After my recent write-up of the college players, here's my take on the International players who are likely to be selected in the first round or early in the second of the June 23 draft. Although I obviously have not seen these players as much as the college guys, I've watched virtually every tape that exists for each of them on the Internet, and I've read a great deal of scouting reports including stats. They are listed in the order of projected contribution at the next level, but the system and temmates they get dealt into is crucial to how most players' careers pan out.
Enes Kanter (C/PF, Turkey, 19)
Most fans became aware of Enes Kanter after his epic Nike Hoop Summit performance in April, 2010. The 6-feet-11, 260-pound banger broke Dirk Nowitzki’s Summit scoring record by dropping 34 points on 13-for-21 shooting, while grabbing an impressive 13 rebounds (8 offensive). And keep in mind this was all accomplished in only 24 minutes. Against Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones, and Patric Young. With terrible back pain. Kanter has also put up monster numbers against other top International big men over the years, including Jonas Valanciunas. Additionally, I recall an interview with Kentucky coach John Calipari before this last season, when the Wildcats were still trying to make Kanter eligible, in which Calipari made it clear that the big Turk was going to be their best player – that’s a team that went to the Final Four with multiple future lottery picks.
Kanter is an absolute brute who bullies the bullies (Sullinger, Jones, etc.) and has the moves, ball skills, positioning, strength, effort, and mid-long range jumper to be a 20-10 guy in the NBA for years. He’s extremely aware and intelligent, plus he invites contact and is able to attack the rim off the dribble against opposing centers and power forwards. He’s a tireless worker with a polished game far beyond his teenage years. Kanter has combined all of this to be extremely productive and efficient at virtually every level of basketball he’s ever played.
Concerns: He’s not particularly fast or explosive, so he’ll never be a good shot blocker, plus he could have occasional trouble with bigs who play a speed-based perimeter game. It should be noted, though, that Kanter’s man-to-man defense has been decent in big-time competition (can he stay focused on that end regularly?). He’s played very little organized ball over the past two years, and there have been some concerns about him blowing off some teams before the draft. Supposedly he’s had some knee problems in the past, as well.
Outlook: Team cornerstone – he has the size, skills, and mentality to be a phenomenal interior force, and he’s always produced. Based on both his potential and past performance, Kanter can become an All-Star big man that a team builds around.
Jonas Valanciunas (C, Lithuania, 19)
Valanciunas is another extremely efficient International center, regularly shooting around 70% from the field and 80% from the stripe in tournaments and leagues. Although his lanky build (6-feet-11, 240 pounds, freakishly long arms) has you thinking he’s soft and shies away from contact, it’s certainly not true. He operates almost exclusively inside of 10 feet from the hoop; Valanciunas uses a bevy of short jumpers, hook shots, and strong moves to the rim to get a lot of shots to fall or to get to the free throw line trying. He plays at a very high energy level, regularly finding the seam in the defense for a quick catch-and-dunk, plus he’s all over the paint on defense (has been compared to Joakim Noah). His long arms and aggression on D leads to a lot of blocks, but also a lot of fouls.
Despite clearly needing to pack on more muscle and weight, Valanciunas is a high-level rebounder who really gets after the ball. Part of this is due to his long arms and smart positioning, but part of it is also due to his athleticism, which is certainly above-average for the post. If you haven’t figured it out already, he’s quite the competitor.
Concerns: There is no question Valanciunas needs to get stronger so he can continue to play efficiently in traffic close to the hoop. It would help if he could extend his shot to the mid-range, plus he could use more moves in the post so he’s not simply going bang-for-bang against stronger bigs when he has the ball. He needs to better use his energy on defense so as not to get so many fouls. Possibly the most damaging issue in regards to Valanciunas’ path to the NBA is the huge buyout on his current Euroleague contract, which still has a few more years on it.
Outlook: Solid starting center – his competitiveness and energy will help significantly as he spends some time getting stronger and learning more nuances to the pro game. In a few years when he has more muscle and a little bit of a jumper, Valanciunas could make an All-Star Game or two.
Bismack Biyombo (PF/C, Congo, 18)
Similar to Kanter’s introduction to the average fan at last year’s Hoop Summit, Biyombo was all the rage after this past April’s event. Despite only standing 6-feet-9, the big man has some of the largest arm length measurements ever with a 7-feet-7 wingspan and a 9-feet-3 standing reach. His body is a ripped 243 pounds (very low 4.8% body fat), and he used it and his reach to record the first ever triple-double in Summit history, scoring 12 points (5-for-7), grabbing 11 boards (7 offensive), and blocking 10 shots. This was all done against the high caliber US frontline of UNC-bound James McAdoo and UK-bound Anthony Davis, both of whom are projected to be top-5 picks next year.
Biyombo gets after everything and has shown he can overwhelm opposing big men with his strength and impressive explosiveness. His enthusiasm and fight for the ball are reminiscent of DeJuan Blair or Kenneth Faried. Although possessing essentially no offensive game, Biyombo will dunk up, over, and through whoever’s between he and the basket, plus he’s great at putting back offensive rebounds for easy buckets. Thankfully he knows his limitations and doesn’t force shots up, which results in a high shooting percentage. It also needs to be stated that Biyombo’s leadership, character, and work ethic are all considered very high.
Concerns: He has no offensive moves or jump shot. His overall basketball awareness is far behind most players entering the NBA, but it is developing. There are a lot of questions about his true age (commonly assumed to be at least 20).
Outlook: Dominant interior defender/rebounder – with his imposing combination of athleticism, reach, and build, Biyombo is going to be a hell of a defender who will be a handful to account for as an opponent. As he learns the game, he’ll only become better.
***I've added Mirotic after the fact when it became apparent he was staying in the 2011 draft.***
Nikola Mirotic (PF, Montenegro, 20)
Mirotic is a lights out 6-feet-10 shooter, hitting shots at a very high rate inside the arc, outside the arc, and at the free throw line. He’s quick for his size and can create for himself while driving to the basket, showing nice touch on finishes in the paint. He plays with confidence and aggression and will gladly shoot the rock with the game on the line. In fact, the scoring part of his game is very similar to Hedo Turkoglu in his prime. His aggression and quickness bode Mirotic well on the defensive end, where he matches up better with SF’s than PF’s. He’s much more of a fundamental defender than a stat filler, so don’t expect a lot of steals or blocks, but he’s effective in making it difficult for his man to get a clean look at the hoop.
Concerns: As a power forward, Mirotic doesn’t really have a post-up, back-to-the-basket game. He’s not much of a passer, and he clearly needs more strength (6-feet-10, 210 pounds) before he can adequately guard NBA PF’s or take them to the low block. His overall athleticism is average at best for the league, so you can expect him to be more of a spot-up shooter than a creator. He’s a below-average, but not terrible, rebounder. Despite possibly being drafted in the first round next Thursday, Mirotic probably won’t enter the NBA for a few years because he has a buyout on his Real Madrid contract (which runs through 2016) in the neighborhood of $2.85 million.
Outlook: High-end floor spacer – he knows how to score from outside and has enough of a first step to keep defenders honest, but when will we get to see him in the league? I would rank his NBA prospects ahead of Donatas Motiejunas.
Donatas Motiejunas (PF, Lithuania, 20)
Motiejunas is a versatile 7-footer with virtually every scoring skill in his bag: he can finish at the rim, shoot 3’s, create his own space for jumpers, drive against most defenders, and use post moves to operate on the low block. Because he can attack in so many ways, he regularly ends up at the free throw line. He’s a smart offensive player, using off-the-ball spacing to his advantage, plus his passing is decent. Also, Motiejunas is not lacking for confidence.
Concerns: The big man needs to add more muscle to his frame (7-feet-0, 220 pounds), which will help but not cure his rebounding woes. He lazily goes after the ball and the results are bad. Similarly, he plays defense in a very lackluster manner. His inconsistent desire and drive is mentioned by virtually every scout. Not only that, his maturity and attitude also make regular appearances in everything you read about him. Motiejunas appears to settle for what he gets.
Outlook: Good bench scorer – although he lacks the rebounding, defense, and consistent drive to be a great starter in the league, his multi-dimensional scoring abilities will keep him on a roster for a while.
Jan Vesely (SF/PF, Czech Republic, 21)
Vesely’s on-top-of-defenders dunks get him compared to Blake Griffin from time to time, but the most recent Rookie of the Year is a terrible comparison to make for the young Czech. Vesely can certainly score, but usually only on spot-up jumpers, transition baskets, or the occasional drives for dunks. His length (6-feet-11), quickness, and motor make him a solid man-to-man defender who can guard multiple positions. He certainly hustles and plays with a lot of energy and emotion.
Concerns: Vesely has trouble creating his own shot in the half court, plus he’s a terrible rebounder for his size. His post moves are lacking, and his outside shot isn’t consistent, plus he’s a bad free throw shooter. He’s still quite weak despite weighing 240 pounds. His defensive prowess is probably a bit overstated at this point – he will not be the next Andrei Kirilenko.
Outlook: Rotational energy SF – there are too many holes in his game right now to start thinking he’ll be a great pro, and it’s more likely he’ll be an adequate defender than a great one.
Jeremy Tyler (PF/C, USA, 20)
Tyler left high school after his junior year and has been playing in Israel and Japan for the past two seasons, so he has experience around the professional game. He has ideal size for the post (6-feet-11, 260 pounds), and he combines very good strength and athleticism to make many pundits believe his potential is sky high. He’s certainly been a strong rebounder, and there are many reports that he’s improving his skills and maturity under former NBA coach Bob Hill.
Concerns: His maturity and attitude are big-time question marks as he’s caused all sorts of issues along the way, especially in Israel (headbutted an opponent, quit the team, was labeled lazy, etc.) where he wasn’t productive. He’s still extremely raw, displaying very little low post or passing chops. Many people question Tyler’s work ethic, which could be a huge problem considering defense is often a result of effort, he’s not a great post player, his shot still needs work, and his overall understanding of the game is lacking.
Outlook: Cautionary tale – Tyler was once ranked the top player in his class over Jared Sullinger and Kyrie Irving, but now he’s simply hoping to get picked in the first round. Even if he’s on a roster next year, he has a lot to learn and an entire mindset to change before he’ll be valuable to an NBA club as more than just a spot rebounder.
Davis Bertans and Lucas "Bebe" Nogueira are both expected to pull their names out of the 2011 NBA Draft later today, but here's some information about each in case they stay.
Davis Bertans (SF, Latvia, 18)
Bertans is your prototypical tall, “Euro-style” perimeter shooter: he squares up fast, he releases the ball fast, he has a great looking stroke, and he can let it rip from anywhere. At 6-feet-10, he can get his shot off against anyone. Bertans hustles at both ends of the court.
Concerns: Like I said, he fits that “Euro-style” mold: he’s too skinny (210 pounds) and consequently can’t rebound, he’s not particularly quick and will have difficulty driving in the NBA, and he has trouble guarding athletic SF’s which the league is full of.
Outlook: One-dimensional shooter off the bench – although Bertans lacks the bulk and athleticism to ever be more than a one-trick pony, he could become a reserve gunner in the right situation (a team with bigs who can pick up his rebounding and defensive slack). It wouldn’t be a shock to never see Bertans play in the league, however.
Lucas Nogueira (C, Brazil, 18)
Nogueira is an athletic, long (7-feet-0 tall, 7-feet-6 wingspan) center who can block shots and use his speed in transition. Supposedly he’s a decent-ish shooter and rebounder. It’s clear he loves to forcefully dunk the ball whenever he has a chance.
Concerns: At 220 pounds, he’s way too skinny and weak right now. He currently lacks almost every post skill, and he’s been hit with the “lazy” and “inconsistent” tags, which could be the kiss of death considering how far away he is from being an NBA player.
Outlook: Deep-down-the-bench defender – sure he has a lot of physical tools, but it sounds like he falls back on them too often and isn’t developing his feel for the game or his body enough to ever be a starter in the league.