October 10, 2020, 4:37 pm
Welcome back, Hoop Ballers, to our International Spotlight weekly feature and one my favorite breakdowns of the year where we examine some potentially hidden gems that are a couple years away from breaking out!
Adam Mokoka, Jaylen Hoard and Luka Samanic probably don’t ring a bell to most NBA fans as they played sparingly this past season and have made their bread and butter in the G League, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a future in the league, especially since these are some of the kids that NBA teams hope to develop into regular contributors. Who wouldn’t want to have Kendrick Nunn and Duncan Robinson, only a couple examples of players who went under their radar before being discovered and finding their role with an NBA franchise?
For all the regulars at Hoop Ball my goal with our International Spotlight feature has always been to provide you with as much information as possible in your effort to evaluate talent and jump way ahead of the curve on potential international fantasy studs. Hopefully, some of these guys will be able to make a difference in the upcoming years of your fantasy leagues, whether it’s Dynasty or simply deeper H2H or Roto formats where the options are limited after the very first few rounds.
Without further ado, here are some guys that you should keep on your watchlist.
Adam Mokoka, Chicago Bulls (RFA), G, 22 years old, France
NBA Stats: Games/Minutes Played: 11 (10.2) | 2.9 PTS | 0.5 3PM | 0.9 REB | 0.4 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.0 BLK | 0.2 TOV | .429 FG% | .500 FT%
G League Stats: Games/Minutes Played: 31 (32.2) | 10.9 PTS | 1.8 3PM | 5.7 REB | 3.3 AST | 1.4 STL | 0.3 BLK | 2.2 TOV | .371 FG% | .692 FT%
Mokoka was part of a somewhat weak international draft class last season and he went undrafted even though he was projected to land somewhere in the second round. The Bulls had scouted the French guard during his one season in Serbia and invited him to play for their Summer League team where he showed enough to earn a two-way contract. He had a modest year playing with the Windy City Bulls, but when the injury epidemic hit the Bulls in mid-January, Jim Boylen was forced to play him and actually started gaining more confidence in the powerfully built rookie from France.
The highlight of his season came of course on March 2nd when he was given the assignment of guarding Mavs All-Star Luka Doncic, holding him to just two points in the 4th quarter as the Bulls scored just their 2nd win of the season over a team with a .500 record.
Mokoka is just 21 years old, but he’s hardly a rookie when it comes to playing professionally as he has already been a part of European championship squads with France’s U-16 and U-18 national teams, and this is his 5th season as a pro playing both guard positions. He is undersized when playing as a shooting guard and his shot is not consistent while he also struggles from the charity line even though his shooting form is smooth, but he is comfortable attacking the basket and is a tremendous on-ball defender who can pest any opponent. His work ethic is marvelous and I expect him to get another chance with the Bulls even though the franchise is under new management and a brand-new head coach in Billy Donovan.
Outlook: Complementary piece who could earn a role as a backup combo guard, can offer defensive stats but will likely hurt your percentages.
Svi Mykhaiiluk, Detroit Pistons, G, 23 years old, Ukraine
NBA Stats: Games/Minutes Played: 56 (22.6) | 9.0 PTS | 2.1 3PM | 1.0 REB | 1.9 AST | 0.7 STL | 0.1 BLK | 1.1 TOV | .410 FG% | .814 FT%
Svi has been a regular in my articles and someone that I have long kept an eye on mainly due to the fact that he came out of four years of college basketball at Kansas, resembling one of the most ready-to-contribute products ahead of the Draft. He terrorized the G League in his rookie season, showing offensive versatility and the ability to create as a secondary playmaker, but the Lakers quickly gave up on him and he landed with the Pistons, who love his attitude and believe in his ability to develop into a rotational piece.
Mykhaiiluk capitalized on an injury to Luke Kennard that opened the door to more playing time and he became one of the few players in NBA history to shoot better than 40 percent from the 3-point arc on more than five attempts per game within the first two seasons of his career. The Pistons are desperate for more shooting and the expectation is that Svi will get the chance to back-up Kennard next year so he should be on your radar as a scoring and triples specialist.
Outlook: Expected to be in the rotation next year and the passing skills are intriguing as he doesn’t only look for his shot.
Alen Smailagic, Golden State Warriors, PF/C, 20 years old, Serbia
NBA Stats: Games/Minutes Played: 14 (9.9) | 4.2 PTS | 0.2 3PM | 1.9 REB | 0.9 AST | 0.2 STL | 0.3 BLK | 0.8 TOV | .500 FG% | .842 FT%
G League Stats: Games/Minutes Played: 19 (25.9) | 15.2 PTS | 1.5 3PM | 6.2 REB | 1.4 AST | 1.1 STL | 0.8 BLK | 1.9 TOV | .512 FG% | .585 FT%
It’s well-established that the Warriors are an organization that thinks outside the box when it comes to basketball decisions and Smailagic is a product of their think tank. They decided to bring him to the US and throw him into the G League before he was drafted. The lack of quality draft picks due to their success in recent years has left the team with few options in order to develop their youngsters and they even had to overpay (two future second-round picks and cash sent to the Pelicans) in order to select Smailagic at No. 39 overall, but he is someone they are very high on due to his combination of basketball IQ and skills.
His shot mechanics need some work and he is a bit slow but I have been impressed by his quick hands and the ability to take the ball away from opponents as a help defender.
After a quiet rookie season where he struggled with some injuries, Steve Kerr recently opened up about the way he sees the Serbian big developing in the upcoming years. “I think Smiley pretty much has to be a five,” Kerr said. “He’s a pretty big guy, he shoots the 3 well, he’s skilled. But he’s not a player you’re gonna say, ‘OK, he’s really versatile defensively and we can have him guard multiple positions.’ I don’t look at him as that. I look at him more as a face-up five. I think that’s gonna be his role ultimately in the NBA.” The stat-set has some holes, mainly the lack of shot blocking, but he brings out-of-position stats (steals, triples) that could be very useful and is someone that will get opportunities as long as the Warriors remain without a starting-caliber center.
Outlook: Developmental window is still wide open and the expectation is that he will only get better playing next to Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green.
Goga Bitadze, Indiana Pacers, C, 21 years old, Republic of Georgia
NBA Stats: Games/Minutes Played: 54 (8.7) | 3.2 PTS | 0.1 3PM | 2.0 REB | 0.4 AST | 0.2 STL | 0.7 BLK | 0.5 TOV | .467 FG% | .727 FT%
G League Stats: Games/Minutes Played: 6 (37.5) | 19.2 PTS | 1.8 3PM | 13.3 REB | 4.0 AST | 0.7 STL | 3.3 BLK | 2.2 TOV | .452 FG% | .667 FT%
Bitadze’s rookie season was nothing special as he had visa issues that slowed down his arrival to the US and he struggled with injuries, while Nate McMillan, an old school type of coach, really didn’t give him the chance to play meaningful minutes. In his limited time on the floor he swatted 37 shots on the season, which translates to 2.8 blocks per 36 minutes, an average which is actually slightly better than Myles Turner, one of the NBA’s premier shot blockers, who averaged 2.6 blocks per 36 minutes this season.
The 3-point shot also looks to be a big part of his game and even though he struggled in the majors, he was more comfortable in the G League where he hit 1.8 triples in six games, shooting .355 from behind the arc.
The Georgian big still has some work to do as he averaged 5.0 fouls per 36 minutes, a common problem for rookie big men adjusting to the speed of the NBA, while a lack of strength hurt him often and kept him grounded to the bench. The good and the bad were really evident in a bubble game against the Lakers back in August.
The Pacers will have to make some interesting financial decisions going forward as they are a small market and it’s possible that the Covid situation will make it hard for them to spend more in the offseason. There have been rumblings about not being able to pay everyone on the team and the coaching decision is still up in the air but it looks likely that Indiana moves away from Myles Turner in the next couple years, depending on Bitazde’s progress.
Outlook: Potential to soon become a starter and his numbers are very interesting, I wouldn’t mind overpaying in order to get him in dynasty formats.
Ignas Brazdeikis, New York Knicks, G, 22 years old, Lithuania
NBA Stats: Games/Minutes Played: 9 (5.9) | 1.9 PTS | 0.1 PM | 0.6 REB | 0.4 AST | 0.0 STL | 0.1 BLK | 0.2 TOV | .273 FG% | .800 FT%
G League Stats: Games/Minutes Played: 24 (32.5) | 20.9 PTS | 1.9 3PM | 7.2 REB | 3.1 AST | 0.6 STL | 0.4 BLK | 2.5 TOV | .501 FG% | .687 FT%
Brazdeikis is another interesting prospect who was drafted by the Knicks after becoming the 2018-2019 Big Ten Rookie of the year, averaging under 15 points per game along with field goal percentages nearing 40 percent from beyond the arc and above 45 percent overall in his one year with the Michigan Wolverines.
He had an impressive Summer League last year where he proved to be a proficient scorer in a variety of ways, but his run in Vegas seemed to mean nothing to David Fizdale. Interim head coach Mike Miller, who was hired last summer as an assistant after four years as the G League coach of the Westchester Knicks, also didn’t give the rookie minutes. It was a weird decision but it’s possible that he was just following the directions of the previous regime in New York.
The truth of the matter is that Iggy finished the G League season with an impressive 20.9 points per game average and shot 50.1% from the field, including 34.4% from behind the arc, while the kid developed a reputation for his diligent preparation. His basketball I.Q. was also evident but he would have to work on his defense in order to impress newly hired Tom Thibodeau, who is really not the coach with the best developmental track record in the league
Outlook: Iggy is really more than a shooter and he reminds me of Luke Kennard with his ability to shoot or drive to the basket but it remains to be seen whether the Knicks have found something in him.
Jaylen Hoard, Portland Blazers, F, 22 years old, France
NBA Stats: Games/Minutes Played: 16 (9.0) | 3.3 PTS | 0.0 3PM | 2.6 REB | 0.3 AST | 0.3 STL | 0.0 BLK | 0.4 TOV | .500 FG% | .615 FT%
G League Stats: Games/Minutes Played: 24 (27.6) | 16.2 PTS | 0.5 3PM | 6.9 REB | 1.8 AST | 0.6 STL | 0.5 BLK | 1.4 TOV | .518 FG% | .607 FT%
Hoard went undrafted out of Wake Forest last year but the Blazers immediately signed him to a two-way contract on July 1st, clearly seeing the potential for another 3-and-D wing. The French kid has a great body with length and size for the NBA as he is already well-built at 216 pounds, and he goes strong to the basket while hustling on both ends of the floor, using a 7’1” wingspan that makes him a challenging defender. Hoard spent most of his time playing in Texas with the Legends, which really didn’t give him the chance to be closer to Portland, but he did join the team for the Orlando bubble and showed some signs of his ability to play at the highest level.
Shooting is the main issue if he wants to have a realistic chance of becoming a rotational payer, as he made just 11 of 50 three-point shots (22%) in the G League, very close to what he shot during his only season at Wake Forest (22.6%). Free throw shooting is also an issue as he prefers to drive to the basket where he is likely to draw contact.
Outlook: Could become relevant if he unlocks his shot, otherwise he is just a practice body.
Elie Okobo, Phoenix Suns, G, 23 years old, France
NBA Stats: Games/Minutes Played: 55 (13.1) | 4.0 PTS | 0.5 PM | 1.6 REB | 2.1 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.1 BLK | 0.7 TOV | .398 FG% | .704 FT%
In his sophomore year with the Suns, Okobo regressed and the alarming signs were there since last summer when he was cut from his national team ahead of the World Cup in China after being unable to grab a role as the third point guard. The same story was repeated in the NBA where, going against rookies Ty Jerome and Jalen Lecque, two-way player Jared Harper and second-year guard Jevon Carter, he failed to earn the job behind Ricky Rubio, forcing the Suns to sign Cam Payne who suddenly came to life and played like a competent NBA backup guard.
Okobo has struggled to show any consistency in his game and he has been a black hole on the defensive side, alarming signs for his future in the league, but he is still only 23 and can knock the 3-point shot, so it’s certain that he will get another chance to show that he belongs in the league.
Outlook: Badly needs a change of environment.
Luka Samanic, San Antonio Spurs, F/C, 21 years old, Croatia
NBA Stats: Games/Minutes Played: 3 (16.1) | 5.3 PTS | 1.0 3PM | 3.3 REB | 2.0 AST | 0.0 STL | 0.7 BLK | 0.7 TOV | .313 FG% | .750 FT%
G League Stats: Games/Minutes Played: 33 (28.5) | 15.2 PTS | 1.4 3PM | 7.8 REB | 1.4 AST | 0.8 STL | 0.8 BLK | 3.1 TOV | .432 FG% | .771 FT%
Samanic is a very interesting overseas prospect and the fact the the Spurs invested a first-round pick into him means that we should simply pay attention. Listed at 6’10” and still growing, the Slovenian forward has the size to play in any NBA frontcourt but lacks the muscle necessary to survive the physicality of the NBA. Samanic didn’t register any minutes in the regular season except from the games in the bubble which the Spurs used specifically for the development of their youth nucleus.
He played 70 percent of his minutes at the five and the added height and weight will certainly help him hold his own if that’s a trend that the Spurs expect to continue to lean into. His shot is still a work in progress but it’s going to become increasingly hard to block him and he could open up all sorts of exciting possibilities for San Antonio if he is able to stretch the floor and defend. The Spurs obviously didn’t draft Samanic in order to make an immediate contribution and his ceiling remains high.
Outlook: The absolute “two years away from being two years away” prospect but the signs of progress have been very positive.
Thank you for reading this article and please make sure you tune back next week to learn more about the upcoming Draft’s international rookie class. Stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.
Stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of October 10th. Official stats don’t include the stats accumulated during the Orlando bubble but I opted to include them for this article.