For several months, a lot of the NBA mock draft 2017 speculation has put the spotlight clearly on UCLA’s Lonzo Ball and Washington’s Markelle Fultz. Most teams that don’t have a shot at the top three picks when the draft order is determined will probably be looking to other talents. So far, a lot of the top 10 picks overall are from established college programs including Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, UCLA, and Stanford. Still, there are those other “lesser known” players out there playing for international teams. Some teams are hoping they’ll find the next Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Dirk Nowitzki, or Kristaps Porzingis in this upcoming NBA Draft.
Leading the list of this year’s eligible stars who don’t play within the United States is Frank Ntilikina. The nearly 6-foot-6 point guard hails from Strasbourg where he’s averaged 21.8 points, 6.7 assists and 3.2 steals per game as part of the FIBA U18 Euro league. Ntilikina has the potential for more growth in the NBA as well. He’s just over 18-years-old and has an estimated wingspan of 7-feet. While a player of his nature would take some time to adjust to the league, it’s already been noted that he has a good feel for the game, is an improved shooter, and could make a defensive impact. One mock draft via Draft Express has Ntilikina being selected the highest of all international players, possibly as high as No. 11 by the Charlotte Hornets, or whoever may own that slot.
Another mock draft via Heavy, indicates that maybe the Detroit Pistons will take Ntilikina at the No. 12 slot. They reason that the Pistons’ “Reggie Jackson experiment” hasn’t worked how the team had anticipated, so bringing in a young point guard could help “motivate” Jackson. This Pistons team was on the verge of making the playoffs for another season but failed to do so despite previous success. That all means it’s going to soon become “rebuild mode” if their coach, veterans, and stars can’t turn it around.
Shooting guard Terrance Ferguson from Adelaide could be selected several spots down from Ntilikina. Ferguson currently plays in the Australian National Basketball League and has averaged just 4.6 points in 15.1 minutes per game. However, he’s displayed an explosive ability on the court, along with catch-and-shoot skills. He’s also got the potential to be a good defender in the league but has been said to have some trouble when it comes to shot selection and creating offense. Those sorts of things could come with time, either starting for a non-contender in the NBA, or from playing for a D-League squad.
Speculation is that an NBA team that might take Ferguson is the Chicago Bulls around No. 14, but as Nothin’ But Nets suggests that the 19-year-old might be a good pick for Brooklyn.
“Ferguson could hypothetically fit within the Nets’ current system, and starting in Long Island could be a great way get him acclimated to the NBA. Imagine a lineup consisting of Jeremy Lin, Ferguson, Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Brook Lopez running Atkinson’s fast-paced three-point oriented system.”
Several other players come outside the top 20 for this year’s draft. Zalgiris’ Isaiah Hartenstein is a power-forward who could possibly end up on the Oklahoma City Thunder around pick No. 21. Small forward Rodians Kurucs of Barcelona could go a spot or two below that. Center Anzejs Pasecniks from Gran Canaria is touted as the possible No. 30 pick for a team such as the Utah Jazz. After that, international stars may fall into the second round. Other prospects could include power forward Mathias Lessort from Nanterre, center Jonathan Jeanne from Nancy, and power forward Jonah Bolden from Radnicki Basket.
The interesting aspect with stars that are drafted from overseas is that they may not even see playing time in the league until several years after they were drafted. Some players step onto the court with their pro teams soon, including Porzingis of the Knicks or Dragan Bender of the Phoenix Suns. Other players stick with their international team to gain some more experience before coming to the United States. A recent example from the 2016 NBA Draft is No. 23 pick Ante Žižić of the Boston Celtics who decided to continue with Cibona Zagreb in Croatia for another season. The Philadelphia 76ers’ Furkan Kormaz was the No. 26 pick last year and also chose to play another season of ball with the Turkish Basketball Super League.
Still, there’s no denying that if a team ends up picking a “diamond in the rough” from overseas it can end up paying dividends. The Dallas Mavericks chose a guy named Dirk Nowitzki at No. 9 in the 1998 NBA Draft. Since then, he’s gone on to play on multiple All-Star teams, win the NBA MVP Award, and lead his team to an unlikely NBA Championship over the Miami Heat. Due to the success of Nowitzki, as well as the emerging talents of Kristaps Porzingis, most teams might be willing to take their own gamble on finding the next great international star.
[Featured Image by Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images]