International Draft Overview

International Draft Overview
Jun 30, 2006, 03:55 am
The 2006 draft is already history, but still there’s room for a little analysis. The international scene took over this year by stealing the first pick through the hands of Andrea Bargnani, but there was even more. Let’s take a look at what you can expect from some of these guys, as well as getting to know some of the less hyped ones.

International Influx Isn't Stopping

This was the most prolific international class ever, only behind the stacked 2003. Then, 20 international players heard their names called, over a third of the players selected. The 2006 class settled for 16, 6 in the first round and 10 in the second round, which means over 25% of the total players drafted.

Various factors chime in, and probably not just the strength of the international class. Concerns over roster spots and financial obligations to 2nd round picks and the weakness of the American draft class pushed several teams to search overseas look like the strongest ones. As a result, the 2006 draft has tied with the 2002 draft for the most international players selected in the lottery, three (Bargnani, Saer Sene and Sefolosha).

Lottery Material

Andrea Bargnani became the first European ever to be drafted with the top overall pick. Even if he represented the return of the high-profile international prospect in the line of Pau Gasol or Yao Ming, temporarily spoiled by a massive wave of teenage early-entrants, he’s probably not your typical number one pick, not a player destined from day one to take over a franchise and change its future. Still, he’s arguably the guy with the most potential in this draft, and already a good player as he has proved in Europe this past season.

The Raptors will have to figure out how to fit him in with a deep power-forward rotation that is also on the verge of welcoming Jorge Garbajosa, just crowned the MVP of the ACB league Finals in Spain. It’s not that far-fetched to think that the arrival of the Spanish, vox populi for several weeks now, is part of the Bargnani plan. They were teammates in Benetton Treviso in the 2003/04 season and Garbajosa is a smart, experienced and very supportive veteran who should be able to make Andrea’s transition to the NBA easier.

The Supersonics getting Saer Sene should have been much more of a surprise than it finally was if his draft stock weren’t already that high. He’s the kind of player equation that rarely works: an extremely raw player who is a few years away from contributing rarely become a successful choice, as they usually don’t manage to fulfill their potential quick enough, and end up blossoming somewhere else. It gets worse when you think that he’s the third super-raw center they’ve selected in three years with their first-round pick. At this point, I get the image of someone hitting their head against a wall again and again and again. Besides, for once I had though that drafting highly unproven international youngsters in the lottery was a matter of the past. Wrong! Hopefully for Seattle, it will eventually work and they’ll get the much coveted quality center they are looking for.

Third comes Thabo Sefolosha, probably the guy who draws fewer doubts about his future. He’s a blue chip player who should easily fit in the NBA game style, strengthening even more (along with Viktor Khryapa) the already deep and talented Chicago perimeter. Perhaps stockpiling for a trade?

First-round Question Marks

The rest of the first round gave room for three more internationals, all talented, but none a sure thing, which looks pretty logical at this point in such a weak draft.

Even if it’s unfair to make these kind of comparisons, it’s difficult not to think of Zarko Cabarkapa when looking at the kind of player Oleksiy Pecherov is and where he was drafted. Finesse big men, perimeter oriented, in need of an upgrade in strength, not the toughest guys around and both picked in the mid first round. The Balkan was more of a slasher while the Ukrainian looks more willing to mix it up inside. Even if Pecherov looks like a better prospect at this point, I think it’s enough to get a general picture about the kind of risk he represents for the Wizards.

For Sergio Rodríguez it will be a matter of getting playing time. He’s a passionate player who is still not completely mature, and a guy who needs confidence. An extended period of time warming the bench could spoil his impressive talent. On the other hand, if there’s good work done with him, he could easily turn out to be one of the major steals of the draft at #27. A team like Portland, in rebuilding mode, might be a good situation for him to get consistent minutes on the court. Otherwise, he would be much better off staying another season with Estudiantes in Spain. Anyway, he’s certainly a guy to bet on.

The sixth and final international player in the first round (also the last one overall), Joel Freeland, is your typical second-round guy: a raw big man who shows very nice potential. Not only the weakness of this draft, but also perhaps the spark created by his very recent discovery upped him to here. Anyway, he’s another clear case of an unready player who shouldn’t be thrown to the NBA wild forest. Is the D-League the appropriate spot for him? I don’t think there’s still enough experience there to evaluate it. Again, staying in Spain appears like a good option. Gran Canaria is a very steady organization that usually gets the best out of its players. In Joel’s case, he might be even better off being loaned one season to a LEB team in the second division. After all, he’s a 19-year old kid who only started basketball three years ago.

Second-round Crapshoot

The final part of the draft has lately become a sort of a testing ground for NBA teams, as they like to gamble with highly unready international players with the hope that they’ll eventually turn useful for the NBA, instead of betting on a NCAA guy who will look for a contract and probably will end up cut in October; him without a contract and the team without his rights. Blame Manu Ginobili. As well as the required tender that players without contracts (all non-Internationals basically) can force on NBA teams.

In the last three drafts, over 38% of the players selected in the last 20 spots of the draft were foreigners. This trend is only getting stronger, with 9 selections this year among those last 20 spots (45%).

Aside from Ejike Ugboaja, who unfortunately we have never seen, the other eight guys are rather well known in Europe. Still, three guys have received few accolades here at DraftExpress. They were probably the most surprising picks coming from the international side, and we feel it’s our turn to give them some hype. They are Cheick Samb, Edid Bavcic and Loukas Mavrokefalidis.

Cheick Samb

We already dealt with Cheick Samb a month ago in an article wondering about his potential. It seems that he was actually in someone’s book, in Detroit’s to be more precise, and he got his draft pick to dream about an NBA future.

It’s not an impossible dream. Cheick has reportedly made remarkable strides in the last couple of seasons, and following at this rate, he could eventually turn into a serviceable big, even if we have a hard time picturing it at the moment. He’s so raw, so skinny, that you wonder how bad the 20-year old Cheick looked if he has improved so much lately.

What Samb brings to the table is an awesome combination of length and athleticism, the kind of gifts that can’t be taught. That’s the foundation of the hopes about his future as a player. Skill-wise he shows little else beyond a very inconsistent mid-range jumper that becomes very consistent from the free-throw line.

He comes off averaging 9.4 points, 7.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks this past season in LEB-2 (Spanish Third Division). He probably still doesn’t have enough skill to make it to the ACB, but he could certainly use some action in LEB, the second division. All in all, it’s clear that he’s a long term project.

Apparently his team in Europe, Winterthur F.C.Barcelona, is quite optimistic about his future development. We’ve learned that Cheick was invited to the Orlando pre-draft Camp and that his team didn’t let him go. Also featuring the initial Reebok Eurocamp roster, he dropped after playing the U-20 Spanish Circuit the previous days, as he wasn’t feeling 100% physically. The lack of exposure hasn’t stopped him from being drafted. Making an NBA roster will surely be a more difficult task.

Edin Bavcic

Kristian Hohnjec

Edin Bavcic is a prospect that has been mostly off the NBA radar until the recent Reebok Eurocamp in Treviso, where he made some noise with a nice performance. However, his selection in the late 2nd round still came as a pretty big surprise to almost everyone, because he doesn’t have any viable skill or attribute that separates him from a hundred other European sweet-shooting big men.

Bavcic is playing for KK Bosna Sarajevo, a pretty average Adriatic league squad that managed to get to the Final 8 for the first time this past season. Edin played 15 minutes per game, scoring 4.8 points and grabbing 2.3 rebounds. Certainly not impressive stats for a 22-year old.

Edin has very good size for a PF at 6-11, with his main weapon being his perimeter shooting. His mechanics are solid considering his length, and he shots with good accuracy and range out to the international three-point lane. While he is not an explosive athlete, Bavcic has good mobility and his overall floor speed is decent. On the negative side, Edin isn’t much of a factor in the post on both sides off the ball. He doesn’t have great bounce in his step, and neither is he fundamentally sound when is comes to rebounding, although he delivers some decent aggressiveness on the offensive glass. Still, he’s in general sub-par on the boards and his shot-blocking ability is poor.

The value of this pick for the 76ers is that Bavcic can be stashed in Europe until he develops into a legit NBA player, which might never happen since he hasn’t shown much improvement over the past two years. His ceiling also isn’t so high, making it even harder to explain why they picked him instead of someone like Kevin Pittsnogle or Damir Markota, two players of similar qualities that are much more advanced and ready to contribute at the NBA level.

Loukas Mavrokefalidis:

Dimitris Ritsonis

A surprise late 2nd round pick to most, Loukas Mavrokefalidis is a long-term project for the Timberwolves. The Greek big man had a breakout season starting last summer (he was named to the All-Tournament team at the U-21 World Championships), led his team PAOK Thessaloniki in points, rebounds and blocked shots and was probably the most improved player in the entire Greek league. He only visited the United Stated three days before Draft Night and there were some scattered rumors that he had a promise from Kevin McHale for the 57th pick, but it was still a surprise for most viewers.

After being a back-up for the past three seasons, Mavrokefalidis got the trust of his coach and surprisingly showed extensive leadership as he took over the starting job, gradually improving and showing off his nice skills. He is a traditional big man, with good post moves and a nice sky hook. His footwork is significantly improved over the past couple of seasons, but his game is not only depending on the post, as he has developed a nice jumpshot both from mid-range and behind the arc. An all-around guy, he can be a go-to player, despite never stopping to contribute for the team. He has a nice basketball IQ and his passing skills are fairly good, at least good enough for his size.

Defensively, he is a very strong guy. He is a fairly good rebounder and an above-average shot-blocker at the European level. Despite lacking size, he is a workaholic who has lately revealed a very competitive spirit and pushes for loose balls and rebounds on most opportunities. Overall, he is a nice player who can score and rebound, while he can push most opposing big men on offense and hurt them in the paint.

However, these nice skills do not make him a clear-cut NBA prospect. His good footwork and nice moves are slow even for the European game, and he is definitely a raw guy for the post. In other words, he is not athletic at all. He gets most of his rebounds and blocks by hustling, but he cannot compete against most NBA big men, either at center or at power forward, not only due to his small size (he is hardly 6-10), but also because his lateral quickness and leaping ability are below average.

His offensive benefits also reveal some flaws, as his release point is a bit slow although he is big enough to pull defenses out when he wants to take the long-range jumper, however, he doesn't appear to have any type of pump-fake move or decent slashing skills in order to earn easy baskets and fouls, as his game becomes predictable and mechanical on the offensive end.

At the end of the day, Mavrokefalidis might be a long-term project anyway and it is definite that he will have to stay in Europe for a while. He may even be transferred soon, as his current team does not play in Euroleague. We’ll see what areas he needs to work on for his game to reach a steady and satisfactory level for the highest competition outside the NBA. He will not go to any summer leagues as he was selected to the preliminary squad of the Greek National team for the upcoming World Championships in Japan.

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