2014 NBA draft had a considerable amount (13) of international prospects selected, with 5 first rounders (Dario Saric, Jusep Nurkic, Clint Capela, Bruno Caboclo, Bogdan Bogdanovic) and 8 second rounders (Inglis, Jokic, Tavares, Antetokounpo, Micic, Gentile, Dangubic, Labeyrie), a clear sign that international basketball continues to be growing. With the international competitions just starting, here’s a look at the next batch of top international talents coming from outside the US.
1. Emmanuel Mudiay (’96, 6-5, PG, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guangdong)
Mudiay was one of the top recruits of 2014 class, who appeared destined to play for an emerging SMU program under coach Larry Brown. But this summer he surprised everybody by signing with the Chinese team of Guangdong, becoming a professional player. This is a path previously taken by other prospects (Brandon Jennings being the most well known) even if it’s probably a risky one, especially when we are talking about an elephant graveyard of former NBA players in the Chinese Basketball Association. Standing 6-foot-5, Mudiay has tremendous quickness, feel for the game and passing abilities, showing also a competitive streak. He is off to a good start three games into the season, already having logged a 29 point game and a triple double. His biggest flaw is probably the lack of a consistent three point shot, a fundamental flaw that is unlikely to be developed in Guandong. Nevertheless his combination of size, skills and athleticism puts his name atop of the board for the next NBA draft.
2. Kristaps Porzingis (’95, 7-0, PF, Latvia, Cajasol Seville)
After a solid first season as a professional player, Porzingis has become the frontrunner among the European platoon headed to 2015 NBA draft. As a legit 7 footer, he has perfect height for the role, combined with long arms and big hands. Despite his size he tends to play on the perimeter, showing tremendous body control and ball handling skills, and excelling in transition situations. He has improved his off the ball game during the past seasons, developing a solid repertoire of offensive solutions. The biggest question mark for him at NBA level is the lack of post game, combined with a skinny structure and narrow shoulders, with the tendency to prefer mid-range jumpers instead of attacking the rim. Essentially he’s a shooting guard in the body of a center, an intriguing prospect that painfully needs to develop physically, and still a tweener at the moment. From this standpoint next season will be crucial for him, with consistent minutes and responsibilities with Seville in ACB.
3. Mario Hezonja (’95, 6-6, SG, Croatia, FC Barcelona)
Hezonja used to be considered the best international prospect of this class, but over the past two seasons the hype surrounding him has been overwhelming and his development has been significantly stunted. This summer Barcelona planned to send him on loan to Manresa, as they had previously done for Eriksson, but apparently the player and his entourage refused the transfer. Hezonja is a huge talent with a great potential, but seems that his mindset and attitude could limit his development. As a 6-6 SG, combining great athleticism, personality and skills, he has everything to become a European superstar, but he desperately needs to play with consistency and to evolve from the personal standpoint. His current situation in Barcelona is far from being ideal, since the team is competing for maximum European goals and can’t offer him consistant minutes.
4. Egemen Guven (’96, 6-9, PF, Turkey, Karsiyaka)
Guven was MVP of U18 European championships last summer, leading his team to back to back victories. He finished the competition averaging 14 points and 7 rebounds, but what was most impressive about him was the potential he flashed with his combination of skills, mobility and feel for the game. He’s really effective in offensive rebounding, plus his sense of position and quickness makes him a constant threat in pick and roll situations. Offensively he’s really polished, even showing a hook shot, but his range is mainly the paint area. He’s also a great passer from post position, showing great instincts and decision making. Defensively he’s not a great rim protector, also due to his average athleticism, but he has superior lateral speed and sense of position. He needs to work on his body, adding some muscles in order to better withstand contacts at pro level, which could limit his game. This season he’ll play with Karsiyaka team, in Turkish first division.
5. Ilimane Diop (’95, 7-0, C, Spain, Caja Laboral)
Diop has played on a constant basis with Caja Laboral senior team since last season, with some impressive performances even at the Euroleague level. As a legit seven footer he has a massive wingspan and great mobility for his height, combined with above average footwork. Beyond this he’s still a project offensively, since his shot is still raw from a mechanics standpoint, plus he needs to develop more strength and awareness in the post. Defensively he’s already an intimidator with his length and wingspan, combined with good timing and a sense of position. This year Caja Laboral is in rebuilding mode, consequently minutes and opportunities should be plentyful for this young bigman.
6. Anzejs Pasecniks (‘95, 7-1, C, Latvia, VEF Riga)
Pasecniks was one of the tournament’s biggest surprises during the 2013 U18 European Championships. He has a great body for the center position, with good structure to go along with his height. He’s mobile and skilled, with good post moves, both on the baseline and in the middle of the painted area. He has good range from 15-16 feet when served in catch-and-shoot situations, but most of his game is based below the rim. His offensive development has still some room for further improvements. On the defensive side, he’s able to protect the rim, but he tends to be foul prone, since he needs to work on his positioning and timing for blocks. During last U20 European Championship he had 10.7 points and 8.1 rebounds.
7. Okben Ulubay (’96, 6-7, SF, Turkey, Efes Pielsen)
As Rick Fois wrote in his recap after U18 European championships, he’s definitely the most talented wing for the ’96 Turkish generation. A mature, sneaky lefty, he’s a solid athlete, showing the ability to attack close outs and to exploit cuts and screens in off ball game. Standing 6-7, he has tremendous versatility, nice handles and shows good passing skills, making him really effective especially in primary and secondary transition. He lacks elite lateral speed and consistency, but with his size, quick hands and game comprehension he’s a solid contributor on the defensive side, showing remarkable rebounding skills. His biggest flaw his the lack of shooting skills, which limits his offensive effectiveness. He’s a skilled all around player, but in order to develop and become effective at the next level he needs to work on his intensity and his shot.
8. Tomas Dimsa (’94, 6-6, SG, Lithuania, Zalgiris Kaunas)
Dimsa can be defined as a late bloomer, since he had his breakout season during 2012 Nike International Junior Tournament (before then, he had a small presence with Lithuanian U18 National team during 2011 European Championships, 3.6 points per game). Standing 6’6” he has good size for the role, combined with a great frame and athleticism, above average by European standards. He has good shooting skills, even if he has to work on his shot selection and his ability to create from the dribble. He has a “slashing” style of game, even if he should improve his ball handling. Defensively with his good lateral speed and long arms, he is a reliable defensive presence. He was expected to play solid minutes with his team this season, but he’s averaging just 3 points per game in 6 minutes in Euroleague, with no consistent signs of improvement.
9. Kenan Sipahi (’95, 6-5, PG, Turkey, Fenerbahce)
Sipahi was the MVP of U18 European championships, leading his team to the title. Standing 6-foot-5, he has excellent size for the PG position, combined with a good muscular definition, especially in his upper body. He has a lighting-quick first step and the ability to create his own shot, even if he sometimes tends to get out of control, a flaw which he’s currently working on under coach Obradovic. Despite being raw form a game comprehension standpoint, he has shown consistent improvements during the past season, before being sidelined due to a broken arm. His ceiling is very high on both ends of the court, with quick hands and a great motor, and he consistently puts in a strong effort on the defensive side. After Hezonja, he’s one of the prospects with real upside in the ’95 generation. He’s averaging 3 points per game in 12 minutes on the court in Euroleague this season.
10. Mateusz Ponitka (’93, 6-5, SG, Poland, Ostende)
After Prem Karnowski, Ponitka is one of the top names of the talented ’93 Polish generation, and probably the one that best matches NBA standards both from a physical and technical standpoint. He’s basically a slasher, and he exploits his physical strenght to draw contact when attacking the basket. Standing 6-foot-5, he has good size for the position and is a solid shooter, especially off the crossover behind the 3 point line, where he shows confidence and effectiveness, even if he should improve upon his consistency to excell at the pro level. He’s a solid scorer, but tends to create more for himself than for teammates, possibly due to a lack of elite passing skills. He’s not a leaper and lacks elite lateral speed, but he’s a solid athlete, who can withstand contact at NBA level. He’s currently struggling in Eurocup, where he’s averaging just 6 points per game in less than 20 minutes on the court.
Marko Arapovic (’96, 6-9, PF, Croatia, KK Cedevita Zagreb)
Arapovic is one of the brightest talents of Croatian hoops, and he has just moved this summer to Cedevita, signing a multi-year pro contract. Son of the former national team center Franjo, he has developed a really solid structure during the last two years, acquiring better body control and ability finish in traffic. He’s skilled and shows range from three point, but he needs to work on his mobility and explosiveness. If so, he’ll become a potential name for the first round of the 2016 NBA draft.
Aleksa Ilic (’96, 6-7, SF, KK Sutjeska)
Ilic was without a doubt the breakout performer of last U18 European championship, with his name becoming known to scouts and insiders. As reported by Rick Fois in a one year span, he went from 5’11 to 6’8”, switching from PG to SF, combining with impressive athleticism, leaping abilities and wingspan (over 7-0). Furthermore his past as a PG makes him a good ball handler, showing a solid transition game and a reliable jump shot. He struggles a little to create shots for himself and he should work on his three point shot, but his ceiling is huge, with a lot of room for improvement, since he has shown confidence and personality. He currently plays for KK Sutjeska, a team of his hometown of Niksic, the second biggest of Montenegro, but it won’t be a surprise to see him playing on a big European team next year. Definitely a prospect to track.
Cedi Osman (’95, 6-6, SG, Efes Pielsen)
Osman was the MVP of U20 European championship, where he averaged 13.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists during the competition. Standing 6-foot-6, he has good size for the role, with a great wingspan and a solid body structure which could be easily bulked up. He has a remarkable combination of speed and athleticism, which makes him really effective in the transition game. He loves to create with the ball on his hands, especially attacking the basket in 1 vs 1 ISO situations or exploiting screens during pick & roll. He’s also a solid passer and rebounder for the role, thanks to his size and wingspan. Defensively he’s able to guard basically on four different roles at the youth level, giving to his team great flexibility. He’s also effective in catch and shoot situations, and from three point, but he needs to improve upon his mechanics and the pull-up jumper. Furthermore his game is based on instinct and creativity, he should improve his decision making and the off-the ball game. This year he should play more minutes with Efes at the maximum European level, a good benchmark to test his level.
Marc Garcia (’96, 6-6, SG, Spain, Manresa)
After Ilimane Diop, Marc Garcia is the big hope for Spanish hoops, especially from an NBA perspective. During the last two years he has grown at least a couple of inches, showing a better maturity and ability to withstand contact. With his offensive versatility and creativity he was the offensive focal point for his team at the youth level, creating for himself and his teammates, since he often likes to switch to point forward. His main flaw was a lack of consistency since he alternated great performances with those in which he showed questionable shot selection and decision-making. This year he was sent on loan by Barcelona to the ACB team of Manresa, with the purpose to make him play solid minutes at a good level of pro competition.
Aleksandar Vezenkov (’95, 6-8, SF, Bulgaria, Aris Thessaloníki)
Vezenkov is one of the top prospects of the ’95 class in Europe, with a solid resume at the maximum level of European youth competitions with Bulgarian national team. Son of a former basketball player and coach, Vezenkov grew up in Cyprus, a country which he holds a passport. He currently plays for Aris Thessaloniki, one of the most heralded Greek first division teams, playing solid minutes with good performances. Standing 6-8, he has good size, but he probably lacks the necessary strength, athleticism and lateral quickness to be a serious contributor at the NBA level. On the other hand his offensive versatility, skills and feel for the game makes him an intriguing player to complete a roster as an ideal glue guy. Vezenkov is a good shooter, with three point range, with a quick release and balance, making him a serious threat especially in catch and shoot situations. In order to boost his chances to be drafted in the following years he needs to prove himself in Euroleague.