First thing’s first, just so there aren’t any misconceptions: Thursday’s NBA Draft could go down as one of the most lackluster drafts in recent history. Sip the Irving/Williams Kool-Aid if you must, but true basketball heads realize that this year’s crop of young ballers likely will go down as one of the worst. There just isn’t a Rose-Durant-Griffin type talent waiting to be join the ranks of the NBA’s elite. But you already knew that.
Because the American scene is so incredibly sparse this year, expect names that you’ve never heard of – and probably can’t pronounce – to be called to the podium, maybe by your favorite team. Drafting international talent really does seem like a crap shoot, producing All-NBA talents like Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, Pau Gasol and Tony Parker — in addition to complete disappointments like Mouhamad Sene or Darko Millicic.
2009 T’wolves draftee Ricky Rubio is sure to be the most hyped import this season, but he’s not alone. As such, I’ve compiled a list of five of the top international players to be drafted. The following mix of athletes, shot-blockers and scorers will, at least for the next couple of weeks, find a home in the mouths of NBA draft analysts. Where they end up on the board is anybody’s guess.
1. Enes Kanter (C) — The Turkish born players could go high as number one, could go low as number five; the consensus amongst experts seems to be that dude is an absolute brute down low: a physical, back to the basket center capable of rebounding and shot-blocking. Not much has been said about the Turkish native’s half-court offensive skills probably because he hasn’t played enough. He lost his playing eligibility at University of Kentucky over playing for, and receiving, funds from a pro Turkish basketball team two years back.
Best-Case — It’s not hard to envision Kanter becoming an Andrew Bogut-type presence for whatever team drafts him: something along the lines of 15 PPG, 11 RPG and 2 BPG on decent shooting. He is a physical specimen and has every physical trait needed to become an effective low-post force. He also has a decent jumper as well which expands his skill set. You could do a lot worse.
Potential Destinations — #2 Minnesota, #3 Utah, #4 Cleveland
Best Fit — It goes without saying that ‘Sota’s gonna gobble up whoever Cleveland doesn’t pick first and fourth as they’re going with talent over need. A legitimate center prospect would lead to one of the most formidable young front courts in the league.
2. Jan Vesely (SF/PF) — The Czech has the height of Kanter with a leaner and much more athletic build: allowing him to do some pretty remarkable things in the fast-break. He’s a great defender with rebounding and shot-blocking being his specialties. The only knock on him at this point is his lack of effectiveness within half-court offensive sets. He’s currently nowhere near ready to contribute as anything more than an energetic role player. Coaching will really dictate how much better he gets.
Best-Case — The uber-talented Andrei Kirilenko shares a lot in common with Vesely: same tweener forward position, natural athleticism and a knack for defense. Kirilenko made a couple of All-Star games in his heyday, and that shouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for Vesely. Kirilenko also rarely figured in to his team’s offense as a major option. Teams considering drafting Vesely had better not rely too heavily on his scoring prowess to come around. He’ll make himself known through defense and the occasional fast-break highlight like his Eastern European big brother.
Potential Destinations — #4 Cleveland, #5 Toronto, #6 Washington
Best Fit — Toronto’s 26th ranked defense overall is a serious problem for the up-north franchise. This defensive-minded wing would be perfect for the Raptors.
3. Jonas Valanciunas (C) — Hailing from Lithuania, this 18-year-old big man absolutely wreaks “project player,” somebody who isn’t going to be sniffing the NBA’s hardwood courts ‘till at least next year. I don’t know. I guess there’s upside here. His athleticism is impressive for somebody this lanky, and he appears to have a solid understanding of how to defensively operate down low. He also possesses a nifty little J. I’m impatient though so I’d be mad as hell if the Cavs picked his ass up.
Best-Case — I know they’re both from Lithuania but I can’t help but notice the similarities here between Valanciunas and two-time All-Star Zydrunas Ilgauskus. Like Big Z, Big V’s length allows him to block shots from all around floor: making up for his lack of strength. V would appear to have the athleticism that eluded Z for much of his career: stemming from early foot and ankle problems. An athletic Zydrunas Ilgauskus actually sounds pretty enticing. It just seems to be so far from what may actually happen.
Potential Destinations — #4 Cleveland, #5 Toronto, #6 Washington
Best Fit — As much as I hate to say it… Cleveland. Neither Washington nor Toronto are in the market for a young center, Andrea Bargnani being Toronto’s best scorer and JaVale McGee showing real signs of improvement last season. Bottom line is that Cleveland’s going to select a young center in this draft (as they should). A couple of years down the road, Valanciunas could be a force; his defense has been compared to Joakhim Noah’s: a legitimate asset that can contribute to any NBA team. He just isn’t NBA ready.
4. Donatas Motiejunas (C/PF) — Valanciunas’s fellow countryman, Matiejunas has the highest offensive ceiling out of anyone on the list. If somebody’s going to join the “Gasol-Nowitzki” plateau, it’s gonna be Moteijunas. He can score from anywhere on the court although his game would appear to be more finessed-based. The Lithuanian is a solid athlete and a good shooter. The only real knock is that, for all his potential, he hasn’t faced enough top-flight European competition.
Best-case — This might seem a bit premature, but Motiejunas can be a Dirk Nowitzki-type impact player for whatever team puts their faith (and money) into him. He might play a bit differently than Dirk – favoring a more inside-based post game than Dirk’s shoot-a-j-in-your-stupid-face-because-there’s-nothing-you-can-do-about-it midrange game. This draft needs a bit of excitement and Motiejunas can provide some buzz.
Potential Destinations — #11 Golden State, #12 Utah, # 13 Phoenix
Best Fit — Given Channing Frye’s success as a big man three point specialist, one could easily see Moteijunas’s game thrive under Phoenix’s run-and-gun system. Granted, the Suns are probably more interested in finding a PG to replace Steve Nash. Considering their options might come down to Jimmer Fredette (ugh) or Moteijunas, I hope, for the sake of the Suns, they pick the Lithuanian. He could really excel here.
5. Bismack Biyombo (PF/C) — First off, great name. Seriously, his name has just as much potential (“You just got BISMACK’D!”) as his uber-athletic build. With a height of 6’9’’ and a wingspan of 7’7’’ (!!!), ol’ Bismack is sure to be a defensive presence. His offensive game kind of sucks, but let’s be real; he’s never going to be a number one offensive option. Questions about his age (he’s listed as 18, but some scouts say he’s likely in the 20-22 age) and his lack of experience against top-flight competition are going to make teams skeptical about drafting this Congolese prospect. Most scouts agree that he’s at least a year away from playing stateside.
Best-Case — He resembles Ben Wallace but with a slightly better offensive game. Bismack, the athletic specimen that he is, should be the beneficiary of some pretty spectacular fast-break buckets. He, assuming he makes it over here, can definitely become a Wallace-type defensive presence, sending shots to the second row and gobbling rebounds on both sides of the ball. Even if that’s all he ever achieves, well…how many Defensive POY awards did Wallace win? Four? Busy Bismack’s gonna be all right.
Potential Destinations — #17 New York, #18 Charlotte, #19 Washington
Best Fit — As much as I’d like to say New York, because I do think he’d do a good job of masking Amar’e Stoudemire’s defensive deficiencies, he’d be a great pick by the Wizards. A front court of McGee and Bismack, assuming he develops into a serviceable starter within the next couple of years, would be as good a defensive front court as any in the league.
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