By signing a deal with Anadolu Efes, a Turkish team that—obviously—isn't in the NBA, Dario Saric suddenly became even more mysterious.
The Croatian forward was already quite intriguing, seeing as he was shrouded in both uncertainty and upside even before Sportando confirmed this signing.
On one hand, there wasn't as defined a scouting profile on him as we typically see for other potential lottery picks, especially since he'd spent his pre-NBA draft career playing for Cibona, among other international teams. However, he's also an incredibly talented prospect, the rare big man who is a versatile perimeter and interior player.
But he won't be joining the NBA anytime soon.
As ESPN's Chad Ford, who originally broke the news, reports, "The move will essentially prohibit Saric from playing in the NBA for a minimum of two years, the source added."
Well, that changes things. In a draft class this strong, having a highly touted lottery prospect wait until the 2016-17 season to join the Association is a strong deterrent.
It's essentially a variant of the classic decision between one cookie now or two cookies later. Except this time, NBA general managers are locked in a room with one highly appealing cookie (other first-round picks) and being asked if they want to wait over two years for two cookies whose flavors are largely unknown.
Is it worth it?
The Fran Vazquez Situation
Apologies, Orlando Magic fans.
Fran Vazquez was an impressive Spanish prospect who was selected by Orlando at No. 11 in the 2005 NBA draft. Ironically, that's the spot so many mock drafts have Saric going, this time to the Denver Nuggets.
Just about a month after the draft, this sentence appeared on the Orlando Sentinel's official website: "The Orlando Magic are disputing a report on a Spanish-language publication/website that first-round draft pick Fran Vazquez may play for Real Madrid in his native Spain instead of coming to the NBA this season."
"We fully expect him to be in our training camp this fall,'' explained Scott Herring, the team's director of basketball administration. "We've been in contact with his agent almost daily, and we've heard nothing that would lead us in that direction. That would be 180 degrees different from what we've been hearing.''
Well, Vazquez remained pointed 180 degrees away from the Magic, which is what's made him such a painful draft bust for Orlando to think back upon. It's one thing to flame out in the NBA; it's another thing entirely to avoid throwing on the uniform and at least giving it a shot.
Since 2005, Vaquez has played for CB Girona (now known as CB Sant Josep), FC Barcelona and Unicaja Malaga, which currently rosters him. Not once has he made it across the pond to ply his trade for the Magic.
That's the ultimate worry for team's thinking about drafting Saric.
What if he's a complete waste of a lottery pick? Can they afford for him to remain overseas throughout his entire prime? He carries no guarantee of using the opt-out clause in the third season, after all, and he wouldn't be the first to remain in the league he's so comfortable dominating.
Even if he does decide to come stateside, that's still two years down the road. And that's where the strength of this draft class comes into play.
Had Saric declared for the 2013 NBA draft and remained in the proceedings, he likely would've been competing for a top-five spot. Maybe one in the top 10 once the news broke that he would be staying abroad for at least two more years.
But last year's class was viewed as a historically weak one. This is the exact opposite, thanks to both the strength at the very top and the perceived depth.
"At this point, it's impossible to project exact depth, considering we don't even know who'll be declaring or returning to school," wrote Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman back in January. "But if everyone signs up? Man, this could be a first round loaded with long-term starters and possible All-Stars."
Well, most everyone that was expected to declare did end up declaring for the draft, which gives validity to the NBA Draft Lead Writer's follow-up statement. There are potential All-Stars hanging around outside the lottery, which gives this draft a unique feel and makes it even harder to justify failing to take one of them over Saric, even if the latter is higher on a context-free big board.
Vazquez has to be dancing around in the minds of GMs, even if other players—Toni Kukoc and Ricky Rubio, for example—have waited to come over to the NBA and then experienced success.
Only a Slight Deterrent
Will Saric's stock be affected by his decision? Absolutely.
Just not too much.
It will only prove to be a slight hindrance, as his sheer level of talent will eventually trump the concerns. Risk-taking is an acceptable strategy during the draft, especially because the way to "win" the proceedings is by doing the best job balancing risk and reward.
Saric's risk might have risen even higher, sure. But his reward remains tantalizingly high, which is presumably one of the reasons Ford's report claims that the Croatian forward won't be slipping too far:
NBA sources say that Saric's decision to stay in Europe will affect his draft stock. He was getting looks as high as the 76ers at No. 10, the Nuggets at 11 and the Magic at 12. However, because he's unlikely to come to the NBA for at least two years, those teams are now hesitating to draft him that high.
However, it's possible that Saric won't slide too far. Sources say the Hawks at 15, the Celtics at 17, the Suns at 18 and the Bulls at 19 are all looking at Saric and are more comfortable drafting him and keeping him in Europe for the next two seasons. The Celtics, Suns and Bulls all have multiple picks in this year's draft.
The Philadelphia 76ers, Denver Nuggets and Magic have other needs, which makes it unlikely they'd pass up a lottery prospect for Saric. Orlando in particular, for reasons explained earlier, has good reason to fear a delayed arrival.
Even though there's only a slight difference between No. 12 and No. 15 from a numerical standpoint, there's a large perception gap because of that lotto tag.
The Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Phoenix Suns and Chicago Bulls, all of which could use a versatile, floor-spacing, ball-handling forward like this 20-year-old prospect, aren't in the lottery. And they each have extenuating circumstances that could make him more appealing.
The Hawks are expecting Lucas Nogueira, a first-round pick last year who spent the 2013-14 season abroad, to join the team, which will also be bolstered by the return of Al Horford. Immediate additions aren't needed to make this team even more competitive.
The C's are more interested in rebuilding through free agency and trades than the draft, and they're also going to be using the No. 6 selection on a prospect ready to contribute right away.
As for the Suns, they have roughly 1,652 first-round picks in the next few years, so they can afford to use one on a high-upside prospect who won't make his debut for a couple seasons. At some point, having too many rookies is a bad thing.
Finally, the Bulls are courting elite free agents like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony. They are also trying to complete a buyout that would bring Nikola Mirotic, a former first-round pick and one of the best players in Europe, over to the Windy City. Why not add another delayed arrival when an immediate one isn't needed?
Once you get outside the lottery, the teams doing the drafting start getting better. The needs are less urgent, and the rosters are more complete. For the most part, at least.
Let's also not forget that playing abroad gives Saric a chance to hone his skills and ease the eventual transition to the Association, as Bleacher Report's Kenny DeJohn makes clear:
Although teams might be skeptical of investing a pick early in Round 1 on somebody who might not contribute for two years, his decision is a smart one. Two years with Anadolu will give him the time necessary to hone his skills against better competition. He is also still just 20 years old, so a couple of years to mature overseas would allow him to further fill out his frame (6'10", 223 lbs) before stepping into a much more physical league.
Playing in Europe will also give him a chance to improve his shooting mechanics. While a productive scorer, he lacks the touch to find the bottom of the net consistently—especially from deep. The NBA three-point line is more than three feet farther from the hoop than the Adriatic League arc, so there will be an adjustment period.
That's one of many reasons why Saric, a top-10 talent by most accounts, is worth the risk. Not only are the teams that could be drafting him in the middle of the first round prepared to wait on a later ETA—for the most part, at least—but he's also going to get better by playing in Istanbul rather than floundering on the bench of a team in the sport's most competitive league.
He could very well be that one missing piece that completes a championship roster, even if delayed gratification is necessary.
Teams in the lottery might pass up on two cookies later for the appealing one in the present, but Saric won't be slipping past the teams that already have their pantries stuffed with baked goods.