War­riors are out to save all the first-round busts

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - SPORTS -

SAN FRAN­CISCO >> The War­riors are all-in on recla­ma­tion projects for the fi­nal eight weeks of the sea­son, and it makes all the sense in the world.

In fact, it’s down­right bril­liant busi­ness.

On Thurs­day, the War­riors agreed to terms with for­mer No. 4 over­all pick Dra­gan Ben­der, who will sign a 10-day con­tract with the team on Sun­day, giv­ing him five games with Golden State.

Sign­ing the 22-yearold Ben­der is the kind of no-risk, high-re­ward play that Golden State has no rea­son not to make amid a lost cam­paign.

It’s also yet another Golden State bet on their cul­ture and against the cul­ture of los­ing teams.

Af­ter find­ing suc­cess with Mar­quese Chriss and An­drew Wig­gins, the War­riors are tripling down with Ben­der.

Can you blame them? Yes, it’s been three games, but the War­riors feel vin­di­cated in trad­ing for Wig­gins, who lan­guished for five-plus sea­sons with the Tim­ber­wolves, play­ing in only five play­off games over that stretch.

Golden State is con­vinced that Wig­gins was mis­man­aged by Min­nesota and they’ve bet that they can tap into his prodi­gious tal­ent in a way the Tim­ber­wolves never could and that Min­nesota will not be able to do the same for D’An­gelo Russell, mak­ing the first-round pick the Wolves in­cluded in the trade-dead­line deal all the more valu­able.

There’s no such tit for tat with Ben­der — they’re pluck­ing him off of the Bucks’ G-League team.

But as the War­riors have learned with Chriss, their start­ing cen­ter for the re­main­der of the sea­son and per­haps through­out next sea­son, too, there’s value to be found in young play­ers who were deemed busts by the Suns. Ben­der was se­lected four picks be­fore Chriss by the Suns in the 2016 draft.

To be fair to the Suns, they ap­pear more com­pe­tent this sea­son — we’ll see how long that lasts — and Ben­der was dis­mal in his first three sea­sons in the NBA there, av­er­ag­ing only 5.3 points per game in more than 20 min­utes per con­test for Phoenix, post­ing a sub50 ef­fec­tive field goal per­cent­age and pro­vid­ing lit­tle re­bound­ing or de­fense.

But in the G-League this win­ter, he found some­thing worth­while. He av­er­aged 20.5 points per game, nine re­bounds per con­test, and shot 38 per­cent from be­yond the arc on 5-plus at­tempts per game in the mi­nor league, at points down­right own­ing in­fe­rior com­pe­ti­tion.

We’ll see if that trans­lates to the NBA in the com­ing days.

Yes, Ben­der was over­drafted — like Chriss and per­haps Wig­gins, too — but that G-League stint hinted that there is still tal­ent there as an of­fen­sive-minded pick-and-pop depth big. At 7-foot, he has a sweet-look­ing 3-point shot and out­stand­ing ball­han­dling skills — prod­ucts of be­ing a guard as a teen.

The big­ger point is that there’s no risk in sign­ing Ben­der to a 10-day con­tract and play­ing him plenty over a five-game stretch start­ing Sun­day against the Pel­i­cans.

The best-case sce­nario is that Ben­der fits the War­riors’ sys­tem and pre­ferred style. It’s not an out­landish thought — he’s a big man who can run, pass and shoot, and the War­riors are look­ing for a guy like that for their bench next year.

And what’s the worst thing that can hap­pen? The War­riors lose games? They al­ready have that down pat — they have the league’s worst record.

When you’re a team that has only eight weeks left to play, but ex­pects to be play­ing deep into the sum­mer again next sea­son and is look­ing for cheap-but-pos­i­tive la­bor, this the kind of move that you make.

JOSE CAR­LOS FA­JARDO — BAY AREA NEWS GROUP

Dra­gan Ben­der (35), at right shoot­ing over for­mer War­rior Kevin Du­rant in Fe­bru­ary 2018, was signed by the War­riors to a 10-day con­tract on Thurs­day.

JOSE CAR­LOS FA­JARDO — BANG

The War­riors’ An­drew Wig­gins dunks against the Lak­ers on Feb. 8.

Di­eter Kurtenbach

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