Ranking the Top International Prospects in the 2017 NBA Draft

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterMay 30, 2017

Ranking the Top International Prospects in the 2017 NBA Draft

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    Scouting overseas has become a huge part of NBA teams' draft preparation. Many of these prospects have been on scouts' radars since they were 16-year-olds playing in FIBA tournaments or events like the Jordan Brand Classic.

    Seven international players with foreign clubs were taken in last year's first round. There could be a handful that go top 30 in 2017, including one who's receiving looks from teams in the lottery. 

    International players still have until June 12 to withdraw from the draft, but we don't expect any of the early entrants in our top five to back out. 

    Note: As an American playing in Australia's National Basketball League, Terrance Ferguson was not included.

Honorary Mention: Mathias Lessort (France, PF/C, 1995)

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    NBA draft projection: 25-45

    Draft status: Auto-eligible 

    After withdrawing from last year's draft, Mathias Lessort's case looks much stronger in 2017. 

    He's still building it, having just gone for 16 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks on Thursday, though a loss ended JSF Nanterre's season.

    Lessort turns 22 in September, but he's emerged as one of the most productive young prospects overseas by averaging 10.2 points and 7.2 rebounds on 57.4 percent shooting in LNB Pro A.

    Lessort immediately stands out physically with a 6'9", 250-pound frame, long arms and light feet. He lacks traditional center size and doesn't possess the skill set of a modern-day power forward. But Lessort's tools and motor suggest his interior productivity will carry over in a specialty, energizer role. 

    He scores off rim runs, dives to the basket and second-chance opportunities. And he's flashed intriguing potential as a shot-blocker and pick-and-roll defender.

    Age and a limited offensive game could keep him outside this year's first round, but Lessort won't last long in Round 2.

5. Anzejs Pasecniks (Latvia, C, 1995)

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    Projected draft range: No. 20-45

    Draft status: Auto-eligible 

    Anzejs Pasecniks initially found the radar back in 2013 playing alongside Kristaps Porzingis for Latvia in the U18 European Championships. But it wasn't until this year that he suddenly emerged as an eye-catching first-round prospect.

    A late-blooming breakout player in Spain's highly-competitive ACB, he's averaging 18.9 points per 40 minutes and shooting 65.7 percent from the floor. The buzz surrounding him grew even louder over the past six weeks after a 24-point effort against Movistar Estudiantes on April 24. 

    At 7'2", most of the appeal to Pasecniks stems from his unique size and mobility, which translate to easy baskets off rim runs, cuts and lobs. He's light on his feet and quick elevating off the floor. Flashes of shooting touch (7-of-12 from three in ACB play) create even more intrigue surrounding his skill set and potential. 

    There are plenty of questions. Pasecniks, who's played sparingly from 2014-16, clearly lacks bulk on his 220-pound frame. Through 50 games this season (ACB, Eurocup, Spanish Cup), his 12.5 rebounding percentage is poor, and though he's swatting more shots this year, a 4.6 block percentage doesn't say rim protector. 

    Numbers like a 55.8 percent free-throw mark and 13 assists all season are also unsettling. 

    Still, bigs this size and fluid don't grow on trees. Pasecniks' tools and increased production against quality competition should earn him looks late in the first round.

4. Jonathan Jeanne (France, C, 1997)

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    NBA draft range: 20-45

    Draft status: Declared early entrant 

    Jonathan Jeanne always had scouts attention, but he'd never quite capitalized on it overseas playing mostly for developmental/junior teams and in limited minutes in LNB Pro A.

    He still received an invite to this year's NBA combine, which confirmed the league's interest. Jeanne helped himself in Chicago, particularly during measurements and five-on-fives.

    At 7'2" with an enormous 7'5 ½" wingspan and 9'5 ½" standing reach, he presented himself as a giant finishing target at the rim. He changed shots naturally just by sliding and raising his arms. He even showed off some touch with a high-arching mid-range jumper.

    Jeanne clearly lacks strength and appears weak with the ball in traffic and easy to back down in the post. But at 19 years old, there are too many other unique, enticing aspects of his game and profile.

    And after seeing him look effective at both ends for stretches against fringe first- and second-round NCAA prospects, it won't be shocking if a team in the 20s figures the potential reward is worth the risk.

3. Rodions Kurucs (Latvia, SG/SF, 1998)

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    NBA draft projection: No. 20-30

    Draft status: Declared early entrant 

    Rodions Kurucs will draw first-round looks despite playing just one Euroleague game all season. The NBA scouting lens picks up his tools, athleticism, scoring instincts and defensive potential in the LEB Gold league, Spain's second division. 

    A 6'9" wing, Kurucs averaged 1.2 three-point makes per game in 20.5 minutes. And though he's at his best slashing and attacking in straight line drives, he's flashed enough ball-handling skills to change direction and improvise off the dribble.  

    Expected to play more minutes at a higher level next year with Barcelona's senior team, Kurucs, 19, will be a stash play for a team unimpressed with the leftover NCAA talent. 

2. Isaiah Hartenstein (Germany, PF/C, 1998)

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    NBA draft projection: 15-30

    Draft status: Declared early entrant 

    NBA teams tracked Isaiah Hartenstein for years before he turned draft eligible. One of them outside the lottery will select him in June's first round. 

    His minutes have fluctuated all season with Zalgiris in Lithuania, but he's still shooting 49 percent and had a strong showing during December's U18 European Championships, where he averaged 14.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists.

    Scouts got another good look at him in April at the Nike Hoop Summit. Hartenstein's skill set covers a lot of ground, from ball-handling and shot-making to passing. He has the potential to offer exactly what teams look for in their bigs: the ability to stretch the floor, attack closeouts and switch defensively.

    But at this stage, Hartenstein the playmaker, shooter and two-way power forward is only an idea. Everything has come in flashes. The upside kicks in if he ties it all together and starts knocking down jumpers more consistently.

    In the meantime, Hartenstein's finishing, rebounding and vision should still carry over.

1. Frank Ntilikina (France, PG/SG, 1998)

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    Projected draft range: Lottery

    Draft status: Declared early entrant 

    France has been a hot spot in May for NBA scouts and executives. At least seven general managers made the trip this month for Strasbourg's IG's Frank Ntilikina, the MVP of December's U18 European Championships. 

    At 18 years old, he's currently starting for Strasbourg IG in the playoffs of LNB Pro A, France's top division.

    Ntilikina has been efficient all season despite his age and lack of overall polish, shooting 45.6 percent from the floor and 38.9 percent from three.

    Though not as big of a threat to create as the top NCAA guards in the draft, he generates offense by taking what's given to him as a driver and shooter. His physical tools and stroke point to his success translating in that same role.

    However, his defense remains ahead of his scoring and facilitating, and it could be the strength that defines him as an NBA pro.

    At 6'5" with long arms, quick feet and discipline, Ntilikina can lock down and guard multiple positions. His ceiling appears to fall short of Washington's Markelle Fultz, UCLA's Lonzo Ball and Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox. But his floor screams three-and-D.

    Ntilikina will be in play for late-lottery teams, starting with the New York Knicks at No. 8.

    All stats courtesy of RealGM.com


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