This NBA Season's New International Names You Need to Know
There are hidden gems scattered overseas, and many of them can be had for pretty cheap.
The Chicago Bulls will be bringing over one of Europe's elite talents in Nikola Mirotic, who was drafted back in 2011 and has been seasoning abroad ever since.
Mirotic is expected to play a significant role in Chicago's rotation next season.
But he isn't the only international name with the chance to make an NBA impact in 2014-15.
Outside of Mirotic, here are seven other international players, some young, others older, who could do some damage next year.
Jusuf Nurkic, Denver Nuggets, 6'11", Center, Bosnia
Jusuf Nurkic just exploded onto the radar this past season, having gone from being viewed as an intriguing prospect at 2013 Eurocamp to a 2014 first-round lock.
The Denver Nuggets acquired him in a draft-day trade that saw them send the No. 11 pick to the Chicago Bulls in exchange for No. 16, which they used on Nurkic, and No. 19 (Gary Harris).
There really wasn't much more Nurkic could have done last season with his 16.6 minutes a game in the Adriatic League, which he led in Player Efficiency Rating, per DraftExpress. Per 40 minutes, he averaged 28.2 points and 13.7 rebounds on 54.5 percent shooting.
He wasn't too shabby in 15 Eurocup games either, finishing with per-40 averages of 23 points and 8.7 rebounds.
Standing 6'11", 280 pounds, you can't miss him out there. And despite his enormous size and frame, he's actually got some wheels. Nurkic moves well for a monster.
His game is predicated on using strength to gain position, footwork to separate and soft touch to convert. He can score with his back to the rim or rolling off picks toward the hoop, and if there's an opening, Nurkic has shown he's capable of putting it on the deck and attacking in line drives.
And regardless of where he's at fundamentally at the defensive end, he still takes up a ton of space, given his height, mass and 7'2" wingspan.
Nurkic might need something to happen to JaVale McGee or Timofey Mozgov in order to find consistent minutes, but over an 82-game season, chances are he'll eventually get a crack.
Think Nikola Pekovic with a slightly higher two-way ceiling.
Kostas Papanikolaou, Houston Rockets, 6'8", Small Forward, Greece
Kostas Papanikolaou's rights have been owned by three teams already since the New York Knicks drafted him back in 2012. New York quickly sent him to the Portland Trail Blazers, who then shipped him off to the Houston Rockets in a deal for Thomas Robinson.
He'll be entering the NBA with quite the resume, which dates back to 2008, when he led the Under-18 Greeks and won the European Championships. He did the same with the Under-20 team in 2009, when he was named MVP of the tournament.
Papanikolaou then went on to win the Euroleague championship with Olympiacos in 2012, when he dropped 18 points in the final game—a performance that just might have got him drafted a month later.
From there, he went on to win another Euroleague title in 2013 before signing with Barcelona, which would win the Liga ACB championship in 2014.
There's a theme here, and it involves winning.
Papanikolaou is a role player—there's nothing sexy about his game or statistics. There isn't any towering upside to tap into or potential to hit down the road.
An average athlete with little shot-creating ability, he's one of those opportunistic contributors who makes the right plays at the right times. Between his threatening shooting stroke, his terrific basketball IQ and sharp competitive edge, Papanikoloau projects as a glue guy meant to balance out a lineup.
And with Chandler Parsons now in Dallas, don't be surprised if the 24-year-old gets minutes as a rookie in Houston.
Damjan Rudez, Indiana Pacers, 6'10", Small Forward, Croatia
Nobody picked up Damjan Rudez in the 2008 NBA draft. Since then, he's established himself as one of the top shooters abroad.
Now 28 years old, the Indiana Pacers will look to Rudez for depth with their starting small forward, Paul George, lost for the season.
At 6'10", he's absolutely lethal from outside, where he sports a quick, high, concise release on his jumper.
And Rudez has range.
Playing with Cibona in 2011-12, he nailed 87 of 187 three-pointers (46.5 percent) over the course of 54 games. For CAI Zaragoza in 2012-13, he shot 42.2 percent from deep in 40 games.
And this past season, he simply lost consciousness. Rudez nailed 104 of 220 (47.3 percent) shots from behind the arc, including 28 of 54 (51.9 percent) through 16 Eurocup games.
"I'm a shooter," Rudez told reporters after signing his contract with the Pacers. "Obviously, the NBA is evolving in a way that shooting is really appreciated, and that is a quality that can make me a firm NBA player."
We're also talking about a pretty darn good athlete for a 6'10" forward.
He'll be competing for minutes this season with a few other wings, but unlike Chris Copeland and Solomon Hill, who don't really specialize in anything, Rudez actually offers a skill the Pacers can count on night after night.
I'd expect Rudez to ultimately crack this rotation and provide the lineup with a floor-stretcher and reliable shot-maker in the half court.
Bojan Bogdanovic, Brooklyn Nets, 6'8", Small Forward, Croatia
We've been waiting on Bojan Bogdanovic since 2011, when the Miami Heat took him with the first pick in the second round, then traded him to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who'd soon flip him to the New Jersey Nets.
And chances are we'll find him in Brooklyn's 2014-15 rotation.
Bogdanovic has been highly touted since he was a teenager dating back to the European Championships in 2005.
Since then, he's spent time with Real Madrid's junior team, one year with CB Murcia in the Spanish ACB, the next two years with Cibona Zagreb and the last three with Fenerbahce Ulker.
Now 25 years old, the Nets are getting a fairly complete offensive player.
Bogdanovic averaged 14.8 points a game this past season, having led his team to Turkish Basketball League and Turkish Supercup championships.
And for what it's worth, he did drop 19 points on the Oklahoma City Thunder during an exhibition last October.
He's got a few skills and strengths that could translate to valuable offensive versatility for the Nets. At 6'8", Bogdanovic can stretch the floor and shoot (shot poorly in 2013-14 but made over 40 percent of his three-pointers in each of his previous two seasons), handle the ball and create one-on-one.
I wouldn't bet on Bogdanovic offering much defense, but as a guy who can knock down shots and generate some offense off the bench, you'd have to think coach Lionel Hollins will be counting on him for depth as soon as possible.
Clint Capela, Houston Rockets, 6'11", Power Forward/Center, Switzerland
Clint Capela made a major move up draft boards in 2013-14 during a breakout season in Pro A France.
He played over 20 minutes a game as a 19-year-old, finishing the year with per-40 averages of 17.1 points, 12.6 boards and 2.8 blocks.
ESPN's analytics guru Kevin Pelton actually ranked (subscription required) Capela No. 2 in the 2014 class based on WARP (wins above replacement player) projections.
Capela's strong play in France got him invited to this year's Nike Hoop Summit, where he'd play with and against some of the top prospects worldwide.
And though visibly raw and unpolished, Capela possesses a few core strengths, that if sharpened, hold significant NBA value.
At 6'11" with a massive 7'4.5" wingspan, he's an outstanding athlete who projects as your prototypical interior specialist.
Capela is already a tremendous finishing weapon around the rim, having shot 63.8 percent against French competition and 71.8 percent in 10 Eurocup games.
And as Pelton notes, he ranked fourth in Pro A in combined rebounding rate and first in blocks per 40.
In a role that allows him to stick to his strengths as a finisher, rebounder and rim protector, there's no reason why he can't give the Rockets a little jolt up front.
Think Ian Mahinmi with a little more upside long term.
Bruno Caboclo, Toronto Raptors, 6'9", Small Forward, Brazil
Bruno Caboclo didn't generate much hype prior to being drafted. His highlight overseas—winning MVP of Basketball Without Borders Americas 2013 with 24 points on 9-of-11 shooting—didn't seem to catch or ultimately hold everyone's attention.
It sure held general manager Masai Ujiri's, who reached up and grabbed him at No. 20 overall despite his 4.8-point-per-game average in Brazil last season and some good-looking Division I prospects still on the board.
At 6'9" with a ridiculous 7'6" wingspan and smooth athleticism, it's Caboclo's long-term upside that likely enticed the Raptors to pull the trigger.
And despite his perceived raw offensive game and skills, he actually held his own during Las Vegas Summer League, where he scored in double digits in each of his five games while nailing a total of eight three-pointers.
“He reminded me so much of Rashard [Lewis],” coach Dwane Casey told Chris Mannix of SI.com. “Same lanky body, same raw talent. Rashard was probably a little better fundamentally at that age. But Bruno is a better three-point shooter. A lot of young guys can’t make the NBA three-pointer consistently. Bruno can.”
At this point, he's good for open-floor finishing, spot-up shooting and line driving. And if he can sharpen up those skills, he'll have a role in Toronto sooner than later.
But there's a whole other level of upside for Caboclo to reach if he can expand his repertoire and develop some moves to go to consistently for offense.
Damien Inglis, Milwaukee Bucks, 6'9", Small Forward, France
Damien Inglis separated himself in 2013-14 as more than just another intriguing prospect with extraordinary measurements.
The kid has a nice feel for the game, which he demonstrated as a role player in Pro A France and at the Nike Hoop Summit.
Still, standing 6'9" with a 7'3" wingspan and the foot speed to work the perimeter, the potential reward certainly seems worth the risk tied to taking a 19-year-old European with a second-round pick.
Inglis showed off a little bit of everything last season for Chorale Roanne Basket, from his handle and passing instincts to his shot-making ability on the perimeter (12 of 31, 38.7 percent from downtown).
But it's his potential defensive versatility that ultimately drives his NBA appeal. Between his size, length and lateral mobility, you can probably stick Inglis on opposing 2s, 3s or 4s.
Billy McKinney, the Bucks' director of scouting, even compared Inglis to a young Ron Artest.
Inglis is obviously raw and needs a few years to build up his offense, but if the Bucks find themselves competing for lottery position, don't be surprised if they give him some early burn, thanks to his ability to hold his own at the defensive end.
All stats courtesy of realgm.com.
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