Though his entry didn't create a Trey Burke-level amount of fervor on the mainstream, Brazilian center Lucas Nogueira should become one of the hottest names in the weeks leading up to the 2013 NBA draft.
Nogueira, who currently plays for Asefa Estudiantes of the ACB in Spain, declared himself eligible for the draft on Wednesday, per Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski.
Draft projections vary on Nogueira: ESPN's Chad Ford has him a second-round pick at best. Draft Express has him as 29th on their prospect list, while NBADraft.net is most bullish on his prospects, having him going No. 20 overall on their mock draft.
While his placement varies, those experts all agree on one thing: Nogueira has star potential. Nearly seven feet tall, Nogueira has an athleticism that ranges from elite to jaw dropping. He has the ability to block just about any shot and command the paint with his 7'6" wingspan. Though Nogueira is raw, he's the type of moldable talent who could change a franchise with good coaching.
Nogueira's name first popped up on the NBA radar after he wowed scouts at the Under-18 FIBA championships back in 2010. The then-17-year-old center dominated the tournament and looked like arguably the best European of his age class.
However, Nogueira has since developed a reputation as a bit of an enigma. His play at camps for top prospects and European players was up and down to say the least. One minute he would look like the next Dikembe Mutombo and the next a Mouhamed Saer Sene-level bust.
In other words, Nogueira's game was raw, especially on offense. That didn't bother scouts, though, as much as his propensity for goofing off on the court. An NBA scout talked to DraftExpress' Bradley Thayer back in 2011 at EuroCamp about Nogueira's progress:
“[he's] So raw…So raw…and he's out there on the court laughing with all the guys – it's like, ‘get serious,' ” said the scout.
Nogueira did himself no favors during the 2011 NBA draft process. The teenager submitted his name along with future Euro lottery selections Donatas Motiejunas and Bismack Biyombo, only to pull out at the very last minute.
Though plenty of Euros vacillate on their decision to enter the draft, Nogueira's pre-draft process was more reputation-affirming than anything else. His consistency level was not nearly strong enough for teams to use a first-round pick on him and the guaranteed contract that comes with it. While he was just old enough to buy a pack of cigarettes in the U.S., Nogueira was seen as being far from ready for the NBA lifestyle.
At the time Nogueria pulled out of the 2011 draft, Howard Scott-Cooper of NBA.com reported that the young center was planning to reenter the following year, but that never came to fruition. Over the past two years, Nogueira stayed on the radars of NBA teams but always somewhere on the back burner. Everyone knew his name would surface for a future draft, but knowing that Nogueira couldn't pull out a second time, no one knew for sure what year that would be.
Now that we do know, it's time to reevaluate where Nogueira stands with this 2013 class.
Though his name has been entered, and NBA rules prevent him from withdrawing again, that doesn't necessarily mean he's on an NBA roster this Halloween. He can decide to stay over in Spain to develop while an NBA team keeps his rights.
When talking about his potential NBA future earlier this year, Nogueira seemed to be leaning toward staying overseas.
We've learned by now to take all public comments with a grain of salt. Nogueira wasn't going to say, "I'm getting the heck out of this place ASAP" to a Spanish-language publication. But more than likely, we can at least take Nogueira's comments somewhat at face value and see him as a potential draft-and-stash player for late first-round teams.
A quick look at the draft landscape shows that drafting and stashing a player with Nogueira's potential may be more desirable than taking any collegiate prospect who may be on the board then. Nogueira is entering the weakest pool of prospects in recent memory.
The 2013 class has been oft-compared to the one 13 years prior, and not just because the top picks (Kenyon Martin in 2000 and likely Nerlens Noel in 2013) both had crippling leg injuries. This is a crop of players filled with massive question marks at the top, with no entrant being seen as a guaranteed superstar. And things get ugly quick in terms of depth as well, so this isn't even a class that is simply swimming in mediocrity, either.
As the draft board dwindles in June, a potential future All-Defensive player like Nogueira will become increasingly attractive. Not only will his upside be greater than most other players around in the 20s, but teams won't have to pay him instantly—a key factor in this new luxury-tax averse NBA society.
Of course, the first team that instantly pops to mind with any non-American player is the San Antonio Spurs. From Tony Parker to Manu Ginobili to Tiago Splitter and others, San Antonio is a franchise with a robust reputation for plucking Euros and making them stars. With Tim Duncan turning 37 later this month, Nogueira could be the first part of a long-term contingency plan.
Nevertheless, come draft day San Antonio could have some competition for Nogueira—especially among teams with multiple first-round picks. Minnesota, Atlanta, Oklahoma City, Utah and Phoenix all have second draft picks in the latter half of the first round, and each could use a big man to varying degrees.
From a pure fit perspective the most intriguing of those options is Oklahoma City. The Thunder need a long-term replacement for Kendrick Perkins in the middle, and their work developing Serge Ibaka has been fantastic.
Before any of this consideration actually bears fruit, Nogueira has to prove himself. He'll need to bang bodies down low against other big men in this class and prove that he won't be completely overpowered at the next level. He'll have to show improvement offensively.
And most importantly, he'll have to make scouts fall back in love with those flashes of superstardom. There are plenty of players who can look competent down low, but the ascendent-looking players who boast a 7'6" wingspan and the ability to jump out of the gym are a select few.
Nogueira's potential for greatness makes him a first-round prospect. He just has to actually show it this time around.
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