2008 International Draft Overview

2008 International Draft Overview
Jun 28, 2008, 12:55 am
In the heat of the draft aftermath, we take a look at how the draft unfolded for international players.

A Thin Class

This is one of the thinnest international classes in recent memory. Only ten drafted players, three first-round picks and seven second rounders, with just one lottery pick out of five early entrants.

We have to go all the way back to 2001to find a smaller amount of drafted players and second-round picks, and then dig one year further to find fewer lottery picks, while landing in 1999 to come up with a lower number of early entrants and first round players.

It was the age when Frederick Weis could land in the mid-first round, and Andrei Kirilenko slipped all the way to the twenties.

International scouting has certainly improved ever since, but it has taken some serious time. Even the classic bath of second-round crapshoots now looks forgotten. This year there’s not any single shocking name on the draft board. Given the precedents, it’s almost surprising not to find a surprising name. You would get up here in Europe in the morning and go through the previous night’s draft list, just to start mussing “what the hell…” while scratching your head. Not this time.

Unfortunately, with common sense becoming more of a common asset, there’s not as much fun anymore. I kind of miss those Remon-Van-de-Hare days…

Money, Money, Money

Contract issues and European salaries were a big factor in this draft. With the Dollar continuously losing value against the Euro, and the increasingly high salaries being paid in the Old Continent, it’s becoming harder for European players to give up contracts that often just pay several times more money than what a NBA team can offer late in the first round, and that’s not even taking buyouts into account.

Indeed, nobody wants to be struck in a Tiago Splitter situation, as he virtually had to play for free if he wanted to fulfill his NBA dream, while he will earn close to MLE money in Europe this upcoming season. Meanwhile, a second round pick like Marc Gasol, free of the extremely restrictive first-round scale, supposedly agreed to terms with the Grizzlies for about three million a year.

So players and agents have wised up, and some guys such as Ibaka, Pekovic and Asik just scared teams away by broaching contract issues and buyouts. In the African’s case, apparently it didn’t work, although it’s not clear whether this was some unconventional maneuvering to dress Ibaka with a Sonics jersey, as he might have a promise from them dating back to the EuroCamp. Pekovic and Asik saw their wish fulfilled.

I don’t think this trend is going to end anytime soon, and we will likely see more players trying to skip the late first round in the near future.

Gallinari, the Italian Connection

Only a few months ago you would have never bet on the Knicks taking an international player this early in the draft. Seems like the Weis stigma still lasts, while the culture around the team doesn’t seem the most friendly towards finesse players, which even if a stereotype, is kind of a typical attribute among overseas players (ironically, Weis is not a finesse player by any stretch of imagination).

Actually, despite the aforementioned improved overseas scouting, the NBA is yet to fully adapt to the international influx, and still we find international-friendly teams and a few others very adamant when it comes to adding a foreign player. And I honestly don’t think it’s always a matter of being a good fit or a bad fit in a certain game style.

Anyway, back to the Big Apple, enters Donnie Walsh, follows Mike D’Antoni and arrives Danilo Gallinari, the sole international lottery pick in this draft.

The connection between D’Antoni and Gallinari has been generously voiced: the Knicks coach shared team with Danilo’s father, Vittorio, back in the eighties, when Olimpia Milano dominated Europe (the great Bob McAdoo joined them too).

Now, many can think this is a sentimental pick, or something similar.


Gallinari is for real, an excellent basketball player-- talented, skilled and competitive. He’s a good kid, a good teammate and a winner. You know, the kind of assets the Knicks are overloaded with, right?

Besides, looking around the draft reviews, it’s worth mentioning that Danilo’s defense is significantly underrated at this point. He’s not the quickest player around, but he enjoys better lateral quickness than he’s given credit for. This past season, officiating as the team’s go-to anchor, Gallinari didn’t put much emphasis on defense, but the previous campaign he proved capable of staying in front of most wings, even significantly smaller ones than him.

Of course we might end up finding better players picked after the Italian, but he brings very nice value at the sixth spot.

Late First Hopefuls

Gallinari was the only international player that NBA teams bet strongly on. The rest of the first-round crop didn’t come up until the twenties, the part of the draft where there’s not so much pressure anymore, and executives feel more comfortable going for high-risk, high-reward players.

Actually, with variations in the equation, all three guys fill that mantra.

Emerging somehow as a reminiscence of the past, Alexis Ajinca came first in the 20th spot. A few years back he might have gone lottery, but still that early into the twenties looks a bit of a reach. He’s a guy who draws question marks both in terms of physical development (he’s skinny and suffers from a thin frame) and skill repertoire.

Never able to show a consistent offensive game, Ajinca struggles with his shot (even if he’s looking more consistent lately) and suffers finishing low post situations (although at least he’s willing to mix up inside regardless his physical disadvantage). Of course, to expect him to produce off the dribble is out of reach right now.

The endless Frenchman reportedly had very strong workouts these past weeks (although often going against worst players such as the horrible defender Javale McGee or the incredibly raw DeAndre Jordan), but we can’t never forget his inconsistency during the season in the real action.

Moving forward, Serge Ibaka seems like a nice investment at the 24th spot, especially if he remains in Europe for an extra couple of years. A super-athletic player, the experience, maturity and skill development he can gain in Spain could turn him into a very serviceable big, able at least to intimidate and regularly hit his jumper.

We’ve been told he has a deal done in Spain if he decides to wait on the NBA, and everything points to Manresa as his destination. It’s a nice situation for him, a relatively humble team, where he should enjoy the chance to gain regular playing time, in the very strong ACB League.

One of the craziest stories in this draft was Nicolas Batum, with all the talk about his heart condition and a physical nowhere to be found that added even more uncertainty to a player whose stock was already rumbling somewhere in the second half of the first round. Apparently, only the Spurs and the Cavs were updated on his health condition, and everything pointed to Batum heading to Texas. But it was Portland –who else- stepping in to steal the French swingman with the 25th pick, right in front of San Antonio’s nose—thanks to the help of their friends from Texas, Houston.

For all the doubts Nicolas might draw, his talent, physical gifts and skills are undeniable, and he seems like a great selection that deep into the first round.

Most analysts are focusing on his production in the Euroleague, which remained pretty steady from the previous season. But that’s only a small part of Batum’s campaign. Many people are sleeping on his excellent progression in the French League, indeed finishing second in the MVP voting.

Let’s focus on his evolution in the domestic competition: Batum has multiplied his production by 2.8 in points, by 2 in rebounds, by 3.3 in assists, by 3 in steals, by 4 in free-throw attempts, while doubling his playing time. He also improved his percentages, going from 50.8% to 51.3% in field goals, from 28% to 35% from behind the arc, and jumping from 55% to 74% from the charity stripe.

So we see a guy who has significantly increased his playing time, and not only kept the effort up with his production, but even pushed for a higher rate by also improving his accuracy; and all while playing for the top team in the French regular season. And they call this to stagnate…

Now, there are some concerns about his character, aggressiveness playing the game, etcetera. He’s not the kind of guy who will land in a team and take over his position, and it’s not like the Blazers are starving at the three, with Martell Webster and Travis Outlaw. He might be better off staying a little longer in the French League and continuing to develop his jumper and go-to skills. Or, if he decides to make the jump (which is reportedly the case), be ready for a season in the D-League. Anything is better than sticking permanently to the bench, which might end up ruining completely the already questionable confidence he enjoys.

Second Round Bets

Every single guy selected in the second round this year is a well-known name in the international scene. Indeed everything went by the book except for one player, Tadija Dragicevic.

Three times selected Player of the Week in our international weekly roundups, Dragicevic has been one of the very top young producers in the Old Continent, earning MVP honors in the Adriatic League.

Still, I’m having a hard time figuring out why the Jazz selected him.

Ok, he can shoot the lights out and he gets to the free-throw line on a good rate by putting the ball on the floor. But he’s a scoring specialist, pretty unathletic, who will struggle creating his own shot, not particularly big, an underwhelming defender, a poor rebounder, and not the best team player around.

Meaning that, if somebody was expecting to land –let’s say- the next Jorge Garbajosa (a heavy-footed shooting forward, yes, but also a very smart glue player and really tough defender), they missed the point (by the way, Novica Velickovic would have been much closer to incarnate that kind of guy).

I’m neither very optimistic about the chances of Semih Erden to succeed in the league, given his perennial inconsistency, but at least he brings considerably more upside and was the last pick in the draft.

The other five international guys selected in the second round bring nice value to the table, and you can see why they all made the upper half of that second round.

Nikola Pekovic can be a super efficient producer in the right situation, surrounded by unselfish teammates willing to feed him in the low post. If you expect him to earn his stripes by intimidating on defense, rebounding or being a mere link within the offensive flow, chances are you will lose your time and your money. For the moment, it will be Panathinaikos’ in his pocket for the near future.

Omer Asik probably brings the most value in this second round, given his ability to rebound and intimidate, while we always have to consider the significant potential he has left in him. When a player can step into the court and become a useful complimentary guy without commanding a big role in his team’s offensive game, it’s usually easier to sneak into somebody’s rotation. Still Asik can really benefit from more burn in the international stage, as he will get with Fenerbahce, in order to expand his offensive skills and improve his overall understanding of the game.

Nathan Jawai can become a dangerous player on the paint. He’s big, strong and athletic, he likes to mix up inside and shows an incipient low post game that just needs an extra degree of polish to really become effective. Indeed he’s still pretty raw skill wise (physically he’s NBA ready) and perhaps not the smartest guy around, but he has a real chance to make it.

Ante Tomic likely enjoys the most potential among the second round guys. He really resembles Pau Gasol, minus the body. The length, the low post skills, the mid-range jumper, the court vision, even his ability to put the ball on the floor, but also his softness on defense. Still the guy is just too skinny and his body doesn’t always allow him to display his game as he would like, although he’s faring every year better in the Adriatic League. Anyway, his physical development is taking some serious time, and it will take him several years to be ready for the NBA; if he ever makes it. Still, that’s what the second round is about, and Tomic looks like a very intriguing investment. The question is, will he ever make it considering his contract situation.

Goran Dragic stands alone as the only international guard selected in this draft. The Slovenian enjoys a few tools really intriguing to work with, particularly his athleticism and defense, while he displays some certain talent that might be able to develop down the road. He’s a transition guy at this moment, but maturity and experience will help him improve his understanding of the game, and therefore emerging as a more reliable set-offense guy. The Suns will hope that Tau Vitoria develops him as successfully as they did with Jose Manuel Calderon.

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