Warriors are out to save all the first-round busts
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.
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.
The Warriors’ Andrew Wiggins dunks against the Lakers on Feb. 8.