That's why has decided to take a new approach this year. We've been collecting dozens of tapes of all the International prospects for this year's draft and beyond all year long. When stacked next to the hundreds of tapes of NCAA and high school prospects in our possession, that's a pretty complete collection. The only problem was finding time to watch all these players in action, which is why you may have noticed a slight drop in activity on the NCAA scouting report front over the past few weeks. I can now say that I've watched every single prospect in this draft this year, multiple times. Now it's time to relay that information to you.
Sergio Rodríguez, 6-3, 1986, Estudiantes, 2006 Draft
Sergio did not disappoint me even one bit, and one of the games I saw was arguably the most impressive game of his young career so far, a 22 point, 7 assist performance against Cibona Zagreb in the Euroleague, so keep that in mind. That doesn't take away from the fact that he is one of the biggest talents in the world in his age group, even when you put him up against American players. I know for a fact that if he was playing NCAA basketball right now, he would easily be one of the most popular players in the world. He is just that much fun to watch. The player I would compare him to in the NBA right now in terms of his intelligence and elegance with the ball would be Sebastian Telfair, although Rodriguez has about 3 inches on him and a slightly more developed outside shot. Like Telfair, Sergio has incredible court vision and an uncanny knack for effortlessly putting the ball in his teammates' hands in a perfect position to score. He is just as good at making the simple and efficient bounce pass off the dribble as he is at throwing a full court bomb right into his receiver's hands in the end-zone or throwing a rocket no-look pass to a cutting man from a standstill position for an easy lay-up.
He is quick and is almost impossible to keep out of the lane at this level, thanks to his smarts and terrific ball-handling skills. One of the games I have here is his matchup from last year with Rajon Rondo, Josh Smith and Oak Hill Academy from a youth tournament in Spain (we've talked about this game on DraftExpress). He was clearly the only player on the floor there with enough class and skill to match up with the types of athletes Oak Hill had, and Sergio really did an amazing job at single-handedly keeping his team in the game. Very often he would be surrounded by three players at the same time trying to get the ball out of his hands, but Sergio would weave his way out of trouble almost every time with a series of incredible ball-handling moves with both hands (behind the back, between the legs, all in the blink of an eye) that appeared to be straight out of one of the Matrix fight scenes.
The best part about this kid is that he seems to be maintaining a great attitude despite everything that is coming his way. He has already announced that he will be returning for another season in Spain, which shows that he wants to be a great player in his country first before leaving for the NBA. That's probably a good decision, because he still has some holes in his game that need to be fixed. His outside shooting for one is okay at this point, but could still stand to improve if he wants to really be a great NBA player like a Steve Nash for example, who he also resembles. He has gone 19/58 (33%) from outside in 32 games so far this season in Spain, and 7/22 (32%) in 14 Euroleague games.
Although you can clearly see that he has begun to address this issue already in the difference between the way he looked last year and the way he looks this this year, continuing to add strength to his frame will help him finish stronger at the basket and will help him out immensely on the defensive end, where he struggles right now. The turnovers are always something that are going to go hand in hand with his style of play, but he needs to become better and smarter in terms of decision making with the ball in his hands, especially in half-court sets. These are correctable flaws, though, and should disappear with age and experience. He is, in my mind, the most exciting prospect to come out of Europe in quite some time, and he's going to make a huge splash on this side of the ocean when he does indeed make it over. Unlike many 2 point, 1 rebound Euro-Shaq's, Sergio is starting and producing for a playoff caliber team in the strongest domestic league outside of the NBA. What's scary is that he's only 18 years old right now.
Roko-Leni Ukic, 6-5, 1984, KK Split, 2005 Draft
From the tapes I saw (including an Olympics warmup game between Croatia and Spain) and the workouts I went to last year in Chicago, his three point shot looked pretty damn good, but when you look up his stats on the year, they are far from impressive. He's got great lift on his shot and very deep range, but apparently his shot selection is poor at this point and he's very streaky from outside.
Defensively, he looked pretty solid in Chicago last year, but in the tapes I saw he lacks intensity. Offensively, he sometimes tries to do a bit too much, causing some unnecessary turnovers (even unforced ones) with his wild style of play.
He will certainly have to play in the right system under the right coach to really be effective in the NBA. He's not the type of player that everyone will like or want running their offense, so it will be very important for him to go to a team that's committed to utilizing his strengths. From what I've seen of him, he looks like he deserves consideration from 10-20 in any normal draft, but the glut of talented PG's this year might push that range back a little.
Uros Tripkovic, 6-5, 1986, Partizan Belgrade, 2006 draft or beyond
Offensively, he is a fairly complete player at this point, although he could always stand to improve in the usual areas, especially his ball-handling. Defensively, his lateral quickness is good, maybe not good enough to guard NBA PG's, but a lot better than you would expect. He projects as a shooting guard who can log some minutes at the point if needed anyway. His biggest weakness right now is his body. He looks like a European teenager and struggles to defend stronger player and finish around the basket because of this. He is also maybe an inch undersized at 6-5. If Tripkovic continues to improve and is given the playing time he needs to fully develop, there is no reason to believe that he won't land in the lottery whenever he decides to declare. He's a very special talent.
Rudy Fernández, 6-5, 1985, DKV Joventut, 2005 Draft
He's the type of player that plays for the team, unselfishly and always within the context of the offense, never letting the ball movement stop and showing outstanding court vision to come up with some very flashy assists. He is a very efficient player, mature beyond his years and oozing with talent and elegance. His outside shot compliments his slashing ability, as he has a quick release and picture perfect stroke.
In terms of weaknesses, his physical attributes would probably be the biggest one. He looks very frail at the moment, with a thin frame that doesn't appear to be able to handle much more weight. As a slightly undersized SG, that's somewhat of a concern. Rudy's athleticism did not look off the charts to me, possessing an average first step and footspeed for an NBA shooting guard. He makes up for it with his smarts and skills, but the 2 guard spot is a position in the NBA that is all about athleticism. Make no mistake, he is no stiff, but does he have enough of it? Adding strength will certainly help, but there is a good reason why there are practically no successful European shooting guards in the NBA, and that in itself is a reason to be a bit sceptical. Manu Ginobili (who is Argentinean but really became an outstanding player in Europe) is the exception to this rule, but we don't have to tell you what a great athlete he is. The assessment made by NBA teams of this aspect of Rudy's game in the combine and private workouts will probably be the difference between Fernandez being drafted in the 20's this year or being drafted in the teens.
Marcelo Huertas, 6-2, 1983, DKV Joventut, 2005 draft
He is a tall, speedy PG who plays the game in his own unique and energetic fashion, with a lot of flair, but in the unconventional way that can drive a lot of coaches crazy.
He loves to put the ball on the floor and get into the lane, showing good ability on the drive and dish, or pulling up for a sweet mid-range jumper. In terms of shooting, he can hit the three, but needs to get more consistent in terms of his release and expanding his range out to the NBA three point line. Defensively, adding strength and improving his footwork should be big priorities for him. He puts in a lot of effort, but the results aren't always there. When it comes to running a team, he shows some sparks of potential, but it will take him another year or two of running a team in Europe full time before his decision making ability in a half-court offense will be where an NBA team wants it. Experience is what he's lacking the most right now.
In terms of upside, he is an interesting prospect in this draft because he clearly has a lot of tools to build on and has the potential to improve his correctable flaws by playing in Europe for another year or two. I think someone should definitely take a flyer on him in the 2nd round and stash him overseas while monitoring his progress.
The problem is that he is so wildly inconsistent that it really depends on what night you catch him on. He can look like a first round prospect one game, and then look so horrible in the next two that you wonder why he is even being considered a prospect.
Left out...Nikos Zisis and Ender Arslan. Still waiting on more tapes of these two, as one game is certainly not enough. If there is anyone else we missed for this year's draft or beyond, by all means let us know.