American basketball fans usually have a pretty solid understanding of the collegiate players in any NBA draft class. The international prospects are more of a mystery. They provide a unique twist and make the evaluation process a little trickier for front offices.
The two key areas of concern are how a player's skill set will translate to the NBA game and how long it will be before they are ready to make an impact. In this year's class, there are two players that stand out from the rest as potential stars.
Australia's Dante Exum leads the pack and has a realistic chance of landing inside the top five on draft day. Let's take a closer look at him and the other top international prospects on the board.
1. Dante Exum, PG/SG, Australia
No player is generating more early hype than Exum. The Australian combo guard is just 18, but his combination of size, athleticism and ability to attack the rim is awe-inspiring. He's certainly still rough around the edges, which isn't a surprise, but his potential is off the charts.
Unlike several of his fellow top prospects, he attended the NBA combine. He didn't partake in all of the drills, but even the simple measurements and athletic testing were enough to draw rave reviews. Chad Ford of ESPN passed along the eye-popping basic information:
Dante Exum measured 6-6 in shoes, 196 pounds with a 6'9.75 wingspan. That's huge for a NBA PG.— Chad Ford (@chadfordinsider) May 15, 2014
Players of his size usually don't have the quickness and agility necessary to handle a prototypical point guard role. Exum does, and it's going to serve as an advantage on both ends of the court. It should also help in terms of versatility, as he can play as a 2-guard or potentially even a small forward.
The one thing he really needs to work on is his jump shot. He's been inconsistent with his outside shot, and NBA coaching staffs will key in on that should he fail to show improvement. But otherwise, all the tools are in place for him to become a top-five pick and an NBA star.
2. Dario Saric, SF/PF, Croatia
Saric is one of the most well-rounded prospects in the entire class. He doesn't possess the athletic upside of other potential lottery picks, but he can shoot, defend and rebound from either forward spot. The 20-year-old Croatian also sports a high basketball IQ.
His polished offensive game will come in handy in the NBA. Depending on where he lands, he could be asked to play either as a natural power forward in the post or as a stretch 4 capable of spreading the defense by knocking down mid-range shots. He can handle either role.
If a team wants to go with a bigger lineup, he can play as a small forward. In that scenario, he'll be able to use his size and post moves to gain advantages on the offensive end. And one thing he doesn't lack is confidence, as shown in remarks provided by Jonathan Givony of Draft Express:
Dario Saric: "All guys that are in this draft, Parker, Wiggins, etc would not be able to do with this team, what I did this season."— Jonathan Givony (@DraftExpress) April 28, 2014
Although his offensive game is ready to roll, the same can't be said about Saric's defense. He's very average at that end of the floor and his lack of top-end athleticism will make it even tougher for him in the NBA. He must work to become more reliable on that end to reach peak value.
3. Vasilije Micic, PG, Serbia
Outside of the top two, there's far more uncertainty when it comes to the international prospects. Jusuf Nurkic or Clint Capela could have easily landed in this spot, but Micic gets the nod because there's more certainty about how he projects on the NBA level.
Who will be the best international player from the 2014 class?
Micic's ability to control an offense is extremely advanced for a 20-year-old player. He's not an elite scorer, but he's an outstanding distributor. That's why you'll see a lot of comparisons between him and Dallas Mavericks point guard Jose Calderon leading up to draft day.
Aside from running an offense, he also has good length (6'5''). That should help him immensely on the defensive end while working against quicker guards. He isn't a top-notch defender, but the size will help limit concerns on that end of the floor.
He isn't a great pure shooter, but Calderon has shown it's possible to make a notable impact without excelling in that area. Expect Micic to follow a similar path. If he does become a better shooter, he'll exceed the value of his draft spot, which will probably be the second half of Round 1.