October 26, 2019, 2:47 am
Happy NBA season Hoop Ballers and welcome to the final part of our International Spotlight mini preview feature where we take a look at all the international talent around the league and their season outlook. Tuesday kicked off what looks to be another exciting season and the fantasy community is anxiously waiting to see who are the risers and fallers in the league this year.
Nikola Jokic continues to look like the least-athletic big man every time he steps on the court but his all-around game remains elite.
Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis are developing another formidable NBA duo in Dallas while the Pelicans have gotten themselves a baller in Nicolo Melli.
Here is a look into the Pacific Division.
Golden State Warriors
Alen Smailagic, PF/C, 19 years old, Serbia
The Warriors were never shy about being enamored with Alen Smailagic, a tough, unknown kid from Serbia that spent all of last year with their G League affiliate, the Santa Cruz Warriors.
Golden State actually had to trade for the No. 39 pick, fearing that someone would grab him as the team was as high as anyone else on him.
Smailagic is a very interesting prospect and after watching some of his tape from last year I can definitely see the defensive potential but it is certain that he will need time before he is ready to step on the NBA court and become a regular contributor.
Smiley has a decent outside shot and elevation at the rim even though he doesn’t possess elite size or athleticism, so he projects as a stretch big who uses his basketball IQ to compensate for the lack of physical gifts. He did average 0.9 steals and 0.9 blocks in the G League last year so he is someone that you should keep an eye on in dynasty leagues as he could be a source of money counter stats.
Ivica Zubac, C, 22 years old, Croatia
Zubac returned to the Clippers on a four-year contract worth $28 million after last year’s midseason trade with the Lakers and he seems to be another key part in their effort to build a contender in Los Angeles.
The Croatian center is just 22 years old and he doesn’t lack work ethic, so the team is counting on him to become better while playing with a very talented group of guys that now includes Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.
Zubac will be hitting the glass on both ends of the floor and he just has to not screw up defensively and not constantly get burned on high screen-and-rolls. The Clippers have one of, if not the best, bench in the league and Zubac will start with Montrezl Harrell coming off the bench so I expect him to get around 20 minutes a night.
He is not standard-league material but I can see him being a moderate source of points, rebounds and blocks in deeper leagues with the perk of delivering good percentages from the field and the free throw line.
Los Angeles Lakers
Kostas Antetokounmpo, F, 21 years old, Greece
Kostas spent almost the entire season in the G League last year where the Mavs experimented with him as the five, but he failed to show significant improvement, struggling with his shot, failing to spread the floor and turning the ball over too much, leading to his release in the offseason.
The Raptors were rumored to be after him but the Lakers put in a waiver claim and were able to grab him for reasons that are definitely not basketball-related – at least for this season. His brother Giannis is a free agent in 2021 and teams are likely to use all means of recruiting in order to lure him away from the Bucks.
Kostas, meanwhile, still lacks the skills to properly use his athletic frame in order to develop his defensive potential and I’m not very high on his ability to become a contributor anytime soon, but I’m looking forward to seeing what steps Coby Carl and the South Bay Lakers take this year in order to help him develop his game.
Aron Baynes, 32 years old, Australia
The Suns made a series of questionable moves, at best, during draft night but they were also able to steal Aron Baynes from the Celtics who were simply trying to create some cap room. The 32-year-old center posted 5.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game last season for the Celtics, though he was limited to 51 games due to injury and he brings some much-needed toughness to Phoenix while undertaking the task of helping Deandre Ayton grow up defensively and become a top center in the league.
There was some talk in the preseason about Baynes playing together with Ayton but I simply don’t see it as the Suns have plenty of mobile forwards who can stretch the floor better than the Australian center. I expect him to see around 15 minutes per night and maybe even more if Ayton struggles with fouling and he is a deep-league option who could crack the top-200 if he is able to hit the 3-point shot more consistently, something that he showed in the FIBA World Cup where he had the green light and made 1.4 triples per game on .524 shooting.
Update: With Ayton suspended for the next 25 games Baynes will start for the Suns and it remains to be seen whether he can drive himself into standard-league consideration.
Cheick Diallo, PF, 23 years old, Mali
The Pelicans and David Griffin cut the cord on Cheick Diallo after three years in New Orleans where he played mostly behind seasoned veterans and showed glimpses of his talent in late-season appearances.
Diallo was picked up by the Suns as an insurance third-string big and I don’t see a path to any minutes unless the injury bug hits Phoenix. The young Malian has failed to become a rim protector and he is destined to play mostly as a power forward but he lacks the perimeter touch that could make him valuable in today’s modern style of NBA. He is still young, however, and I’m looking forward to seeing whether he can take another step in his development in Phoenix.
Elie Okobo, G, 20 years old, France
Okobo had a forgettable summer, playing in four Summer League games where he went pretty much unnoticed while failing to make the cut with his French national team and not participating in the FIBA World Cup.
The Suns signed Ricky Rubio and shipped De’Anthony Melton to Memphis as the backup job looked to be up for grabs but the preseason has revealed that he is currently sitting behind Jevon Carter and rookie Ty Jerome. Okobo’s offensive game looks to have taken a small step forward in terms of running the offense and creating for his teammates as he showed the willingness to attack the basket instead of settling for the long jumper, something that could help his offensive consistency.
The issue is that he needs to have the ball in his hands in order to be efficient and the Suns are not committed to developing their young guys so a change of scenery is necessary for the French guard if he is to gain any fantasy value.
Ricky Rubio SG, 28 years old, Spain
I was bullish on Rubio last year, and even though the Spaniard adjusted to playing off-ball next to ball-dominant guards like Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles, the Jazz failed him by asking him to shoot too much, as evidenced by the career-highs in field goal attempts (10.7) and 3-point attempts (3.7). Rubio shot just .404 from the field and a brutal .311 from behind the arc, and while his assists did go up (6.1) he delivered borderline top-125 value for the season.
The move to Phoenix looks like a nice fit on paper as Rubio will simply be asked to deliver the ball to plenty of mouths that need to be fed, from Devin Booker and Kelly Oubre to Ayton and Dario Saric. I can see his assists increasing and his efficiency recovering but it will likely take a while until all the pieces learn to play together under Monty Williams.
Rubio appears to be entering the prime of his career, coming off a FIBA World Cup Tournament where he claimed the MVP trophy in leading Spain to the gold medal, while he has been adamant about becoming more of a vocal leader with a young Suns squad and the hope is that he will finally find his Ithaca.
Dario Saric, PF, 25 years old, Croatia
Saric took a step back last year getting off to a slow start with the Sixers and then struggling to find his role with the Wolves after a mid-season trade. Minnesota played him off the bench, opting to go with Taj Gibson next to KAT instead and the Croatian forward seemed lost and out of place during his short stint there.
Coming into the training camp, the Suns were very high on Saric, raving about him being in great shape and ready for a bounce-back season but I was surprised there was no talk about him agreeing to a potential contract extension on his rookie scale deal.
On the fantasy level, the Homie is an underrated passer and rebounder but his percentages will be what determine his value as he has to shoot better, especially from behind the arc. The presence of Rubio guarantees that he will get his shots but don’t expect much else and especially any defensive numbers.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG, 27 years old, Serbia
After a slow start to the season due to a knee injury, Bogdanovic recovered quickly on his way to a great sophomore year in the NBA where he was able to play 70 games and see a statistical increase in almost all of his categories. Playing off the bench, he proved to be a crucial secondary ball-handler who could also create shots for himself, a rare trait in today’s game.
After an offseason in which the Kings paid Harrison Barnes and extended Buddy Hield, BB8 might soon be the odd man out for no-basketball related reasons. Sacramento has reportedly offered to extend him but Bogdanovic has been hesitant to do so, understanding his value in an upcoming free agency that looks to be extremely weak. His role is expected to stay the same and he will get plenty of shots under coach Luke Walton, who has emphasized the intention to take more triples this year as a team.
Bogdan will have standard-league value and I’m trying to buy as much stock as I can in all dynasty leagues as the opportunity is there for him to land on another team with a much bigger role.
Nemanja Bjelica, F, 31 years old, Serbia
Bjelica started in 70 games for the Kings last year, delivering 1.3 triples, 0.7 steals and 0.7 blocks on top of career-highs in points (9.6), rebounds (5.8), assists (1.9) and field goal percentage (.479). It was a weird showing as he constantly struggled on the defensive end but his long-range shooting combined with his size and the lack of a deep roster made him a necessity.
The Serbian big will be coming off the bench this year while Sacramento has added considerable depth at the forward position with the additions of Trevor Ariza and Richaun Holmes. I could see the Kings phasing him out of the rotation at some point this year but I expect him to compete with Harry Giles for those backup minutes. You should keep an eye on him because if he keeps getting 20 minutes per night, he is able to stuff the stat sheet with all kinds of numbers.
Update: With Marvin Bagley out for the next 4-6 weeks Bjelica is back at it and he will be starting for the Kings so I expect him to continue being relevant, even in standard leagues.
Thank you for following our international preview and please continue to check us throughout the upcoming season. 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.