“[Basketball] is a global sport. The game’s played all over the world, and a lot of places, even better than it’s played here. I think our job is to look around and try to find the best talent we can anywhere in the world.” – Sam Hinkie
Though it may take years for the Sixers to reap the rewards, their 2014 draft haul was unprecedented.
From 1950 through 2013, the franchise drafted a grand total of seven internationally based players: Tornike Shengelia (No. 54, 2012), Petteri Koponen (No. 30, 2007), Kyrylo Fesenko (No. 38, 2007), Thabo Sefolosha (No. 13, 2006), Paccelis Morlende (No. 50, 2003), Jiri Welsch (No. 16, 2002) and Marko Milic (No. 33, 1997). Only one of those seven players, Milic, remained on the team past draft night.
Last Thursday, the Sixers drafted two international players—Dario Saric and Vasilije Micic—both of whom survived draft night without being traded. Throw in the 2013 draft-night acquisition of Arsalan Kazemi and last summer’s trade for Furkan Aldemir, perhaps the true prize in the Royce White deal, and it’s clear that Philly’s days of ignoring non-U.S. prospects have come to a swift and not-so-bitter end.
Without having spent time in the Sixers organization, it’s hard to know how much time or how many resources the franchise devoted to international scouting under past regimes. But since Sam Hinkie took over as GM last May (and hired Brett Brown1) the Sixers have seemingly taken a more global approach in acquiring talent. Here’s what Hinkie told reporters about Saric in his post-draft press conference:
Many of our people have been around him, have coached him over the years, many of our staff have. We’ve all flown around the world to see him. Several of our staff, including me, was at his first-ever game in Zagareb, which was a sight to behold in itself, the sort of fanfare with him being there in that game and the way he played that night.
During a draft-week edition of Bill Simmons’ B.S. Report podcast, ESPN.com’s Chad Ford revealed that the Sixers, via Brown’s Australian connections, had obtained tapes of 36 of Dante Exum’s high school games. That gave them a significant leg up in terms of scouting, and—if the rumors leading up to the draft are to be believed (perhaps they shouldn’t be)—had the squad seriously considering trading Michael Carter-Williams for another top-10 pick and drafting Exum third overall. Whether or not they they were truly interested in the Australian prospect, the Sixers had an informational advantage because Brown and Hinkie did their homework.
There’s no guarantee that Saric, Micic, Kazemi, Aldemir, or any other international prospect turn into the next Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. The draft is a crapshoot, no matter where a player is from. By widely expanding the scope of players under serious consideration, though, Hinkie and Co. are upping their chances of fulfilling the mission they set out for themselves—finding the best talent they can anywhere in the world.
1. Brown spent over a decade coaching in Australia’s National Basketball League and served as the head coach of the Australian men’s national basketball team from 2009-12. He also coached alongside Gregg Popovich, a known international basketball supporter, for a decade in San Antonio before coming over to Philly.