Potential Draft Options for Hornets: International Prospects

Matt Rochinski and Sam Perley of hornets.com will be following the Hornets throughout the 2017 NBA offseason and keeping fans up to date through the Buzz Words | Hornets Notebook. Keep checking back to see what the latest is as the season unfolds.

By Sam Perley, hornets.com | Tuesday, June 20, 10:34 a.m.

Another route the Charlotte Hornets could explore with their first or second-round pick at the upcoming NBA Draft is selecting a player from a wide-ranging pool of international prospects. Drafting a player from overseas has always been a bit of a double-edged sword for teams. On one hand, organizations can choose to “draft and stash” these prospects in other countries and let them continue to develop and mature without sacrificing a valuable roster spot stateside.

On the contrary, NBA teams have less control over these prospects if they’re playing halfway around the world. Whenever the move to the NBA does in fact take place, it can also be a relatively big adjustment – particularly culturally – for foreign-born players.

Many international prospects are also already tied to contracts in other countries, some of which don’t easily allow them to leave for the NBA right away. A handful of these deals do have buyout clauses that NBA teams can contribute a certain amount towards with the player (sometimes unwillingly) left to pay the difference. Often times, teams take a flier on an international prospect only to have him never end up on the roster.

The 2017 NBA Draft is once again full of intriguing, international prospects who could become difference-makers in the league with the right amount of development and exposure. The following list highlights some of the best such players available, provided they did not compete for a NCAA program this past season. 

Frank Ntilikina (PG, France; Strasbourg/France) – The consensus top international-ranked prospect in the NBA Draft, the lengthy Frank Ntilikina is currently averaging 5.7 points on 44.4 percent shooting, 2.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 19.0 minutes across 59 total games for Strasbourg in the French LNB Pro A League this season.

The 2016 FIBA Europe U-18 Championship MVP, the 18-year-old Frenchman is known for his athleticism, playmaking, defense and basketball smarts. Ntilikina will likely need some time to adjust to the NBA game, but certainly possesses an enticing combination of talent, physical attributes and maturity for a prospect of his age. 

Terrance Ferguson (SG, United States; Adelaide 36ers/Australia) – After electing to skip college altogether and spend his gap year playing professionally in Australia, Terrance Ferguson put up 4.6 points on 38.1 percent shooting, 1.2 rebounds and 0.7 assists in 15.1 minutes across 30 games for the Adelaide 36ers in the National Basketball League this past season. 

Ferguson is still a bit raw and his numbers down under should be taken with a grain of salt as international teams generally have less incentive to develop players on short-term contracts. Overall, Ferguson’s high-level athleticism, range shooting and facilitating capabilities could make him a tantalizing wing option for a number of teams in the NBA Draft. 

Isaiah Hartenstein (PF/C, Germany; Zalgiris/Lithuania) – A dual citizen who moved to Germany in 2008, 7’1” Isaiah Hartenstein averaged 4.2 points on 48.6 percent shooting and 3.1 rebounds in 11.3 minutes over 34 total games for Zalgiris Kaunas in the Lithuanian Basketball League this past season.

Having just turned 19 years old, Hartenstein is a physical, low-post presence who can score a number of ways, rebound and block shots. Hartenstein will need to work on his perimeter defending and also has a reputation for being too emotional on the court, yet already possesses enough of a skill set to eventually become an impact player at the NBA level. 

Anzejs Pasecniks (C, Latvia; Gran Canaria/Spain) – Another towering center, Latvia’s Anzejs Pasecniks racked up averages of 7.2 points on 65.8 percent shooting and 3.0 rebounds in 15.8 minutes across 50 overall appearances for Gran Canaria in Spain’s Liga ACB this past year.

Pasecniks’ biggest appeal is his size (7’3”) and length, allowing him to finish strong around the basket, rebound and block shots. The physical attributes and developing skill set are a great starting point for Pasecniks, although he is still extremely raw and has seen relatively limited on-court action this season for Gran Canaria. 

Mathias Lessort (PF/C, France; Nanterre 92/France) – A 21-year-old Martinique native, Mathias Lessort averaged 10.1 points on 59.5 percent shooting, 6.9 rebounds and 1.1 blocks over 58 total games while playing for 2017 French Basketball Cup Champion Nanterre 92 in the LNB Pro A League this past season.

Lessort’s ability to rebound, block shots and guard multiple positions could make him a coveted defensive talent in the upcoming NBA Draft. There will be a learning curve transitioning to the NBA and he might spend another year or two overseas, but the athletic Frenchman definitely has the potential to thrive in the league whenever he does make the jump. 

Jonah Bolden (PF, Australia; FMP Beograd/Serbia) – A long winding road for the 6’10” Jonah Bolden might be coming to an end soon after the Aussie averaged 12.6 points on 48.1 percent shooting, 7.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.3 steals in 27.2 minutes over 40 total games while playing for FMP Beograd in Serbia’s KLS League and the Adriatic League this past season.

The 21-year-old Bolden, who attended high school in the United States and UCLA from 2014-16 before electing to play professionally, is an outstanding shooter (40.5 percent from three-point range last year) with great hands and versatility. Bolden is still developing physically and will need some time to adjust to NBA play, but has all the makings of becoming a great stretch-four down the line.  

Alberto Abalde (SF, Spain; Joventut/Spain) – Having climbed his way through the Joventut Badalona program, Alberto Abalde managed averages of 10.1 points on 45.9 percent shooting, 3.5 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 23.9 minutes over 31 games in Spain’s Liga ACB last season.

Measuring 6’7” and 215 pounds, Abalde has the potential to play shooting guard or small forward at the NBA level. Despite limited athleticism, the Spaniard has a versatile offensive game and high basketball intelligence, which should help him eventually become a solid, two-way player somewhere down the line. 

Vlatko Cancar (SF, Slovenia; Mega Leks/Serbia) – One of the rising young stars on a talented Mega Leks squad, Vlatko Cancaraveraged 7.4 points on 46.7 percent shooting, 3.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 20.0 minutes across 43 total outings in the KLS, Adriatic League and Basketball Champions League this past season.

The 20-year-old Slovenian is another great all-around shooter (40.7 percent from three-point range in Adriatic League play) who also possesses desirable size (6’8” and 210 pounds) and basketball intelligence. Cancar lacks elite-level explosiveness, but is perhaps talented enough offensively to overcome these natural shortcomings at the NBA level. 

Aleksandar Vezenkov (SF/PF, Bulgaria; FC Barcelona/Spain) – A regular for FC Barcelona, Cypriot-born Aleksandar Vezenkov averaged 8.1 points on 54.7 percent shooting and 3.1 rebounds in 18.8 minutes over 67 total games in Liga ACB, Spanish Cup and Euroleague play this past season.

The 6’9” Vezenkov, who represents Bulgaria internationally, is another versatile scorer who possesses great size, length, intelligence and intangibles. Set to turn 22 years old in August, Vezenkov lacks great on-court quickness, yet has enough going for him offensively to potentially carve out a rotational role in the NBA. 

Alpha Kaba (C, France; Mega Leks/Serbia) – A 6’10” center with an enormous 7’5 ¼” wingspan, Frenchman Alpa Kaba put up averages of 10.3 points on 49.4 percent shooting, 8.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals in 23.8 minutes over 51 total appearances in KLS, Adriatic League and Basketball Champions League action this past season.

Kaba is another big-bodied post player who excels at finishing in the paint and has the potential to be a stretch-four somewhere down the line. A gifted athlete who can also rebound, defend and rack up steals, Kaba will need to work on his offensive touch, facilitating and consistency as his professional basketball career unfolds. 

George De Paula (PG, Brazil; Paulistano/Brazil) – Known simply as “Georginho” in his native Brazil, Paulistano’s George De Paula averaged 10.6 points on 37.5 percent shooting, 4.2 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 1.2 steals across 45 combined outings in Novo Basquete Brasil and Liga Sudamericana play last season.

Measuring a sizeable 6’6” and 195 pounds, the 21-year-old De Paula is an athletic, all-around guard with the ability to score, collect rebounds, facilitate and generate steals. Like other players on this list, De Paula needs to improve upon his shooting consistency and discipline, but is certainly talented enough to eventually make it as a NBA player. 

Ognjen Jaramaz (PG, Serbia; Mega Leks/Serbia) – A recent riser amongst eligible international prospects, Mega Leks’ Ognjen Jaramaz averaged 12.2 points on 38.0 percent shooting, 2.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.1 steals in 28.6 minutes across 53 overall appearances in KLS, Adriatic League and Basketball Champions League play this past season.

Jaramaz is another 21-year-old guard prospect with desirable intangibles who excels at aggressively scoring off the dribble, playmaking and defending. Although not a consistent jump-shooter, Jaramaz was recently named MVP of the 2017 Adidas Eurocamp and will likely be stashed in Europe for continued development if selected in the NBA Draft.