The state of the international prospect is a bit in flux. After Dirk, Manu, Tony Parker, and Pau came onto the scene, teams were eager to take advantage of the great unknowns. A few high selected busts and Andrea Bargnani going first overall later, the pendulum began to swing back. Now after the success of Kristaps Porzingis, Euros are coming back in style.
Now, international players represent either a continued market inefficiency or a deep sea dive into relatively uncharted waters. Every team wants to find the next international star, especially in a trick-or-treat draft like this one. Here are six international names expected to be selected in the first round on Thursday, with some projection of how they’ll fare in the NBA.
(Note: Ben Simmons, though Australian, is not included here. His year at LSU gave us a better measuring stick when comparing him to the rest of the field than any of the guys listed here. We’ll cover him, and the rest of my draft board, later this week.)
In the same way Porzingis personified the state of international prospects last June, Dragan Bender represents the polarity of potential and bustability the entire NBA sees in young Europeans.
He was born in 1997, merely 18 years old. He’s spent the last two seasons playing against grown men with Maccabi Tel Aviv, against some of the best non-NBA competition in the world. He’s seen some success, but his jump to the NBA is entirely a projection of the skills and tools he’s shown in limited minutes.
Offensively, like other 7-footers, he struggles to get to the rim off the bounce. But unlike his fellow bigs, at 7’1 and only 215 pounds, he’s not strong enough to be a factor in the post. He’s not a leaper, nor a jump-off-the-screen athlete. Even those high on Bender admit he’ll never be an elite NBA scorer. He is a very good passer for a big, as is European tradition.
He has a silky shooting stroke, from the free throw line and beyond the arc, yet he isn’t a true dead eye from outside. His mechanics can get sloppy, but the raw skill is definitely in his tool box.
Sounds like a lot of “buts” and “ifs”, right?
Look at this excerpt from DraftExpress’ video of Bender’s strengths:
Those are his strengths? He can run up the court?
Without question, Bender’s future is more about projection than players we’ve seen play multiple years in college or even one year at the NCAA level. For an 18 year old, finding his role in the NBA is more about his physical profile and the skills we can project to the NBA game.
He has quick, agile feet for his size. This allows him to be very effective in defending the pick and roll or closing out on shooters on the perimeter. In today’s NBA, the idea of a fluid big, able to switch screens defensively and knock down jump shots on the offensive end, is a really attractive piece. GMs high on Bender see a young, malleable prospect, capable of becoming some Frankenstein mix of Danilo Gallinari, Pau Gasol, Draymond Green, Kristaps Porzingis, Boris Diaw, and Lamar Odom.
That’s high praise, but Bender has the tools. In order for those tools to come to fruition though, a lot of if statements need answers. His body needs to develop. His shot needs to be more consistent. He needs to use his length to protect the rim and rebound better than he’s shown.
If the right team selects Bender and gives him the time to develop, he can be a really nice piece for them. If a coach expects too much of him too soon or he’s squeezed into the wrong system or next to the wrong players, Bender could seriously struggle in the NBA.
Boston, Minnesota, New Orleans, Denver or Toronto would be exciting landing spots. Phoenix or Sacramento would scare me.
Last year, I got a little carried away in my love for Mario Hezonja. A fiery European guard who can shoot from outside and yam down monster dunks is worth falling in love with.
Speaking of which, let’s talk Luwawu.
He plays a lightning quick game, above the rim and beyond the arc. The 21-year-old Frenchman has a lot to love in his game, most of which is showcased in this breakdown from Cap Strategist.
The gist of his talents can be seem in glimpses like this one:
In addition to high-flying dunkery, he adds a smooth, yet often inconsistent jump shot.
His decision making and lack of playmaking ability leave some work to be done at the NBA level. He’s not a great dribbler and his court vision is questionable. He’s a tad on the older side to have this many outstanding questions in his game, but in a weak draft, his floor is higher than most. Luwawu will be able to step into NBA arenas able to athletically compete, defend, and score within the flow of the game. That’s a nice foundation.
A moose in the paint who moves really well for his size. He’s got nice hands and touch, while still being a bear on the boards. His lateral movement isn’t quite where it will need to be to defend the pick and roll in the NBA. Still, don’t be surprised when one night in December when Basketball Twitter loses their mind after a 18 point-22 rebound game from Zubac. He won’t do it every time out, but there are bigs he’ll punish in the paint.
A similar player to Zubac. Zizec is a little springier, but more herky-jerky. He could very well still be growing into his body and become more fluid as he fills out. I think Zubac translates to more of a Nene or Mozgov type bruiser while Zizic will be a bit more like Robin Lopez. High motor, solid defense, and effective in the pick and roll, as seen in the GIF below.
A bouncy Frechman with a wiry frame, an improving jumper, and a killer mindset on the defensive end. This kid can fly, and does so quite often.
Not only does he use his athleticism to score above the rim, he gladly defends inside the shorts of opposing guards, while also nabbing steals and blocks quite frequently for a two guard.
He made more than half of his three-point attempts this season, after a dreadful shooting season the year before. He’s streaky at worst and a very promising shooter if his mechanics continue to click.
It’s not all good. The biggest knocks on him stem from his size and experience. He’s only 19 and hasn’t played a ton of high level ball. He struggles at time to create offense or follow through on plays: not from lack of effort or even necessarily from poor decision making, but moreso just because he’s raw and can be sloppy at times. His body also can hold him back. He’s 6’5, but a mere 185 lbs.
To me, in a weak draft, those are some of the most correctable issues a prospect can have. Not many players in this draft have the athletic pop and skills to have a chance at being a real gamechanger. Cordinier does.
When I watched him, I saw flashes of Kent Bazemore, Rudy Fernandez, Kelly Oubre, Mario Hezonja, Shuan Livingston, and JR Smith. There’s good and bad to be had, though when compared to others projected to be picked in 2016, Cordinier comes out looking like an exciting roll of the dice.
Ever since the Sixers ended the Aldermir Experience, the NBA has been devoid of Furkan-ery for the past year and we’ve needed to rectify that.
In a draft that feels like all small guards and big men, Korkmaz is mentioned as one of the best non-Brandon Ingram swingmen available. He’s only 18 years old and can already absolutely fill it up. He scores from all over and in all ways. Inside, outside, dunks, floaters, jumpers. He’s got them all. Not to mention a pretty nice eye for passing and a really great handle for a 6’8 forward. His biggest problem offensively is getting his shot. He makes a lot of tough floaters, pull-ups, and step backs. But if you are settling for those shots in Turkey, the NBA will be a rude awakening.
Not to mention, Korkmaz is a defensive nightmare at the moment. He hasn’t shown the physical tools, technique, or effort to be even an average defender.
He can probably find a role as instant offensive off of someone’s bench, but not much more.
Header image via Getty
All GIFs extracted from DraftExpress/YouTube
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.