When drafting an upperclassman, underclassman or trading the pick isn’t viable, there is one more substantially riskier option for NBA general managers.
Drafting foreign basketball prospects in the lottery was once unheard of, but success stories like Yao Ming, Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki have warmed up front offices to the decision.
Still for many, the hassle isn’t worth it. Flying scouts abroad, negotiating buyouts and wagering reputations on a shot in the near-dark is too much for some GMs. Investing a lottery pick in a foreign player unknown to fans, as opposed to a popular U.S. collegian brings tremendous pressure. Of course, the man who drafts the next international NBA star comes away looking like a genius.
For Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings’ inner circle, their sights are set on three overseas prospects with the sixth overall pick. There’s big man Kristaps Porzingis (Andalusia), who the team scouted last week in Las Vegas. Point guard Emmanuel Mudiay (China) won’t work out for the Kings but is a talent too good to pass up. Mario Hezonja (Spain) is another intriguing option on the wing.
Of the trio, only Hezonja will be difficult to buy out. Divac, a foreigner himself, will have to determine if any of the three can make the competitive and cultural adjustment from Eurasian pro leagues to the association.
Track records are skimp. Since the birth of the lottery in 1985, merely three international prospects have been drafted at No. 6. They’re listed below.
2007, Yi Jianlian – Guangdong Tigers (China)
Career averages (5 seasons): 7.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.7 blocks, 1.1 turnovers, 22.2 minutes in 272 games (163 starts).
Notes: Between an age controversy, pre-draft workouts posting up chairs and initially refusing to play for the team who drafted him, Jianlian’s stint in the states was a mess. The 7-foot wing showed flashes of becoming a competent and creative NBA scorer, but nagging injuries botched any momentum he had. Jianlian lasted one season with the Bucks before logging two more with the Nets and a short stint with the Mavericks.
2008, Danilo Gallinari – Olympia Milano (Italy)
Career averages (6 seasons): 14.2 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.3 turnovers, 30.1 minutes in 344 games (274 starts).
Notes: Gallinari was heralded as the next Peja Stojakovic with his laser-point aim from deep range. Coupled with his great mobility, the Italian forward was on the fast track to stardom. Unfortunately, Gallinari’s development has been sidetracked by major injuries, including complications to a torn left ACL which forced him to sit out the 2013-14 season. The Knicks packaged Gallinari in the trade to bring Carmelo Anthony to New York in 2011.
2011, Jan Vesely – KK Partizan Belgrade (Serbia)
Career averages (3 seasons): 3.6 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 0.5 blocks, 0.8 turnovers, 15.2 minutes in 162 games (25 starts).
Notes: Overseas, Vesely made his mark as a 6-foot-11 small forward who thrived above the rim and effortlessly ran the floor. The lack of a jump shot and back-to-the-basket game doomed the Wizards draft pick, in addition to his inability to guard threes or fives in the NBA. Vesely is currently playing in Turkey.
History is rarely pretty. Nonetheless, the Kings and their familiarity with foreign players over the years should bolster their confidence at drafting an international sixth overall.