Four of the first seven picks in the 2011 NBA draft were spent on international players and seven of the first 22. There might not be seven international players drafted total this year, even including the speculative second-rounders spent by teams looking to stash players so as not to take up a roster spot or cap space. There is flagging consensus that the 2012 draft is a particularly deep one, but little dispute that the international crop is the weakest in a decade.
Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely and Bismack Biyombo were all off the board last season before the Pistons got around to picking Brandon Knight with the No. 8 pick. It’s possible no international players will be taken in the first round this time, though it’s likely that French teen Evan Fournier will go in the 20s, probably to a team looking to avoid luxury tax consequences and happy to have Fournier spend at least another season working on his skills in Europe.
Fournier was the only international prospect among the original list of 60 invitees to the NBA draft combine in Chicago earlier this month. When he pulled out with an ankle injury, Czech guard Tomas Satoransky took his place. Satoransky isn’t expected to go until the middle of the second round, where he is on a short list of international possibilities for the Pistons, who pick 44th with Houston’s pick in addition to their own pick at 39.
Fournier, a shooting guard/small forward prospect at 6-foot-7, is regarded as an NBA-caliber athlete who lacks a consistent perimeter shot. He shot under 30 percent from the shorter international arc last season despite showing a penchant for launching from deep, averaging about five triples a game. Some have compared him to countryman Nicolas Batum, who has become an important piece of Portland’s rebuilding as he heads into restricted free agency.
Satoransky, 20, said at the Chicago combine that his first interview with any team came with the Pistons. Projected as a high-level player since lighting up the Eurocamp – the European equivalent to the draft combine – as a 17-year-old, Satoransky has struggled to put up numbers as a professional in Spain. He averaged 4.8 points and 1.4 assists while shooting 27 percent from the 3-point line for Sevilla last season. He’s been a point guard all his life, but Satoransky, 6-foot-7, might be better suited to wing in the NBA. He’s talented and plays hard; the trick will be finding his niche and developing a certifiable NBA skill other than playing hard.
“I’ve been playing this position all my career,” he told me in Chicago. “I have the point guard mentality. I can say that I see myself as a point guard. I don’t know how it would go in the NBA with the style, but definitely I feel that right now. It’s good that I have the size to play multiple positions.”
Greece’s Kostas Papanikolauo, 21, boosted his stock with a terrific Euroleague Final Four, scoring a career-high 18 to help Olympiakos to the title last month. At 6-foot-8, he’s a natural small forward with few holes in his game and enough athleticism to hold his own defensively. It’s likely he’s staying in Greece for at least another season, though he seems more open to coming to the NBA than many Greeks have been in the past. With the country’s economic tailspin, it’s questionable whether even Olympiakos and Panathinaikos – the Yankees and Red Sox of Greek basketball – for the foreseeable future will be able to pay salaries that would keep stars from leaving for the NBA.
Two big men are possibilities for going with the 44th pick, depending on what happens at picks 9 and 39 for the Pistons: Turkey’s Furkan Aldemir and Georgia’s Tornike Shengelia.
Aldemir, 20, averaged 8.2 points and 6.5 rebounds for his Turkish team. At 6-foot-9 and 220, he’s a power forward whose discernible NBA skill is his rebounding and willingness to bang. He’s a bit of a gamble in that it’s believed Aldemir is signed to a long-term deal in Turkey and it’s unclear beyond that if he wishes to play in the NBA. It doesn’t hurt Aldemir’s perceived ability to play in the NBA that Turkey has over the past decade produced a number of solid NBA players, from Mehmet Okur and Hedo Turkoglu to more recent successes like Ersan Ilyasova and Omer Asik.
Shengelia is more of a tweener, though roughly the same size (6-foot-9, 228) as Aldemir. He played for Charleroi in Belgium, not one of Europe’s premier leagues, and averaged 8.3 points and 4.3 rebounds last season. But he stamped himself as an NBA prospect all the same and opened eyes a little further at last month’s Eurocamp, where he finished second in MVP balloting. As with many of the Europeans this year, shooting is a major question mark with Shengelia.
The 50s is where teams are generally more willing to spend picks on draft-and-stash players, beyond the reach of the Pistons this season. Among the candidates for those spots: Nihad Djedovic, a 6-foot-7 swingman from Bosnia known for his creative flair; Leon Radosevic, a 6-foot-9 skilled power forward; and Andrew Albicy, a 5-foot-10 point guard from France, whose quickness, penetration ability and pick-and-roll aplomb make him an attractive change-of-pace guard for teams who lack that type.