabi Tel Aviv for 491 minutes. So we’ll try to decipher what sort of prospect Dragan Bender is based on this.
Bender was a much better rebounder in the junior leagues, topping 10.0 R40 twice and hitting 9.3 the other year, which is respectable enough for a 1st year player who was 15 at the time. His steals and blocks were consistently good. He was always a willing passer, but the turnovers were kind of high. Being that he’s young my feeling is that the turnover issue isn’t a concern. I think he’ll figure that out. In answer to the main question: Yes, there is evidence he’s a better rebounder than he showed this season. He was much better in the junior leagues, though that was for low minutes. It remains something of a leap of faith to think he’ll eventually be able to handle the rebounding chores necessary for any NBA PF, but the junior league numbers do give some hope.
The other question of whether he could play SF is intriguing. In a league that’s going small, the question should be whether or not such a player can handle center. He might be able to do that if his junior league rebounding numbers are an accurate reflection of his real ability. But he also has a lot of SF skills. His 3-point shooting has improved. He gets a lot of steals for a PF. He’s a willing passer, though he did have a high TO rate in the juniors. There other big question is whether he is quick enough to cover NBA SFs adequately? I’ll just say that he seems active enough defensively that I could see him getting to the point where he’ll at least be adequate.
I have to say that after initial doubts, I’m on board with Dragan Bender as a solid prospect. I’m not sure if I’d go top 5 overall, I’ll leave that for the final top 60. But high end this is a player who could be effective at all 3 frontcourt positions, possibly even dominating. Bender is young and his arc is wide. If he never figures out the rebounding thing at a level above juniors and he is too slow and clunky to play NBA SF, he’s just a situational role player. But the ceiling is high with this one and players should always be drafted based on that. Dragan Bender is a project, but one who could pay off big in a few years.
Marquese Chriss: Marquese Chriss was not considered a factor in the 2016 draft until after the regular season ended. The crazy athleticism he has displayed in workouts has him going as high as #3 and almost definitely in the top 10. That must be some serious athleticism he’s flashing, because Chriss’s flaws and red flags are numerous.
First to the rebounding weakness. There are no junior league stats from previous years for Chriss, like Bender had. With Chriss we can look at his month-to-month numbers to see if there was some improvement in rebounding during his only NCAA season.
I can say that the trend from November to March was improvement in R40. That’s good, but the improvement didn’t reach a point that Chriss needed to be at. Even the 8.3 he posted in January and March is substandard for a PF prospect. He is a good scorer for a freshman, both in frequency and efficiency. The fact that he scored efficiently from inside and out is a good sign. He also has some promise on defense, as evidenced by his steals and blocks. But he also has a very high foul rate, committing 6.5 per 40 minutes. He’s also a poor and unwilling passer at this point.
As to whether or not he can handle playing SF, where rebounding isn’t as critical, he appears to be a long way off there too. The weak passing and low A/TO are both bad signs for any aspiring SF. Right now I would say it’s unlikely, but as a young prospect he has a chance.
Marquese Chriss simply has a long way to go as a prospect be it at SF, PF or some sort of small lineup stretch/hybrid. Are there any recent success stories that Chriss could emulate? There are 2 that come to mind, DeMar DeRozan and DeAndre Jordan. Neither had stats that suggested NBA stardom as a freshman, but both entered the draft anyways. Both have paid off in a big way for the team that drafted them. Of course for every DeRozan and Jordan there have been several amazing athletes who never made it.
Chriss is a similar project. Right now he doesn’t rebound enough to play PF and he doesn’t pass well enough to be considered at SF. Both areas of his game need to improve no matter where he plays. He also needs to cut his fouls a lot. Right now he looks like an athlete who has a lot to learn about how to play basketball. I don’t believe Marquese Chriss is worth a top 10 pick and I’d even be wary about going top 20 on him. With the qualifier that he’s young and does have a high ceiling, I feel that Chriss is a player more likely to make his mark in the dunk contest than on a playoff contender.