International Flavor: Analyzing the 2008 Class

Tue, 06/24/2008 - 12:30pm

With the NBA's ever-increasing influx of international players (25 percent of the league), the importance of scouting globally continues to rise.

Every year, a handful of international prospects dot the draft landscape, and while this draft is no different, it has no clear-cut superstar talents. No one that is likely to turn into a franchise-level player, a la Dirk Nowitzki or Yao Ming.

[img_assist|nid=1228|title=Danilo Gallinari|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=474] But there are several with a chance to have a real impact at the NBA level. First and foremost is Italy's Danilo Gallinari, who is expected to be a late lottery pick, linked to the 10th overall selection. There is word that Portland and New Jersey are discussing a deal that would allow the Blazers to move up from 13 to 10 to grab the small forward.

Gallinari is easily the most NBA-ready of this group, and considering the way in which he dominated a sturdy Italian league to the tune of 17.5 points per game at such a young age, he's expected to be able to come into the NBA and contribute immediately. Where he may struggle is on the defensive end, as he must make up for physical limitations — a lack of great foot speed with hustle and smarts.

The son of a hard-nosed European player, Gallinari has a tremendous basketball IQ. Though just 20 years old, he's extremely personable off the floor and has a switch to become a fierce competitor on the floor. His maturity, desire, intensity and feel for the game give him a lot of promise as a scoring wing-forward at the NBA level, and his readiness also makes him desirable.

Nicolas Batum is the second international player of note, and though he failed to break out this season, he remains a prospect with a ton of upside. Compared to Gallinari, Batum is a much riskier pick, but one with considerably more potential.

With a 7-foot-1 wingspan, he's able to get to the rim quickly and has the perfect physique and athletic ability to be a standout at small forward. His skill level, while unpolished, has shown solid development the past few seasons.

Like Gallinari, Batum has professional experience in Europe, and though teams would like to see him be more assertive and take over, they like his unselfishness and willingness to play for the team.

He must overcome the cultural and geographical obstacles, and mature both mentally and physically before realizing his high ceiling.

Batum cut short his workout with Toronto last week after feeling sick, and his cardio test revealed some red flags. Further tests were scheduled for Monday, and he checked out well and has resumed working out for teams leading up to Thursday.

For a team drafting in the late teens to early 20s, Batum offers a great deal of upside, and due to the draft position, less risk. If the heart concerns drop him past the low 20s, he will become the draft's biggest sleeper.

This year's Treviso camp had its most talented group ever, and Serge Ibaka stood out above the rest. Hailing from the Congo and having played the game for less than two years, Ibaka has shown a great deal of development in a short amount of time. He's still incredibly raw, but is a physical specimen with a 7-foot wingspan, soft shooting touch and the agility of a guard.

After his impressive Treviso performance, Ibaka is likely to be taken in the mid-to-late first round, with a team opting to stash him in Europe to continue to develop for a couple seasons before bringing him over as a more NBA-ready player. He's listed as born in 1989, though some scouts question his year of birth. Still, they concede he's likely a first-rounder, even if he is a bit older.

Like Ibaka, France's Alexis Ajinca is another project-type pick considered to be a mid-to-late first-rounder. Ajinca must add weight, but has nice agility and a massive 7-foot frame with a 7-6 wingspan. His shot-blocking potential is his most intriguing attribute, and can also use his length to grab boards.

The next tier of international guys includes a number of players with a shot to crack the late first round. Turkish big men Omer Asik and Semih Erden wowed scouts in Treviso in a workout in which they displayed their half- and full-court abilities. Asik is considered by scouts as the one with best chance to get into the late first round.

Slovenia's Goran Dragic's combination of size and speed makes him very intriguing. His agent mentioned in Treviso that he would much rather go in the second round, due to issues related to his buyout and less restrictions on the length and amount that he could sign for.

Nikola Pekovic emerged this year as possibly the most dominating big man in Europe — unheard of for a 22-year-old. He's considered by many to be the top European prospect born in 1986. Limiting him is the fact that, like Luis Scola when he was drafted, Pekovic is signed to a long-term deal with a substantial buyout that will be nearly impossible to break out of. He wouldn't be expected to join a team for three years or so, though for a team like Seattle or San Antonio that picks late in the first round, that may not matter.

Due to his length and explosiveness, Nathan Jawai is a very intriguing prospect. He's a challenging player to project since he plays in the Australian league, where the competition level is not up to that of Europe. Plus, he didn't participate in any of the draft camps, opting instead to work out for teams individually. Jawai's combination of strength and touch give him nice potential as a low-post offensive player.

Ante Tomic has some intrigue due to his 7-foot-1 size, plus his soft touch. While it's unlikely that he gets into the first round due to his lack of muscle, he's a likely second-rounder with solid mobility.

Russia's 6-foot-7 point guard Anton Ponkrashov has been a pro for a number of years and has seen time playing for his country in international events. He's a solid athlete with good size and the versatility to play both guard positions. He's got a gregarious personality that should make a transition to the U.S. less difficult, which a number of Russians have struggled with.

Rounding out the eligible prospects of note is Damjan Rudez, a wing from Croatia who has torn up a number of workouts recently and could be taken in the top 40 picks. Rudez has excellent size at 6-10 and a great shooting stroke.

A record-low five international early entry candidates chose to remain in the draft this year (Gallinari, Batum, Ibaka, Ajinca and Tomic). Although it has been depleted by early entries of earlier years, the draft-eligible 1986 group has a solid amount of talent, including Asik, Erden, Dragic, Pekovic, Jawai, Ponkrashov and Rudez.

While not the greatest class of international players, these 12 have a shot to make some noise in the NBA in the near future.

Others worth mentioning include Uros Tripkovic; Predrag Samardziski; Novica Velickovic; Mantas Kalnietis; Tadija Dragicevic; Vladimir Golubovic; Rafael Hettsheimeir; Julian Khazzouh; Manuchar Markoishvili; Igor Milosevic; Albert Moncasi; Vladyslav Podolyan; Nikita Shabalkin; Dusan Sakota; Carlos Suarez; George Tsintsadze; Luca Vitali; and Dramir Zibirov.
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European players

Kobe, tell me how my A** taste!!! these europeans are softer than butter but some still put up good numbers but most end up being busts or they never play. gasol was getting pushed around by a 39 yr. old guy who only played 18 games in the reg. season(PJ Brown). dont get me wrong i love dirk and those other guys but most are SOFT.

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