Croatia's Saric leads international crop of NBA draft prospects
Where have all the great international players gone? Last year, the first foreign-born player didn't come off the board until No. 20, when Denver selected Frenchman Evan Fournier. This year, no non-NCAA international entrants project to be top-10 picks and only two -- Croatia's Dario Saric and Germany's Dennis Schroeder -- are legitimate lottery candidates.
Despite the lack of star power, as many as six international players could go in the first round (that number doesn't include foreign-born players who played college basketball last season). Here is a look at the field:
Dario Saric, SF, Croatia (No. 13 in SI.com's latest Mock Draft): While draft boards across the league will fluctuate wildly over the next few weeks, many agree on this: Saric is the most talented international import. An Eastern Conference executive described Saric as "skilled beyond his years"; a Western Conference talent evaluator said Saric is "the best passing big man in the draft"; and several personnel men cited his diverse offensive repertoire as proof that the 19-year-old Saric will be able to play right away.
Perhaps more important, Saric has the drive to get better. "He's a workaholic," a scout said. "He lives in the gym. With his basketball IQ, you're talking about a kid with All-Star potential."
Dennis Schroeder, PG, Germany (No. 14): An often-cited comparison is flattering: Boston's Rajon Rondo. "He's got those long arms and dynamic skills," a West executive said of the 6-2, 165-pound Schroeder, a quick 19-year-old. Schroeder burst onto NBA radars with a stellar performance at the 2013 Nike Hoops Summit, and he's impressed teams with his playmaking instincts. Schroeder excels in the pick-and-roll and confidently directs an offense.
"He's so poised," an international scout said. "The way he weaves in and out of the paint, the way he creates, he is a high-level talent."
Executives who have researched Schroeder have expressed concern about his attitude and maturity, but one West official said "it's nothing that would make me pass him up."
Rudy Gobert, C, France (No. 21): Gobert's stock "is dropping like a stone," according to an East executive. His freakish dimensions aside -- he is 7-2 with combine records of a 7-9 wingspan and 9-7 standing reach -- the 20-year-old Gobert lacks basic offensive skills. He doesn't posses a jump shot, which eliminates him in pick-and-pop action. He isn't particularly strong or athletic and has not shown scouts that he has the tools to develop into an effective scorer in the post.
One executive compared Gobert to Alexis Ajinca, a fellow Frenchman who went 20th to Charlotte in 2008. Ajinca played 71 games over three seasons, never averaging more than 10 minutes. Several team executives said they would take a flyer on Gobert in the 25-30 range.
"If you take him too high and he fails, you are going to look like an idiot," an East scout said.
Sergey Karasev, SF, Russia (No. 23): The 6-7 Karasev is a shooter, with one NBA executive likening the 19-year-old to Kyle Korver. He's a prototypical small forward who was one of the top scorers last season in the PBL, Russia's top professional league. He's not explosive, but a West executive said he "is more athletic than you think." Another West executive said Karasev will thrive in a system that runs him off screens. He's average defensively, but the second executive believes that his intelligence and length will make him serviceable on that end.
Giannis Adetokunbo, SF, Greece: Adetokunbo fancies himself a point guard, but you won't find an NBA executive who believes he can play the position. The 18-year-old is long, athletic and runs the floor well. But he played against what one East scout called "Division III-type guys" last season, when he struggled to create off the dribble at times.
"I wouldn't touch him," a West executive said. "I don't even know how good he is going to be once he reaches his potential."
A team in position to stash Adetokunbo overseas for a few years to let him fill out and develop is probably the best fit.
Lucas Nogueira, C, Brazil: One West executive identified the 20-year-old as a sleeper. The 6-11 Nogueira dazzled NBA talent evaluators at the Under-18 World Championships in 2011, with a West general manager referring to him as the "best player on the floor." He played for Estudiantes Madrid in the well-regarded Spanish ACB League in 2012-13. Scouts praise Nogueira's intelligence and ability to fit into any system, while listing his shot blocking and rebounding as his top skills. The West executive said that if Nogueira had played in college last season and gotten more exposure, he would be a lottery pick.