Prospecting: International players anthem

A few years ago the Nuggets selected an international player in the first round of the NBA Draft, resulting in a firestorm of media criticism, fan outrage and blogger perplexity. At the time virtually nothing was known about Evan Fournier — at least not by your layman NBA Draft fan. Though he was slated to be a late first-round pick all year long, not one blogger or analyst (including yours truly) projected him to land with the Nuggets on draft night. Fastforward two years and Fournier has turned into a solid NBA role player, more than justifying where the Nuggets selected him in 2012.

What Nuggets fans should have collectively gleaned from that tumultuous June night is that it’s always wise to cover all your bases when it comes to the NBA Draft, no matter how unknown a foreign prospect is to our highly concentrated American way of life, or how unlikely he is to land with the Nuggets based on Internet mock draft rankings. Therefore, in RMC’s penultimate installment of this year’s Prospecting series we analyze which international player(s) could have the Nuggets singing “I Chose You” in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft.

Dario Saric // 20 // 6-10 // SF // Cibona Zagreb

For Nuggets fans interested in the NBA Draft, especially those who’ve been following it for the last several years, Saric needs no introduction. He was a consensus lottery selection last year before pulling out of the draft and has since led the Adriatic League in scoring while simultaneously earning 2013-14 MVP honors and leading his team to a championship — all at the tender age of 19.

Saric is best summarized by one oft-abused scouting term: basketball IQ. Though he’s a versatile forward who can shoot at a decent clip, rebound at high rate and run the floor with Magic Johnson-like vision, what Saric excels at more than anything is playing team basketball. He’s a point guard at heart, trapped in a power forward’s body, equipped with the gift of delivering playground passes with pinpoint accuracy. And though he still has questions to answer regarding how his athleticism, length and defensive prowess will translate to the NBA, nobody doubts his raw talent which explains why ESPN.com’s Chad Ford and DraftExpress.com’s Jonathan Givony rank him ninth and eighth respectively in their lists of the top 100 prospects in this year’s draft.

Conclusion: Like all three of the players the in this post, I confess to know little about Saric outside of what I’ve seen in scouting videos and read in articles. What I do know, however, is that the “experts” seem to love this guy. And if you toss aside his mediocre athleticism, there really isn’t anything Saric can’t do on the basketball floor. The biggest drawback with Saric, what’s tainting his stock more than anything at this point, is how soon he’ll hop the pond to play in the NBA. Saric and his father have been extremely vocal in the past about waiting until he’s matured properly before coming to the States, and some believe that crossroad could still be a few years away — which, given Tim Connelly’s insistence on trading back and sending players overseas (see: Green, Erick), may be a good thing.

Regardless of when he actually makes the jump to America, after everything I’ve seen and read, I’m inclined to think Saric would still be an absolute steal at 11 if he drops. With these types of cryptic, right-team, right-time players, you never really know their true intentions until all the dust has cleared and they have time to analyze their situation. For all we know the Nuggets’ international-friendly roster could be enough incentive for him to leave his part of the world for unknown territory. Conversely, Saric could become tepid about the Nuggets’ franchise stability, get a nasty case of cold feet and never come to the NBA, which (as Mark Kiszla’s editor once put it) would truly be an international disaster.

Clint Capela // 20 // 6-11 // C // Chalon

Clint Capela was at one point considered a near consensus lottery pick by most mock drafts on the Web. That wasn’t really all that long ago either; about six months or so. Since then, a poor showing at the Nike Hoops Summit in Portland combined with an increasing adulation of other prospects seems to have diminished his stock leading up to the draft. But a growing skepticism has done nothing to discouraged the Nuggets from placing Capela under the microscope, as the team brought the freaky Swiss prospect to Denver for an up-close workout this past week.

From my vantage point Capela seems to fit an archetype we see year after year in the draft. He’s a tall, lengthy (7-4 wingspan), wiry, raw, athletic forward with tremendous defensive upside and hardly any prepackaged offensive polish. He’s the epitome of a “project,” but one that could pay enormous dividends down the road if his development goes as planned. Serge Ibaka and DeAndre Jordan remain active testaments to this type of payoff, while guys like Bismack Biyombo and Ekpe Udoh appear on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Conclusion: I don’t have near the knowledge to acutely appraise Capela at this point, but I don’t think I’m too off base in suggesting he’s a gamble, and when it comes to gambles it’s of paramount importance to accurately weigh payoff vs. risk. With Capela, your payoff is a potentially dominant, defensive-minded center two to three years down the road… assuming he tacks on enough weight and puts in the proper amount of dedication to improve. The risk: Another Biyombo, more unrealized promise than actual substance, a guy who’s inadequate understanding of the game far outweighs his raw potential. Obviously I’m unsure which extreme Capela is, if any, but given the development of Timofey Mozgov and the latency of JaVale McGee, I’m fairly convinced that using the Nuggets’ best draft pick in over a decade on another high-risk, project-player investment isn’t exactly ideal.

Jusuf Nurkic // 19 // 6-11 // C // Cedevita

I consider DraftExpress.com the best website on the Internet when it comes to gauging the value of international prospects. Over the years they’ve consistently been ahead of the curve in their ability to forecast the range of overseas players, with DX owner Jonathan Givony even divulging his exclusive opinion about the Nuggets’ foreign selections of the last several drafts to RMC. So when DX projects an international player to the Nuggets — which they have all year — I listen. And this year, that player has been Jusuf Nurkic.

Nurkic is one of those guys you can’t help but like. He’s huge in every dimension, he has great touch around the basket, he fights hard for rebounds and (for the most part) appears to care about stifling his opponent on defense. Nurkic has many more low-risk, positive attributes than high-risk concerns and arrives at your doorstep ready for use — aside from a few minor tweaks. And while his athleticism is a bit of a concern (he only has a 23-inch maximum vertical jump), fans can take refuge in the fact that similar highly-skilled, low-post players (Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Al Jefferson, Nikola Pekovic) have carved out remarkable NBA careers in recent years.

Again, based on my lack of exposure to the international game I defer to the “experts” when analyzing Nurkic, and when you do that you realize he’s one of the more statistically dominant prospects in this draft. At 19 he tore apart one of the more competitive leagues in Europe on a per-40 minute basis, far outperforming the Adriatic League MVP and fellow Prospecting subject, Dario Saric. And while DraftExpress.com’s scouting video points out his propensity to foul at a prolific rate, I wouldn’t necessarily classify that as an area for concern when transitioning to the NBA given Nurkic is still relatively new to the game of basketball (he only started playing at 16) and is still extremely malleable.

Conclusion: Chad Ford claims Nurkic’s range is 12 onward, but the Nuggets have already (reportedly) committed to flying him in for medical examination and possibly a private workout. To reiterate, DraftExpress.com has had him going to the Nuggets virtually the entire year (up until a few weeks ago), and when evaluating the draft from a team-needs standpoint, Nurkic is exactly the type of player the Nuggets should covet save for an athletic wing defender.

(All embedded videos courtesy of DraftExpress.com)

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Kalen Deremo

Kalen was born in Durango, CO, in 1988 and graduated from Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2013 with a degree in journalism. He's now an itinerant hoping to travel as much as possible before eventually succumbing to the "real world." Aside from writing Kalen likes movies, music, spicy food and the great outdoors. Edward Abbey is his current idol.
  • Erlingur Grétar Einarsson

    Nurkic could possibly become a beast. He is a gamble at #11 in my opinion, though, seeing as how deep this draft is.

  • Michael

    I see a lot of similarities between Mozgov and Nurkic. The bonus with Nurkic is that he is still only 19 (noting that big men tend to take longer to mature their game / hit their prime). Mozzie was doing a lot of the things listed as weaknesses for Nurkic early this season (rushing shots inside, not trying to finish strong near the rim, silly fouls etc) and it is Mozzie’s 5th year in the league and he is 27 (I do like Mozgov and his development this year but finding a talented C can be hard to pass up and there are no guarantees that McGee will reach his potential like we all wish he would).
    Taking Nurkic at 11 may be a bit high but if he can be refined he has the potential to be a really good Center, he gets up and down the floor well (needs some work with a strength and conditioning coach to tone him up and try and improve his leaping a tad), he has a good shooting touch but also doesn’t mind mixing it up down low. A year (or two) under a good coach and good athletic / strength and conditioning team would do him wonders.

    I’m not as impressed with Capela, he has good size and athleticism but that is about it at this stage. He has no real shooting touch, average BB IQ and a questionable motor means that he is not making up for his shortfalls with consistent effort. I believe we have a guy on our roster something like this but with better passing skills and shooting touch, AR15, who I believe we should be getting rid of as I don’t see him being worth the roster spot at this point in his career.

    While Saric may be very skilled and have the potential to cause some serious match-up problems, it takes a certain type of team / coach to be able to utilize such a player to maximize his skill set and impact on the game. I think he will have trouble finding a place where he is able to make a real impact because of these issues, as such I don’t like the idea of drafting Saric.

  • Heisenberg

    The only one of these guys who should go around 11th is Saric.

  • etlord1

    Nurkic would make sense, even though I really like Saric too. If he stays overseas for a while, that would provide cap flexibility. McGee and Mozzy’s contracts are up the same year, so drafting Nurkic would relieve the pressure of re-signing both guys. I like Saric because he can play multiple positions. He is also NBA ready if he chooses to play in the league next season.