The 2011 NBA Draft is still going on as of this writing, but with the amazing amount of Continental players going early and often – a direct contrast to last year’s greatly Europe-bereft selections – BallinEurope gets in a quick two Eurocents with a brief look at (and YouTube clips of) the first seven players prospectively going to America to begin a career in the big league.
Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz – In a draft without scads of marquee players, it’s not too surprising that the biggest X-factor on the list was drafted so quickly. Kanter, he who spent his entire season watching University of Kentucky games from the stands thanks to an NCAA ruling of ineligibility, is certain to land a nice deal in Utah. The Jazz interestingly enough still went with Kanter despite the Turk’s declining of a pre-draft combine interview with the team.
At 6’11” and 259 pounds with the skill set of a shooting forward, Kanter may someday go down as the steal – at no. 3, no less – of this NBA draft. The optimists in the basketball world shrug off his lack of play in the last two seasons when observing Kanter’s raw skills, but there is perhaps no single player who dreads a lockout more than Kanter; could he really go another season without competing against top-level American ballers and expect his career to continue on an upward trajectory?
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors – This year’s top pick from basketball nirvana Lithuania stormed up draft boards throughout the speculation process to land at no. 5 with the Euroraptors. At 19 years old, Valanciunas is the personification of “upside” in this draft, but he’s already pretty damn good. For Lietuvos Rytas in 2010-11, Valanciunas demonstrated his ability to dominate the inside by shooting nearly 71% in Euroleague games and, speaking empirically, an uncanny ability to get into position in the paint.
As it stands, Valanciunas is slated as a center and so will probably end up on the depth chart behind Andrea Bargnani; however, one could easily imagine a tandem of Bargnani and Valanciunas together in the frontcourt to give the Raptors their requisite speed and jump-shooting ability but also size for what seems like the first time in the franchise’s existence.
Jan Vesely, Washington Wizards – After passing on last year’s draft to stick around another season with Partizan, Vesely appears to have made the right choice in waiting to land with the up-and-coming Wizards.
As the excellent Draft Express notes, the sole knock against Vesely in the short term has to do with the level of involvement in the past season: “Vesely’s usage rate ranks last amongst [prospects at forward for the 2011 NBA Draft] at just 10 possessions per game, which hints at the fairly limited role he played offensively for Partizan Belgrade this year.”
In the long run, NBA scouting types are naturally concerned with the same old bugaboo haunting European big men: The perceived lack of upper-body strength. We’ll see how Vesely might fit alongside the likes of Andray Blatche, Javale McGee, Yi Jianlian and Maurice Evans, but BiE wouldn’t be surprised to see Vesely get some work at the three spot when going tall. The best guess is, though, that Vesely will probably see limited time in 2011-12.
Nikola Vucevic, Philadelphia 76ers – Slated as a mid-first round pick in most mock drafts, that’s exactly where Vucevic ended up in going to the 76ers at no. 16 – after Philly management reportedly considered trading up a bit just to land him. Folks in Philadelphia are surely pleased with the choice of Vucevic, who will make for a much-needed addition in the frontcourt and might even be an opening-day starter with Elton Brand.
A European player who went the slightly more traditional route to the NBA through the NCAA, Vucevic was a PAC 10 first-teamer with USC last season, earning a double-double of 17.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
As for speculation on his 2011-12 season with the Sixers, those with the team have stated early that Vucevic will have to fight for playing time as part of the rotation; on the other hand, of all the European names taken in this year’s draft, Vucevic could well see the most playing time of any, excepting possibly Kanter. The Montenegrin should be considered the “wait and see” player of this draft, though BiE expects a long NBA career out of this guy.
Donatas Motiejunas, Houston Rockets (from Minnesota Timberwolves) – Once forecast as a top-five pick, Motiejunas sank in the draft pecking order pretty much right through to yesterday. For a brief while, Timberwolves fans might have been cheered by the fact that, in drafting Motiejunas, general manager David Kahn may finally have dropped his fascination with Darko Milicic, but alas, a trade instead brought over Nikola Mirotic from the Houston Rockets.
In a decent summary of the Lithuanian’s ability, a Bleacher Report story notes that “Motiejunas is the prototypical stretch 4, a power forward who can step out and knock down mid-range jumpers with regularity. He will struggle defensively and on the boards, but he can certainly put up points.” If a fair assessment, this makes Motiejunas a bit of a strange pick for the defense-first Rockets, but perhaps he’ll be a double-digit scorer in no time for Houston.
Nikola Mirotic, Chicago Bulls (from Minnesota Timberwolves through Houston Rockets) – The Bulls, who were a couple of games away from playing for the NBA championship last season, made moves to add yet another international to their UN of a roster.
At 20 years old and under contract with Real Madrid through 2015, Mirotic will likely not be playing NBA ball this fall and the Bulls trade is being seen by pundits as a purely financial move to avoid piling up big contracts in hopes of signing Derrick Rose for maximum money.
Bojan Bogdanovic, New Jersey Nets (from Miami Heat through Minnesota Timberwolves) – For a while there, Bogdanovic was thinking about seismic shifts. Bogdanovic, who amazed observers with his fantastic Euroleague regular-season performance for Cibona Zagreb, was at first thought to be moving from perhaps Europe’s biggest disappointment of 2010-11 to the defending Eastern Conference champs, but a couple of trades instead landed his rights in the laps of the New Jersey Nets.
It is not certain the Bogdanovic will be in New Jersey for the upcoming season, as he’s still under contract with Cibona and is just 22 years old, but Nets GM Billy King is optimistic about the Croatian’s future with the team: “We needed scoring, rebounding and toughness,” he told the Associated Press. “If we can get that from [draft day acquisitions Bogdanovic, Marshon Brooks, Jordan Williams], then it was a good draft.”
Including Bogdanovic, scoring in droves is indeed what the Nets could have landed. Playing on the hapless Zagreb side, Bogdanovic was good for over 20 points in 33-plus minutes per game in Croatian League play – including a nice 35.6% success rate on threes – and 18 points per in the Euroleague. BiE, for one, can’t wait to see this player in the NBA; here’s to thinking Bogdanovic will someday be considered the surprise of the second round in this draft.