WALTHAM, Mass. -- Members of the Boston Celtics' front office spent last week overseas, including a stop in Tel Aviv, Israel, to examine 7-foot-1 Dragan Bender, a player the team might target with the No. 3 pick in this month's NBA draft.
The 18-year-old Bender is still competing in the Israeli playoffs but his team is idle until next week, so Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and his staff settled for watching Bender in a practice situation with some individual work.
"We had a 1-on-none and a 1-on-1 type of workout with his brother," Ainge said. "Actually, [Bender's brother, Ivan, will] be playing at Maryland next year. He’s a 6-10 kid. And then we watched [Dragan Bender] in a full-team practice, which we actually thought was better than a game because we’d seen all his games. We’d seen him play in person in games and, because he’s not playing a major role as an 18-year-old in a tough Israeli league, we were able to watch him practice. And we thought that was more beneficial than what we’d seen in games."
Bender is the youngest player in this year's draft class but has an intriguing skill set, especially on the offensive end, where he can spread the floor and shoot from the perimeter. Defensively, he's versatile but raw. The biggest challenge in examining Bender is that he simply hasn't logged a lot of floor time with Maccabi Tel Aviv, so it's hard to gauge exactly where he ranks compared to domestic college players.
"I think it’s more challenging [to scout internationally] because I’ll see most of the [domestic college] players that are in the draft a few times a year at least, sometimes as many as seven or eight times a year. And I can watch a lot of their film," Ainge explained. "But, in international competition, there’s such a different level of competition. So I think that it’s easier when you’re around the college game so much and you watch so much college basketball.
"The European games over there, they may play one game against a really bad team and another game against a really good team. It’s hard to evaluate the level of competition that they’re playing against every night. There are exceptions; there are some leagues over there that are very powerful, better than college basketball. So it’s a little bit more challenging."
In 26 games logged by Synergy Sports this season, Bender averaged 5.7 points and 3 rebounds over 14.7 minutes per game. Synergy data ranks Bender in the 90th percentile among all Israeli League players, as he has averaged 1.048 points per play. Conversely, Bender ranks in the 13th percentile defensively, allowing 0.975 points per play.
Bender ranks fifth on Chad Ford's big board.
The Celtics are leaving no stone unturned in their draft prep and got a look at a handful of international draft hopefuls during their trip.
"I don’t know what our number's up to now, 40 or 50 [players in for draft workouts]," Ainge said. "And we’ve been around the country, traveling and watching all the players around the country, and agent workouts and so forth. And we just got back from a weeklong trip to Croatia, Serbia, and Israel. And those trips were excellent also. It’s just good to get to know the players that we’re considering in the draft. It’s good to watch them in their environment. But I think, more importantly, just getting to know them and seeing some of their strengths and weaknesses and where they are at this stage of their careers."