October 5, 2018, 4:15 pm
Welcome back Hoop Ballers 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. We previously examined the Atlantic, the Central, the Southeast and the Southwest Division and as training camps are under their way we can start to recognize the risers and the fallers.
Mario Hezonja and Frank Ntilikina are struggling to gain momentum in their pursuit of a starting gig but the minutes will be there for them while Jonas Valanciunas looks rejuvenated under new head coach Nick Nurse in Toronto. Lauri Markannen will be sidelined to begin the season with a sprained elbow and he might fall in your draft, Cedi Osman is solidifying himself as a starter while Ersan Ilyasova looks like a perfect fit for Coach Bud’s system. Willy Hernangomez is getting the minutes he needs in order to produce, Goran Dragic might have a new home soon while Nikola Vucevic, Evan Fournier and Nic Batum look like safe bets. Finally, Luka Doncic is already turning heads with his play as Pau Gasol and Jakob Poeltl battle for the starting job in San Antonio.
This week we deep dive into the Northwest Division:
Juancho Hernangomez, SF, 23 years old, Spain
Juancho went down with mono last year, losing more than 50 games and suffering a statistical regression in almost all categories upon his return. He was never able to regain his position in the rotation and his future with the Nuggets looks somewhat murky as Nuggets have promoted Mike Malone’s favorite (son) and former two-way player Torrey Craig to the active roster. Craig is not a polished scorer but he is an above average defender who fits better with a group of Nuggets players that can mostly get buckets. Malone has also fallen in love with Trey Lyles and he was even quoted saying that he plans on using him as a small forward. Juancho’s game expresses the evolution of modern basketball with the need for big men who are able to switch in the pick-and-roll and hit shots from distance, but he faces an uphill battle this season and I’m not very optimistic about his long term outlook in Denver since the team invested a high lottery pick in Michael Porter this year. He is still relatively young though and you should absolutely keep an eye for him in dynasty leagues as, just like his brother, he might just need a change of scenery.
Nikola Jokic, C, 23 years old, Serbia
The Nuggets seem to have finally figured out how to properly use the Joker in their system and he is likely to be a top-15 if not a top-10 fantasy asset this year. Questions about his defense and his leadership are still there but Jokic should be able to take more steps forward after securing a five-year, $148 million max contract this summer. Paul Millsap has been emphatic about Jokic becoming a leader of this team and the two had a great talk late in the season last year after which, in the final five games – with Denver making a playoff push, no less – Nikola averaged 23.8 points, 12.2 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 2.0 steals.
James Nunnally, SF, 28 years old, Euroleague
The 2017 EuroLeague and Turkish League champion drew attention from a few playoff teams this summer after years toiling in the D-League and in a handful of international leagues. He was arguably Europe’s best 3-and-D wing last year and got signed by a team that ended up dead last in the NBA in 3-pointers made (8.0) and attempted (22.5) in 2018. He won’t provide the same scoring punch that Jamal Crawford did, at least not in the same way, but he can be counted on to knock down his shots and hang tougher on the defensive end. Nunnally could hold 3-point specialist value in deeper leagues but the arrival of Luol Deng in Minnesota and Thibs’ predilection to overplay his starters means that he won’t offer much more than that.
Josh Okogie, SF, 20 years old, Nigeria
A potential steal of the draft candidate in my opinion, Okogie is a prototypical 3-and-D player coming out of a tremendous career year at Georgia Tech where he averaged 18.2 points, 6.3 rebounds (despite standing at just 6’4”) and 2.5 assists as a sophomore, shooting 38 percent from the 3-point line while getting to the line consistently (at least 6.0 free throw attempts per game in both seasons at Georgia Tech). He is a strong, multi-positional defender who fits the mold of players that Tom Thibodeau likes and he might be able to earn some minutes as a rookie because he simply plays hard.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER
Alex Abrines, SG, 25 years old, Spain
The Spaniard is one of the purest shooters among European players with fluid mechanics, quick release and deep range. He possesses an excellent off-ball game, exploiting screens and cuts while also using pull-up jumpers and pump fakes in order to require attention. Unfortunately for him, Billy Donovan has traditionally played two non-shooters in many of his lineups, whether they included Steven Adams and Andre Roberson or forward Jerami Grant or whichever other duos he’s elected to pair causing some apparent lane clogging. What further limits his ability to contribute is the lack of pick-and-roll action in a Thunder scheme that relies heavily on ISO situations.
Abrines is basically being used as a decoy most of the time he is on the floor even if his ability to stretch the floor, his skill level and his understanding of how to play the game make for an excellent rotation guy. With news about Andre Roberson suffering a setback in his recovery there will be minutes available for Abrines in the rotation but Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot was also added to the mix while the Thunder are expected to go with two-guard lineups more often after the arrival of Dennis Schroder.
Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, SG, 23 years old, France
TLC came into the league as a raw but versatile wing with exceptional size and wingspan for his position as well as a style of play that fits perfectly the NBA, but he hasn’t been able to put everything together yet. He was able to distinguish himself with some outstanding athleticism but this is the norm in the NBA and he got outplayed last year, ending up losing his place in the rotation. The Frenchman has pretty much everything you look for in a two-way role-playing NBA wing and maybe there is another level to his game that he unlocks after his move to Oklahoma. He will be given the chance as I do believe Sam Presti likes him and the reason he was acquired by the Thunder was the need to increase the competition at the wing position. A lot will depend on whether his shot falls obviously.
Terrance Ferguson, SG, 20 years old, Australia
Ferguson has been an electrifying talent since his high school days where he finished as a top-20 national recruit and was selected for several prestigious high school All-Star games including the McDonald’s All-American and the Nike Hoop Summit. OKC’s biggest need is still surrounding Russell Westbrook with secondary scoring as well as with perimeter shooting and defense. Ferguson fits that mold but he was far from a ready product in his rookie year where the lack of muscle caused him to get consistently pushed out of his spots on offense. He has terrific feet, he can cover a lot of ground, and does well to stay in front of smaller players and in general, his combination of scoring and defense can certainly be a special skill most teams would love to have. The offseason report says that he was able to add some weight and work even more in his game and you should keep him on your watch list in case he emerges as the first man off the bench.
Dennis Schroder, G, 25 years old, Germany
Dennis the Menace had an interesting year with a tanking Hawks team and he was able to cut down on his turnovers while setting new career-highs in scoring and steals. His percentages are still ugly though and it’s almost a lock that he will be coming off the bench. I’m confident in Sam Presti and Billy Donovan providing the necessary motivation to him in order for Schroder to hold value even in standard leagues and Russell Westbrook’s knee woes might carry into the season so I’m still keeping an eye on him as a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS
Jusuf Nurkic, C, 24 years old, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Nurkic was mostly inconsistent last year yet delivered top-75 value in the second half of the season for owners who had the patience to hold on to him. A first round exit from the playoffs exposed his flaws even more as New Orleans took the ball away from Damian Lillard and forced Al-Farouq Aminu and Nurkic to make plays, something they were not very comfortable with. The game is trending away from his skillset, so unless he develops a functional jumper he could lose minutes to Zach Collins and the Blazers are a team that could decide to go into a different, younger direction if things don’t go as planned.
Ricky Rubio SG, 27 years old, Spain
I’m bullish on Ricky Rubio after a year in which he struggled to communicate with his coach while trying to adjust to playing off-ball for the first time in his career (due to the emergence of Donovan Mitchell). After a rocky start he shot a career-best 41.8 percent from the field and 35.2 percent from the 3-point line, understanding his place in Utah. I’m not at all worried about Dante Exum cutting into his minutes as the Jazz will play the young Aussie in the small forward position as well. Rubio will enter the season playing for the same coach for the first time ever during his tenure in the NBA and at only 27 years of age he might be entering the prime of his career.
Dante Exum, G, 23 years old, Australia
Dante Exum has struggled badly to stay healthy in his short career but he finally might be ready for a breakout year. He looked pretty solid in the playoffs, particularly on defense, but he still had some issues finishing at the rim, handling the ball and being consistent with his shot. With a full and healthy offseason under his belt along with a new contract and the confidence that the Jazz have his back entirely, the stage is set for Dante to make that leap. Quin Snyder and Exum himself have alluded to the possibility of a three-guard lineup featuring the young Aussie at the three – something that goes to show that the organization feels he’s ready for big minutes.
Rudy Gobert, C, 26 years old, France
Gobert’s durability is in question after a year in which he missed multiple games due to knee issues and owners might be hesitant to take him in the first few rounds. He isn’t much of a scorer and his free throw percentage will hurt your team but he remains a top-3 defensive player and his rebounds and blocks will be elite again. I wouldn’t let him slip past the fourth round though.
Raul Neto, PG, 26 years old, Brazil
Neto is a fringe NBA player but he managed to find a role with the Jazz the last couple seasons mainly due to an accumulation of injuries in their backcourt. He will remain the third string point guard this year as an insurance policy and even if he finds his way into some minutes he has no fantasy value.
Thabo Sefolosha, G/F, 34 years old, Switzerland
Sefolosha quietly had a steady fantasy year before spraining his MCL, averaging 8.2 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 0.8 3-pointers. The Jazz will rely on Crowder and Royce O’Neale to begin the year but there are still minutes available for him and he will likely emerge with deep league value at some point during the long season.
Thank you for checking out this article and please visit us again next week in our last part of our mini feature where we will examine the international 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.