Is This Benderís Year?
OF THE DAY
Q. As we all know, some years back the Pacers dealt veteran Antonio Davis for high school rookie Jonathan Bender. So far, Bender has not yet produced what was expected of him. Is this because of his lack of playing time or because of skill? I personally admire his attributes. He is a perimeter threat who can drive and has great athletic ability, not to mention he's a swift moving 7-footer, something the Pacers need. He has shown his real game at the high school level, as he was the highest scorer ever in the McDonald's All-American Game with 31 points. Do you think this will be the breakout year for Bender? If so, could he become a star in this league that only Pacers fans see? (From Samir in Newbury Park, CA)
A. Iím not sure there ever has been a Pacers player who generated so much anticipation, frustration and opinion from fans as Bender. Part of it stems from the fact the player traded to acquire him, Davis, was such a popular and productive veteran who went on to become an All-Star in Toronto. For all his obvious talent, Bender has showed only occasional flashes of productivity. The primary reason for his relatively slow development has been neither a lack of playing time nor a lack of skill. It has been a lack of durability. He has missed 97 regular-season games the past two seasons due to a variety of injuries. Though the maladies have all been more of the nagging variety, and not considered chronic or long-term, they have had no less significant an impact.
The opportunity for Bender to have a big season has never been greater. With Al Harrington gone, Bender currently stands as the primary backup to Ron Artest at small forward, and he also will be given a look as a backup power forward, so consistent minutes are on the table. He actually has grown an inch to 7-1 and, after a vigorous offseason program, has his weight up to 240. If Bender can show that he can indeed withstand the rigors of an NBA season, 2004-05 could be the most significant of his career.