Philadelphia 76ers: Dragan Bender makes more sense than Kyle O’Quinn

(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
(Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

While there is value in keeping Kyle O’Quinn for the playoffs, the Philadelphia 76ers should instead use his spot to develop a prospect like Dragan Bender.

If you had to put together a basic, position-less depth chart for the Philadelphia 76ers, where would you put Kyle O’Quinn? 13? 14? Dead last behind even Zhaire Smith?

While the idea of adding the 29-year-old combo big made total sense on a one-year, vet minimum deal a few days into free agency, it’s clear the two parties never quite meshed four months into the regular season – a situation made worse when Al Horford shifted to the bench as a full-time bench center.

Need proof? Look no further than O’Quinn himself, who allegedly requested his release post-deadline.

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With a triple threat of Joel Embiid, Horford, and newly-minted reserve block specialist Norvel Pelle locked in at one, two, and three respectfully, keeping an unhappy screen setter on the bench in the middle of his prime maybe isn’t the best idea as Philly fights for their seat in the playoffs later this year.

Maybe it’s just me, but I never quite got the appeal to filling out the bottom spots on any roster, regardless of the sport, with older talent who don’t play. Why not use those spots on specialists? Or better yet, on second-round picks, promising G-League prospects, or better yet, former lottery picks who didn’t quite work out with their first team?

If you can get a, say, former fourth overall pick who is younger than Matisse Thybulle for a song and attempt to unearth the potential scouts saw a few years back, why not give it the good old college try? Especially if said player can be signed on the cheap?

Well, as it turns out, there is a former player who fits that bill that just hit the open market: Dragan Bender.

A member of what will go down as a forgotten generation of ex-Phoenix Suns selected in the top lottery – also featuring not so notable players like Josh Jackson, Alex Len, and until further notice Deandre Ayton – Bender played three seasons in the desert one some truly awful teams; appearing in 171 games as the team’s 7-foot-tall stretch four.

Dubbed the next Kristaps Prozingus by overly eager scouts due to his size, length, outside shooting, and European lineage, the Suns committed to playing the long game in Bender’s development. However, in a weird twist of fate, the Suns’ new GM James Jones effectively gave up on that developmental track when he declined Bender’s fourth-year option to free up cap space for what was ultimately a fruitless free agency in pursuit of stars (there’s a great video on Bender’s NBA career here).

Bender opted to sign a one-year deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, where he appeared in seven games before being waived to make room for Charlotte Hornets buyout signee Marvin Williams.

Now to be perfectly clear, Bender was not, is not, and will never be a player of Prozingus’ caliber. He’s frankly a below-average NBA player at this point. But a 7-foot-tall power forward with a respectable outside shot and enough athleticism to switch onto any frontcourt position? That’s the kind of player I’d want sitting on my bench, let alone tearing it up in the G-League where he can get hands-on minutes.

See where I’m going here?

For better or worse, Philly likes keeping older big men around to help mentor Embiid (I guess) but when you are already paying Horford max-level money to fill that role, is a player like O’Quinn really necessary, especially when he could probably sign a deal with a team like the Houston Rockets and earn minutes right away?

I’d say no.

No, for my money, swapping out a player like O’Quinn for Bender makes sense regardless of the team’s aspirations. I mean, think about it, if O’Quinn has to play serious minutes in the playoffs over Embiid, Horford, center Ben Simmons, and Pelle, then the Sixers probably aren’t winning anyway, so why not commit that roster spot to a player who could actually be a part of the team down the line if things magically come together?

An NBA team can only have so many players active in any given game, so why not grant O’Quinn his release, let Bender sit on the sidelines in street clothes, and play alongside players like Smith and Marial Shayok with the Blue Coats, especially when you consider Connor Johnson uses the very same scheme as Brett Brown? If Philly can coax a few forward minutes out of a 7-foot-tall ‘Croatian Sensation’, that’s just gravy. Ersan Ilyasova he is not, but he doesn’t need to be.

Next. Joel Embiid is the NBA’s 7-foot-tall Deadpool. dark

For better or worse, Kyle O’Quinn is not going to be a member of the Philadelphia 76ers next season. Heck, there’s a very real chance that Mike Scott won’t be on the Philadelphia 76ers next season barring a surprising turn around down the line. But Dragan Bender? He could sign a four-year deal tomorrow and still be young enough to play another decade in the NBA. That probably won’t happen, but hey, isn’t the point of bottom roster spots to see what players can develop into?