Next month’s NBA Draft will continue the growing trend of selecting players across the Atlantic, as another dozen international selections promise to be drafted. This season, a record number 92 foreign players made NBA rosters, representing more than 20 percent of the League. Players such as Serge Ibaka, Ricky Rubio, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Marc Gasol, Manu Ginobili and Goran Dragic have shown that there is a different route to the top tier of the NBA outside of playing college basketball.
The second round is often littered with “draft and stash” selections. Teams claim the rights for players who are not quite NBA ready and who will more than likely play next season overseas (added bonus that these players can develop on some one else’s payroll). Those players will make a very good living being paid toward the top of their league’s respective pay scale until they are considered NBA ready.
In this regard, the American college player in many ways is at a disadvantage with the current system, if that player is drafted, they either make the team or are waived. It’s boom or bust when you consider the only other domestic league, the D-League, has an average salary right around $17,000.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, the No. 15 pick in the 2013 Draft, would be picked first if they redrafted the players knowing now what they did not know last June. The Bucks banked on his potential and he was the lone bright spot in their lost season.
We huddled up with Carl Berman and the guys from Net Scouts to get the skinny on the best import prospects for the upcoming Draft. This list includes three members of last summer’s FIBA U19 World Championship All-Tournament team. All three are projected in this year’s lottery:
Dante Exum, 6-6, 18 years old, Guard, Australian Institute of Sport
He is the son of Cecil Exum, a member of the University of North Carolina 1982 championship team. Exum is projected to be a top-10 pick and there is serious consideration for him in the top five. Scouts like his athleticism and while he is more of a combo guard presently than a point, there is confidence that he can make the adjustment to run a NBA team. Exum shoots it well; however, he will need to improve in this area. His strengths are his size (wingspan of 6-9.5) and body control. The choice will be Exum or Marcus Smart for the first guard selected. He has been shielded from criticism, having not played on a big stage since last summer’s world championships. As other players such as those in college have been scrutinized and put under the microscope, Exum has climbed up the draft boards with the potential upside of a Russell Westbrook.
Dario Saric, 6-10, 20 years old, Power Forward, Croatia
Impressed last summer for Croatia. Saric utilized a strong basketball IQ to maximize his talents. A point forward that has good vision and a quality skill set. He is a better than average shooter, rebounder, ball handler and passer. The concerns will be is current lack of athleticism and strength. If all goes well, scouts are hoping for Saric to develop into a Chandler Parsons-type player. Late lottery selection.
Jusif Nurcic, 6-11, 19 years old, Center, Bosnia
Nurcic was a PER machine in the Adriatic league as he steadily improved his conditioning. A true post candidate who is big (7-2 wingspan, strong with proficiency around the basket. He’s second on most team’s draft boards at the center position. Concerns remain regarding his athleticism, but the projection for some is for a prospect such as Nikola Pekovic.
Clint Capela, 6-11, 20 years old, Power Forward, Switzerland
Capela is a productive player in the professional league in France. He was a beneficiary of transition baskets and close range conversions. His shot doesn’t look bad but it hasn’t been consistent. He will compete with Adreian Payne for draft position. Upside may project to be like Serge Ibaka. Draft position in the late-first to early second round range.
Kristaps Porzingis, 7-0, 18 years old, Forward, Latvia
Porzingis is skilled away from the basket, offensively playing more like a small forward than a post player. He needs time to develop and embrace the physicality of the NBA. Some will view and project him similar to Isaiah Austin in regards to his offensive (play the 3) and defensive (guard the 5) matchup. Quality draft and stash candidate who should fall somewhere near Capela on most draft boards but who could one day evolve into a Dirk Nowitzki-type player.
Walter Tavares, 7-3, 22 years old, Center, Gran Canaria
Really big and athletic, Tavares is another quality long-term play for the Draft. Currently he has no real offensive game, but he looks like a player and there is confidence it can develop. It’s expected that he’s among the first picks in the second round.
Bogdan Boganovic, 6-6, 21 years old, Shooting Guard, Serbia
Battle tested through high level competition, scoring 14-15 points per game in the Euroleague. He is an improved shooter who can play some point. He is athletic and incredibly long (nearly a 7-foot wingspan). He reminds scouts of Russian star Alexey Shevd who is playing with the Timberwolves. Expected to be in the late first round to early second round range.
Vasillije Micic, 6-5, 20 years old, Point Guard, Serbia
Micic was one of the best point guards in the Adriatic League. He has been one of the diamonds in the Serbian development system having represented the U16 then U18 and U19 teams. He’s surprisingly athletic and looks to transition smoother to the NBA game than the other born-European players. He’s not a stranger to high level competition. Anticipated to be drafted in the early to middle second round range. He could be the next Tony Parker.
Nikola Jokic, 6-11, 19 years old, Center, Serbia
Yet another Serbian prospect, not bad for a country of 7 million people. Streaky shooter that when hot, hits threes in bunches. High basketball IQ, he does have some limits athletically. He has good potential and could be a late mover into the first round.
Artem Klimenko, 7-1, 20 years old, Center, Russia
He has played quality minutes against good competition. Currently he is more of a space eater than a shot blocker. He has limits with his length and athleticism but clearly can make a roster as a backup center. Likely second round selection.
Leigh Klein was formerly on staff at Texas and Rhode Island and now owns fivestarbasketball.com, the nation’s top basketball camp. He contributes to SLAM’s coverage of college basketball and the NBA Draft and is a frequent national radio guest. Klein can be followed at @leighalanklein.