The Missing Piece: International Imports

Published: January 19, 2013

I hate not knowing. Hate it. I pride myself on knowing every side of the argument, researching every possible solution and then moving forward with well-thought out forecasts and solutions that have a foundation of probability, or at the very least, extreme possibility. In my Missing Piece last week, I laid out the different college prospects that are likely to be lottery picks in the upcoming draft, but I admittedly had nothing to offer with regard to fact or opinion on the international players likely to enter June’s draft. Beyond that, I was also highly intrigued by the play of two recent international imports- Alexey Shved and Pablo Prigioni- when they faced off against the Hornets this week and actively wondered if the Hornets could benefit from having a similar player on their roster.

The Timberwolves have been a team that have drafted international players high in the lottery like Rubio, but they have also signed guys who were playing overseas (Shved and Andrei Kirilenko) and done the Euro stash strategy with Nikola Pekovic. This showcases the three ways in which you can provide a big boost to your team by scouting internationally and using that system to benefit your organization. With that in mind, I dove team into videos, stats, and bios to shed some light on a few guys from abroad who can fill the role of Missing Piece.

Lotto Pick Possibilities

Rudy Gobert, 7’1″, 235 PF/C France (Age: 20)

Gobert is a rail-thin big man with an incredible wingspan (7’9″) that is likely at least a year or two away from even being a rotation player in the NBA, let alone a star. He has the ability to finish lobs when nobody puts a body on him, but he doesn’t have much strength in his base, so he gets pushed around quite easily and if he gets bumped at all in the air, he will have trouble converting the lob. For much of the same reason, he is not a very good rebounder at this point either. Essentially, he is a physical specimen right now who clogs up the lane with his tremendous length and can occassionaly play off of others in the half court.

While he is a project, you can see the long term potential because he is not a stiff. His overall movement is very fluid and his motor is not in question. Somebody like Hasheem Thabeet failed because they did not have the foot speed to succeed when they were forced to defend the pick and roll, and reports were that Thabeet was not really all too passionate about the game of basketball. Having watched almost three complete games of Gobert, it is obvious that he does not have either of these problems. At the very least, he should develop into a tremendous defensive presence in the league and he has recently developed hook shots with both hands, which makes you believe he has some potential upside offensively.

My ceiling for Gobert would be Serge Ibaka plus an additional three inches in height and five inches in wingspan. He plays with a similar passion and has a game that is strikingly similar to Ibaka at the same age. The question is whether he can put on weight like Ibaka did. Most people assume that this is just a given, bit look at a player like Shawn Bradley, who was never able to add strength and his NBA career suffered because of it.

Gobert is an interesting prospect because theoretically the Hornets could draft him with a mutual understanding that Gobert stays over in France for another season or two to develop his game and grow into his body. The major benefit to this strategy would be that the clock would not start on Gobert’s rookie scale contract until he came to the U.S. Keeping a player on a rookie scale contract for as long as possible would be beneficial to a small market team that will eventually have to re-sign guys like Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, while also giving a max deal to Anthony Davis. Of course, that would mean that our first round pick would not provide an impact in the upcoming year, but with as much youth as the Hornets currently have on this roster, perhaps not having to spend so much time developing another raw, young player wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Dario Saric, 6’10”, 223 SF Croatia (Age: 18)

I don’t want to put too much pressure on the guy, but I see a lot of Toni Kukoc in Dario Saric’s game. He has fantastic handles for a guy his size, and while he can get to the bucket and score at will at times, he is almost always looking to set up his teammates. He doesn’t always make the simple pass and as a result, the turnovers pile up, but his ability to see the court as well as he does leads to some pretty spectacular assists. His outside shooting at this point of his career is a negative, as is his perimeter defense. He has decent length, so he can contest shots on the perimeter, but if he were to step into the NBA today, he would get blown by on a regular basis due to his lack of lateral quickness.

He is clearly a couple years away from making a contribution on the NBA level, but how often do you find a  6’10” wing player who can get to wherever he wants to get on the court and create for others? That is the foundation of Saric’s game, and if he slowly adds a piece or two every season, he will give a team a unique weapon that will be hard to neutralize. Like Gobert, the best thing for Saric might be to play overseas for the next season or two in order to refine his game before heading over to play with the best in the world. He has been playing with adults for almost three years now, and the results have been paying off. In last summer’s under-18 European Championships, he led Croatia to the title and took home MVP.

Patience will be a requirement if the Hornets take Saric, but look around the league- how many playmaking small forwards are there in the NBA right now? If you feel that you can develop his weaknesses and take advantage of his rare strengths, then you gotta take this type of player because they don’t come around very often.

Second Round Euro Stashes

Lucas Nogueira, 7’0″, 220, C Brazil (Age: 20)

Nogueira is a guy who has been on the NBA radar for a couple of years now and he actually came very close to entering the draft last season. He is an extremely long (7’5″ wingspan) prospect with average athleticism and a very raw skill set. At this point, he is a guy who is very active on the boards and has the ability to play great weakside defense, but his offensive skill set is severely limited, as he gets the majority of his points off of put backs and dunks. He also has a questionable motor and can disappear from games all together. But if a coach can get through to him, and Monty is a guy who has shown that he is capable of motivating, then someone could get a top ten talent and a legit NBA center late in the first round or early in the second.

Augusto Lima, 6’9″, 240 Brazil (Age: 21)

The Hornets don’t currently have a second round pick, having traded it for Xavier Henry, but if they did a guy like Augusto Lima is exactly the type of player they would likely target. Usually, international players are thought of as highly skilled but soft, but that is not the case with Lima. Augusto Lima is more of a grit and determination type of big man who loves to get physical and does all of the small things that don’t show necessarily up in the box score. He is best in the pick and roll because he rolls extremely hard to the basket, which either leads to an agreesive finish, two free throws, or the defense collapsing hard- thereby creating space for another player on the perimeter. His defense is more than adequate as he is equally capable of blocking shots in the paint or using his quickness to disrupt the pick and roll. Overall, Lima is not a guy who will ever be an NBA starter, but he can become an invaluable role player on a good team that gives opposing teams fits because of his aggressive and fearless attitude.

Alex Abrines, 6’5″, 196, SG  Spain (Age: 20)

Abrines is a young and athletic shooting guard who has been playing professionally for nearly three years now, and he seems to impress everyone he plays with and against. He is equal parts athlete and shooter, with the ability to attack and finish in the open court or spread the floor in the half court. He has some handles, but not enough to play point guard and because of that he is probably a year or two away from really contributing in the NBA. He is too thin to provide any kind of resistance to NBA shooting guards at this point, but if and when he adds 10-15 pounds, he can be a spark plug off the bench, capable of putting up points in bunches.


International Free Agents/ Trade Targets

Marcelinho Huertas, 6’3″, 188 PG Brazil (Age: 29)

Huertas is a veteran point guard who can come to the NBA and contribute immediately, providing exceptional ball handling and playmaking at the point guard position. The only reason he has not come over yet is because he is making more money in Spain with FC Barcelona than he has been offered by an NBA team. But the talent is there, and he showed that he can play at a high level against the best, dishing out 13 assists when Brazil faced the US this summer, despite heavy ball pressure from CP3 and others all game. It will likely take 3-4 million to buy him out and another 3-4 million per year to sign him, but when you look at the available options to play backup point guard in the 2013 market, that might be a bargain. Huertas can come in from day one and be amongst the league leaders in assist %, controlling the pace and performance of your second unit, while providing leadership and solid defense as well.

Milos Teodosic, 6’5″, 192 PG/SG Serbia (Age: 25)

Teodosic is a gunner who projects as a volume three-point shooter at the NBA level, but he also possesses the ability to occassionally make plays for other. Think Rudy Fernandez but with less athleticism and more consistency on his jumper. He can play the point, but would likely be more disruptive off the ball where he can come off screens and attack, rather than limit himself by being forced to create for others. His defense leaves a lot to be desired, but if you can afford to have a rotation player whose sole role is to come off the bench and spread the floor, then you could do a lot worse than Teodosic.

Nick Calathes, 6’5″, 185 PG/SG Greece (Age: 23) – Mavericks own rights

Calathes was a first round talent in 2009 who slipped to the second round because he decided that he was going to spend his first few years overseas. He was on the same high school team with Chandler Parsons, and they both went to the University of Florida together, where Calathes was far and away the better player and prospect of the two. Calathes is a big, do-it-all kind of point guard, capable of a triple-double on any night and he continues to showcase that overseas, where he is currently putting up 15, 7, and 6 in the Euro league. The Mavericks are in a bit of a transition and if they are focused on bringing in veterans to help Dirk win in these final years, Calathes could be a guy whose rights they could move in order to get better immediately. And if they do, some smart GM is going to jump all over that opportunity.

 The Missing Piece is a weekly feature that you can find every Saturday only on For past pieces in this series, click here. 


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