August 31, 2018, 6:10 pm
Welcome back Hoop Ballers to our International Spotlight weekly feature where we will be taking a trip to the past trying to identify why some international players failed to make it in the NBA.
Most of the guys we take a look into this week were either identified as elite talent coming out of international competition or participated in the EuroLeague, the European-wide top-tier level professional basketball club competition that has long established itself as the benchmark for basketball outside the NBA.
Rookies aren’t usually ready to contribute immediately and that’s also the case with the majority of foreign players who often have to make a challenging basketball, as well as cultural transition.
Drafted: 12th Overall in 2005
Stats: 1.1 Points, 0.5 Rebounds and 0.4 Assists in 34 games and just two seasons
Korolev looked like a superstar in Belgrade as a 17-year-old phenom tearing up the 2005 European Junior U-18 Championship with an ideal 6’9″ athletic frame and superior ball-handling skills for his age. The Clippers thought they could develop him into a prototypical 3-and-D player but he was waived in 2007 after failing to adjust to the NBA game and he never really got the chance to return to the league even though he spent a couple seasons playing in the D-League.
Drafted: 2nd Overall in 2003
Stats: 6.0 Points, 4.2 Rebounds, 0.9 Assists and 1.3 Blocks in 468 games and 10 seasons
Pistons GM Joe Dumars passed on Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade in the 2003 Draft for what appeared to be a promising 19-year-old big man out of Serbia. Larry Brown, though, never gave Milicic a real shot on a veteran team that actually went on to win the NBA championship and three years later he was dealt to the Magic for Kelvin Cato and a first round pick that turned into Rodney Stuckey. Darko bounced around for a couple years and somehow got a huge contract from David Kahn and the Wolves because of his shot blocking ability but he always had maturity issues and didn’t live up to the expectations.
Drafted: 5th Overall in 2002
Stats: 2.9 Points, 1.8 Rebounds and 0.7 Assists in four seasons
Tskitishvili had a decent international career contributing to an Italian league championship with Benetton Treviso under Mike D’Antoni prior to making himself eligible for the 2002 NBA Draft. He was a major disappointment but it wasn’t just the lack of talent as much as the league not being ready for athletic stretch forwards who could play small-ball basketball. D’Antoni was actually in the Nuggets organization from 1997 until 1999 as Director of Player Personnel and he most likely had some input in this decision after getting to coach the young Georgian in Europe.
Country: Czech Republic
Drafted: 6th Overall in 2002
Stats: 6.1 Points 2.4 Rebounds and 1.5 Assists in 162 games and just four seasons
Vesely was a very productive player while competing for KK Partizan in the Adriatic league due to his ability to either post up or shoot from the perimeter and he caught the attention of the Wizards, who were high enough on him to draft him 6th overall during the 2011 NBA Draft. The problem is that Vesely dominated with his athleticism in a league that lacks athleticism but the talent level in the NBA is a completely different story and that led to his confidence being visibly shot once he stepped on the court. He was never able to produce for a mediocre Wizards team and he went back to Europe where he has become one of the best centers in the EuroLeague with Fenerbahce in recent years.
Who fits this mold today: It might be early to tell but Guerschon Yabusele hasn’t justified his selection as a high first round pick. The young forward looked more comfortable in Summer League this year as the team is trying to develop him into a playmaking big like Al Horford but he still needs to shed some weight and earn his playing time with consistent play on both ends of the floor.
Injury Prone Players
Drafted: 25th Overall in 2009
Stats: 7.1 Points, 1.6 Rebounds and 1.7 Assists in 182 games and four seasons
Beaubois had flashes of brilliance as a rookie, highlighted by a 40-point performance in a win over fellow rookie guard Stephen Curry and at one point was labeled by Mark Cuban as close to “untouchable” in trade talks. Unfortunately injuries, including two foot surgeries and a hand operation, contributed to the fizzling of his career and he hasn’t played in the NBA since his rookie contract expired at the end of the 2012-13 season even though the Mavs extended an invitation to him to return to Dallas in 2016 on a three-year partially guaranteed deal for the veteran’s minimum.
Drafted: 17th Overall in 2003
Stats: 4.3 Points, 2.1 Rebounds and 0.6 Assists in three seasons
Driven by the success of Dirk Nowitzki, teams were salivating over Euro big men with range well before the stretch four position was established as a key component in the modern NBA. Cabarkapa had great size and won a gold medal during the 2002 FIBA World Championship Games with Serbia, impressing the Suns who thought he could be a nice fit in Mike D’Antoni’s system. Zarko thought had no intention to play defense while back problems led to a premature end of his career.
Drafted: 31st Overall in 2008
Stats: 12.6 Points, 6.7 Rebounds on 52 percent shooting in 271 games
Since coming over from Europe for the 2010-11 season, Pekovic showed promise and at one point he was one of the more unique and bruising big men in the league but was beset by injuries, especially with his ankles. Pek was never the most skilled big man on the court but he used his unique physical traits to grind opposing centers even though he never played more than 65 games in a season, missing a whopping 278, or 48.4 percent of the 574 games the Wolves played over his seven-year career.
Who fits this mold today: Dante Exum has been decimated by injuries in his short career but the Jazz haven’t given up on him, rewarding him with a three-year contract this offseason. Milos Teodosic is also another example of a top European talent who has failed to keep up with the league’s intensity playing in just 45 game in his rookie season.
Bad Fits/Organizational Failure
Nando de Colo
Drafted: 23rd Overall in 2009
Stats: 3.8 Points, 1.8 Rebounds and 1.7 Assists in 119 games and four seasons
It might seem surprising how de Colo didn’t make it with the Spurs, being a perfect player for that system, a longtime Tony Parker and Boris Diaw teammate and one of the most talented guards France has ever seen but he was actually the victim of the “Spurs’ way.” De Colo was known for his creativity on the pick-and-roll and his ability to create his own shot and once he arrived in San Antonio he put those skills to use early, often pulling off dangerous passes and developing instant chemistry with Tiago Splitter. The problem was turnovers. Instead of helping him clean up those turnover issues while continuing to be a good playmaker, the Spurs failed him as they worked on transforming him from a ball-dominant pick-and-roll creator into a spot-up shooter. He was eventually traded to Toronto, where he wasn’t able to find consistent playing time either but he returned to Europe to win the EuroLeague MVP with CSKA Moscow a couple of seasons later and he is still considered one of the top guards overseas.
Drafted: 6th Overall in 2007
Stats: 7.9 Points 4.9 Rebounds and 0.7 Assists in 272 games and five seasons
After an extremely successful career in China, winning three CBA titles, Yi was highly coveted because of his frame, skill level, and the Yao Ming factor. The Bucks invested heavily in him but he didn’t want to play in Milwaukee due to the city not having a large Asian-American community and his Chinese representatives required that any team Yi played for would have to give him sufficient playing time in order for him to improve for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Under severe pressure to sign his rookie contract the Bucks gave in to his demands and he was named a starter by head coach Larry Krystkowiak in place of Charlie Villanueva to begin the 2007–08 season, but he wasn’t ready physically or mentally and nagging injuries quickly derailed his career.
Stats: 2.3 Points in just 19 games
Macijauskas was a charismatic shooter from Lithuania that led his national team to the 2003 EuroBasket championship, shooting almost 50 percent from beyond the arc while owning the all-time EuroLeague record for consecutive free throws made at 94 in a row. He played nine years in Europe and was named to the All-EuroLeague First Team while playing with Tau Vitoria in Liga ACB where he averaged 16 points per game and shot 59 percent from the field. The then-Hornets took a flier on him but the day he signed with the team, the Hornets traded for guards Rasual Butler, Desmond Mason and Kirk Snyder to go along with returning guard J.R. Smith and first-round pick Chris Paul. Macijauskas was not shy about his frustration with the lack of minutes and the two parties ended their partnership quickly.
Drafted: 13th Overall in 2016
Stats: 4.1 Points, 3.2 Rebounds and 0.6 Blocks in 39 games and two seasons
NBA teams always have a place for skilled big men and Papa G had shown enough to be considered a top prospect but a lot of people were surprised to hear his name on draft day and the general consensus was that the Kings selected him too high. He has to be seen as part of the Marquese Chriss – Bogdan Bogdanovic trade that went through on draft night as the Kings were able to acquire the Serbian guard along with two first-round picks in the 2016 NBA Draft that the team then used to select Papagiannis and Skal Labissiere. He logged just 355 minutes on the court in his rookie season but he dominated the G-League, pulling down 8.1 rebounds and blocking 2.6 shots per game. Still, that was not enough and even though Vlade Divac believed in the kid, the coaching staff was never too high on him and he was let go during his sophomore season. The Blazers gave him a look but after a disappointing Summer League performance he went back to Europe and signed a five-year deal with his hometown club Panathinaikos.
Drafted: 50th Overall in 2002
Stats: 2.7 Points, 0.7 Rebounds and 0.9 Assists in 32 games
One of the most dominant guards in European basketball history, Spanoulis’ NBA tenure wasn’t pleasant at all as he struggled to adapt to the fast pace and physical demands of the league while being unable to contain opposing guards. The Rockets were built around Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming at the time but V-Span had no intention of being the third or fourth option and after starring overseas in Europe he didn’t work hard enough to earn a role in the regular rotation. Jeff Van Gundy actually gave him a chance but was not shy about criticizing his turnovers and poor outside shooting, leading to an all-time quote about the Greek star: “Spanoulis says, ‘I was Tracy McGrady back home.’ Great. McGrady is McGrady here.” After one season and 32 games played, Spanoulis fled back to Europe where he has dominated the last 10 years.
Who fits this mold today: Mario Hezonja was put in an awkward position in Orlando and coaches never actually figured out how to properly use him but a change of scenery in New York might make the Magic regret letting him walk. Domantas Sabonis is also a great example of how a team was able to put a player in the right position to succeed by playing to his strengths and not forcing him to become something he wasn’t.
Using this data in fantasy drafts
Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol were the first European lottery picks and they both became All-Stars but since then, 16 Europeans have been lottery picks, and none of them have earned All-Star status until Kristaps Porzingis earned the honor. The numbers in recent years have been going up as, since the selection of Yao Ming in 2002, 19 international players have been drafted in the lottery, but again, none have been named All-Stars. Numbers say it isn’t wise to draft an international player in the lottery and Luka Doncic will have to prove us wrong coming off an unprecedented career at the highest level in Europe.
As for teams drafting outside the lottery positions, however, it makes sense to take a chance on an international player later in the first round or the second round. Plenty of those players have turned into great value picks, including Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Marc Gasol among others and Dzanan Musa or Elie Okobo could very well fall into that category this year.
Thank you for reading this article and please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @philysstar. Stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.
*Correction: Initially it was written that no European lottery picks had been named All-Stars since Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol, excluding Kristaps Porzingis. That has been corrected.