Small Steps For Maciej Bender

Small Steps For Maciej Bender


His stat line wasn’t anywhere near that of classmates Lamont West or Sagaba Konate. He still has a long way to go to become a productive player on both ends of the court. However, sophomore Maciej Bender showed some progress – albeit in tiny steps – in West Virginia’s 69-60 win over Pitt on Saturday night.

West Virginia basketball fans have been (im)patiently awaiting progress from Bender. They want results at Internet speed, but that’s not always the way players develop. A classic “Euro” player, Bender was much more comfortable away from the basket in prep school, where bumping and banging in the lane was as rare as a non-fast food meal on the road. When he got to WVU, though, he was asked to add that repertoire to his game – to become the “stretch four” that can shoot from the mid-range, pass the ball from the high or low post and score on the blocks.

Playing with his back to the basket wasn’t his forte, and that became quickly apparent during his freshman season. It also affected his confidence, as he became hesitant with the ball in his hands. Granted, learning how to read teammates’ cuts and make the right decision on where to go with the ball is a challenge in Bob Huggins’ offense, whether it’s in the motion attack or the high-low post game. The learning curve seemed to throw off the rest of his game, to the point where he was mostly an afterthought in the rotation last year, when he got just 148 minutes (6.4 per game), and was a non-factor on the offensive end of the court. He played timidly, passing up chances to attack or shoot the ball.

West Virginia forward Maciej Bender hooks a shot over Pitt’s Shamiel Stevenson (23)

Entering this season the pressure was on. With the departure of Elijah Macon and the half-year suspension of Esa Ahmad, WVU was desperate for help on the front line. But while Sagaba Konate quickly displayed the improvements he had made in the offseason, Bender continued to struggle. He lost contested balls and rebounds that he had his hands on, and cries of “be strong with the ball” were his constant companions from the bench. However, there have been some bright spots, most notably against Pitt, that could augur for better times in the future.

Catching the ball at the high post in the first half, Bender made a strong ball fake and drove against his opponent, drawing a foul in the process. Later on, he repeated the move, getting another hack as he drove down the lane. In the second half, he rolled off the low post nicely and hit a shot. Those were the kinds of things, coupled with excellent passing and the ability to make mid-range, and eventually even 3-point shots, that earned him recruiting attention, and these were inklings that he could execute them at this level — at least in public view.

This isn’t to oversell where Bender is at the moment. His stat line from the Pitt game — two points, one rebound, one assist one turnover — isn’t an eye-popper. However, they weren’t flukes either. He moves his feet well and can block shots (he’s missed credit for a couple recently) and his passing from the high post can be a big plus for the offense. At 6-10, he can shoot over defenders, and he handles the ball well enough to make those drives from the key, so long as he doesn’t try to challenge guards to do so. Most importantly, he can spell Konate inside, and if he can give WVU 10-15 respectable minutes, the Mountaineers will at least have enough to battle some of the good front lines in the Big 12.

The thing to watch going forward is his improvement arc. Will it continue, or flatten out? Was the showing against Pitt an aberration, or a hint of further things to come? It’s one of the keys to for the Mountaineers as they wind up the out of conference schedule next week and enter Big 12 play.

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This topic contains 6 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by Butlereer Butlereer .

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  • #41058
    Kevin Kinder
    Kevin Kinder
    Muskets:

    Small Steps For Maciej Bender His stat line wasn’t anywhere near that of classmates Lamont West or Sagaba Konate. He still has a long way to go to bec
    [See the full post at: Small Steps For Maciej Bender]

    #41063

    Ccteam
    Muskets:

    Jury is still out on Bender. Adrian was roundly criticized his first couple years then became the leader of the team by his senior season.

    #41080
    Butlereer
    Butlereer
    Muskets:

    Adrian started his FR year out as a SF and hit 35% from 3.  So year he broke his hand (wrist?) and fell from grace and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from deep 17%.  That’s when the yokles came out of the woodwork.  By mid JR yr he took over the starting PF slot when Holton was suspended.  Never looked back.  Still his JR year the yokles were clamoring for him to be benched.  This tells us how smart our fan base is.

    Maciej is not only learning a new position, but a new game.  Originally a Euro style SF with range, he is now a back to the bucket C.  No wonder his head is swimming.  Here’s hoping that he can consistently  do the things he did in the 7 min stretch in the 2nd half vs Pitt.

    #41095

    mexman
    Muskets:

    The low post stuff and just playing a more hard nose style will come… they are foreign to him.

    That said I’d just like to see his shot look respectable from deep. At MM he was very solid from 3 if not prolific. Thus far he looks awful, even worse than Adrian with the broken wrist. Has to simply be a confidence thing as we’ve seen the tape. If he can get back to being comfortable in his mid-range and outside game he could be a very valuable piece what could turn out to be a pretty solid front line – Konate, Ahmad, West, Harris and Magic. He is a very important cog in this wheel and we badly need at least the 10-15 minutes noted in Kevin’s article. Just hope he gets there soon.

    #41100
    Butlereer
    Butlereer
    Muskets:

    Bender’s inability to even hit the rim from deep baffles me. It’s like he just forgot how to shoot when he stepped onto the WVU court. Following JDemp’s posts from 2 years ago and his stat sheet, Bender was like lightning from deep. Of course that was usually against smaller SF’s. But still……

    #41139
    Kevin Kinder
    Kevin Kinder
    Muskets:

    I don’t expect Maciej to be a great back to the basket post player or play like Sags – didn’t mean to imply that. But, if he can develop a little jump hook and be able to face the hoop and maneuver, he can be good.

    I think that his struggles with his jumper all stem from that lack of confidence. He was really hesitant with the ball, and I think that totally messed with his shot. It was almost like he was searching for what to do – shoot or pass or drive it. I don’t want to go overboard on those couple of possessions in the Pitt game, but that’s the kind of action WVU needs to get from him.

    #41147
    Butlereer
    Butlereer
    Muskets:

    Too many fans get caught up in the stats line.  If Bender can do what he did for 10-15 mins like he did in the 2nd half of sPITT, we should be OK with it.  He boxed out, set high screens, passed well, ran the floor, stayed in position, didn’t let Luther manhandle him on O or D.  Taking it strong a couple times to the bucket was a bonus.  I don’t care if he ever scores.  We just need him to be the body in the middle that lets the other guys do what they do best.

    But even if he does that,  we’ll have those jackwads make posts calling for his schollie to be pulled.  All they look at is the stat line.

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