As basketball-crazed as we are here in America — prone to turn our annual college tournament into something of a gambling holiday of debauchery — the European professional leagues are still uncharted waters of shadowy mystery. There be dragons there. Or, at least, there are lots of centers shooting three-pointers, about as rare as a dragon on this side of the Atlantic.
When an NBA team drafts a Euro — whether it is Argentinian Manu Ginobili or the Swiss Nikola Vucevic or the Montenegrin Nikola Pekovic they are all, unfortunately, lumped into the single category of “Euro” — a supremely high degree of volatility automatically comes into play. There is the possibility that the player will take his leisurely time coming over from Europe, as Ricky Rubio did after being selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves. There is the possibility that the player will decide to spend his entire career in Europe, quite able to resist any allure that the NBA may hold, as one-time lottery pick Fran Vasquez once did to the Orlando Magic. There is the possibility that, despite the improbably high draft pick that a real-live NBA team invested on a player, that they will wither into quiet obscurity, their name only recalled for purposes of mockery, as has happened to Nikoloz Tskitishvili and, rather famously, Darko Milicic. There is the possibility that they are Dirk Nowitzki, and entirely worth the high draft pick and so much more, armed with skill enough to revolutionize the game.
It’s a lot to handle.
The 2014 NBA Draft saw a fair number of intriguing foreign prospects come off the board, and not just with blindfolded, late-second-round gambles. The Philadelphia 76ers believed in Dario Saric’s talent so much that they picked him even though Saric had just signed a contract that will keep him in the Turkish league for at least the next two years. When the Houston Rockets took the versatile Swiss center Clint Capela 25th overall, it was deemed a likely steal of the draft, never mind that Capela is one of those players liely to spend additional time in Europe before arriving in the NBA. And the Toronto Raptors shocked us all with their selection of Brazilian 18-year-old Bruno Caboclo, who was an unknown a quantity as there can possibly be in this moment of intense and thorough coverage.
The trusty all-things-draft website DraftExpress already has a 2015 Mock Draft up. Let’s take a look at the five international prospects that DraftExpress has ranked the highest. These are the players of extreme mystery and intrigue who will surely be commanding lots of chatter in eleven months time. It could be years ahead of that when these players are in uniform for an actual NBA game, but, in the meantime, their unique skill-sets sure do intrigue.
(A note: a player like Steven Adams, who was born and raised in New Zealand, but who played basketball at the University of Pittsburgh, is not considered “international,” as he is being evaluated by NBA teams in an American league against American opponents. An “international” player by my criteria is one who is currently playing in a professional foreign league, as NBA teams must evaluate their performance within this international context.)