Drafting an overseas stash is always a risk for NBA front offices—sometimes they are more of a lottery ticket than a measured investment.
The number of overseas washouts far outweighs the list of the bonafide game-changers playing at the NBA level, but because of roster commitments or financial demands, a stash often becomes an appealing option on draft night. Despite that unpredictability, the long-awaited arrival of three talented International prospects could wind up playing a large role in next season’s playoff races. From a franchise looking to make their fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance to two up-and-comers trying to take the next step, these are the three America-bound newcomers that are ready to make a real difference in 2017-18.
Cedi Osman, Cleveland Cavaliers
Through mid-July, the Cavaliers have re-signed Kyle Korver, snagged Jose Calderon and are currently chasing the services of Derrick Rose, thus continuing their never-ending search for cheap, effective additions. The LeBron James-led franchise has been a near-guaranteed lock for the NBA Finals since he returned from Miami in 2014, but the Cavaliers have been met each time by the Golden State Warriors. Thwarted by their new rivals in two of the last three championship showdowns, Cleveland has left no rock unturned in their hunt for another X-Factor.
Turns out, in the midst of their slew of veteran signings, it’s Cedi Osman that could be the Cavaliers’ newest difference-maker.
For the uninitiated, Osman is a 22-year-old forward from Turkey, picked as the No. 31 overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft. Just three days ago, Osman agreed to join the Cavaliers on a three-year deal reportedly worth $8.3 million. Last season, Osman averaged 13.4 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 34 games for Anadolu Efes, the Turkish club he’s spent much of his career with thus far. Osman is not going to be an All-Star, nor is he even a highly-touted prospect, but he could be the dose of youthful energy the Cavaliers need to climb the Eastern Conference ladder once again.
Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love and James are one of the most formidable trios league-wide, but the rest of the roster is dotted with aging question marks across the board. The Cavaliers have done a superb job of surrounding their electric scorers with three-point shooters in every corner, but the creative Osman should bring a much-needed change of pace with the second unit.
It’s no surprise that a red-hot Cavaliers team is nearly impossible to outshoot from distance—Osman should some help in that regard—but when the well dries up, that’s when Cleveland starts sweating their large leads. The lean and lanky Osman will need to physically adjust to the all-around stronger NBA, but he’ll be a welcomed addition to the cavalcade of veterans chasing championship rings. Cleveland fans have waited quite some time for Osman to arrive and his ability to catch fire, lead the fast break or size-up athletic blocks will make him a favorite before long.
While the Cavaliers will look to squeeze the last remaining drops of effectiveness out of Richard Jefferson, Jeff Green and, if he returns, Derrick Williams, it’s not tough to imagine Osman usurping their roles by season’s end as the sprier, more explosive version.
Furkan Korkmaz, Philadelphia 76ers
It only took one season before Furkan Korkmaz made his jump to the NBA, but the 76ers are excited to add the Turkish athlete to their melting pot of process-related franchise pieces. Korkmaz was drafted with the No. 26 overall pick in 2016 but stayed overseas for another season, splitting his time between Anadolu Efes and Banvit. The teenager worked on expanding his game before moving to the far more physically demanding NBA. At 6-foot-7, Korkmaz could carve out an important role on a Philadelphia roster that has just about everything covered except for three-point shooting.
Working behind the one-year, big money signing of J.J. Redick, Korkmaz could not have stumbled into a situation with a better mentor than the former Los Angeles Clipper sharpshooter. Even at just 19 years of age, Korkmaz has showcased plenty of his NBA-ready potential as a playmaker with a knack for passing and an athletic prowess around the rim. Of course, his calling card is long-range shooting and Korkmaz knocked down 41 percent of his three-point attempts last year in Turkey. Korkmaz, who played with current teammate Dario Saric for two years in Europe, is likely a few seasons away from being truly unleashed, but a grand opportunity still awaits him in 2017-18.
As the 76ers push for their first playoff appearance since 2012 in a weakened Eastern Conference, there’s certainly room for Korkmaz to bloom alongside the exciting talents of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Markelle Fultz. He’ll start the season behind Nik Stauskas and Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot on the depth chart, but if Korkmaz hits consistently from deep, he can be the type of wild card off the bench that Philadelphia lacks at this time. The 76ers converted on just 34 percent of their attempts in 2016-17, as Robert Covington was the sole member of the franchise to finish the season with an average of two or more three-pointers per game.
The addition of Redick will certainly help mitigate that glaring weakness, but there will always be available minutes for a silky stroke like Korkmaz’s should he quickly find his feet in the NBA.
Bogdan Bogdanović, Sacramento Kings
The last name belongs to Bogdan Bogdanović, the Sacramento Kings’ Serbian savior that’s finally arriving after he was selected way back in the 2014 NBA Draft with the No. 27 overall pick. At 24 years old, Bogdanović is the most polished rookie on this list, a 6-foot-6 guard with loads of experience at some of the sport’s highest levels. With Fenerbahçe, Bogdanović led the perennial contenders to their first-ever EuroLeague title in 2017, tallying 17 points, five rebounds and an assist as they defeated Olympiacos in the final. Cashing in on his status as one of Europe’s best shooters, Bogdanović signed a contract worth three years and $36 million in June, but with a majority of the roster’s guards filled out by either newly drafted prospects (De’Aaron Fox, Frank Mason) or well-aged veterans (Vince Carter, Garrett Temple) there’s space to grow, as well.
Bogdanović is a smooth operator offensively, frequently opting to create his own shot rather than wait around the perimeter. Additionally, the Serbian was locked in from deep in 2016-17, hitting his three-pointers in EuroLeague competition at a healthy rate of 43 percent—a skill set that should work well in tandem with free agent signing George Hill. And, unlike Osman and Korkmaz as of now, Bogdanović has the potential to evolve into one of the league’s highly sought after 3-and-D contributors with his ridiculous 6-foot-11 wingspan.
As the Kings look to leapfrog the rebuilding process after trading away franchise centerpiece DeMarcus Cousins during the All-Star break last winter, Bogdanović could play a large role off the bench in the tougher-than-ever Western Conference. Even as a potentially undersized small forward, head coach Dave Joerger may like what the lengthy, proficient Bogdanović can offer at the position in lieu of Malachi Richardson and Justin Jackson—two guys that have exactly 22 games of professional basketball experience combined.
If that’s not enough of a case for a strong rookie campaign in 2017-18, take his performance in the 2016 Rio Olympics as a good indicator of future successes. Serbia, who hadn’t medaled in Olympic men’s basketball since 1996, marched convincingly to the final before bowing out against the United States. Alongside budding superstar Nikola Jokic and NBA-newcomer Milos Teodosic, Bogdanović and the Serbians were the surprises of the tournament, igniting a silver medal run that included a quarterfinal victory over Croatia in which the Kings’ new rookie poured in 18 points, five rebounds and three steals in 26 minutes.
With the rising expectations in Sacramento likely initially overwhelming for many members of the young roster, Bogdanović and his experienced, reliable play could be a major game-changer out West this upcoming season.
For the most part, we typically pay most attention to the established names that change zip codes over the offseason. In this case, however, it could be three overseas studs that make quite the difference.
A Few Good Free Agents Left
David Yapkowitz looks at several free agents still remaining on the market ahead of the season.
The start of the 2017-2018 NBA season is finally here, and teams are required to have their 15-man roster (plus two possible two-way contacts) finalized. Every year there are players that are left off a roster. Some are younger guys who maybe haven’t proven they belong in the league just yet. Some are older veterans looking for that one final hurrah.
A few of these players might take open gigs in the G-League or overseas in hopes of attracting the attention of NBA front offices as the year goes on. Others remain at home, working out and waiting for that call that might never come. And sometimes, the waiting and anticipating pays off as playoff teams come looking for veteran help and tanking teams are on the hunt for unrealized potential.
For most of the veteran guys, their opportunities will likely come later in the season when teams gear up for the playoffs. Here’s a look at a few of the top veteran free agents left that could certainly help a team at some point during this season.
Since being traded from the Golden State Warriors to the Boston Celtics three year ago, Lee has adapted to his new role as a veteran big man helping to anchor second units. He is no longer the automatic double-double machine and borderline All-Star he once was, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.
He didn’t really fit quite right in Boston, but in his stops with the Dallas Mavericks and San Antonio Spurs, he still showed he can be a solid contributor off the bench. In 25 games with Mavericks in the 2015-2016 season, Lee put up 8.5 points per game on 63.6 percent shooting while pulling down seven rebounds per. With the Spurs last year, he averaged 7.3 points on 59 percent shooting to go along with 5.6 rebounds. For a playoff team that needs a little big man depth, he is a solid option.
Much was made about Williams’ disappearing act in the Finals last year, and rightfully so, but lost in all the chatter was the actual solid job he did with the Cleveland Cavaliers leading up to that point. Once in the conversation for best point guard in the league, injuries and poor play in Brooklyn sort of made Williams a forgotten man. The Nets bought out his contract and he joined his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
After a so-so first year in Dallas, Williams looked rejuvenated last year to the point that he actually drew some interest around the trade deadline. With the Mavericks looking to get younger and head closer to that rebuilding path, they cut Williams and allowed him to join a contending team. Over the final 24 games of last season, including four starts, he averaged 7.5 points per game on 46.3 percent shooting, 41.5 percent from the three-point line, and 3.6 assists. Of course, his Finals performance is all anyone cares to remember, but if a team needs a veteran backup point guard, they could do a lot worse.
Last season in Indiana, Ellis posted some of the lowest numbers of his career since his rookie season. Heading into a rebuilding year, the Pacers waived Ellis and his name barely came up in free agent rumors during the summer. At his best, Ellis was a borderline All-Star talent who could put up points in a hurry. Despite his reputation as a gunner, Ellis was a bit of an underrated playmaker and was never as bad defensively as most made him out to be.
He never really seemed to find his groove in Indiana. In his first year with the Pacers during the 2015-2016 season, he posted 13.8 points per game, down from 18.9 the previous year in Dallas, and his shooting dropped from 44.5 percent from the field to 42.7 percent. His playoff numbers with the Pacers were down even more than his regular season numbers, despite exploding in the postseason a few years before with Dallas. His starting days are almost assuredly behind him, but as a sixth man type scorer bringing energy off the bench, he’s probably better than a lot of the players currently in that role.
The Brazilian Blur’s best days are behind him, but similar to Ellis, he can still help a team in need of additional scoring punch off the bench. It was only two years ago that he was a key contributor off the Warriors bench. Firmly on the rebuilding track, the Suns waived Barbosa during the summer. Despite still being a capable player, his name also rarely came up in the free agent rumor mill.
He didn’t play all that much last season for a Phoenix Suns team that is clearly rebuilding, but he still was able to average 6.3 points per game in only 14.4 minutes per. His role on a rebuilding team would be a veteran mentor, but for a playoff team, he’s not a bad option. He showed that he can still play at the NBA level despite losing a step or two. Perhaps later on in the season when teams start looking for playoff help is when he may find his phone starting to ring.
The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations that come with being drafted that high. He’s only averaged double figures (12.0) in scoring once in his career and that was during the 2012-2013 season. When he came into the league, he didn’t really have much of a set position. He was a tweener, somewhere in between small forward and power forward. That was prior to the changes occurring in today’s NBA with more of a premium on stretch big men.
During Williams’ time in Cleveland last season, he played in 25 games and averaged 6.2 points per game. What stood out most, however, was his shooting. He shot 50.5 percent from the field, including 40.4 percent from the three-point line, both career-highs. Shooting from long range was always a bit of a weakness for him and prior to last season, he had never shot higher than 33.2 percent from downtown. He also didn’t register much chatter by way of free agent rumors, but if he can reproduce shooting percentages like that, he fits right in with the direction of the league.
With league rosters pretty much set, there likely won’t be much roster movement, if any at all, for the next few months. Teams are looking to see how their new summer acquisitions work out. But after a few months of real game action, other roster needs start to become more apparent. Don’t be surprised if come the new year, teams start knocking on a few of these player’s doorsteps.
NBA PM: The Wizards Are “More Than Ready” For A Big Year
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal says his team is “more than ready” for the start of the NBA season.
With several teams in the Eastern Conference taking a step back, the Washington Wizards will be one of the beneficiaries due to roster continuity. Shooting guard Bradley Beal, one of several key Wizards signed to a long-term contract, said the team is “more than ready” for the season and has large expectations.
“This is going to be a big year for us,” said Beal after a Monday practice. “We’re healthy. There’s no excuse for us [not to] get off to a good start.”
Beal added that, while health is a key for the entire roster, it’s especially important for him after struggling with injuries in the past.
“It’s really a confidence booster, realizing my potential, what I can be, the type of player I can be when I had a healthy season,” said Beal of last year’s campaign. “That’s probably what I was more proud of than anything, playing 70-plus games and then playing in the playoffs every game.”
In Basketball Insiders’ season preview for the Wizards, we noted that Beal was Washington’s most efficient ball handler in the pick and roll last season. Beal said that creating for teammates is something he’s worked on in the offseason and will continue to be a point of emphasis.
“That was great for me and the strides I made throughout the year, working on my ball handling, working on creating for other guys and getting my own shot,” said Beal. “Those are the primary things I’m focused on … being able to create better, getting guys easier shots than before, getting more assists and improve everywhere.”
Wizards coach Scott Brooks said after Friday’s preseason finale in New York that he’s been encouraged by the ball movement he has seen since the start of camp.
“I thought a lot of good things happened in training camp,” said Brooks. “The ball movement was outstanding. Guys were sacrificing for one another on the offensive end.”
One thing that should help the ball movement of the second unit is the arrival of backup point guard Tim Frazier, who missed most of the preseason due to a strained groin. Frazier had nine assists and no turnovers in his preseason debut against the Miami HEAT.
“I feel very comfortable with Tim,” said Brooks. “He finds corner threes, which we like.”
Beal added that one area he hopes to improve, both individually and as a team, is rebounding.
“I think I only had like three rebounds [per game] last year,” said Beal. “I obviously love scoring the ball. That’s something I never worry about. I want to continue to fill up the stat sheet a little bit more and contribute to the game in different areas. I think rebounding was something that hurt us a little bit last year.”
The Wizards host the Philadelphia 76ers to open the season Wednesday, and Brooks said it will take a team effort to defend emerging star Joel Embiid.
“He’s a problem,” said Brooks after Sunday’s practice. “His athleticism is off the charts. We’re going to have to do a good job of staying in front of him. You’re talking about a guy that can put the ball on the floor, that can get to spaces and spots that normally a 6-10 guy doesn’t.”
With a revamped bench, roster continuity and good health entering the season, the Wizards look like a team that could challenge the Cavaliers, Celtics and Raptors for supremacy in the East. Beal certainly seems to think so.
NBA Opening Night Storylines
Hours before the 2017-18 season gets set to tip off, here are some storylines to follow for Tuesday’s games.
The long summer is over. We finally made it. NBA opening night is upon us.
Rejoice, hoop heads.
Because the NBA is a perfect concoction of chaos at all times, Tuesday’s opening night slate has some can’t-miss built in headlines that the entire league is going to be glued to.
With a new year set to begin, everyone is on the same page. Whether that page includes the likes of Kevin Durant and Steph Curry or Doug McDermott and Tim Hardaway Jr. is a different story. But still, Tuesday marks day one for all teams and as it stands they’re all equal.
As we get set to sit down and dissect these opening game matchups on Tuesday, let’s highlight the most intriguing storylines that will be followed for the rest of the season. There’s nothing like watching a story grown in the NBA from its inception, right?
Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers — 8 p.m. ET (TNT)
This is the game we’ve all been waiting for since late June, when Kyrie Irving let it be known to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert that he wanted out from under LeBron’s shadow.
Three years of NBA Finals appearances, the greatest comeback in basketball history, and a ring to show for was all Irving wanted to walk away from. For him, he felt it was his time to shine.
And because the NBA is the perfect mix of beautiful insanity, it would only make sense that Irving would get dealt to the very team that is jostling for position to unseat the Cavs and King James.
The Irving-led Boston Celtics will have to wait a grand total of one second in the new NBA season to begin their matchup with their point guards old teammates and the team that stands in between them a Finals appearance. With Gordon Hayward and Irving together for the first time against meaningful competition, there’s no better way than to check their fit from the jump than by challenging the conference champions in their building.
But Irving’s homecoming isn’t the only storyline heading into the first game of the season. There are some changes on Cleveland’s end as well.
While the main return for Irving — Isaiah Thomas — won’t be suiting up for the Cavs anytime soon due to injury, there are still plenty of new faces to keep an eye on Tuesday night. First and foremost, Flash is in town. After having his contract bought out by the Chicago Bulls, Dwyane Wade joined forces with his buddy in The Land in hopes of recapturing some of the magic that led them to two championships in South Beach.
By teaming up once again, James and Wade provide some of the best chemistry in the league. Yes, Wade isn’t the player he once was when he and James were winning rings. But something is to be said for knowing exactly where someone will be on the court at all times, and that’s the trait exactly that Wade and James share.
Along with Wade, James and the Cavs are hoping to get some type of resurgence from Derrick Rose and Jeff Green off of the bench. Once Thomas returns to the court for Cleveland, this is arguably the deepest team James has ever been around in Cleveland.
Even with Irving and Hayward on board, Boston will be relying on some role players of their own — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. The back-to-back third overall picks will occupy most of the time at the forward spots opposite of Hayward. As the season moves on, the development of both of these wings will be crucial to how dangerous the Celtics can be past their two star players.
Tuesday night will be must-see television at Quicken Loans Arena. New eras for the Eastern Conference heavyweights are about to begin.
And as James told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols, “The Kid” will be just fine.
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors — 10:30 p.m. ET (TNT)
On the Western side of the basketball landscape Tuesday night, the potential conference finals matchup will see its first act when the revamped Rockets head to the Bay Area.
Last season at this time, the basketball world was bracing for what the Warriors would look like after adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team. And as expected, they dominated. Not even LeBron James could put a stop to them, managing just one win in their finals bout.
This year brings in more of the same questions. Can anyone stop the Warriors? Will Golden State just steamroll their way to another championship, effectively sucking the fun of competition out of the entire league?
Well, a few teams this offseason did their best to try and combat that narrative. One of them being the Rockets, who they added perennial all-star point guard Chris Paul to their backcourt.
Putting Paul in the same backcourt as superstar James Harden has the potential to create some of the biggest headaches for opposing teams. The constant ball movement and open looks the two star guards can provide are nearly endless.
While the league swoons over the Warriors’ ability to hit shots from well beyond the arc, it should be noted that it was Houston last year that led the NBA in three-point shooting, not Golden State. It’s certainly not wise to try and go toe-to-toe with the Warriors at their own game, but if there’s ever a team equipped to do it, it’s Houston. Tuesday night will provide a nice preview look at how things in the Western Conference could shake out in the coming months.
Aside from the barrage of scoring that will take place in this matchup, what would a big game be for the Warriors without a little Draymond Green trash talk?
After Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni told ESPN that, “You’re not gonna stop them. It’s just not gonna happen. They’re not gonna stop us, either,” Green clapped back with a comment of his own, as he always does.
“I don’t know how serious they take defense with that comment,” Green said. “But they added some good defensive players.”
It’s true, the Rockets aren’t considered a defensive stalwart by any means. Last season, Houston was 26th in points allowed, compared to second in points scored. Green may be onto something when it comes to questioning how serious his opponents take defense.
That being said, last year’s Rockets didn’t feature Paul. Even at the age of 32, Paul is still one of the league’s best on-ball defenders. And no matter his age, he’ll always possess that competitive fire he’s been known for over the last 12 years.
Going up against the Warriors at Oracle is usually nothing short of impossible, but if there’s going to be a team to challenge their supremacy this season, we’ll get a good look at how they stack up on night one.
With all of this in mind, let’s not forget that the world’s best league is finally back in action. Give yourself a pat on the back, you made it. Now, go enjoy some basketball.