This year’s International class is considered by many as one of if not the weakest ever. Most of the players that declared for the 2017 NBA draft are far from being considered NBA ready, and as low as two could be taken in the first round this year. The 2016 International draft class in comparison had seven first rounders, and fifteen total players selected. With that said, there are still some intriguing prospects in this year’s class.
1. Frank Ntilikina (1998, 6-5, PG, France, Strasbourg)
He is considered – and for good reason – the best International prospect of this year’s class. Barring any unexpected circumstances, Frank Ntilikina is probably the only International player who is going to get drafted in the lottery this year. The French prospect has had scouts drooling for months now. After he played mostly as a back up point guard at the beginning of the season, he blew everyone away with his performances in FIBA’s U18 European Championship – in Turkey, where he earned MVP honors – and afterward he was promoted to starting point guard in 2017, becoming a really solid player at the senior level. Ntilikina is a true point guard, with the potential to be a great two-way player. He is already a great passer and is improving as a shooter and a scorer. What excites everybody though is his defensive potential, since he has all the tools to become an elite defender, and a secret weapon with his 7’1 wingspan. He is far from a finished project, since he needs to bulk up and continue improving his shooting, and may see time in the D-league next year, but his upside makes it almost certain that he will be a top 10 pick.
2. Terrance Ferguson (1998, 6-7, SG, USA, Adelaide 36ers)
Terrance Ferguson is from USA, but since he decided to go pro and play in Australia instead of playing at least one year of college basketball he is considered an International player. The truth is that Ferguson’s decision to skip college and play overseas caught a lot of people by surprise. The fact that he chose to play in Australia surprised even more people and – to make things worse – he didn’t even have the chance to showcase his talent because he was coming off the bench. Still, Ferguson’s mix of size, athleticism and scoring ability make him really intriguing and will probably be enough to get him drafted in the first round. For him to take the next step though, it’s necessary to bulk up considerably, since he doesn’t even weigh 200 pounds making it easy for opponents to bully him on both ends of the floor and also work on his offensive game, especially with the ball in his hands.
3. Isaiah Hartenstein (1998, 7-0, PF/C, Germany, Zalgiris)
Coming into the draft, Isaiah Hartenstein hoped that he would have a lot more to show to NBA teams this season. But playing for powerhouse Zalgiris in Lithuania, the German prospect saw his playing time being limited, which reminded some of what happened to Dragan Bender one year ago when he played for Maccabi. The difference between those two players is that Hartestein had the chance to show the world what he is able to do in FIBA’s U18 European Championship in December and also in Nike Hoop Summit a few months ago. Hartenstein is considered the best big in Europe at his age group. His game was picked apart at the Nike Hoop Summit by NBA scouts, but it’s important to remember he’s essentially an NCAA freshman and not very different from a guy that got over-hyped and taken 18th in last year’s draft Henry Ellenson. His skill set is impressive for a player his age and size, since he has some finesse moves but at the same time he is not afraid to bang bodies in the post. He can shoot, pass and put the ball on the floor. He is already a very good rebounder. But, like most international players of this year’s draft class, he still needs to work a lot of things on his game. From decision making and concentration on defense, to shooting selection and – perhaps more importantly – his shooting mechanics, which are still not consistent (guide hand thumb affecting shot) and cause him to miss looks that he should make.
4. Anzejs Pasecniks (1995, 7-1, C, Latvia, Gran Canaria)
The Latvian prospect started his career strong at a young age, then he almost disappeared for a few years and suddenly this season his name came up again. It’s really strange to call a player everybody had their eyes on for years a late bloomer, but that’s probably the case for the auto-eligible center. Pasecniks was able to showcase his talent this season playing in the ACB (Spanish first League). His ability to run the floor extremely well for his size and his touch around the basket are his calling cards, but his low rebounding numbers and the fact that there aren’t many players his size making contributions in the the NBA work against him. It remains to be seen whether on draft day teams will prefer to judge him based on his advantages or his flaws.
5. Mathias Lessort (1995, 6-9, PF/C, France, Nanterre 92)
The French prospect is probably the definition of a late bloomer. He was really more of an afterthought until last year. This season though he managed to make a name for himself. Playing for a team willing to give him a suitable role, Mathias Lessort was able to demonstrate his positive qualities. The French prospect will probably never become anything more than a role player. But that’s not a bad thing for someone who has accepted this fact. Lessort fits just fine in the new era the NBA is heading the last couple of years. He is an undersized center, with freakish athleticism and great length, who brings tons of energy on the court. He is great on Pick and Roll as the screener on the offensive floor and a great Pick and Roll defender on the other end, thanks to his lateral quickness and athleticism. He is built like a bull and – when motivated – can be a beast in the paint. On the other side, his offensive game is limited, he is still raw and can’t make a shot beyond 10-15 feet. All those flaws are easily exposed at the NBA level. Also, at times he looks like he doesn’t play with the same energy, especially against inferior competition. Still, the fact that he knows what he can do on the floor and he sticks to that is something that will probably be appreciated by teams.
6. Jonah Bolden (1996, 6-10, PF, Australia, FMP)
After an unimpressive freshman year at UCLA, Jonah Bolden opted to play professionally in Europe and more specifically for Serbian team FMP. The Australian prospect said in various interviews that he wanted to play more as a small forward. That didn’t happen though, since he mostly played as a face up power forward on his team and even as a center at some points. Bolden has some interesting tools. He is light on his feet, fairly athletic, long and he showed this year that he can score from the perimeter, things that could make him an ideal Stretch-4, comparable to a poor man’s Channing Frye. One other thing that probably will help his stock is his ability to guard perimeter players after switches on Pick and Roll situations, thanks to his great lateral quickness and length. All these sound great on paper. The problem though is that Bolden lacks consistency on every level, which was obvious this year too in Europe, and at the same time there are still some people who find it really strange that he wasn’t able to show his abilities in his freshman year at UCLA or in competitions with American athletes in years leading up to then. Boldin is a guy with solid second round potential, but appears to be getting too much analytics and internet hype based on his fit with today’s NBA.
7. Vlatko Cancar (1997, 6-8, SF/PF, Slovenia, Mega Leks)
The Slovenian prospect has been on the radar of NBA teams for a couple of years now. His combination of good (but not elite) athleticism and length caught the eyes of the scouts at first, with his fearless approach for the game and ability to score from the perimeter giving him an interesting package. Cancar is a combo forward, who isn’t big enough to play as a power forward at the NBA level and can’t create his own shot on a consistent basis to play as a small forward. That doesn’t seem to be that big of a problem though in an era where teams are leaning more and more towards position-less basketball. Cancar is as intriguing as anybody in this draft, with his versatility being his biggest weapon, which combined with his skill set might be enough to get him drafted in the second round.
7. Michael Fusek (1995, 7-5, C, Slovak Republic, Spirou Charleroi)
Fusek’s name was in every scout’s notebook for years. Players with his size and touch around the basket don’t come around that often. The auto-eligible center’s improvement has been steady the last couple of years. And the biggest reason for this was probably the fact that he managed to bulk up after spending some time in the USA. He needs a lot of work on his game on offense (especially on post ups) and it’s essential to continue adding muscle to his body and improve on his post up defense before can be even considered NBA ready. He is an oversized center in an era where every team is getting smaller and smaller. But if a team believes that he is a project worth developing, then he could find a spot in the NBA through the draft.
9. Alpha Kaba (1996, 6-10, PF/C, France, Mega Leks)
This was supposed to be the year that Alpha Kaba would captivate scouts – and therefore NBA teams – and become a modern Stretch-4. It certainly looked like he was on his way at the beginning of the season as he was knocking 3’s on a consistent basis. But as the season progressed, the French prospect played almost exclusively as a center, his shot wasn’t falling and his development stalled once again. With his length and shooting stroke, Kaba is definitely an intriguing prospect. He has NBA athleticism, he is long and has shown Stretch-4 potential, despite the fact that he was mostly used as a center. Whether all these things are enough to get him drafted as high as he hopes is another story.
10. Ognjen Jaramaz (1995, 6-4, PG, Serbia, Mega Leks)
The Serbian prospect had a season with a lot of ups and downs with Mega Leks. He looked like a Euroleague level player at best. And then adidas Eurocamp happened! Jaramaz played only two days there, but he managed to steal the show from more advertised players and win the MVP trophy, although it has to be noted that he was one of the oldest player there. That doesn’t change the fact though that he was really impressive, showing his very solid athleticism, explosive first step and ability to score the ball. His decision making still needs work and at times looks more like a combo guard than a point guard, but he definitely looked like an NBA prospect in Treviso, which works on his favor.
Jonathan Jeanne (1997, 7-2, C, France)
If things were different, then Jeanne would be ranked in the Top-5 of this year’s class of International prospects thanks to his combination of size, length and touch around the basket. But the fact that he was diagnosed with Marfan Syndrome makes him probably the biggest mystery of this year’s draft. Jeanne’s decision to stay in the draft despite this diagnosis was bizarre considering the fact that Marfan Syndrome could potentially end his career. The example of Isaiah Austin being cleared to play once again just two years after he was diagnosed with the same ailment is probably the biggest argument Jeanne’s favor, giving the chance that a team might decide he is worth the gamble if he ever gets cleared to play basketball again.