The Pitfalls of Drafting International in the Lottery and a Review of Last Year’s Draft Predictions

I got some right, but I also got some wrong. Last year I decided for the first time to record my opinion on each NBA Draft lottery pick and follow them throughout the season–and eventually each player’s career– to see whether I know what I’m talking about or if I’m just another blinded fan who thinks they know it all. I’ve always been known to go against the grain and follow my own train of thinking. That sometimes has made me come off as a skeptic or even a “hater”. I like to think for myself, create my own opinions and match them up against those of the big names on TV who are getting paid to give their critiques.

The 2015 NBA Draft is tomorrow and yet again I am looking forward to seeing where each player gets picked and whether they will be a contributor or not. After doing some research of my own, I’ve discovered that there are some trends in the league: It is extremely risky to take an International player in the lottery. Since 2000, there have been 23 International players selected in the top 14 (lottery) picks. How many of those players have produced lottery worthy careers? Well, lets start with the two best players.

Only Yao Ming (1st overall, 2002) and Pau Gasol (3rd overall, 2001) have been selected to an All-Star game. Yao was a Chinese sensation and was selected to the All-Star game every season during his 8-year career. Yao was one of the most skilled big men to over play the game, but foot problems derailed the 7-foot-6 center’s longevity. He retired at the age of 30 and compiled career averages of 21 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

Gasol is still chugging along in the NBA and just enjoyed a season with the Chicago Bulls in which he averaged 19.4 points and a career-high 12.3 rebounds. The 34-year-old Spaniard has made five All-Star games over his 13-year career and averaged over 18 points and 9 rebounds a game.

Outside of these two outliers, the other 21 players have struggled. Only six players have averaged double-digits in their careers (Nene, Andrea Bargnani, Danilo Gallinari, Ricky Rubio, Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas). Two players have yet to play in America (Fran Vasquez – Orlando, 11th pick, 2005 & Dario Saric – Philadelphia, 12th pick, 2014) and four played less than five years in the league (Vasquez, Nikoloz Tskitishvili, Yaroslav Korolev, Mouhamed Sene). If you have no idea who those aforementioned players are, trust me, you are in the majority.

It’s dangerous to take a gamble on a guy who you’ve seen play for one week and only has grainy Zapruder film footage of his game. Drafting Internationals outside of the lottery has blossomed much more success. Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Marc Gasol, Nicolas Batum and Marcin Gortat are just a few players that have had exceptional careers and were drafted either in the late first round or second round.

Some of the greatest busts in the past 15 years have been DeSagana Diop (Cleveland, 8th pick, ’01), Nikoloz Tskitishvili (Denver, 5th pick, ’02), Darko Milicic (Detroit, 2nd pick, ’03), Yaroslav Korolev (Clippers, 11th, ’05) and Mouhamed Sene (Seattle, 10th pick, ’06). Darko would be the most famous of this bunch. He was sandwiched between LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony and ended up becoming a human victory cigar, taking the court only in garbage time in Pistons wins. Obviously Fran Vasquez was also a bust in the fact that he never even attempted to come overseas to America after being selected by the Magic.

But the one player I remember the most and will never forget what Fran Fraschilla kept saying about on draft night, was Yi Jianlian. Fraschilla kept repeating the phrase, “He’s hip-hop, he’s new school.” What in the world does that even mean? He was trying to pawn Yi off as a do everything forward that was not another soft Euro… what did we end up getting? A 5-year career with averages of 7.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 40% shooting.

This year’s draft will likely feature Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonja. Porzingis is supposed to be a 7-foot Latvian that can shoot the three and also block shots. Hezonja is assumed to be a strong all around player with high upside. As you’ve seen in the past, sometimes you draft a guy expecting to get the next Dirk Nowitzki and end up with a Yaroslav Korolev. Buyer Beware.

2014 Prediction Results (so far) [2014 Draft Predictions]

1. Andrew Wiggins – I was very critical of the selection and thought he was the most overrated player in the draft. Wiggins rookie numbers looked good offensively, but if you dig deeper I’m still not sure he can be the absolute go-to guy on a playoff caliber team. Injuries riddled the Wolves and Wiggins was thrust into the No. 1 scoring option role. His stats: 16.9 points and 4.6 rebounds were solid, but he shot 43% from the field and 31% from deep. He wasn’t the most effective but still is very young. I compared him to Andre Iguodala with more offensive upside. Iggy’s third season’s line went: 18.2, 5.7, 5.7 and 44% from the field. I Wiggins isn’t too far off from putting together a season like this if he continues to work on his shot and get some help around him.

2. Jabari Parker – Parker was deemed as my safest pick of the draft. He shot 49% and averaged over 12 points and 5 rebounds per game before going down with an injury. His health and weight control now murky up his career path a little, but if he is 100% and is in shape, I still feel like he will be the best scorer out of this class when all is said and done.

3. Joel Embiid – When this pick came in, I said the Sixers would bemoan the selection. It is also the type of pick that keeps a franchise is the doldrums of the basement of the league for years. Embiid missed his entire rookie season with injuries just like the center that was selected the year before him, Nerlens Noel. Now people have come out saying Embiid is in danger of missing the 2015-16 season as well and is having his dedication called into question about whether he wants to be a great player or not. They really nailed it on the head when they compared him to Greg Oden coming out of college. Red Flag.

4. Aaron Gordon – The similarities to my comparison of Tyrus Thomas are frightening.  Last year a posted both player’s college stats and they were identical. Now compare their rookie numbers and it is jaw dropping.
                             Gordon: 5.2 ppg, 3.6 reb, 0.5 blks, 44%
                             Thomas: 5.2 ppg, 3.7 reb, 1.1 blks, 47%

5. Dante Exum – I like the pick of Exum, but after looking at the International stats I gave you earlier, it might be an uphill climb for the Aussie. He shot just 35% and struggled in many different facets. His 22 minutes per game were a lot for a 19-year-old but it is great experience for him. His sophomore season will be interesting to see whether he has learned anything and taken any steps forward.

6. Marcus Smart – Smart did a little bit of everything in Boston in his first season. His shot came and went as expected, but his defense was always reliable. 1.5 steals per game in just 27 minutes as a rookie is extremely impressive. He averaged over 7/3/3 and should see even more playing time next year. I predicted him to score 17-20 ppg before his career is over and I still think he can reach that level of offensive efficiency in due time.

7. Julius Randle – A broken leg might have been a blessing in disguise. He should come back a year wiser and have more talent around him. I still think he has the potential to be a Zach Randolph clone and should be a top scoring option once Kobe Bryant retires.

8. Nik Stauskas – Didn’t like the pick then. Still don’t like the pick now. Sacramento and it’s revolving door of head coaches along with evil scientist Owner Vivek Ranadive gives Stauskas a less than favorable situation to flourish in. He could become a poor man’s Kyle Korver, but it will be tough for him to avoid being the next Jimmer Ferdette.

9. Noah Vonleh – Vonleh didn’t see a lot of time as a rookie. He is still the tender age of 19 and has time to grow. Vonleh spent a lot of time in the D-League and on the DL.

10. Elfrid Payton – I ridiculed this pick a year ago, but he put up solid numbers across the board without a reliable jumper. He is following the path of becoming the next Rajon Rondo and produced better numbers than Rondo did in his rookie season. One could argue he actually outplayed Rondo this season:
                               Payton: 8.9/4.3/6.5
                               Rondo: 8.9/5.5/7.9

11. Doug McDermott – McDermott struggled with injuries and his shot. I likened him to Adam Morrison and I have to stick with it. Luckily for him, Chicago ridded themselves of Tom Thibodeau and will have a more bench and offense friendly coach in Fred Hoiberg.

12. Dario Saric – Saric has decided he will not play for the Sixers this season. Fran Vasquez 2.0?

13. Zach LaVine – Played a lot more than he probably could have imagined in his rookie season. LaVine averaged over 10 points per game and showed off his great athleticism and three-point shot and was a pleasant surprise, but where does he fit in with Ricky Rubio healthy?

14. TJ Warren – Was up and down from the D-League and performed well with the Suns. 6.1 points per game on 53% shooting gives him a good stepping stone to build upon.

Dansby Helps Georgia Remain Hotbed of Talent for MLB

Another year, another run of Georgia talent primed for success in the pros. The Peach State has given baseball the likes of Buster Posey, Jason Heyward, Adam Wainwright, Brian McCann, Josh Reddick and many, many more. Dating back to 2007, former Georgia high schoolers have peppered the draft in the first round. Heyward was selected 14th overall eight years ago.

In 2008, Tim Beckham out of Griffin High School was the No. 1 overall pick to the Tampa Bay Rays. He was followed by Buster Posey at No. 5 (FSU via Lee County), Gordon Beckham at No. 8 (UGA via Westminster) and Ethan Martin at No. 15 from Stephens County High School.

2009 saw Donavan Tate go third overall to the Padres after a prestigious prep career at Cartersville while Zack Wheeler of East Paulding was nabbed at No. 6 by the Giants.

Delino DeShields (Woodward Academy) went No. 8 to Houston and was followed by Jake Skole (Blessed Trinity), Kaleb Cowart (Cook), Cam Bedrosian (East Coweta) and Chevy Clarke (Marietta) in the 2010 edition of the MLB First-Year Players Draft.

Byron Buxton, who just made his MLB debut on Sunday, was the second overall selection in the 2012 draft out of Appling County. Lucas Sims (Brookwood) and James Ramsey (FSU via Wesleyan) followed Buxton at picks 21 and 23.

Clint Frazier of Loganville led the way for a trio of Georgians in the 2013 draft. Frazier was selected fifth overall while Austin Meadows (Grayson) landed at No. 9 and was followed by Travis Demeritte (Winder-Barrow) at No. 30.

Last year Max Pentecost (Winder-Barrow) led Kennesaw State to the College World Series and was drafted 11th by the Toronto Blue Jays. Michael Chavis (Sprayberry) was scooped up at 26 by the Red Sox.

Dansby Swanson is next in the long list of Georgia prep stars to get drafted highly. Swanson was a standout at Marietta High School before being selected first overall this year by the Diamondbacks after a great two seasons at Vanderbilt after an injury plagued freshman campaign. The shortstop stole the show as he won Most Outstanding Player honors at the College World Series when he helped the Commodores to their first ever championship.

Swanson has hit .350 with 15 homeruns, 62 RBIs and 16 stolen bases this season. His makeup and work ethic has had scouts raving about him since his breakout season in 2014. After hitting three homers a year ago, Swanson’s recent power surge all but solidified his position as the top prospect in the draft. Not only does he make contact at a high clip, his new found power allows him to spray balls into the gaps and even launch some into the seats.

Three other former Georgia high schoolers achieved their dreams of being drafted in the first round. Cornelius Randolph followed Tim Beckham as the next shortstop from Griffin High School to be drafted in the first round. Randolph went No. 10 to the Phillies and was slated to play at Clemson next year. He has an advanced bat and plate discipline beyond his years which encourages scouts that he can move up the ranks quickly.

Tyler Stephenson from Kennesaw Mountain went 11th overall to the Cincinnati Reds and was the first catcher selected in the draft. At 6-foot-4 225 pounds, Stephenson isn’t the prototypical catcher. He is a very fluid athlete with raw power potential and the ability control the game from behind the plate. Stephenson was originally pegged as a pitcher before the leaps and bounds he has made as a backstop in the past year.

Tennessee junior Christin Stewart went 34th overall to Detroit. The former Providence Christian Academy outfielder hit 15 homeruns with 47 RBIs and a .311 batting average this year.

Possibly the biggest steal of the draft went 37th to Houston. Daz Cameron, the AJC’s Baseball Athlete of the Year and son of former LaGrange star and MLB All-Star/Gold Glover Mike Cameron, was a consensus top 10 talent but dropped all the way to the compensation round due to signability. The Florida State signee is a great value pick for the Astros if he decides to sign.

Peach State’s Finest on Display at FIFA World Cup

The FIFA Women’s World Cup isn’t as ballyhooed as the men’s version but still the worldwide event is likely to bring fellow countrymen together. FIFA has been under hot water and investigation after ex-President Sepp Blatter was accused of bribery and attempting to fix matches in previous World Cups, but the face of corruption has recently stepped down after being re-elected on May 29.

The storyline now shifts to the actual action on the pitch and the redemption the USA seeks after falling to Japan in the 2011 World Cup Finals in penalty kicks. The United States enters as a heavy favorite among the qualifying teams along with Germany, Japan, Brazil and host Canada.

The growing amount of stars load up the experienced and deep American team. Veteran Abby Wambach heads up the scoring attack and is flanked by 25-year-old Alex Morgan. Sydney Leroux has 35 goals in 70 appearances while Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd facilitate from the middle of the field. And of course, in goal is Hope Solo, one of the most loved yet scrutinized players on the national team due to her recent off field issues.

Solo’s sullied image includes being arrested for two misdemeanor counts of assault, harassing the police, an abusive relationship with former NFL tight end Jerramy Stevens which resulted in Solo being suspended from U.S. Soccer for 30 days and private nude images being leaked. The chaos surrounding Solo could pose a distraction for the U.S. but head coach Jillian Ellis insists otherwise.

            Georgia Peaches

Two Georgia natives have stayed out of the headlines and look to contribute to this year’s team. Morgan Brian and Kelley O’Hara don’t play the prominent roles of the aforementioned players, but both have the potential to be fixtures in the lineup for years to come.

Brian, a 22-year-old midfielder from St. Simons, is the youngest player on this year’s team. She starred at Frederica Academy where she won a state title and was twice named a Parade All-American and Gatorade Georgia State Player of the Year. While in college at the University of Virginia, Brian won the Hermann Trophy twice, signifying her as the best player in the nation. She became the fifth player to ever win the award two times during a career. Since playing at Virginia, the exciting midfielder has been selected to the Houston Dash of the NWSL. She has made 29 appearances with the USA senior club and has scored four goals.

Lauren Holiday, a teammate of Brian’s on the national team told The Washington Post’s Steven Goff just how special of a player Morgan is. “Morgan was not just a college player when she came into this team. Her confidence, her sophistication on the ball, it was beyond her years,” Holiday explained.

Defender Kelley O’Hara at age 26 has also gained praise during her 60 caps with the national team and has worked her way into the rotation. O’Hara grew up in Peachtree City and played at Starr’s Mill High School. Like Morgan Brian, O’Hara also captured a state title after scoring 20 goals and adding 16 assists in 2006. She too was named Gatorade Georgia Player of the Year and continued her career at Stanford University. She also was awarded the Hermann Trophy in 2009 and finished her Cardinal career with 57 goals and 32 assists. O’Hara currently teams up with the USWNT’s active leader in appearances, Christie Rampone, on defense for Sky Blue FC.

Speed and determination has helped the former forward transition into being one of the toughest defenders on the team. O’Hara was initially cut from the 2011 World Cup roster before being added on as a reserve and has used that as fuel to get better every day. She was a part of the 2012 Olympic team that beat Japan in the gold medal match, 2-1. Kelley was one of three players to play every single minute for the United States during the tournament and was a crucial part of the squad’s success.

Keep an eye on these Georgia born and bred players. Unsung heroes can be found anywhere on the big stage and there is no reason why one of these two Georgia peaches can’t come up big with the entire world watching.

Remembering The ’14-15 Atlanta Hawks

60 Wins. Four All-Stars, including an All-Star Head Coach. A perfect 17-0 month of January and also a franchise record 19-straight wins. The franchise’s first conference finals appearance. The late-season injuries. The nightclub. The what-ifs. These are all things that Hawks fans will never forget. The franchise’s best season ever since moving to Atlanta was highlighted by many great accomplishments, but was marred by injuries and mishaps down the stretch.

To fully wrap one’s head around what the Hawks did this season, you must look at where they began. Atlanta was a plucky bunch in Coach Budenholzer’s first season a year ago, compiling a record of 38-44 without Al Horford for the majority of the season after he injured his pectoral muscle. Even with the sub-.500 record, the Hawks earned the eighth-seed in the watered down Eastern Conference. They weren’t expected to do much against the experienced top-seeded Indiana Pacers, but after a 101-93 win in Game 1, Atlanta fans began to believe.

The Hawks held a 3-2 series lead with a chance to pull the upset and close out the Pacers in Game 6 at Philips Arena, but the Pacers fended off Atlanta twice and advanced to the next round. Something happened in that playoff series. The Hawks found themselves going chest-to-chest with one of the toughest teams in the league without backing down. It was the beginning of a culture change.

The Worms Turns

As the 2014-15 season approached, a healthy Al Horford would be returning to the fold. Additions of Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha may have seemed insignificant, but as the season unfolded, for better and for worse, these two acquisitions loomed large in the subsequent success and failures of the Hawks. The season kicked off with rapper T.I. performing concerts pregame, at halftime and postgame, but the Hawks ended up losing 109-102 to the Toronto Raptors. A win over the Pacers and narrow losses to the Spurs and Hornets got Atlanta off to a rocky 1-3 start, which definitely would not surprise anybody in the NBA considering the team won just 38 games a year ago.

Then something happened. Atlanta won six of their next nine games and began to find their footing on the season. On Friday November 8, the Hawks beat the Pelicans 100-91. From that day until February 2, Atlanta ripped off a hellacious 33-2 record including 19-straight wins. By that time, the Hawks transformed from a 7-6 team to a 40-8 team. Times were good and the slogan “True To Atlanta” became a rallying cry for those to that supported the team. Philips Arena became the hottest ticket in town and sellouts became the norm. The team was clicking on all cylinders and Bud Ball was born with the unselfish play of the Hawks earning them the nickname of “Spurs East”.

Atlanta continued its strong play but came back down to earth after the All-Star break and recorded a humanly 17-11 record. On February 10, rookie and 15th pick in the 2014 draft Adreian Payne was traded to Minnesota for a future first round pick. The big man did not see much playing time and rumor has it had a falling out with the coaching staff. Already slim on big men, Atlanta felt it was the right move to make.

War of Attrition

Injuries began to pile up late in the season. Thabo Sefolosha was entrusted to be their top wing defender and split duties with DeMarre Carroll, but a strained right calf held him out for months. Both Mike Scott and Dennis Schroder sprained their toes and had to sit out a few games. Paul Millsap hurt his shoulder in the final week of the season and later it was Al Horford injuring his finger. And of course in the playoffs, the season ending injury to Kyle Korver and bone bruise and turf toe Carroll sustained. Injuries however are a part of the game. You can’t look to injuries as the main reason why things went south in the playoffs. The biggest blow was the early morning arrests of Pero Antic and Sefolosha outside a nightclub in New York. Pero missed a few games, but Sefolosha was done for the season after the altercation with the cops resulted in his fibula being broken.

The loss of Sefolosha piled with all the other injuries to the Hawks left the team thin in the playoffs. Atlanta’s lack of size hurt them as the Cavaliers out-rebounded them in every game. The Hawks entered the playoffs with a literal and figurative limp that they were never able to solve. Uninspiring performances against the Nets and Wizards were just enough to get by, but once they faced a Cleveland team—who also was battling injuries—Atlanta did not have enough bullets left in the chamber.

Off-Season Needs

Atlanta has a strong team-oriented core in the weak Eastern Conference, but decisions will need to be made on how to improve the team. Both DeMarre Carroll and Paul Millsap are unrestricted free agents. With the way Carroll was playing before injury, it seemed like the Junkyard Dog was in-line for a major pay raise. Luckily for him, he suffered just a bone bruise and not ACL damage, insuring he will get a hefty raise.

Millsap was up and down during the postseason but was Atlanta’s most reliable player during the regular season. It may be tough to re-sign both but it will be on the team’s ledger as a top priority.

The most glaring need is a big man who can rebound and defend. 7-foot-3 Walter Tavares plays overseas, but was selected by the Hawks last year. He is incredibly raw but if he could turn into what the Utah Jazz have with Rudy Gobert, coach Bud would be ecstatic. Atlanta is able to swap draft picks with the Nets after the 2012 Joe Johnson trade. They now select 15th instead of 29th. It will be imperative for them to hit on the pick after deciding Payne wasn’t the right man a year ago.

Wrapping Up A Historic Weekend

The weekend has come and gone, but it was one not soon to be forgotten—for better or for worse. The mega-fight between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao headlined the weekend and grossed enough money to make you sick to your stomach if you watched the fight. The 141st running of the Kentucky Derby was another spectacle to behold. The NFL Draft made for good TV and the Atlanta Falcons seemingly put together one of the strongest drafts in the league. Game 7 of the Clippers-Spurs series was everything fans could have hoped for. The Braves hosted the Cincinnati Reds and on Sunday the Hawks welcomed the Wizards for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

From a local standpoint, there were some good moments and some bad moments for Atlanta teams. Let’s start with the positives. The Braves came away with a split in their four-game series with the Reds. Atlanta’s No. 3 ranked prospect Mike Foltynewicz made his first career start and helped the Braves win 4-3 with both his arm and bat. The 23-year-old who was acquired from the Houston Astros in the Evan Gattis deal, pitched five innings and allowed two earned runs. Foltynewicz settled down after a shaky 28-pitch first inning which saw two Reds cross the plate to gain an early lead. In the fourth inning, Foltynewicz stepped to the dish and delivered a two-run double to help spark the offense.

The Falcons had a well-liked draft and picked up some good value in the later rounds. Grady Jarrett is the son of former Falcon great Jessie Tuggle and will look to bring the same hardworking mindset his father had that made him a five-time Pro Bowler after going undrafted. The first round selection of Vic Beasley filled a glaring need for a pass rusher and gives Falcons fans an exciting player to look forward to seeing on Sundays.

One Atlanta team however, did lay an egg this weekend; your Atlanta Hawks. An energized team came out and held a 37-26 lead after the first period and looked as if they were ready to run the Wizards out of the building. Atlanta entered the half up 63-53, but the wheels would fall off. Bradley Beal took over the game and poured in a game-high 28 points to lead the Wizards to a 104-98 win. After struggling to close out Brooklyn in a timely fashion, Atlanta fans might be ready to hit the panic button after blowing Game 1.

On the national stage, the Kentucky Derby went chalk with the favorite, American Pharoah, pulling away down the stretch to hold off Firing Line. The pomp and circumstance was a sight to behold as the graceful power of the horses was on full display. American Pharoah will now attempt to be the first Triple Crown winner since 1978.

Game 7 of the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs was the most exciting event of the weekend hands down. A hobbled Chris Paul with just one hamstring willed the Clippers to victory and stunned the defending champs with a 111-109 victory. Paul finished with 27 points including the game-winner with one second remaining over Tim Duncan; a shot even the Russian Judges would give a 10-out-of-10 in difficulty. The incredible performance was meant to serve as the ultimate appetizer to the biggest boxing match in history, but the main course didn’t please everyone’s pallet.

Mayweather beat Pacquiao by decision in a match that most were let down by. Being an avid boxing fan year round, this was exactly what I thought would happen. The casual fan who thought there would be some sort of knockout got their hopes up for nothing. These two fighters aren’t guys who try to knock you out anymore. Mayweather is the greatest defensive fighter of all-time and always looks to hug and slither his way out of trouble. People can’t say the fight was a disappointment because this is what was expected going in. Pacquiao hadn’t scored a knockout since 2012 and Mayweather, 2011. The villain might have won the fight, but overall as sports fans, we won this weekend.

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