Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pre-Draft Analysis – Part III: International Talent

A little different than my first internationally-based column, today’s focus is on four international talents playing overseas (two from Europe, one from Africa, and an Australian) as well as one internationally-perceived player currently on the Ohio State Buckeye roster. Don’t worry, I’ll explain shortly.

Part I: Non-Freshmen

Part II: Freshmen

The Australian "Baby Shaq" has garnered increased interest.
Credit: Yahoo! Sports

Danilo Gallinari [19 years old, Small Forward, Italy, Armani Jeans Milano]
Despite playing on a poor squad this season, Gallinari has shot into fame throughout Europe and may in fact be awarded the EuroLeague’s Rising Star Award (top player under 22). Passing Nicholas Batum as the top international prospect nearly across the board, his 6’9” frame and impressive skill set have him slotted for most well inside the top 10.

Will he go?: Without a contract marrying him to Armani, Gallinari is almost guaranteed to declare himself for the 2008 draft.

Destination: His frame and athleticism are impressive; however, his one weakness remains a somewhat inconsistent shooting touch (under 45% from the field). Despite his youth, Gallinari will likely be the first swingman to go in the draft. New York, Chicago, Los Angeles (Clippers) and Charlotte would be wise to consider adding his size and versatility to their rosters.

Nicholas Batum [19 years old, Small Forward, France, Le Mans Sarthe Basket]
Analysis: Several pundits last season wondered if at 18 he might try and declare for the draft. No dice. However, Batum (who I’ve been hyping for over a year) may become the next big-ticket import from France (see Tony Parker and Boris Diaw).

Will he go?: Ranked within the top 2 alongside Gallinari in most mocks, Batum has drawn references from a young Grant Hill to a current emerging talent like Rudy Gay. Unfortunately for Batum, his stock has dropped a bit this season. Despite being asked to dominate at 19, Batum has become far too timid and displayed far more inconsistencies with his shot and playmaking abilities. Nevertheless, he’s coming out and will almost assuredly be a lottery pick.

Destination: Not necessarily axed from the top 5, Batum needs strong showings in personal workouts. His ability to attack the basket with ferocity is something that can’t be forget. However, he has to prove he’s willing to defend men on the perimeter and balance his own ability to draw contact and find his own shot. Philadelphia and Milwaukee both need players with Batum’s strength and willingness to attack the hoop play-after-play.

Serge Ibaka [19 years, Power Forward, Congo, CB L’Hospitalet]
Analysis: Potentially this year’s Nicholas Batum, Ibaka has a ton of hype surrounding his name but only with limited minutes and exposure. At 6’10”, 220 lbs., he has a 2-guard mentality on the court. He lives, and often dies, with his shaky jump shot and seems more than willing to model his game around Kevin Durant.

Will he go?: With increased playing time and exposure, more holes are being found in his game. Adding to the confusion is the debate whether he’ll declare in 2008 or 2009. Found within the first round for either season, Ibaka has been called by DraftExpress a potential Tyrus Thomas (not bad at all) or Maceo Baston (ouch).

Destination: He’s undersized to the play the 4 position, but has displayed a willingness to get into the paint. Over the next few months, it’ll be all hype from international media outlets that determines Ibaka’s future. Whether he’s sitting on the bench for a contender with a roster space in 2008 or a potential late lottery-reach for a desperate underachiever in 2009 is yet to be known.

Nathan Jawai [21 years old, Center, Australia, Cairns Taipans]
Analysis: At 6’10, 280 lbs….well, that says a lot right there. Jawai is big bodied and wants to bang in the paint. “Baby Shaq” of the Australian league, the rookie was recently named All-Star MVP after 24 points and 12 rebounds. He has the attitude and actually enjoys running the floor and using his raw athleticism. However, his stamina has to be a key issue (he needs to lose 15 pounds pronto) and he has been criticized heavily for having no game with his back to the basket.

Will he go?: His hype will only grow if he continues his strong play in the Australian league (averaging 18 and 10).

Destination: While likely the later stages of the 1st-round being his ceiling, Jawai’s ability to grind it out under the basket will be mouth-watering to plenty of contenders (e.g. San Antonio, Boston, Dallas, Detroit).

Kosta Koufos [Center, Freshman, Ohio State]
Analysis: So what’s the deal, Clement? He grew up in Canton, Ohio, went to school at GlenOak and plays at THE Ohio State University. Frankly, he’s on here because of precedent. He was tabbed with the international talent back in June – even though myself and everyone else knew he’d be a Buckeye – and remains here.

Will he go?: Honestly, it might be close enough to call a legit 50/50 call. However, Koufos appears likely to depart because the talent at the center position is still developing and a little uncertain. Possessing far more of a shooting touch than Hibbert/Lopez/Thabeet, Kosta may offer the most versatility from the position (he still blocks 2 shots a game too).

Destination: Slipping late into the first round is just as likely as peaking his way into the lottery. It’s a question of need and the ability of a potential contender to wait a season or two for Kosta to have an impact. His wingspan and ability to play away from the hoop would be luxuries for teams who have their starting center generally buried in the paint (e.g. Houston, Washington, Cleveland).

Until next time...

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