• 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 Division where the Celtics are set to feature a brand new international group of centers with Enes Kanter, Daniel Theis and Vincent Poirier and the Central Division where Tomas Satoransky is expected to lead the young Chicago Bulls in their effort to become a cohesive group that will content for the playoffs.

    Here is a closer look into the Southeast Division:

    Atlanta Hawks

    Bruno Fernando, C, 21 years old, Angola

    The Angolan center impressed with his energy and shot blocking ability in Las Vegas Summer League, finishing second in blocks per game at 3.3, but his offensive game is still a work in progress. As we enter training camp, it’s unclear whether the Hawks plan to use John Collins as a center in small ball schemes or go with a traditional approach, but the departure of Dewayne Dedmon and the fact that Alex Len has never proved to be a reliable option leave some minutes to be claimed – especially if injuries hit the Hawks again.

    Fernando is a guy I’m definitely looking at in dynasty leagues as someone who can provide defensive stats but not much should be expected of him in redraft leagues this year.

    Charlotte Hornets

    Nicolas Batum, SF, 30 years old, France

    Batum continued his statistical regression last year as the Hornets simply took the ball away from him and he ended up being mostly a spectator as Kemba Walker dominated the offensive possessions. The French swingman still managed to play 31.4 minutes per game while the low usage helped him maintain good percentages and low turnovers, returning top-100 value to end the year.

    The departure of Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb provided some optimism which was quickly evaporated after head coach James Borrego made it clear that the Hornets are going to prioritize youth player development. I still expect Batum to start next to Terry Rozier and Dwayne Bacon but I don’t anticipate a change in his fantasy value and he should be an option only in the later rounds of the draft.

    He still has a couple more years in the 5-year/$120 million deal he signed back in 2016 and he looked healthy at the FIBA World Cup so there is a chance he climbs back to the middle rounds if he finds himself in the right environment.

    Bismack Biyombo, C, 27 years old, DR of Congo

    Biyombo struggled to provide any short of consistency last year while missing time with knee issues that forced him to eventually have arthroscopic surgery in May. The Congolese center seems to be an afterthought in today’s NBA style of play that is phasing out big bodies who cannot stretch the floor enough.

    The Hornets seem committed to Cody Zeller as their starter while Willy Hernangomez should have the nod as the first big off then bench, leaving Biyombo buried deep in the rotation. Still, Zeller has struggled to stay healthy when given big minutes and Hernangomez remains a bad rim protector, so it’s not completely out of question that Biyombo steps into a more prominent role at some point during the season. He is definitely not worth drafting in standard leagues though.

    Willy Hernangomez, C, 25 years old, Spain

    Hernangomez might be getting another opportunity in Charlotte with the youth movement in full effect but it’s hard to get excited as long as he remains a below-average contributor on the defensive side of the floor. The Spaniard continued to have many individual bad moments defensively, something that shouldn’t occur to a player with respectable pro experience. He was a spectator in pick-and-roll coverage and struggled to close out on his opponents on the perimeter.

    Watching him in the FIBA World Cup it was clear that he added some muscle, while his frame looked considerably thinner. This is crucial since, if the optics do tell the entire story, he might be ready to finally take the next step in his career. Willy has always been heavy-footed and slow laterally, issues that hindered him especially in the NBA, compounded by an apparent lack of effort where he would watch opposing ball-handlers finish at the basket when he should have been contesting the shot.

    Training camp will tell us a lot as, if he is able to secure the backup job, there will be a path to 15-20 minutes, something that could boost his value since his per-48 stats have always been solid.

    Miami Heat

    Goran Dragic, PG, 33 years old, Slovenia

    The Dragon’s follow-up season after becoming an All-Star was a disaster as he struggled to remain healthy  even after announcing his retirement from the Slovenian national and spending the summer getting some much-needed rest while working on improving his balance, his footwork and his dribbling.

    His points per game and percentages regressed but his triples, assists and steals remained steady, validating his upside even at this age. The Heat almost traded him to the Mavs this offseason and it’s likely that they continue to shop his expiring contract, leaving his status up in the air. Dragic is expected to compete with Justise Winslow for the starting point guard job but even if he comes off the bench he could have value as long as he remains healthy. He is in shape to beat his ADP and he could be a candidate for a bounce-back season like the one Danilo Gallinari had last year.

    Orlando Magic

    Al-Farouq Aminu, SF/PF, 29 years old, Nigeria

    Lots of people were surprised when the Magic decided to offer the full mid-level exception to the Chief but this was a move that actually made sense on a lot of levels. Jonathan Isaac has struggled to remain healthy the last couple seasons and Aminu will able to provide depth at both forward positions. It’s not still clear whether Aaron Gordon belongs to the young core that the team wants to move forward; AG was not drafted by the current regime and has a very affordable deal so don’t be surprised if the team moves on from him for the right price.

    The Magic based their success last year in the steady constitution of veterans like Terrence Ross and Aminu will be another old cat that helps their team defense while providing on- and off-court leadership. Fantasy-wise he is expected to take a hit, coming off the bench and playing less than the 28.3 minutes he logged last year with the Blazers, so managers should treat him as deep-league option and not a standard-league asset.

    Evan Fournier, SG, 26 years old, France

    Fournier regressed last year after a career year in the 2017-18 season as the Magic, due to the lack of another option, were forced to put the ball in his hands and asked him to break down defenses on his own. This led to a drop in his percentages, as he shot 43.8 from the field and a career-low 34 percent from behind the arc while he did commit 1.9 turnovers per game but also a career-high 2.6 assists.

    The Magic do believe in the French guard and Fournier had an impressive performance with his national team at the FIBA World Cup, hitting clutch shots and becoming the scoring leader on a team where he was asked to carry the offensive burden just like in Orlando.

    The Magic did not make a splash in the offseason and their game plan is expected to pretty much be the same so the hope is that Fournier improves his percentages but you really shouldn’t count on it. This is a group of players that will be counting on continuity and there is room for optimism about familiarity working to his advantage so Fournier should be treated as a safe option in the later rounds of the draft.

    Nikola Vucevic, C, 28 years old, Montenegro

    Vuc was by far the biggest ADP jumper last year, putting on a monster top-15 fantasy season and averaging 1.0 steals, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 3-pointers on 52 percent from the field. Some will say that this type of performance was due to the fact that he was in a contract year but the truth of the matter is that Steve Clifford managed to get the most out of his starting center, challenging him to become a better defensive player and rewarding him with the green light to shoot from anywhere on the court.

    Vuc has now averaged a steal, a block and a triple in back-to-back seasons and the only statistical regression I could see is his rebounds dropping after a career-high 12.0 last season. The Magic gave the Montenegrin a fat $100 million contract this offseason and he will continue to be the epicenter of their offense so he should be treated as a second-rounder.

    Khem Birch, C, 27 years old, Canada

    The Canadian big man became a fan favorite in Orlando last year, establishing himself as a quality rotation guy. He proved to be a defensive anchor for the team’s second unit, forcing the coaching staff to play him even more and he really capitalized on the opportunity after Mo Bamba was lost for the year. Still his fantasy value was very pedestrian as he averaged just 4.7 rebounds, 0.4 steals and 0.7 blocks over the 29 contests where he replaced the rookie.

    The Magic enter training camp this year with the focus again on developing their young talent and Bamba seems to have the edge over Birch even if he hasn’t really earned it. Birch will remain the third-string center for Orlando, while the signing of Al-Farouq Aminu means that the Canadian big will play exclusively as a backup to Nikola Vucevic and Bamba.

    Washington Wizards

    Davis Bertans, F, 26 years old, Latvia

    Bertans ended up being collateral damage when the Spurs appeared to have a deal in place with Marcus Morris and had to manufacture the necessary cap space to sign the him, so the Wizards capitalized on the opportunity to trade for the 6’10”, 3-point sniper.

    With Troy Brown expected to be sidelined to begin the season, Davis looks to be on track for heavy minutes and likely a starting role, making him an interesting flier in the late rounds of the draft this year. The Latvian forward played 21.5 minutes last season with the Spurs and his efficiency is likely to take a hit if the Wizards turn to him for more scoring but he has a nice stat set and offers valuable cash counters so you should absolutely have him on your radar this year.

    Rui Hachimura, PF, 21 years old, Japan

    Hachimura became the first ever Japanese-born first-round draft pick when he was selected No. 9 overall by the Wizards this summer and the kid has already impressed on and off the court with his smooth game and personality. The Wizards liked what they saw in him, contrary to plenty of scouts who believe he is an undersized, one-dimensional talent.

    The ex-Gonzaga star didn’t disappoint in Summer League, flashing a smooth-looking jumper and expanded range in his shot while putting his mark on the defensive end of the floor. The lack of defensive stats at the collegiate level is troublesome but he is a great kid and a late bloomer so I do expect him to surprise a lot of people in his rookie season. Draft him with confidence as a late-round flier as the Wizards likely won’t have much to showcase this year other than their rookie.

    Moritz Wagner, PF/C, 22 years old, Germany

    Wagner is coming off an underwhelming summer after showing up out of shape in Las Vegas and failing to make the cut for his national team that competed at the FIBA World Cup in China. Fortunately for him he was traded to the Wizards, who really liked him since last year and are entering a semi-rebuilding timeline due to the brutal injury of John Wall.

    The German big should see plenty of minutes this season especially after the Wizards didn’t re-sign Bobby Portis, Jabari Parker or Jeff Green and shipped Dwight Howard out of town. Still, expectations should be tempered as he struggles with his percentages, he is not an elite rebounder and doesn’t produce defensive stats.

    Isaac Bonga, G/F, 19 years old, Germany

    Bonga is still a relative unknown after spending his rookie year in the G-League getting accustomed to the the game at the NBA level. His Summer League performance was encouraging as he demonstrated his ability to get to the rim and showed flashes of becoming a dynamic defensive player.

    The Wizards let Tomas Satoransky walk in free agency and part of the reason that happened is that they want to see what they have in the German combo guard/forward. Bonga is another player who should be on your radar in deep leagues this year since he is likely to receive minutes as the Wizards try to see what they have in him.

    Thank you for reading this article and please check us back again next week as we examine the international players in the Southwest 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.

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