The playoffs are getting closer and closer with each passing game, but what if you have no skin in this postseason? For those of you that are already looking forward to the typically wild free agency period in July, Basketball Insiders has been taking a look at the players that could potentially move this summer. Now more than halfway through the series, up next are the pending power forwards — a group of talented players that could shape the NBA landscape with a single signing.
First off, should the Los Angeles Clippers be worried about Blake Griffin? Will the Atlanta Hawks fork over the cash to keep Paul Millsap? If a team is strapped for cap space, what low-cost, high-impact free agents exist at this position? Separated into ranked tiers, here’s how the power forward dominos could fall in free agency.
Tier 1: Top Shelf Starters
1. Blake Griffin — Early Termination
For a player that once looked well on his way to becoming the next darling of the league, there’s been little hubbub about his potential unrestricted free agency this summer. Griffin (along with point guard Chris Paul) has the ability to terminate the final year of his contract, and the former All-Star would have plenty of suitors. While the last few seasons haven’t gone swimmingly for the high-flyer, Griffin is still just 28 years old and sports a nice average of 21.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per game.
Griffin is a five-time All-Star and a great fit next to DeAndre Jordan, the rebounding machine he helped re-sign to a hefty deal back in 2015, but the Clippers have never made it past the second round with this core. In recent years, Griffin has attempted to expand his range and has made a career-high in three-pointers with 26 in 2016-17, making them at a 32.9 percent clip.
Ultimately, if Griffin ends his deal early, he’ll likely just re-sign with the Clippers again. Basketball Insiders’ Steve Kyler was told as much around the trade deadline. But with Paul potentially hitting UFA with sharpshooter J.J. Redick as well, there are plenty of decisions to be made this summer in Los Angeles.
2. Paul Millsap — Player Option
If Griffin truly is off the market, that would make Paul Millsap the crown jewel of potential power forward free agents. Millsap has a Player Option worth $21.4 million heading into the final year of his contract, but with the Atlanta Hawks trending backward without Al Horford, could he look to greener pastures? Reports have indicated he might. Of course, Millsap was a hot topic around trade deadline season following Kyle Korver’s move to the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the Hawks stood firm on their power forward.
If he opts out, the Hawks will certainly look to retain the talents of Millsap alongside the lengthy deals of Dennis Schröder, Kent Bazemore and Dwight Howard. Millsap is a defensively stout power forward that contributes in all major statistical categories, averaging 3.8 assists, 1.3 steals, 1 block and 1 three-pointer per game this season. At 32, this may be Millsap’s final opportunity to lock down a major deal with a contender, so if he reaches unrestricted free agency, the do-it-all big man will be a much-desired commodity in July.
Tier 2: Serviceable Starters
3. Serge Ibaka — Unrestricted Free Agent
Now, here’s where things get interesting.
Serge Ibaka was set to become one of the trade deadline’s most sought-after players, but after the shot-blocking power forward wouldn’t commit long term to any of his suitors, the market cooled considerably. At 27, Ibaka would still be a major addition to any franchise this summer as the first truly unattached player on this list.
Although his blocks per game averages have been trending down since his unreal mark of 3.7 in 2011-12, Ibaka is still one of the league’s premier rim protectors. He’s still trying to find his way in a post-Thunder world without Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant to set him up with easy looks, but his numbers over the past year with Oklahoma City, Orlando and Toronto look nearly identical.
Ibaka relies on his athleticism to impact basketball games, but you can likely count on him to contribute about 14 points, 6 rebounds and a block per game for the next couple seasons. For teams out there looking to capitalize on a shrinking window like the Boston Celtics, New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls, adding a defensive game-changer like Ibaka could be interesting.
4. Taj Gibson — Unrestricted Free Agent
By all accounts, Taj Gibson has been a consistent contributor since the Bulls drafted him in 2009. He doesn’t fit the prototypical mold of the new age deep-shooting big man, but Gibson’s skill set would be a helpful addition to most teams. Before he was traded to the Thunder at the deadline, he was averaging 11.6 points, 7 rebounds and 0.9 blocks per game, a line more or less near his averages since 2013-14.
As a post player, he’s about as old-school as they come: hard-nosed and gritty with a soft touch around the hoop, but he was never more than a supporting piece in Chicago. After Carlos Boozer moved on from the franchise in 2014, Gibson was the natural replacement but the Bulls opted to bring in Pau Gasol for a one-year trial. Alongside Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, Gibson was always a contributor, but he never quite made the next big jump. Ironically, he may be the perfect lower-cost answer to losing Ibaka for the Thunder. For contending teams in need of some steady defense and scoring — Gibson was the runner-up for Sixth Man of the Year in 2013-14 — the former Trojan makes sense.
5. Dirk Nowitzki — Team Option
After reaching the 30,000 point plateau with the Dallas Mavericks, the chances of these two sides splitting at this point are next to nothing. Much like Tim Duncan’s tenure with the San Antonio Spurs, Nowitzki has little reason to ring chase and leave the organization after 19 years. It’s possible that Nowitzki could provide the Mavericks with a more team-friendly deal should the franchise find a max-worthy player to chase, although he’d been giving Dallas a hometown discount for many years before this last $25 million contract.
Injuries have slowed down the smooth shooting German as of late and, as a result, Nowitzki is averaging just 14.5 points per game this season, his lowest mark since his rookie year in 1998-99. Either way, an NBA landscape without Nowitzki on the Mavericks is nearly implausible, so don’t expect the best European player of all-time to swap jerseys at this point in his first ballot Hall of Fame career.
Tier 3: Quality Reserves
6. Zach Randolph — Unrestricted Free Agent
It’s hard to believe that Zach Randolph has already been with Memphis Grizzlies for eight seasons, cast away by both the Knicks and Clippers way back in 2008-09. Since then, he’s helped lead the Grizzlies to their best finishes in franchise history alongside Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. However, now that he’s made the ever-graceful transition to sixth man, could Randolph explore new possibilities this summer?
He’ll be 36 years old by the time the next NBA season rolls around, so this veteran won’t likely require a large chunk of a team’s cap space. Unfortunately, this Grizzlies team has only reached the Conference Finals once and that was back in 2012-13. With an excellent career beginning to wind down, Randolph could prefer to join a team that’s better suited for a deep playoff run.
This season, Randolph has averaged 14 points and 8.2 rebounds off the bench and is well in the running for Sixth Man of the Year.
7. Ersan Ilyasova — Unrestricted Free Agent
Ersan Ilyasova’s surprisingly strong season with the Philadelphia 76ers may just parlay itself into a pretty good payday this summer. The Turkish 29-year-old has never lit the NBA on fire, but over his nine-year career, Ilyasova has carved out quite the niche for himself. He’ll never anchor a defense and he’s as streaky a shooter as they come, but as a consistent scorer, Ilyasova gets it done.
This season alone, Ilyasova is averaging 13.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game and has scored 20 points or more on 13 different occasions— topped off by a spectacular 31-point, 11-rebound effort against the Bulls in late January. Ilyasova is in the final year of an $8.4 million deal that he signed back in 2012. Since then, he’s played for the Milwaukee Bucks, Orlando Magic, Oklahoma City Thunder, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers and now the Atlanta Hawks — so wherever he lands this summer, he’ll hope to stick around a bit longer this time.
8. Amir Johnson — Unrestricted Free Agent
Amir Johnson has never been the type of player to stuff the stat sheet and, in fact, he’s only ever averaged more than 10 points per game twice in his long career dating back to 2005. As one of the few remaining players that made the jump right from high school to the NBA, Johnson has been a consistently healthy, productive member of playoff-bound basketball teams. You’ll hardly hear his name in a conversation about this great Boston Celtics team, but Johnson has started for them in 67 games next to Al Horford, two steady defensive forces on a roster full of them.
He’s a career 57.3 percent shooter from the floor and has blocked 0.95 shots per game over his two years with Boston. Even better, his injury history is stellar and, by season’s end, Johnson will have started in 70 or more games for the fourth straight year. Johnson won’t revolutionize a franchise this summer, but he’ll be a cheap, flexible and healthy piece that many championship-ready teams will look to recruit.
9. Patrick Patterson — Unrestricted Free Agent
Patrick Patterson’s name doesn’t pop out on the box score very often, but he’s become a fan-favorite in Toronto thanks to his timely three-point shooting. After bouncing around with the Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings, Patterson has found a home with the Raptors and is now a key cog in head coach Dwane Casey’s rotation.
Patterson nearly has more games with two or more three-pointers (25) than not (29) this season and is the perfect second unit big man for the Raptors. Although his minutes have dropped since the arrival of Tucker and Ibaka, Patterson helps complete one of the league’s deepest rosters.
The Raptors will have bigger fish to fry with Kyle Lowry’s early termination clause and Ibaka’s impending free agency in play, but they’d be remiss to forget about the team’s third-best three-point shooter.
10. James Johnson — Unrestricted Free Agent
James Johnson has been hanging around since 2009, but it seems like this year has finally brought his permanent arrival. From being the HEAT’s do-it-all glue guy to getting named on Zach Lowe of ESPN’s 2017 Luke Walton All-Stars, this has truly been his moment of glory. With Justise Winslow shelved since January, Johnson has helped fill the void on one of the NBA’s hottest teams. There’s no telling what kind of market will be out there for a 30-year-old journeyman finally making his big jump in the NBA, but he’ll have plenty of options soon enough.
11. JaMychal Green — Restricted Free Agent
JaMychal Green is the man that unseated the aforementioned Randolph as the Grizzlies’ starting power forward and there’s a good reason for that. Surrounded by plenty of firepower, Green often sticks with what he knows best, averaging 9.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, both career-highs, and shooting 54.6 percent from the floor.
The Grizzlies’ Grind-and-Grind mantra makes them a must-watch during the postseason and this year it’s in part thanks to Green. Even head coach David Fizdale has bought into the hype, suggesting that Green has what it takes to be a future first team all-defender.
Green is one of the few restricted free agents on the list, but one must wonder what Memphis will be willing to match after giving out huge contracts to Conley and Gasol in back-to-back summers.
12. Nikola Mirotic — Restricted Free Agent
Nikola Mirotic is another interesting power forward set to hit the restricted free agent market, but a split between the sharpshooter and the Bulls could reasonably come to fruition here. After a solid 2015-16 campaign saw Mirotic improve nominally on his numbers — 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2 three-pointers per game — he’s bounced around head coach Fred Hoiberg’s rotation all season.
The former Spanish League MVP is one of best shooters on one of the NBA’s worst shooting franchises — Chicago ranks dead last in three-pointers made per game at 7.2 — so the Bulls could do much worse by looking for a replacement. This one may boil down to whether or not Hoiberg survives the hot seat again in the Windy City.
13. Terrence Jones — Unrestricted Free Agent
Terrence Jones might rank higher on this list if it were not for the strange inaction by many franchises when he hit the waiver wire last month. Jones was averaging 11.5 points and 5.9 rebounds per game with the New Orleans Pelicans, and, at the age of 25, has loads of basketball ahead of him.
And yet, nobody touched Jones, not even the talent-hungry Brooklyn Nets or Philadelphia 76ers. After he cleared waivers, the Bucks eventually signed him for the remainder of the season on March 2, but he’s played just two minutes in one game. If he doesn’t end up cracking the Bucks’ playoff rotation, he’ll hope that his solid work in New Orleans will net him a fresh start and a new contract.
14. Richaun Holmes — Non-Guaranteed
Richaun Holmes was an infrequently used forward toiling away behind the 76ers’ massive frontcourt logjam for much of the season. But with Nerlens Noel in Dallas, Joel Embiid in the trainer’s room and head coach Brett Brown in full-on evaluation mode, Holmes’ minutes have greatly increased following the All-Star Break.
The early returns have been fantastic as the hard-working Holmes will have likely saved himself and his non-guaranteed contract for another season. He won’t beat out Embiid as the future starter, no, but after watching him drop 24 points and 14 rebounds on the Orlando Magic this week, the rest of the league should take notice.
Tier 4: The rest
The power forward scraps range from journeyman to old-school veterans looking for one more playoff run. Some notable names include David West (UFA) and David Lee (PO), two former San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors rotation pieces near the end of their careers. Nick Collison, who has only played in 15 games with the Thunder this season, will also be an unrestricted free agent — but he’s been with Seattle/Oklahoma City since 2004.
Elsewhere, there should be interest in Jared Sullinger after he was waived following the Raptors’ deadline deals for Tucker and Ibaka — but, surprisingly, he hasn’t drawn much attention thus far. Josh McRoberts’ stint as a Miami HEAT player has been underwhelming thanks to injury, but he’s a great passer for his size and could latch onto a playoff bound roster if he waives his option.
And, last but not least, Derrick Williams, the former No. 2 overall pick will rejoin the free market after a couple of solid seasons with the Knicks, HEAT and now the Cavaliers. After bouncing around the league since he was drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2011, he’ll hope to parlay a strong run with the defending champs into another guaranteed contract.
Non-Guaranteed: Anthony Tolliver, Sacramento Kings; Quincy Acy, Brooklyn Nets; Kevin Seraphin, Indiana Pacers; Tarik Black, Los Angeles Lakers; Ryan Kelly, Atlanta Hawks; Johnny O’Bryant, Charlotte Hornets; Jordan Mickey, Boston Celtics; Maurice Ndour, New York Knicks
Unrestricted Free Agents: Brandon Bass, Los Angeles Clippers; Mike Muscala, Atlanta Hawks; Kris Humphries, Atlanta Hawks; Thomas Robinson, Los Angeles Lakers; Udonis Haslem, Miami HEAT
Restricted Free Agents: Joffrey Lauvergne, Chicago Bulls; James McAdoo, Golden State Warriors
Team Option: Lavoy Allen, Indiana Pacers
NBA Daily: Kawhi Leonard Would Look Good In a Knicks Uniform… In 2019
The Knicks need to take a page out of the Sixers’ book… and trust the process.
Don’t get me wrong, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving would both look great in New York Knick uniforms. Just not now.
Hey, let’s be frank—only a fool does the same thing over and over and expects different results.
Seven years ago, the Knicks the made mistake of trading their farm for a superstar caliber small forward. His name is Carmelo Anthony, and we all know how that story ended.
If you want to make the argument that Leonard is a better player than Anthony was at 27 years old, that’s your right. I won’t argue with you. But one thing that not even Max Kellerman could find a way to argue is that smart teams simply don’t trade assets for players they could ultimately end up getting for free. That’s why Paul George spent last season flanking Russell Westbrook instead of arguing with LaVar Ball.
Sure, Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka haven’t been on the job very long, but if there’s one thing they’ve already shown us is that they’re no newbies. That’s exactly why LeBron James is going to take his talents to Los Angeles in July. But we’ll save that discussion for next week.
As it stands, the Knicks have little aside from Kristaps Porzinigis going for them. With the Latvian unicorn expected to miss the majority of next season, they’ll probably have another lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
In other words, one year from now, the Knicks will have four of their own lottery picks under contract—Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina, and whichever players they will have selected in 2018 and 2019. Between now and then, the team would be best served scouring the G-League and overseas markets to find cheap help that can contribute at the NBA level.
That type of prudent management will not only help the Knicks in the long run, it will go a long way toward convincing soon-to-be free agents and player agents that Scott Perry and his staff actually know what they’re doing.
Know who will be free agents in July 2019?
If you answered Kawhi Leonard, you’re correct, but you only get partial credit.
The full answer is Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving, the latter of whom has been consistently rumored as having real interest in signing with the Knicks when he’s able to test the market next July. Depending on who you ask, there does seem to be a genuine level of concern that Irving could opt to take his talents elsewhere and if Irving is truly in search of building a legacy, one could fairly conclude that there has to be some level of intrigue.
Irving grew up in the shadows of Madison Square Garden and knows better than most what winning in New York City would do for his legacy. At the end of the day, would one championship in New York make Irving a legendary figure among the likes of Kobe Bryant or LeBron James?
Maybe not, but one thing we can call agree on is that winning in a single championship in New York would do much more for Irving than winning a single championship in Cleveland or even a single title in Boston.
As it stands, fair or not, history will always look at Irving as the “other” player on James’ championship Cavaliers team even though he was the one who made the biggest shot of James’ career.
And with the success of the Celtics this past season, truth be told, Irving helping lead the Celtics to a championship with the team’s current core in place wouldn’t necessarily cement his legacy in the way it would have had we not seen Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown show signs of being franchise-caliber players.
Because Irving is a shoot-first guard, he’s (rather unfairly) earned a reputation of someone who doesn’t make his teammates better. Because of the circumstances, he’s now in a bit of a catch-22. He’ll get less of the credit than he’ll deserve if the Celtics manage to win an NBA title and more of the blame than he’ll deserve if they fail to.
Kemba Walker—the only “true” All-Star caliber New Yorker in the NBA—and Long Island product Tobias Harris will also each be free come July 2019. Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Kevin Love and Nikola Vucevic, also.
It’d be one thing if the Knicks were one piece away from potentially winning the Eastern Conference, but with or without Kawhi Leonard, they’re light years away.
What makes most sense for the Knicks is to continue to stay the course, manage their cap intelligently, hit home runs with each of their next two lottery picks and try to find a way to trade Courtney Lee and Joakim Noah.
Depending on what happens with Kristaps Porzingis, it’s very possible that the Knicks could find themselves with enough cap room to sign two maximum-salaried free agents. Between now and then, they’d also have the opportunity to add a free attractive young pieces that would likely go a long way toward convincing players of Leonard’s ilk to entrust his legacy to the capable hands of the front office.
In other words, if the Knicks have truly learned anything from the futility of their recent past, it’s that they should try to be more like Magic Johnson’s Lakers than like the Knicks we’ve come to know.
Believe it or not, if the Knicks play their card rights and decide to stay the course and patiently rebuild as opposed to splurging for minimal gains, the unthinkable could happen…
They may actually prove themselves worthy of the attention of a marquee free agent.
Or, in this case, two of them.
Ranking the Free Agents – Power Forwards
Basketball Insiders continues to evaluate the top free agents at each position. David Yapkowitz breaks down the power forwards.
This week at Basketball Insiders, we’re taking a look at the top free agents set to the open market in just a few weeks. We’ve already covered the point guards, shooting guards, and small forwards. Now we check in with the power forwards.
There may only be a few power forwards who can probably expect a max or near max deal this summer, but there are quite a few guys that, for the right price, can end up being difference makers on a team next season.
Before getting into the actual free agents, here’s a look at what the salary cap numbers project to be. The NBA’s salary cap is expected to jump to $101 million this offseason. Based on that, here are the projected numbers for max contracts:
$25,250,000 for players with 0-6 years of experience
$30,300,000 for players with 7-9 years of experience
$35,350,000 for players with 10+ years of experience
Max/Near Max Guys
Julius Randle* – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Year’s Salary: $4,149,242
Julius Randle is definitely in line for a bigger payday this summer. The fourth-year forward turned in his best NBA season yet and was arguably the Lakers best player for most of the year. He played in all 82 games with 49 starts.
He put up career-high numbers across the board with 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting from the field. Most of Randle’s scoring comes in the paint where his “bully” ball type game has proven quite effective. He has an improving jump shot and at 23 years old, he still has his best years ahead of him.
He will be a restricted free agent, giving the Lakers the ability to match any offer he receives, but doing so could come at the expense of signing two max-level free agents as has been the team’s plan. It’s going to be an interesting dilemma for the Lakers as Randle most likely will attract interest right away from potential suitors thus forcing the Lakers hand early on in free agency.
Aaron Gordon* – Orlando Magic – Last Year’s Salary: $5,504,420
Aaron Gordon will also most likely receive a max or near max contract his summer. Early in the season when the Orlando Magic started out hot, Gordon was playing like an All-Star and even a borderline MVP candidate.
The Magic’s play then went rapidly south, but Gordon finished the season averaging 17.6 points per game, 7.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists, all career-highs. At the beginning of the season, he displayed a much improved three-point shot. The Magic have tried him at small forward before, but he’s a natural at power forward.
Gordon is also a restricted free agent allowing the Magic to match any offer. At age 22, he should also have his best years ahead of him. For a team like the Magic, in need of talent and quality young players, re-signing Gordon is probably ideal. But it’s also important to note that the Magic have a newer front office in place, one that did not draft Gordon. It’s also possible that John Hammond and Jeff Weltman might want to shape the roster in their vision.
Above Mid-Level Guys
Jabari Parker* – Milwaukee Bucks – Last Season’s Salary: $6,782,392
Jabari Parker is perhaps one of the most interesting and intriguing names on the free agent market. A former No. 2 overall pick, as a rookie Parker looked like he was definitely part of the Bucks growing young core. Unfortunately for him, injuries struck him hard as he suffered two ACL tears during a three-year period.
This season, he struggled a bit to find a role with the Bucks. There’s no question that if he’s healthy, he’d be quite an asset to any team. He represents the new breed of power forward with a perimeter game. Prior to his injuries, he’d almost assuredly be a max contract guy. It’s a bit difficult to imagine any team willing to pay him anywhere close to that now.
The Bucks have the option to match any contract offer he gets as he is a restricted free agent. It’s conceivable that they would do so as it will probably take a massive offer to pry Parker away from the Bucks. It’s unlikely that any team is willing to go that high.
Thaddeus Young** – Indiana Pacers – Last Season’s Salary: $14,796,348
Thaddeus Young could be another intriguing power forward on the free agent market. The thing with Young is he has a player option he could choose to exercise and become a free agent. Never an All-Star, Young has been a steady and dependable player his entire career.
His numbers were a bit under his career averages this season. He put up 11.8 points per game on 48.7 percent shooting from the field and he pulled down 6.3 rebounds. Nevertheless, he remained an important part of the Pacers rotation, especially on the defensive end.
Should he hit the open market, there likely wouldn’t be any shortage of suitors.
Derrick Favors – Utah Jazz – Last Season’s Salary: $12,000,000
Ed Davis – Portland Trail Blazers – Last Season’s Salary: $6,352,531
Montrezl Harrell* – Los Angeles Clippers – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382
Mid-Level Or Below Guys
Mike Scott – Washington Wizards – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382
Ersan Ilyasova – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Season’s Salary: $357,454
Trevor Booker – Indiana Pacers – Last Season’s Salary: $332,516
David West – Golden State Warriors – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382
Nemanja Bjelica* – Minnesota Timberwolves – Last Season’s Salary: $3,949,999
Kevon Looney – Golden State Warriors – Last Season’s Salary: $1,471,382
Mike Muscala** – Atlanta Hawks – Last Season’s Salary: $5,000,000
Amir Johnson – Philadelphia 76ers – Last Season’s Salary: $11,000,000
Channing Frye – Los Angeles Lakers – Last Season’s Salary: $7,420,912
Quincy Acy – Brooklyn Nets – Last Season’s Salary: $1,709,538
*Qualifying Offer (If made, the player becomes a restricted free agent.)
**Player Option (The player has the choice of whether to opt-in for another year with his current team or opt-out to become an unrestricted free agent.)
NBA Daily: Four International Prospects Worth Stashing
While much of the international buzz has fallen on Luka Dončić, there are four other overseas prospects worth keeping your eye on.
Without fail, mock drafts come and go all spring with little mention of potential international draftees. It makes perfect sense. Not every overseas athlete can get the buzz of Real Madrid’s Luka Dončić — or, in most cases, even that of Élie Okobo and Džanan Musa, two international prospects with decent chances of going in the first round next week. Still, would it surprise you to know that seven international draftees were taken in the second round in 2017? Or that 2016 went one better and reached eight? In fact, 2015 saw 10 foreign-born prospects get selected after pick No. 30 — so this is a trend, not an aberration.
Granted, a handful of those draftees haven’t and will not ever play meaningful NBA minutes — but the point still very much stands. However, outside of those aforementioned three — Dončić, Okobo and Musa — even the most-educated of fans would be hard-pressed to rattle off four more transatlantic options. Luckily, Basketball Insiders has your back. Memorize these easily-digestible profiles to impress your friends and family during the NBA Draft — you can thank us later.
Isaac Bonga, Germany — Fraport Skyliners
Age: 18 — Height: 6-foot-9 — Position: SG/SF
Last Mock Rank: No. 39 to Philadelphia
By most accounts, Bonga will be drafted next week — so, admittedly, he’s not the deepest cut on this list. But if the German isn’t on many casual radars just yet, he should be soon enough. His statistics are hardly remarkable — Bonga averaged just six points, three rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in 2017-18 — but his physical measurements project him as a difference-maker. Standing at 6-foot-9, the 18-year-old talent has some legitimate playmaking abilities already. Of course, overseas highlight reels have proven to be misleading time and time again — but watch this timestamped move from last summer’s FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup and try not to get too excited.
Comparing Bonga to other size-aided court generals is weak at best, but he also boasts a seven-foot wingspan, shoots 92.1 percent from the free throw line and his on-court vision is noteworthy for a teenager. Bonga’s best individual performance of the season came against Eisbären Bremerhaven, where he notched 16 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks on 2-for-2 from three-point range. Given his current stature, he won’t be limited to just defending one or two positions if he bulks up over the next couple years either. There’s no guarantee that Bonga will make it professionally in America, but there are some compelling reasons to take a wait-and-see approach with this capable youngster.
Rodions Kurucs, Latvia — FC Barcelona
Age: 20 — Height: 6-foot-9 — Position: SF
Last Mock Rank: No. 37 to Sacramento
Originally, Kurucs had considered coming over last season after scoring 9.5 points per game for FC Barcelona II. Although raw, the then-19-year-old was a projected late first-rounder for much of the workout process — but he ultimately opted to head back to Spain for another year. In 2017-18, his counting statistics improved nominally, but he finally spent time with FC Barcelona, one of Europe’s top clubs. Unfortunately, that’s also where things begin to get a bit tricky.
Between his allegedly expensive buyout and Barcelona freely swapping Kurucs between their two clubs to keep him away from visiting scouts, the Latvian is now widely seen as a second-round pick across the board. He had until June 11 to withdraw his name, but — perhaps knowing that things will forever remain difficult in Spain — is just going to make the most of a bad situation. Even with his up-and-downs, Kurucs is often a crafty scorer that can go both inside and outside with the ball.
Although Kurucs has two-way potential, make no mistake, the offense is the prospect’s bread and butter. As we’ve learned in recent years, the NBA will always find room for deadeye shooters and that’s what Kurucs may eventually bring to the table. The talent is here for Kurucs but his long-term NBA future likely depends on which franchise he lands with.
Issuf Sanon, Ukraine — Petrol Olimpija
Age: 18 — Height: 6-foot-3 — Position: G
Last Mock Rank: No. 57 to Oklahoma City
Qualifying as one of the more under the radar options, Sanon is a Ukrainian baller currently playing for Petrol Olimpija in Slovenia. In 2017-18, Sanon averaged six points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals over 20.2 minutes per game and presently projects as a combo guard. Although his professional moments have offered glimpses of an NBA-worthy path, Sanon made his biggest mark last summer at the FIBA U18 European Championship. In what would become his breakout tournament, Sanon averaged 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists over seven games.
During a slim two-point defeat to Turkey in the Round of 16, Sanon tallied 27 points, five rebounds, four assists, three steals and made three of his five attempts from deep. He’ll need to continue developing at the three-point line — he shot just 29.3 percent this season — but Sanon looks like he could be a viable 3-and-D candidate down the road. That said, like many international second-rounders, it’s unlikely that Sanon will come over for a few years at least. But if he keeps developing at this rate, drafting and stashing Sanon would be a shrewd move for any franchise.
Arnoldas Kulboka, Lithuania — Capo d’Orlando
Age: 20 — Height: 6-foot-9 — Position: F
Last Mock Rank: Unranked
Last but not least, there’s Arnoldas Kulboka — a long-ranged assassin with the numbers to back it up. In 2017-18, Kulboka went on loan to Capo d’Orlando of Serie A, a club with which he quickly found success. He was even named Best Young Player in the Basketball Champions League, a new, FIBA-led, European-wide competition. At the 2017 U19 Basketball World Cup, Kulboka averaged 13.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and two assists over seven games. As an athletic, microwavable shooter, Kulboka naturally goes through bouts of inconsistency — but when he’s on, the Lithuanian appears like a tremendous prospect. In the tournament opener against Germany, Kulboka dropped 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists on 5-for-8 from downtown. What else could you want?
On the flip side, during Lithuania’s quarterfinal defeat at the hands of Italy, Kulboka scored just five points on 1-for-15 shooting — so there’s certainly still room to improve. Given his NBA-ready range and his perfect fit in a modern offensive system, those facets alone make Kulboka worth considering. Regardless, success at the international level from an early age is not always an indicator of future achievements, that much should be obvious. But for a mid-to-late second rounder, franchises could do far worse than stashing Kulboka.
While there’s no promise that everybody on this list will even join the NBA someday, they’ve all proved that their names should be known heading into draft week. From former FIBA standouts to those with positionless potential, these four overseas standouts could be difference-makers in the forthcoming years.