October 18, 2019, 9:35 pm
Happy Friday Hoop Ballers and welcome to our International Spotlight mini preview feature where we take a look at all the international players around the league and their outlook for the upcoming season. As the preseason is coming to an end, we are starting to identify some of the risers and the fallers, while rookies are slowing revealing whether they are ready to step in against NBA veterans.
Tomas Satoransky has won the starting point guard gig in Chicago, Kristaps Porzingis has looked solid as he is working his way back from almost a year and a half on the shelf, Nicolo Mell will most likely be in the rotation with Zion Williamson expected to be sidelined to begin the season, while Goran Dragic might be coming off the bench and Davis Bertans has failed to capitalize on the opportunity to earn the starting power forward job.
On the rookie front, Sekou Doumbouya is looking at a lot of G League time, Goga Bitazde has shown that he might be contributing as a fantasy player right off the bat, while Rui Hachimura, as expected, will start for the Wizards.
This week we deep dive into a Northwest Division stacked with another 18 international guys!
Vlatko Cancar, F, 22 years old, Slovenia
The Nuggets have traditionally leaned on their international scouting department in order to locate overseas talent and Vlarko Cancar is their latest project. Denver is loaded at the wing, but Cancar could add a few different elements that are missing from the current roster as he already has a strong frame, he is a smart player and brings some much-needed defensive versatility.
The versatile Slovenian forward was drafted by Denver back in 2017 and after a fabulous season in Spain last year he was named to the Liga ACB’s “Best Young Team,” appearing in 34 games and averaging 10.0 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists in 22.9 minutes per game.
He didn’t impress during back-to-back Summer League run, but the Nuggets did not hesitate to give him a three-year contract with the first two years guaranteed. It’s clear that Cancar will be spending the majority of the year in the G League as there is simply no room in the rotation for him.
At the same time this is a kid that has already developed, both physically and mentally, since the Nuggets drafted him a couple years ago and it looks like it will only be a matter of time for him until he is able to catch up to the pace of NBA.
Juancho Hernangomez, SF/PF, 24 years old, Spain
Juancho capitalized on his opportunity and a played a career-high 19.4 minutes per game last year after Will Barton went down early in the season but he failed to show the necessary consistency and became an afterthought after the All-Star break. His percentages suffered and the lack of defensive stats made the decision easy for coach Mike Malone as the Nuggets opted for more defense instead of shooting.
He now enters this season having a whole new set of competition with Michael Porter finally healthy, Jeremi Grant arriving through a trade with the Thunder and Vlatko Cancar being the new kid on the block, while Torrey Craig and Will Barron seem to have the edge for the starting small forward position.
Hernangomez remains a necessary commodity in today’s modern style of basketball with the need for big men who are able to switch in the pick-and-roll and hit shots from distance, but the minutes don’t seem to be there and he might soon find himself in other surroundings, especially if Porter proves to be the real deal.
Nikola Jokic, C, 23 years old, Serbia
Jokic took the step that the entire fantasy community was waiting for and solidified himself as a solid first-round asset last year after posting career-highs across the board and leading his team in points (20.1), rebounds (10.8), assists (7.3), steals (1.3), but also turnovers (3.1), on his way to his first All-Star selection.
The Joker is the undisputed leader of a young and exciting Nuggets team that will likely contend for many years to come and fantasy managers can continue enjoying his out-of-position stats and triple-doubles.
Jokic is coming off a busy summer where he participated in the FIBA World Cup with Serbia so it’s likely that the team take it easy with him early in the season, as the Nuggets have the necessary depth this year. I expect him to produce a similar stat line this year and if he’s able to cut down on the turnovers and improve his 3-point percentage he could very well make a play for the top-5.
Gorgui Dieng, PF/C, 29 years old, Senegal
After a career year in the 2016-17 season where he averaged 32.4 minutes as the starting power forward in Minnesota, Dieng has seen his role diminish in back-to-back seasons where he has operated as the backup center.
He failed to gain meaningful playing time last year in a crowded frontcourt with Taj Gibson and Dario Saric and the preseason so far has proved that he remains an afterthought in the Wolves’ rotation with Ryan Saunders opting to go with Jake Layman and Noah Vonleh in the middle instead.
The Senegalese big has been on the trading block for quite some time now and this seems like the only way he could regain some fantasy value again, but until that happens, he shouldn’t be drafted in any leagues and looks like only a handcuff for now.
Josh Okogie, SF, 20 years old, Nigeria
Okogie had an up-and-down rookie season, getting off to a slow start but wrapping up the season on a high note while taking advantage of Robert Covington’s injury woes and delivering a few impressive stat lines that validated his potential as a 3-and-D player.
The Nigerian guard was able to get on the court primarily due to his ability to be a multi-positional defender but he struggled shooting the ball, going .386 from the field, .728 from the free throw line and an abysmal .279 behind the 3-point line.
Okogie entered the offseason with a focus on expanding his offensive game and making himself an option on both ends of the floor and the results have been positive. During the FIBA World Cup, he averaged 12.6 points, 4.4 assists, 2.4 steals and 1.2 blocks on 43/42/90 shooting splits in five games where he dominated at times on both ends of the floor.
The Wolves are making a big transition in their defensive philosophy this year as they are looking to switch as much as possible and Okogie fits the mold of the versatile defender who can cover multiple positions. With the team seeming destined to part with Andrew Wiggins any time now, Okogie is someone that I’m keeping on my watch list for the entire season.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Steven Adams, C, 26 years old, New Zealand
Regardless of how much the fantasy community thought that the presence of Russell Westbrook was a detriment to Adam’s production, the New Zealander averaged career-highs in points (13.9), rebounds (9.6), assists (1.6) and steals (1.5) last year, while remaining an atrocious free throw shooter and averaging just one block.
The presence of Chris Paul and Shai-Gilgeous-Alexander guarantees the easy lobs, while he should be able to dominate on the glass without Westbrook and Jerami Grant around anymore and it’s likely that he continues to be a borderline top-75 asset this season as well.
The volatility of the Thunder’s roster is the only factor that could have an even more positive or potentially negative effect to his numbers while trade rumors have already been circulating around him, making him a safe yet potentially risky selection this year.
Danilo Gallinari, SF, 31 years old, Italy
Lots of kudos have to go to whoever had the guts to pick up Gallo last year after a season in which he had played only 21 games due to a plethora of injuries. The Italian forward delivered borderline top-25 value with career-highs in points (19.8), rebounds (6.1), triples (2.4) and field goal percentage (.463), surprising the fantasy community not so much with his numbers but rather his durability.
His trade to the Thunder seems to be good news for his production as he is the clear No. 1 option on the offensive side of the ball, but no one can be certain about him finishing off the season in Oklahoma due to a juicy expiring deal that Sam Presti will definitely shop.
His percentages have never been inconsistent on a year-to-year basis and his rebounds should also take a dip playing next to Steven Adams so no one can guarantee he returns early-round value again, especially as the injury bug has always been attached to his name.
Abdel Nader, SF, 26 years old, Egypt
Nader’s versatility is the primary reason the Thunder acquired the Egyptian forward as he has played every position from point guard to center in his career. He gained a spot in the rotation last year mainly due to his ability to defend and hit the three but his percentages have been below average and he doesn’t produce plenty of defensive stats.
The Thunder seem to be entering a rebuilding period and Nader might get the opportunity to play more minutes this year but it’s unlikely that he has much, if any, fantasy value, even in deeper leagues. A team player who operates as a glue guy, he is more of a chemistry guy rather than a fantasy asset.
Dennis Schroder, G, 25 years old, Germany
Playing as a backup to Russell Westbrook, Schroder produced a mixed bag of a season last year, averaging 15.5 points , 4.1 assists and a career-high 3.6 rebounds, but returned borderline top-175 value mainly due to his ugly percentages (.414 from the field and .341 from behind the 3-point line) and poor defensive stats (just 0.8 steals). The German guard remains trapped in Oklahoma, playing behind Chris Paul with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander ready to take the point guard reins at some point during the season.
The Thunder would love to trade him away but the market seems to be low on him and even if he finds himself in new surroundings, it’s unlikely that his game becomes polished or efficient so he should be on your radar only as a scoring and assists option in a punt-percentages format.
Portland Trail Blazers
Jusuf Nurkic, C, 24 years old, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Other than KD and Klay Thompson brutally going down in the NBA Finals, the leg fracture Jusuf Nurkic suffered last year was the most heartbreaking story of the season, especially since the Bosnian center was in the middle of a career campaign.
The Blazers were able to constantly break down defenses due to his understanding of the extremely important role of passing the ball as the roll man or attacking and going to the foul line. He exceeded expectations, setting career-highs in points (15.6), rebounds (10.4), assists (3.2), steals (1.0), blocks (1.4), field goal percentage (.508) and free throw percentage (.773), delivering borderline top-35 fantasy value and looking better than ever before.
Not much is expected out of the Bosnian Beast this year as he is slowly recovering from his injury and the Blazers brought in Hassan Whiteside to replace him. The expectation is that Nurkic will be able to return at some point after the All-Star break but you shouldn’t invest a pick in him in redraft leagues since he is likely to be eased back to the rotation when ready.
Pau Gasol, PF, 39 years old, Spain
Entering his 19th season in the NBA, Gasol has been plagued by injuries in the last couple years but he remains a strong veteran presence on and off the court. The Blazers are missing Jusuf Nurkic this year, and even though they acquired Hassan Whiteside they signed Gasol as insurance in a somewhat thin frontcourt. It’s unlikely that he sees much playing time and he should be left on the waiver wire.
Mario Hezonja, SF/PF, 24 years old, Croatia
Super Mario had, as expected, a rollercoaster of a season in New York, bouncing in and out of David Fizdale’s rotation and ending up posting career-highs in rebounds (4.1) and assists (1.5), while struggling shooting the ball overall (41/28/75 splits). He landed in Portland this offseason, the place where his role model Drazen Petrovic played at the beginning of his career, and the opportunity is once again there for Hezonja.
The Blazers lost Al-Farouq Aminu, Moe Harkless and Jake Layman in the offseason, while they replaced Evan Turner with Kent Bazemore; other than Zach Collins and Anthony Tolliver, this team really doesn’t have another power forward. Hezonja will be asked to contribute at both forward positions and the expectation is that he will be able to become a more consistent option in a structured system where head coach Terry Stotts asks for specific things from his players. And while it’s hard to envision him having standard league value, he should be owned in deeper formats as the minutes are already there for him.
Jaylen Hoard, SF, 20 years old, France (two-way contract)
The young Frenchman went undrafted but he has the physical tools to develop into a 3-and-D player in the league and the Blazers were smart enough to immediately sign him to a two-way deal following the conclusion of the draft. He was a quiet yet impressive presence at Summer League, mainly due to his ability to show a great feel for the game while being in the right place at the right time.
He outperformed Nassir Little, the Blazers’ first-round pick, and while I don’t think his ceiling is as high as Little’s, he is much more polished right now. The Blazers seem to have a developmental plan for him and he is someone that I’m keeping an eye on in deep dynasty leagues.
Skal Labissiere, PF/C, 23 years old, Haiti
The Kings finally moved on from Skal last year and the Blazers decided to take a flier on him even though it resulted to limited playing time for the lanky forward. Labissiere’s per-36 numbers have always been impressive but it has not been able to materialize on the court and he might be running out of time in the league.
Fortunately for him, the Blazers are entering the season with limited depth at the power forward position and the preseason has shown that there might be a path to limited minutes for him. I’m still skeptical of course and Skal is not someone that you should have on your draft lists but I’ll be keeping an eye on him as the season progresses.
Bojan Bogdanovic, SF, 30 years old, Croatia
Nikola Mirotic was the primary target for the Jazz this offseason but when the versatile forward decided to head back to Europe, he left Utah with limited alternative options. The Jazz quickly turned to Bogey, who cashed in on a tremendous year with the Pacers in which he averaged career-highs in points (18.0), rebounds (4.1), 3-pointers (2.0), assists (1.9), steals (0.9), field goal percentage (.497) and 3-point percentage (.425).
Bogdanovic has been penciled in as the starter for the Jazz but the preseason has shown us that there is going to be a transition for him while he, too, was honest to admit that with so many new faces he has to develop chemistry with his teammates.
The Croatian forward will not be asked to be the primary offensive weapon in Utah, as the team has plenty of ammunition this year, and he has taken major strides in his defensive ability the last couple years, while the structured system of Quin Snyder guarantees equal shot distribution all over. Managers should be prepared for a slight decline in his production but as long as he continues to score, he will remain a safe selection in the later rounds.
Dante Exum, G, 23 years old, Australia
Dante Exum has struggled badly to stay healthy in his short NBA career and the Jazz might be a step closer to moving away from him. A partially torn patellar tendon in his right knee limited him to just 42 games last year, in a season where he failed to show any progress or push Ricky Rubio for the starting point guard job after signing a three-year deal worth $33 million.
The Jazz acquired Mike Conley this offseason while they brought in Emannuel Mudiay as the backup point guard and all signs point to Exum being used as a secondary ball handler going forward. It’s unclear if he can be efficient in that role as he has struggled to shoot above 30 percent behind the 3-point line, except for his rookie season. He missed the FIBA World Cup this summer while he has yet to play in the preseason and I’m staying away from him until I see him healthy on the floor again.
Rudy Gobert, C, 26 years old, France
Fantasy managers got a healthy dose of Gobert last year as the French center played in 81 games and dropped career-highs in points (15.9), rebounds (12.9), assists (2.0) and field goal percentage (.669 percent), rightfully earning the Defensive Player of the Year award.
The Jazz have shifted their basketball approach this year as they decided to become an elite offensive team first, surrounding Gobert with veterans like Mike Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic. The Stifle Tower will still be asked to drop back in pick-and-roll coverage and to protect the paint, but it remains to be seen whether the lack of above-average ball-stoppers will make Rudy more vulnerable in the middle.
Just like last year, I’m comfortable taking Gobert in the early rounds but the second-round value he delivered last season might not happen again due to the change of personnel and the time it will take for all the pieces to mingle.
Joe Ingles, SF, 32 years old, Australia
Well-documented off-court issues appeared to have an impact on Hoop Ball favorite Joe Ingles as his percentages suffered and he turned the ball over too much (2.4 per game), even though he did average a career-high 5.7 assists per game.
The truth of the matter is that the Jazz relied heavily on him, as evidenced by the 9.8 shots per game and the 5.9 triples he attempted, so there is optimism that a move to the bench this season will help him revert to the efficiency he had been known for.
Smokin Joe is also coming off a busy summer, playing in the FIBA World Cup with Australia, so it’s likely that he, too, has a slow start to the season as the Jazz continue to monitor his minutes. His all-around game guarantees another top-100 season and if he finds his place in the new system, he might be climbing the rankings sooner than later.
Thank you for following our international preview of the season and please check us back again next week as we examine the foreign players in the Pacific Division. Feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @philysstar and stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.