May 02 2013

Don’t fear the unknown


Rudy Gobert pictured above (Credit: Panoramic)

7’1 Rudy Gobert pictured above (Credit: Panoramic)

The Sixers have a 0.8 percent chance of winning the upcoming NBA draft lottery and a 2.9 percent shot of landing a top three pick. So barring a miracle, they’ll be in possession of the 11th pick in what several scouts – and one anonymous NBA GM – are calling a historically weak draft. The names being thrown around the mock draftosphere outside the top 10 include Cody Zeller, Alex Len, Michael Carter-Williams, and Kelly Olynyk – players who probably won’t make the Sixers that much better now, nor in the future. At no. 11, they’ll have a hard time finding an immediate contributor or even a high-upside project.

But that’s assuming they go the college route.

The other option, and perhaps the one that makes most sense for Philadelphia, is going international. Take a risk on a 20-year-old phenom with a pterodactyl wingspan who can dunk without leaving the ground, or a 6-foot-9 Nigerian point guard. The Sixers are not one year away from contending for a title, so why draft like it? Who knows, maybe they’ll wind up with the next Tony Parker or Nic Batum and have a centerpiece of the organization for the next decade. (Or they’ll end up with the second coming of Nikoloz Tskitishvili).

An added bonus of drafting an international prospect: the Sixers could have another year or two to decide what direction they’re taking the franchise before bringing whoever they drafted over from abroad. Pick a college prospect, and the clock on their rookie contract immediately starts ticking. Pick a Euro, and they can – in some cases – delay the start of the deal. Since the Sixers have no shot of winning a championship in the immediate future, they’d be better off paying below-the-market price for rookie services from 2015-19 instead of 2013-17.

(A second added bonus: if they draft an international player in the second round who’s not ready for the NBA, they can send him to the Delaware 87s where they’ll have plenty of open spots.)

Scouts are high on a number of international prospects and predict between 15 and 25 will be selected. Where they’ll go is up in the air since they haven’t had their individual workouts, but I’ve provided my best guesses below.

Rudy Gobert: 7’1, 235 lbs, 7’9 wingspan, 20 years old, France

His personal website projects him as a “taller JaVale McGee meets young and athletic Dikembe Mutombo.” That’s extremely generous, but even the thought of that combo makes him more attractive than the other low-lottery prospects.

Gobert, the son of French basketball star Rudy Bourgarel, is the most physically gifted prospect in the entire draft. His length, paired with an above average set of hands, makes catching alley-oops a breeze. He’s also a menace on the backline, capable of turning away shots with ease. The 7-foot-1 Frenchman could put on a few pounds, and he needs experience playing against top competition before leaving France for the NBA. However, playing for Cholet in the French Pro A, the country’s top league, gives him a leg up on other young international prospects playing at lower levels.

Projection: 5 – 18

Dario Saric: 6’10, 223 lbs, 6’10 wingspan, 19 years old, Croatia

Saric is the most underwhelming international prospect from an athletic standpoint, but he makes up for that with a tremendous basketball IQ and feel for the game. “[His] most impressive skills are his ball handling ability and court vision,” writes DraftExpress’s Matt Kamalsky. Six-foot-10 combo forwards who possess point guard traits don’t grow on trees. He also has deep range and a soft stroke on his jump shot.

The biggest question surrounding Saric is what position he’ll be able to defend, if any, in the NBA. Saric is a unique prospect; he doesn’t resemble anyone currently in the league, though he’s been compared to McDonald’s All-American and current UCLA forward, Kyle Anderson.
Projection: 10 – 24

Giannis Adetokunbo: 6’9, 200 lbs, 7’4 wingspan, 18 years old, Greece

“The Greek Freak” is an intriguing prospect who, despite his slender frame, has all the confidence in the world. If highlights and firsthand accounts are to be trusted, he can do it all. At 6-foot-9, he spends as much time slashing to the basket and blocking shots as he does bringing the ball up the floor and setting up teammates. He needs to hone his ball-handling skills if he hopes to play point forward in the NBA, and his outside shot needs a lot of work. But the sky is the limit for this versatile athlete who, I should point out, isn’t done growing. DraftExpress founder Jon Givony also notes: “Perhaps most interesting is the size of his hands, as he’s able to palm the ball like a grapefruit which helps him out considerably as a passer, ball-handler and finisher.”
Projection: 10 – 40

Sergey Karasev: 6’7, 200 lbs, 6’9 wingspan, 19 years old, Russia

Likely the most polished international prospect in the field, Karasev is a prolific lefty shooter with a mature offensive game. He’s also benefited from his experience playing for the Russian Olympic team, and starting for Triumph Lyubertsy of Russia’s PBL. Karasev, who dropped double-digit points in every PBL game this season, is always looking to score but rarely seems to force shots. He takes what defenses give him and nothing more. From Kamalsky, who scouted Karasev for a week’s worth of practices at the 2013 Nike Hoop Summit: “Karasev is years ahead of the learning curve of the average 19-year-old European prospect, and it showed all week in Portland. Having already appeared in the Olympics for the Russian national team and leading the country’s top basketball league, the PBL, in scoring, Karasev is likely the most productive young prospect in all of European basketball.” Like Saric, Karasev may struggle defending athletic wings.

Projection: 12 – 30

Dennis Schröder: 6’2, 170 lbs, 6’7 wingspan, 19 years old, Germany

My favorite international in this draft class, Schröder made a name for himself at the Nike Hoop Summit where he put in a terrific week of practice, followed by an 18-point, six-assist effort in the game itself against two SEC-bound point guards, Andrew Harrison and Kasey Hill, each of whom project to be successful NBA players. Schröder is a well-rounded point guard. Aran Smith of NBAdraft.net says his “blow by speed is what really intrigues scouts, but his solid ability to run the PG position as well as shoot it gives him nice potential.” Schröder excels in finding teammates and attacking the rim in pick & roll, important skills for young floor generals. He is an efficient outside shooter despite a low release point, and he defends opposing point guards well despite his slight frame. Jrue Holiday is the Sixers’ point guard of the future, but if Schröder somehow slips to the second round, Philly should take a shot.

Projection: 15 – 35

Mouhammadou Jaiteh: 6’11, 240 lbs, 7’4 wingspan, France

“Mam” Jaiteh is an 18-year-old with an NBA frame and soft touch around the basket. He started playing basketball just five years ago, and is nowhere near a finished product. What worries scouts is his jumping ability, or lack thereof. “He’s not much of a leaper, as he seemingly struggles to get very high off the ground for dunks, lobs, and blocked shots opportunities,” Givony writes. Playing this season for Maritime Boulogne of the French Pro B league, Jaiteh averages less than a block a game and while he has rebounded well in league play, he’ll have to really work on that aspect of his game in order to become an NBA center.

Projection: 25 – 50

Other names to keep an eye on: Lucas Noguiera, an athletic 7’1 Brazilian center, Alex Abrines, a shooting guard from Spain in the mold of Rudy Fernandez, Nemanja Nedovic, a combo guard from Serbia who plays above the rim and Livio Jean-Charles, a French forward who netted 27 points in the 2013 Hoop Summit.