Evaluating international prospects
This year's NBA draft is heavy on international flair, with possibly four in the top 10
Enes Kanter out of Turkey leads all foreign prospects, projected to go No. 4
Jan Vesely could go as high as No. 3; Jonas Valanciunas could rival Kanter at No. 4
As we mentioned back in April, this draft is heavy on international flair.
But something seems to have changed between then and now about the way these particular prospects are being perceived. And with just two days until the big day, NBA executives are convinced there are a few diamonds in this rough draft class. And a number of them aren't homegrown.
Teams will consider a number of factors when it comes to these players, from talent to upside to -- perhaps most important -- their respective contract situations with teams overseas and how that affects their NBA standing. Yet for anyone other than the handful of scouts and front-office men who have crossed the seas to see them, these players are mystery men.
In attempt to educate and enlighten, we called on a scout who knows the lay of this particular land to assess each player's potential. Consider this your out-of-country Cliffs Notes.
C, Freshman, Kentucky
Weight: 259 pounds
Mock Draft Standing: No. 3
PROJECTION: The big man is a top-10 talent at worst but isn't likely to get past Cleveland at No. 4. There's a slim chance he could go even higher.
BACKGROUND: It has been more than a year since Kanter's only real performance on American soil, but it was one to remember. He scored 34 points and grabbed 13 rebounds at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland on April 11, 2010, and we all thought there would be much to come during his freshman season at Kentucky.
But Kanter was ruled ineligible because of extra benefits he received while playing for his club team in Turkey. The NCAA claimed he was given $33,000 more than the necessary allotment for expenses, so Kanter spent his one collegiate season practicing with the Wildcats and training for his NBA life.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "He's a big, strong center, a legitimate NBA center. He plays extremely hard, uses his body well, finishes around the basket. I think he's one of those guys who will have a long career. He knows who he is, and that's what I like about him. He's going to rebound, has good hands, scores around the basket -- you can throw it to him in the post. I don't see him being an All-Star, but I see a solid 10- or 12-year pro."
SF, KK Partizan Belgrade (Serbia)
Weight: 240 pounds
Mock Draft Standing: No. 6
PROJECTION: He could go as high as No. 3 to Utah, but No. 5 (Toronto), No. 6 (Washington) and No. 7 (Sacramento) are possibilities, too.
BACKGROUND: The forward from the Czech Republic has played a significant role on a high-level Euroleague team since 2008. He entered his name in the draft last year before pulling out.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "Very athletic, high-energy player. He's probably the most NBA-ready athlete from Europe [we've seen] in a long time. He's probably like a '4/3' [power forward, small forward]. He gets up and down the floor, is really good in transition and finishes. [Utah small forward Andrei Kirilenko] is a good comparison: He's out in transition, good hands, making moves, dunking it. If Vesely develops, he has the tools to one day be [as good as Kirilenko] -- if not an All-Star, then close."
C, Lietuvos Rytas (Lithuania)
Weight: 240 pounds
Mock Draft Standing: No. 11
PROJECTION: Sources have said it was coming down to Kanter or Valanciunas for Cleveland at No. 4, but there are now teams hoping he could slide out of the top 10 if the Cavaliers pass him by because of concerns about his contract.
BACKGROUND: The question of his overseas contract and whether he could reach a buyout that would allow him to play in the NBA next season has loomed large for some time now. But according to ESPN.com's Chad Ford, the buyout will force him to wait one more season. Thus, Valanciunas might be a prime candidate to throw a monkey wrench in every mock draft on Thursday.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "He probably has the most upside of any European guys coming in the draft. Very good size. He's kind of gangly right now, but with his length and his ability right now to play ... you can see he has some solid moves, has a pretty good up-and-under [move], can finish around basket, is very good up and down the court. He's young, but if he puts on some weight he could mess around and be a really good player. With his position and the stuff he does, he conceivably could be better than Marc Gasol. He could be Pau Gasol-ish. He's pretty skilled right now. If he gets stronger, I could see him being an All-Star."
PF, Baloncesto Fuenlabrada (Spain)
Weight: 240 pounds
Mock Draft Standing: No. 8
PROJECTION: He isn't likely to go any higher than No. 8 (Detroit) or get out of the lottery at No. 14 (Houston).
BACKGROUND: Anyone who speaks six languages at any age is impressive in my book. And now that NBA officials have seen his freakish length, athleticism and shot-blocking ability, they seem just as impressed. Biyombo is the poster boy when it comes to projects. He has no offensive game to speak of that doesn't include dunking. But his defensive presence and all-worldly personality make him one of the most intriguing prospects in the whole lot.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "He has a big-time motor, is long and athletic and has a nice build. You look at him and he looks impressive: He's super long, has a wingspan that's ridiculous [7-foot-6]. Right now, he's an NBA rebounder, a shot-blocker and a defender. If you look at him and what he brings to the table -- he protects the basket, blocks shots, makes guys think about coming in there. He can dunk if you get it to him. A lot of guys in this league didn't have a great [offensive] repertoire. And with the work ethic he has, he's going to get better. Now is he Bo Outlaw or Ben Wallace? Ben Wallace was an All-Star, and he could be a better Ben Wallace. It's going to take him a while to get used to the NBA game."
PF, Benetton Treviso (Italy)
Weight: 215 pounds
Mock Draft Standing: No. 18
PROJECTION: He's likely to go in the teens or early 20s, with New York (No. 17) and Minnesota (No. 20) among the possibilities. Detroit has discussed taking him as high as No. 8, but that's looking very unlikely.
BACKGROUND: He averaged 12 points and four rebounds per game last season in the Italian League. Yet, after his stock was already falling in recent weeks, he made matters even worse with a lackluster workout at Adidas Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy, earlier this month. There were already serious questions about his desire, and then he made onlookers wonder if he had forgotten how to shoot.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "He's a guy who two years ago was very hot. He's very skilled, left-handed but can score with both hands around the basket. ... He's very good in transition. He can bring the ball up and initiate the offense that way. He's a '4,' and has NBA three-point range. He has played at some pretty good level competition, but I don't think he progressed like we thought he would and people question his personality a little bit. Is he motivated to play the game of basketball? He has a little attitude, is a little arrogant maybe. You've got to be cocky to play at this level, but you've got to have a motor to play at this level, too."
PF, Real Madrid (Spain)
Weight: 210 pounds
Mock Draft Standing: No. 29
PROJECTION: He's a late first-rounder at best simply because of his contract situation with Real Madrid. Mirotic is not expected to be able to play in the NBA for at least three years after signing a five-year contract in April.
BACKGROUND: Mirotic was named the "Rising Star" of the Euroleague last season after going from a little-used reserve to a key member of his team in a Final Four run. According to the Euroleague website, Mirotic was among the league leaders in scoring and blocked shots and was also the most accurate three-point shooter among all players in the top 16.
SCOUT'S TAKE: "He is definitely lottery talent, if not top 10. He's long, runs the floor and is a very good shooter. He's smart, has a great feel for the game, but he won't be available for the next couple of years. If a team wants to grab a guy and stick him over there for three years, they can. It's like having a lottery pick three years from now. If not for the buyout issue, he'd be there with the rest of [the international players in the lottery]."