The NBA’s regular season is over, which means free agency is right around the corner. This summer’s list of free agents is fluid as many players have the choice to opt out of their current contract in order to secure a new, longer contract with their team or another team; players such as Carmelo Anthony, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph have to decide whether they want to test free agency now or at some point down the road. This often precludes a potential free agent from ever actually hitting the market. Also, players can extend their current contract and avoid free agency. This happens less often under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but is still possible. Thus, here we will be making educated predictions on whether players such as Anthony, Gay and Randolph will enter this summer’s free agency pool or put off the bidding war for their services until next offseason.
In some years, NBA free agency includes a star-studded cast, like in 2010 when LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Carlos Boozer, Amar’e Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Dirk Nowitzki among others were all free agents. More often, however, there are one, two or maybe three stars who are free agents and generate a lot of buzz, such as Chris Paul and Dwight Howard last year.
Considering this, let’s take a look at who may be available this upcoming offseason.
Notable 2014 Unrestricted Free Agents:
Early Termination Option:
Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Andrea Bargnani
Tim Duncan, Josh McRoberts, Darren Collison, Glen Davis, Danny Granger, Chris Andersen, Anthony Morrow, Mo Williams, Rudy Gay, Channing Frye, Zach Randolph, Nick Young, Andray Blatche
Currently in Final Year of their Contract:
Dirk Nowitzki, Lance Stephenson, Pau Gasol, Paul Pierce, Jerryd Bayless, Kris Humphries, Andrei Kirilenko, Shaun Livingston, Luke Ridnour, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Spencer Hawes, C.J. Miles, DeJuan Blair, Vince Carter, Shawn Marion, Aaron Brooks, Rodney Stuckey, Steve Blake, Jermaine O’Neal, Andrew Bynum, Jordan Farmar, Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman, Jodie Meeks, Mike Miller, Beno Udrih, Ray Allen, Shane Battier, Michael Beasley, Mario Chalmers, Greg Oden, Ramon Sessions, Dante Cunningham, Al-Farouq Aminu, Jason Smith, Greg Stiemsma, Thabo Sefolosha, Emeka Okafor, Boris Diaw, Kyle Lowry, Marvin Williams, Trevor Ariza, Marcin Gortat
»In Related: Full 2014-15 Cap Space Projections
Nobody’s free agency decision has created more speculation and interest than Anthony’s. This is due to the disappointing season that the New York Knicks had, and their questionable ability to become a contending team in the next few years. ‘Melo can forgo the final year of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent this summer to potentially join a team with significant cap space, like the Chicago Bulls or Houston Rockets. Anthony’s free agency situation is in flux and will garner the most interest throughout the league. New York is still considered the favorite to retain ‘Melo, but at age 29, he may just take his chances moving forward in Chicago or Houston.
The Big Three in Miami similarly have the option to forgo the final year of their contracts and sign with any team that has cap space. However, given their success in Miami, and their close relationship, most insiders and fans believe that James, Wade and Bosh will either choose not to exercise their early termination options this summer to put off their free agency by one year, or re-sign long-term with the HEAT. However, if Miami gets bounced in the playoffs and the long-term health of Wade becomes a major issue, James may look to other teams. While this scenario seems unlikely, it’s not implausible. Wade had to miss a lot of games this season to preserve himself for the playoffs, and he has been injury prone throughout his career. Additionally, Bosh has taken a back seat to James and Wade since teaming up in Miami, and may look to go elsewhere in order to reestablish himself as a franchise player. Don’t forget that in Toronto, Bosh was the franchise cornerstone who put up huge numbers each season.
These are not the only major players to potentially hit free agency this upcoming season. Players like Duncan, Gay and Randolph can forfeit significant money in the last year of their contracts in order to secure a long-term deal. Duncan is a Spur for life and would most likely retire before joining another team, so he doesn’t impact this list too much. However, Gay and Randolph are both players that are set to make major money next year, but may benefit more by re-signing with their teams, or another team, for more guaranteed years at a lower annual salary. Gay has stated that he would like to stay in Sacramento, and Randolph has had his best seasons in Memphis. However, if other teams make significant offers to either player, they will have to seriously consider moving to a new team.
Nowitzki is in a similar situation to Duncan. Nowitzki is more likely to retire than leave the Mavericks, so he is not a major factor in terms of free agency. Teams like the Houston Rockets and Miami HEAT may come calling to woo Nowitzki, but the safe bet is that he remains in Dallas. However, Gasol, Pierce and Deng are some players who will draw a lot of attention this offseason. Gasol and Pierce are looking for their last significant contracts, and could potentially end up anywhere this offseason. Deng could stay with the Cavaliers, but he has not been a natural fit since arriving from Chicago. Cleveland should be considered the favorite right now, but teams like the Suns and Lakers are reportedly interested.
Stephenson is another player to keep an eye on. Stephenson is a nightly triple-double threat and has a very diverse skill-set. Though he has had some behavioral issues, such as recently butting heads with teammate Evan Turner, Stephenson is very talented and will get a lot of interest from teams this offseason.
Notable 2014 Restricted Free Agents:
Avery Bradley, Greg Monroe, Evan Turner, Eric Bledsoe, Isaiah Thomas, Patrick Patterson, Greivis Vazquez, Gordon Hayward, Jordan Crawford, Ed Davis, P.J. Tucker
In general, restricted free agents are less likely to leave their team, as most franchises tend to match any offer sheet their player receives. However, this year some very talented players could be available. For example, when former Detroit Pistons president Joe Dumars signed Josh Smith to a large contract this past offseason, he made it increasingly difficult for the team to retain Greg Monroe. Monroe has emerged as one of the most talented young bigs in the league, but with Smith on board (who is virtually unmovable due to the size of his contract and poor outside shooting) Monroe may be lost to a team willing to offer a max deal. If Monroe secures a max offer from another team, the Pistons will have the option of matching the offer sheet, but it will be a difficult decision. Two other examples are Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas, who have both shown flashes of brilliance throughout this season and may interest other teams enough to receive near max, or max contract offers. In these scenarios, the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and Detroit Pistons would have to make a tough decision, deciding to match the offer sheet or let the player walk or try to work out a sign-and-trade to get something back for losing the player.
Gordon Hayward and Evan Turner are in similar situations. They are both players who have value, but they are not bona fide stars. Therefore, other teams may be willing to offer Hayward and Turner significant contracts in the hopes that they will continue to improve and someday be worth that contract offer. This will put pressure on their current teams to either pay them more than they may be currently worth, or let them walk away for nothing. This is what happened a few seasons ago when the Golden State Warriors offered Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan a four-year, $43 million offer sheet, which seemed ridiculously pricey at the time. The Clippers decided to match the offer, though the cost was higher than what they wanted to pay. Fortunately for the Clippers, Jordan has developed enough that he is now worth that contract.
Overall, with names like Anthony, James, Wade, Bosh, Gay, Stephenson, Bledsoe, Thomas, Monroe, Hayward, Deng, Gasol and Pierce available, this is a very talented free agency class. Additionally, there are also some potential gems like Shaun Livingston and Kyle Lowry who will be available as well. However, as talented as this pool of players may seem, a lot of the talent potentially available will likely re-sign with their current teams, which diminishes the potential talent that will actually be available.
The summer of 2015 has a lot of talented names that will be potentially available as well. Here are some of the more notable players likely to hit free agency the following summer:
Notable 2015 Unrestricted Free Agents:
Early Termination Option:
Thaddeus Young, Jared Dudley
Jeff Green, Brook Lopez, Gerald Henderson, Al Jefferson, Monta Ellis, Roy Hibbert, David West, Chase Budinger, Kevin Love, Arron Afflalo, Goran Dragic
Will be in Final Year of their Contract:
LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Louis Williams, Brandon Bass, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Marcus Thornton, Gary Neal, Carlos Boozer, Mike Dunleavy, Anderson Varejao, Samuel Dalembert, Wayne Ellington, Brandan Wright, Will Bynum, Omer Asik, Omri Casspi, Jeremy Lin, Luis Scola, C.J. Watson, DeAndre Jordan, Steve Nash, Marc Gasol, Kosta Koufos, J.J. Barea, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Ronny Turiaf, Tyson Chandler, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins, Jason Maxiell, Jameer Nelson, Ronnie Price, Gerald Green, Robin Lopez, Wesley Matthews, Dorell Wright, Jeff Ayres, Marco Belinelli, Austin Daye, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Tony Parker, Landry Fields, Tyler Hansbrough, Chuck Hayes, Amir Johnson, John Salmons, Jeremy Evans, Andre Miller
The big name that has everyone’s attention for 2015 is Kevin Love. Love has never made it to the playoffs and has not given much indication that he wants to stay in Minnesota long-term. Love can forgo the last year of his contract and hit the market as an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2015. Teams like the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly keeping tabs on Love and may avoid adding any significant salary this upcoming offseason in case Love does decide to leave Minnesota.
While Love headlines the 2015 class of free agents, there are other talented players who will potentially be available as well. Players like Rajon Rondo, Goran Dragic, DeAndre Jordan, Brook and Robin Lopez, LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol, Arron Afflalo and Paul Milsap will all potentially be available as well.
While teams like the Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers are likely to retain players like Jordan, Dragic and Aldridge, it is less clear what will happen for players like Rondo and Brook Lopez. Rondo, when healthy, is one of the best point guards in the league. Similarly, Lopez, when healthy, is one of the most talented centers, despite his low rebounding rate. With Boston rebuilding and Brooklyn experiencing so much success without Lopez, Rondo and Lopez may be on the move.
There are also some other names that may be obtainable, like Tyson Chandler, Amir Johnson and Carlos Boozer (note: Boozer may be amnestied this offseason and would then join the 2014 crop of free agents). These players are not likely to receive the types of offers that Aldridge or Gasol will, but they are talented pieces who can significantly help a team looking to add a solid veteran. Another notable player is Afflalo. Afflalo is one of the best two-way shooting guards in the league, but has been hidden away in Orlando. With the Magic rebuilding, Afflalo is likely to change teams either through a trade this upcoming offseason, or in free agency in 2015.
Notable 2015 Restricted Free Agents:
Pero Antic, Mirza Teletovic, Bismack Biyombo, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Jae Crowder, Kenneth Faried, Quincy Miller, Kyle Singler, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Patrick Beverley, Nick Calathes, Norris Cole, Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, Ricky Rubio, Alexey Shved, Iman Shumpert, Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris, Doron Lamb, Kyle O’Quinn, Nikola Vucevic, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Joel Freeland, Derrick Williams, Kawhi Leonard, Alec Burks, Enes Kanter, Glen Rice Jr.
The list of restricted free agents in 2015 is deeper than the list for 2014, but it could shrink if some of these players ink extensions. Names like Jimmy Butler, Kenneth Faried, Klay Thompson, Partrick Beverley, the Morris twins, Iman Shumpert, Reggie Jackson, Tobias Harris and Enes Kanter may be available if they continue to increase their value and become too expensive for their current team to keep. Some names that will not likely make it to free agency are Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio and Kemba Walker. These players will likely agree to a contract extension with their current teams as they are cornerstone pieces for their franchises.
However, for players like Reggie Jackson, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler, they may get offers that their current teams are not comfortable matching. For example, Jackson has shown that he is very talented, but with Russell Westbrook ahead of him, does it make sense for the Thunder to keep Jackson if he is offered a contract worth over $8 million a year? Probably not when teams like the Clippers, Bulls and Nets have backup point guards like Darren Collison, D.J. Augustin and Shaun Livingston playing big minutes for $2 million or less. Leonard is more likely to be retained by the Spurs no matter what since Duncan, Parker and Ginobili are in the latter parts of their careers and Leonard is considered a cornerstone piece moving forward. Similarly, Butler is likely to be retained by the Bulls unless he is given an unexpectedly large contract offer.
Comparing the two free agent classes, it seems that there is more talent available this upcoming offseason with names like James, Wade, Bosh, ‘Melo, Gay, Randolph, Bledsoe, Monroe, Gasol, Stephenson, Pierce, Deng, Lowry, Duncan and Nowitzki all potentially available. However, a lot of these players, like James, Wade, Bosh, Bledsoe, Duncan and Nowitzki are almost certain to re-sign with their current teams and so it is difficult to say that they should really be included in this year’s free agent class. This summer’s free agent pool has big names, but it may end up being somewhat anticlimactic.
Names like Love, Rondo, Afflalo, Millsap, Jordan, the Lopez twins, the Morris twins, Jackson, Shumpert, Faried, Harris and Kanter are more likely to join new teams if they are given big enough offers. So while the biggest names may be technically hitting free agency this upcoming offseason, it may be in 2015 when significant free agents will actually be available to teams looking to make big signings. This is why teams like the Lakers and Knicks may forgo adding any major salary this offseason and hold off for 2015. When looking at the talent that will be available during these next two years, the biggest names will technically be available in 2014, but there will likely be more talent that is actually on the move in 2015.
Of course, these are all fluid situations, and the final list of players actually available each offseason may look very different in the future than it does today.
Leave your thoughts below on which class of free agents you think is more talented, and what players you think may be on the move in the next two seasons. If you think this list overlooked some significant names that could impact the 2014 or 2015 free agent markets, let us know in the comments section.
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.
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, but one thing that not even Max Kellerman could argue is that smart teams simply don’t trade assets for players they could ultimately end up getting for free. That’s exactly why Paul George spent last season flanking Russell Westbrook instead of arguing with LaVar Ball.
So if Leonard or Irving wants to eventually take up residence in New York City, they can prove it. In 2019.
If there’s one thing the Knicks historically imprudent front office should have learned from Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, it’s that. This summer, after hiring David Fizdale, Scott Perry will have another opportunity to prove that the job at Penn Plaza isn’t too big for him, so it’ll be interesting to see whether he even publicly entertains the idea of attempting to make a splash or if he continues to hold steadfast to the belief that there are not shortcuts on the route to contention.
The right play for the Knicks this summer is to follow the route that the Lakers took as it relates to Paul George—refrain from dealing valuable assets for players that you could sign for free. Danny Ainge hit home runs with Gordon Hayward and Al Horford and by essentially adding those talented players to an existing core of young talent—and more importantly, refraining from acquiring either via trade—the Celtics now have an embarrassment of riches.
The Knicks don’t have those kinds of problems, and as it stands, 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 a lottery pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. That could be paired nicely with Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and the ninth overall pick that they’ll have in the 2018 draft.
In other words, one year from now, the Knicks will have four of their own lottery picks under contract—Porzingis, 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. Let the young guys play, let them develop and then carry them into the summer of 2019 with a clear plan in place.
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 Perry and his staff actually know what they’re doing.
If they play things right, and if the team managed to unload either Courtney Lee or Joakim Noah, they could open up the very real possibility of being able to afford both Leonard and Irving as free agents in July 2019. Imagine that.
From where most people sit, Irving seems to have an ideal situation in Boston, and his entertaining the idea of taking his talents elsewhere seems curious, at best… But so did the choice of leaving LeBron James.
Irving has been consistently rumored as having real interest in signing with the Knicks when he’s able to test the market next July, and depending on who you ask, there does seem to be a genuine level of concern in Boston that Irving could opt to take his talents elsewhere.
Growing up in the shadows of Madison Square Garden, the young guard 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? Probably 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’ll continue to unfairly carry the reputation of being 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.
Still, even if Irving and/or Leonard end up elsewhere, the summer of 2019 will feature other free agents including Kemba Walker—the only “true” All-Star caliber New Yorker in the NBA—and Long Island product Tobias Harris. Jimmy Butler, Khris Middleton, Kevin Love and Nikola Vucevic, too.
One thing we know for sure in the NBA: there will always be marquee free agents. The Knicks just need to do a better job of being able to attract them.
So this summer, if Perry wants to continue to earn favor with Knicks fans with even half a brain, the best thing to do might actually be to do nothing.
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.
So if word eventually gets to Perry that Leonard’s interest in the team is real, and if Irving decides that he wants to take up residence in his backyard to try to succeed where Patrick Ewing, Stephon Marbury and Patrick Ewing fell short, Perry’s response should be simple.
Either would look great in a Knicks uniform, but they’d look much better in a Knicks uniform in 2019.
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.