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.