Despite how it may seem, with 99 percent of its coverage centered on the superstar freshmen playing college basketball, the 2014 Draft will certainly have an international flavor. And if there's one thing the "In Lieu of Jrue" series will not be called, it's xenophobic.
Last time, we talked about the draft's signature international prospect, Australian high schooler Dante Exum. Today, we'll catch up on the handful of other international prospects that the Sixers could potentially select.
As of now, Exum seems (key word right there, this stuff is fluid) like the only international player that will be a realistic target when the Sixers are on the clock with their own first round pick. Taking that into consideration, we'll separate the rest into two categories: Pelicans pick possibilities, and potential early second rounders.
Pelicans Pick Targets
Dario Saric, 6-10 forward, Croatia (Draft Express #12 overall prospect)- Saric would've made for a nice fit on this year's go-go-go Sixers, as some of his best documented work has occurred in transition. From everything I've read and watched on Saric, he's a "toolsy" player, to borrow a baseball term. Standing at 6-foot-10, he can handle and pass the ball like a point guard. He's a decent rebounder, and also makes instinctual defensive plays like blocks and steals at a high rate.
The two tools that Saric is lacking are biggies, though. First off, he's not a great long distance shooter. After shooting 30 percent on threes last season, Saric has regressed a tad to 28.6 percent in all European competitions. The second problem, and maybe more pressing one, is the same question that follows Jabari Parker: Who does he guard? A tweener 3/4, Saric reportedly has trouble staying in front of wings and lacks the strength to guard power forwards.
Alas, Saric is currently scoring 13 points per game and making 70 percent of his two point field goals in the Adriatic League. Combine that steady performance with a strong showing at the U-19s this summer (2nd in tournament scoring with 20.3 PPG, 1st in rebounds at 11.2 RPG and 1st in assists at 4.9 APG, though 1st in TOs with 4.8 per game) and he's shown GMs a lot of positives, warts and all.
Mario Hezonja, 6-7 forward, Croatia (DX #9)- When watching some Hezonja highlights, one thing immediately stood out to me: This looks like an American high schooler's YouTube mix. Hezonja has deep range that he isn't afraid to use and when he dunks on people, he dunks on them really hard.
The major problem with getting a current evaluation Hezonja is that he's not on the court all that much. Unlike Saric, who plies his trade in their native Croatia, Hezonja plays for FC Barcelona, which is one of the top clubs in Europe. He's playing less than 8 minutes per game in the Spanish ACB, so it's hard to get a read on him.
From everything you read about Hezonja, he's a lottery pick based on sheer talent, yet the big question is if he'll actually learn how to play correctly and maximize his skill level. It's difficult to see if he's making strides in areas like shot selection and off-ball defense when he's not getting regular minutes. For that reason, there's a chance that he might wait a year and elect to enter the 2015 Draft.
Jusuf Nurkic, 6-11 center, Bosnia (DX #20)- If the draft were to happen today, Nurkic would probably be the one prospect that fell between the Sixers' second and third selections. We'll throw him in the Pellies category anyway.
A fast riser, the 19-year-old has been a per-minute wonder in the same Adriatic League that Saric plays in. Nurkic's insane PER of 44.8 is over 14 points better than the next highest player in his league. He currently averages 13 PPG on 66 % shooting and 5 RPG in less than 16 minutes per game.
A strong pick-and-roll finisher with a nice touch from the foul line, Nurkic's main questions come on defensive end. Although a very long player, he struggles in space depending pick-and-rolls and fouls a ton, something that helps contribute to his high per-minute numbers. Still, there's a lot to like here and as DX noted, the fact that Nurkic plays in the same city as Saric will help his visibility amongst scouts.
Early Second Round Targets
Nikola Milutinov, 6-11 center, Serbia (DX #31)- After a strong U-19 Tournament, Milutinov is struggling a bit for European heavy hitters Partizan. In four Euroleague games (toughest competition in Europe), he's averaging 3.8 points and 4 rebounds in 23 minutes per game. Somewhat interestingly, his numbers aren't much better in the Adriatic League. He very well might opt for another year of overseas seasoning, like fellow big man prospects Ilimane Diop (DX #35), Kristaps Porzingis (DX #36), and Rasmus Larsen (DX #37).
Vasilije Micic, 6-4 point guard, Serbia (DX #42)- If I'm being honest here, Micic is the international player that I was most excited to write about. Why? Well, during the no-hoop days of summer, I came across something basketball-related that held my interest: The gold medal game of the (aforementioned) FIBA Under-19 World Championship.
The reason I tuned in was an absolutely loaded United States squad that featured Marcus Smart, Aaron Gordon, Montrezl Harrell, and Jahlil Okafor just to name a few. And yet, even after the Americans deservedly captured the gold medal with an 82-68 victory, I couldn't stop thinking about the Serbian point guard that single-handedly made the game much closer than the final score would indicate.
It was admittedly only one game, one played under international rules, but Micic ate Smart's lunch for large portions of that game. Against the draft's highest rated point guard, Micic continually got wherever he wanted on the floor and set up his much less talented teammates for open shots, finishing the game with 13 points (on FOUR shots) and 10 assists. Here's some video of him from that tournament:
As the primarily playmaker for an extremely young team, Micic has acquitted himself well in the Adriatic League, scoring a little under 12 PPG on 8.5 shots, and dishing out 6.3 APG, though he's turning the ball over 3.7 times per game.
I love everything about his offensive game. At 19 years old, Micic already has an advanced feel for how to run the pick-and-roll. Put him on NBA team that can space the floor, and his European success could easily translate. At 6-foot-4, Micic's ability to change speeds with his dribble to create passing lanes for his teammates is evident when watching him play. Also, he's not just a playmaker, as he's knocking down 38.5 percent of his threes.
He's never going to be a great defender, but I do think he's savvy enough to get the most out of his limitations within a strong team concept. And here's the thing: If a team is selecting Micic early in the second round, there's no risk in projecting him as a third guard, which is a role I think he'll excel in.
Everyone has their irrational love of certain prospects, and Micic is certainly mine. If I'm wrong about him, I don't want to be right.
Oh yeah, feel free to argue about WIGGINS and JABARI in this thread. I thought some time away from them would serve us all well, but different strokes...