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San Antonio Spurs Draft Prospectus: Part 2

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The Spurs are famous for selecting foreign players in the NBA draft. So how does it look this year?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Next, we will take a few moments to discuss the foreign players that are Early-Entry candidates for the 2015 NBA draft, or are auto-eligible this year.  Before we get starated, what is the deal with foreign players?  What is the attraction?  There are two really nice posts here and here that provide a great deal of insight into why foreign players tend to be drafted preferentially in the second round of the NBA draft.  In summary, if you want a more certain result, go with an NCAA player in the first round.  In the second round, you are better off drafting a foreign player, realizing that only 1 in 3-4 selections will be a role-player, rotation player, or star (think 2nd or 3rd banana on an NBA championship team).  Transcendent stars are just not found in the second round (No, Manu Ginobili does not qualify; think Tim Duncan, LeBron James types).  The better the player you desire, the more risk you have to assume, and the less frequent the players will turn out.  So, if you want a foreign rotation player, you may need 8-9 foreign second round players, because you are forced to gamble on higher risk/higher reward foreign players.  However, the likelihood you will find such a player among the foreign draftees is significantly higher than from a second round NCAA player.

Why are the Spurs so successful at selecting foreign players?  Well, quite simply, they have made a large number of foreign player selections, and were willing to be patient and invest time in establishing foreign contacts.  And they aren’t afraid to fail.  Other franchises were, and some still are, incompetent at scouting foreign talent, so there is simply less competition for those that can do it right.  These days, beyond San Antonio, Atlanta, Minnesota, Denver, Utah, Philadelphia, and Houston tend to be most active in the foreign player scouting arena.  A second advantage, particularly for Popovich, of foreign players is that they tend to have better attitudes and fundamentals from professional coaching and clubs, and are not contaminated with the toxins that surround the domestic AAU basketball scene.  A third reason is franchise stability.  Just because a draftee has talent does not mean that potential will be realized.  Some franchises can provide the proper environment and stability for this talent to develop, and some do not.  San Antonio does, whereas other franchises, Washington for example, historically has not been adequately stable to realize the yield from long-term foreign player investment.

As in any year, the most talented players tend to be the Early Entry candidates.  Among these younger draft candidates, you can generally classify the players as either NBA grade material, or those that are nowhere close to the NBA prospect standard.  In this second group, many come to their senses on or before the withdrawal deadline, and so there are always a large number of foreign Early Entry withdrawals every year.  Due to the recent collective bargaining agreement, we now also have the potential for young players that are clearly way too early, but think they may be legitimate NBA prospects in the future and would rather choose their own NBA team rather than be subjected to the randomness of the draft.  So they declare early, refuse to participate in NBA draft exercises hoping not to be selected, so in the future they can choose their own team and avoid the rookie NBA pay scale altogether.  From the auto-eligible player list, you tend to find older players with less talent and potential, but every once in a while a "late bloomer" may appear.  This is where the Spurs sometimes will find a surprise … the list can be very long, and without knowing the context for the players, the numbers can be misleading.  This is where Adam Hanga came from, for example.

OK, so enough background stuff.  Tell me about the players!

Tier 1 - Lottery Material

Kristaps Porzingis                                Early Entry                            19; 7’0" PF Lithuania (Sevilla; ACB)

Very talented shooter with excellent athletic ability to both defend and block shots.  Well coached player at Sevilla.  Rare "Stretch 5" that can also play defense.  Very high risk, high reward type of player.  Good English.  Gym rat.

Mario Hezonja                                      Early Entry                            20; 6’8" SG/SF  Croatia (Barcelona; ACB)

Very talented shooter.  Very well coached at Barecelona.  Very cocky; has attitude. That isn't all bad.  Lower risk than Porzingis, but also high potential reward.

Tier 2 - Mid to Late First Round Material

None - All withdrew from the draft

Tier 3 - Second Round Material

There are a variety of foreign big men that are second round material, so we will compare their statistics to that of Tiago Splitter the year prior to being drafted, as well as the year prior to his departure to the NBA from the Spanish League (ACB) to the NBA.  For Spurs fans, Aron Baynes data from 2013 is included for reference for the Adriatic League, as is Jusuf Nurkic’s ’14 data. Kristaps Porzingis is included as well just for giggles.

Player

G

Min

Pts

2%

3%

FT%

RT

AS

PF

BS

ST

TO

Splitter ‘07*

37

24.3

11.0

60.7

0

62.4

5.3

0.6

2.7

0.7

1.2

2.0

Splitter ‘10*

39

29.3

15.3

58.7

0

75.9

7.0

2.2

2.8

0.7

1.2

2.2

Baynes’13#

16

24.3

12.4

57.1

50.0

63.8

6.8

0.8

3.8

0.9

0.9

1.9

Nurkic’14#

28

16.6

11.7

56.0

14.3

70.1

5.7

0.7

3.2

0.8

1.1

1.6

Porzingis*

34

21.2

10.7

53.1

31.3

77.4

4.8

0.4

2.9

1.0

0.9

1.3

Gudaitis$

38

16.7

9.4

59.8

0

76.4

5.2

0.4

2.3

1.2

0.8

1.0

Hernangomez*

34

20.6

10.6

54.6

16.7

69.2

6.2

0.5

2.1

0.4

0.9

2.1

Milutinov#

29

28.1

9.8

57.6

0

58.7

7.6

1.3

2.8

0.8

0.4

1.3

Jaiteh%

33

22.4

5.7

56.7

0

67.9

6.4

0.8

2.4

0.6

0.5

1.5

Mitrovic#

33

23.9

10.0

57.1

34.1

78.7

5.9

2.2

2.0

0.6

0.9

1.9

Nikolic#

22

12.2

4.4

57.5

36.6

55.6

2.4

0.4

1.6

0.1

0.4

0.2

Agravanis&

27

14.1

6.4

52.4

33.9

66.7

3.1

0.5

2.6

0.8

0.8

0.3

G, Games; Min, Minutes per game; Pts, Points per game; 2%, 2-point FG%; 3%, 3-point FG% (remember that Europeans completely separate these catagories, unlike Americans!); FT%, Free-throw %; RT, Rebound Total per game; AS, Assists per game; PF, Personal Fouls per game; BS, Blocked Shots per game; ST, Steals per game; TO, Turn overs per game. * Spanish ACB, # Adriatic League, $ Lithuanian LKL, % France ProA League, & Greek A1 League.

Briefly, the ACB is the best national league in Europe.  The Adriatic League is a very good place for developing talented big men.  Greece now is probably similar to the Adriatic League, but in the past was significantly stronger.  The Lithuanian LKL and the French ProA are probably about the same, but not as strong as the Greek League.  Porzingis’s attraction is the obvious ability to shoot, although his overall yearly numbers aren’t great for 3%.  They will improve.  His form is very good, and the FT% is another clear indicator of potential as a shooter.  He will also be able to block shots in the NBA.  He thus qualifies as a "Unicorn"; a "Stretch 5" that can provide rim protection.  This isn’t common.  You normally get guys like Matt Bonner who can shoot but aren’t rim protectors, or guys like Tyson Chandler that can really protect the rim, but can’t shoot.  Porzingis can do both.  Nurkic on the other hand is just an animal.  Wild, sometimes out of control, but he can rebound and score.  And foul, but he also gets fouled frequently as well.  Gudaitis is more like Nurkic.  He is physical, and can be out of control sometimes.  He is a "late bloomer" due to life circumstances, and definitely does have some upside that some of these other guys really don’t have.   He may also have some "pick-and-pop" ability.  Lithuania loves basketball, and it really isn’t a surprise to see a quality player like Gudaitis on the top team in his country.  Coaching of big men is Serbia (Milutinov, Mitrovic, Nikolic) is of high quality.  While of course they can improve, they are who the stats say they are.  Of the second round guys, I like Gudaitis the best.  Mitrovic is basically a shorter, less physical Aron Baynes who can shoot the ball a bit better.  On the whole, this is not a particularly strong draft.

Then we have the guard/wing prospects.  Meh.

Player

G

Min

Pts

2%

3%

FT%

RT

AS

PF

BS

ST

TO

Diez*

30

29.1

12.1

54.9

41.4

72.1

6.8

0.5

1.1

0

1.0

1.2

Abass@

35

18.0

5.7

53.0

31.2

67.2

3.2

0.6

1.8

0.3

0.4

0.8

Radicevic*

33

20.1

7.0

45.0

26.0

65.5

2.4

2.9

1.8

0

0.7

1.6

Vrabac^

32

19.6

6.3

46.0

24.4

52.6

2.3

1.2

2.4

0.2

0.3

2.5

Osman§

39

21.2

8.3

46.5

35.0

68.0

4.3

1.1

2.5

0.3

1.0

1.0

Ponitka

38

21.6

12.7

61.9

37.5

70.2

3.2

1.5

1.9

0.3

1.1

1.6

Dawson

39

27.0

14.6

53.8

34.2

77.8

4.5

2.2

2.7

0.9

1.2

2.7

G, Games; Min, Minutes per game; Pts, Points per game; 2%, 2-point FG%; 3%, 3-point FG% (remember that Europeans completely separate these catagories, unlike Americans!); FT%, Free-throw %; RT, Rebound Total per game; AS, Assists per game; PF, Personal Fouls per game; BS, Blocked Shots per game; ST, Steals per game; TO, Turn overs per game. * Spanish ACB, @ Italian League, ^ German League, § Turkish League, Belgian League, Israeli League.

Diez has some of the best numbers (for this group) from the best league in Europe.  He is by no means a "must have" talent, but he can clearly play, and is worthy of being drafted.  Radicevich is a PG with more assists than turnovers, which is a good sign, but both the 3% and FT% are ugly.  Vrabac numbers are worse on 3% and FT%, but it would seem that both of these guys have a draft promise.  Vrabac has very good length, and seems to have a "Philly" look to him.  Radicevich is also an Early Entry candidate from the same team as Porzingis.   Cedi Osman plays in the strong Turkish League for a good team.  Clearly draftable.  Ponitka has nice numbers, but they are from the Belgian League, and should be discounted heavily.  Somebody may still draft him, but I’d rather go for a player who has earned the trust and playing time from a decent team in a stronger league.  The Israeli League isn’t terrible, but it isn’t the Spanish ACB either.  Dawson looks pretty good, and made noticeable improvement towards the end of the season.  He needs to prove himself in the ACB, but he has done very well in his league.  He is the son of a US collegiate basketball player who played professionally in Israel.  Somebody might take a flyer on him at the end of the second round.

On the whole, again, not a particularly strong foreign draft class.  One can now see why an NBA team might have been tempted to make a draft promise to a young, but developing international player such as Juan Pablo Vaulet, if that in fact happened.  There is still a clear chance that he doesn’t have a draft promise, and is simply hoping to go undrafted.  Could happen.  But if he does have a promise, one must also think about Philly, Atlanta, Houston, Minnesota, or Utah.