Contrary to what some fans may believe, there is competitive basketball being played outside of the NBA. The mere fact that a bunch of NBA rotation-caliber players have tested the overseas waters in China and Europe proves this to be true.
In an era when the roster for the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs features nine non-U.S. born players, foreign talent is becoming highly coveted. Which begs the question, who are the next overseas prospects who will make the jump to the NBA?
Basketball Insiders has decided to focus on six former NBA draftees whose rights are owned by teams across the league, looking at whether these prospects could contribute in the league now and whether they should receive a call-up to the NBA in the near future.
Vasilije Micic – Point Guard – NBA rights owners: Philadelphia 76ers
He’s no Ricky Rubio but this 20-year-old Serbian floor general was mentioned during the latest NBA Draft as, “one of the best passers in this draft,” according to scout guru Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress.
Micic was selected late in the second-round at No. 52 and stayed overseas, signing to play for German power-club Bayern Munich. After four consecutive seasons with prospect-development club Mega Vizura in his native country of Serbia, Micic averaged 11.8 points per game, ranked third in the league in assists with 5.8 dimes and second in steals with 1.7 per game. He also contributed three rebounds per outing.
During the offseason, Micic made the jump to the Euroleague competition, registering 4.7 points and 3.3 dimes in about 15 minutes per game over three appearances off the bench.
He’s a skilled passer and superb ball handler. His size, 6-foot-6 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, allows him to view the court from all angles. Micic is a classy pick-and-roll playmaker who stood out at the 2014 Adidas EuroCamp. The 76ers aren’t competing for anything right now and are just focused on developing their young players, so it would make sense for Philly to give their draftee a shot in the league during this rebuilding phase.
But the question remains – being slow on his feet and far from athletically gifted, who is Micic going to guard in the NBA? How consistent is his shooting? Although Micic shoots 42 percent from the perimeter in the German League, he has struggled in the Euroleague and hasn’t made a three-pointer yet.
Alex Abrines – Shooting Guard – NBA rights owners: Oklahoma City Thunder
The former 2013 second-round pick by Oklahoma City continues his draft-and-stash development overseas as a phenomenal perimeter shooter. At 21 years of age, Abrines is entering his second season with Spanish ACB champions Barcelona. Only this time, he is seeing significant floor time.
One of the top international prospects in the 2013 class, Abrines is on fire from beyond the arc, shooting almost 70 percent in Espana and 53 percent in the Euroleague through 10 games.
Abrines’ season highlights thus far include firing a perfect five-for-five from distance versus Italian powerhouse Armani Milan, scoring 21 points in 23 minutes. Beyond his ability to torch opponents, Abrines is extremely smart, confident and capable of playing above the rim.
His skinny frame and sub-par handles could cause him to struggle in the NBA and become a victim for low-post bullies. Also, Abrines can jump, but he’s not an elite class athlete. Why bring him over to OKC? He’s proven to be a legit force in Europe, and the Thunder could use another shooter on their roster along with Anthony Morrow and Jeremy Lamb.
Davis Bertans – Small Forward – NBA rights owners: San Antonio Spurs
Aside from the fact that this Latvian kid almost has an awesome forename, Bertans has the ability to become a legit sharp-shooting small forward in the NBA.
Bertans’ shooting mechanics are excellent and he owns an ultra-quick release to his stroke. The 2011 draftee is a pure shooter who can knock down shots running off screens or creating off the dribble (even though the latter element is still a work in progress).
Bertans improved his passing game and dished out a number of eye-opening dimes this season. Yet, he’s still averaging just one-or-fewer assist per game. The 22-year-old Euroleague veteran signed a long-term deal with Spanish club Laboral Vitoria this offseason, and is playing significant minutes in the Spanish ACB — the toughest league in Europe.
Bertans’ coach is Italian tactician Marco Crespi, who once served as director for international scouting for the Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns. Bertans is shooting 100 percent from the free throw line and over 40 percent from beyond the arc this season. His range is probably the deepest in Europe since Mirza Teletovic left for the NBA.
He’s ranked 11th in the Euroleague in three-pointers made and seventh among the Top 10 ACB scorers with 14 points per game, just 2.3 points shy of No. 1.
Despite standing 6-foot-10, Bertans isn’t considered an elite rebounder, grabbing a total of 3.5 boards per game this season. His feet-movement is slow and figure is slim, though he’s added a few pounds of muscle. Bertans isn’t a brilliant athlete, but has some bounce and could defend the small forward position. He’s by no means an NBA stretch four-man. Bertans also has a history of knee injuries.
He’s a player who can spread the floor, and could end being a contributor for San Antonio down the road.
Dario Saric – Power/Small Forward – NBA rights owners: Philadelphia 76ers
“One hundred percent, I will come to the NBA in two years (2016).” It wasn’t clear if Dario Saric meant what he said ahead of hearing his name called with the No. 12 pick overall in the recent NBA Draft.
It sounded ever more fishy when his father, Predrag Saric, voiced his opinion over a pair of Dario’s DNP-CDs: “We’re thinking about leaving (Turkish club) Anadolu Efes.”
Had Dario committed to playing in the NBA when drafted, he’d probably be a top-five selection.
Nonetheless, after dominating in the Adriatic League last season, Saric’s transition to the Euroleague action has been shaky. It’s something he said was bound to happen. Following a bumpy start to the season where he took a backseat to former NBA center Nenad Krstic – who has since gone down with an injury – Saric had his Euroleague coming-out-party last week with 18 points on 7-for-10 shooting from within the arc, six boards, two assists and two steals in 22 minutes.
Once a stud for Cibona Zagreb in his native land of Croatia, Saric is adapting to life off the bench in Turkey. Although he’s just 20 years old, Saric can handle the rock, has good court-vision and shoots from all over the floor. He is a versatile forward with a great feel for the game and has sharp instincts. Saric is an energy bomb waiting to explode.
His liabilities include being a streak shooter – as he has attempted just nine shots from the perimeter over 124 minutes this season and made just two. Saric also falls between the cracks on the defensive end.
As previously stated, Philadelphia is developing their young core so bringing over Saric makes sense since he could be a key player for them moving forward. When Saric is able to enter the NBA, he’s a virtual lock to be in race for Rookie of the Year.
Nikola Jokic – Center – NBA rights owners: Denver Nuggets
Serbian center Nikola Jokic, who at 19 years old is the youngest kid on this list, could make an impact in the league right because he’s straight up dominating overseas.
Jokic, the 41st overall pick in the latest draft, has taken over prospect-development club Mega Vizura and has been messing around these last couple of weeks with a pair of MVP performances.
In his Adriatic League season debut, Jokic led his club to a nail-biting, 103-98, win over MZT Skopje, registering 27 points (8-for-12 from the field, 5-for-5 from the line) and 15 rebounds. Worth MVP honors, right?
On November 3, he recorded 17 points, 12 rebounds and season-high eight assists during a 90–84 triumph over Zadar. Jokic, again, was named MVP of the week. By the way, in between, he also has a 19-point, 13-rebound game against Cibona Zagreb.
However, with Denver’s roster flooded with bodies in the paint – Kenneth Faried, J.J. Hickson, Timofey Mozgov and Jusuf Nurkic – Jokic would be left with spotty minutes if he were with the Nuggets this season. Thus, an additional two-to-three years in Europe would help strengthen his NBA rookie status down the line.
According to sources, officials for Real Madrid are closely monitoring Jokic’s progress in Serbia, as their club’s general manager flew out to witness the kid’s recent MVP outing. Another source claims there’s a strong possibility Jokic lands an offseason deal next summer with reigning Espana champions Barcelona.
Jokic has shown great development this season, along with an arsenal of offensive moves from pick-and-pop (37 percent from the perimeter this season) to nifty passes to creative finishing around the rim. His limitations include his athleticism, ability to defend quicker big and below-average shot blocking. (Video interview from NIKE Hoops Summit)
Bogdan Bogdanovic – Shooting Guard – NBA rights owners: Phoenix Suns
One of Europe’s high-volume scoring guards, Bogdan Bogdanovic opted to remain abroad for two more years before testing NBA waters. Was this a good idea? It doesn’t appear so, but time will tell.
Check out the resume of this 22-year-old Serbian: four-time Serbian League Champion, two-time Serbian League Cup Winner, two-time Adriatic League ring-holder. Bogdanovic wasn’t a role player on these teams. Last season, he emerged as “the man” with the right to jack up shots – good or bad – at will, shooting his way to the 2014 Serbian League Final MVP and Euroleague Rising Star honors.
Now that we’ve established that this kid can shoot, Bogdanovic is capable of playing anywhere on the perimeter from point guard to shooting guard to small forward. He’s a clutch shooter with an advanced feel for the game, though he could get wild at times.
Bogdanovic is locked in to a long-term four-year deal in Turkey, but can opt-out after his second season. Could he help the Suns now? He’s inexperienced and not explosive, and he hasn’t proven he could bring it on a bigger stage with Fenerbahce, but all-in-all he’s a versatile athletic wing who can handle, pass and shoot from anywhere on the floor. He’ll fit in perfectly when he does join the team.
His 2014 FIBA World Cup campaign was brilliant, earning a silver medal for the Serbian national-team, averaging 12 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists, while shooting 47 percent from the field. Bogdanovic currently leads his team in three-point percentage with 40 percent from distance in the Turkish TBL competition, yet his numbers have dropped now that he’s backcourt buds with former Lakers guard Andrew Goudelock and reigning Euroleague champion Ricky Hickman.
NBA Daily: Rich Cho Out As Charlotte Hornets GM
The Charlotte Hornets opted to not move forward with GM Rich Cho and are expected to pursue former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.
The fateful moment for Rich Cho came days after he was hired as GM of the Charlotte Hornets in June of 2011. With the NBA Draft coming just nine days later, Cho started work on a three-team trade that would land Charlotte a second top-10 pick to pair with its own ninth pick, which was used to draft franchise cornerstone Kemba Walker.
In that draft, Klay Thompson went 11th to the Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard 15th to the Pacers. Of the 17 players selected after Bismack Biyombo, who went to the Hornets with the seventh pick, 12 are regular contributors on current NBA rosters. The Orlando Magic are currently outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions with Biyombo on court, a rotation-worst.
Today, Hornets owner Michael Jordan announced that Cho is out as Charlotte’s GM.
“Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization,” said Jordan in a press release. “We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”
While the failure to obtain Thompson, Leonard or any of the numerous impact players in the 2011 draft will always mar Cho’s record, falling to the second pick in the 2012 NBA Draft will continue to haunt Charlotte. Despite a brutal 7-59 record in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, which set the record for lowest win percentage in an NBA season (.110), the New Orleans Pelicans won the right to the first overall pick and selected Anthony Davis.
The Hornets selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second pick. Although the 2012 Draft wasn’t nearly as deep as 2011’s, the Hornets still left players like Bradley Beal (third) and Andre Drummond (ninth) on the board. Either would have been an outstanding compliment to Walker, who remains with the team despite rumors of his availability leading up the the trade deadline.
“I feel like I’m going to be in Charlotte,” said Walker at his All-Star media availability. “So that’s where I’m at, that’s where I’m playing. So I never really sat and thought about any other teams.”
Walker made his second All-Star appearance after Kristaps Porzingis suffered a season-ending ACL injury.
“I wish K.P. hadn’t gotten hurt,” said Walker. “Everybody hates to see guys go down, especially great players like him. But when I was able to get the call to replace him, it was a really good feeling.”
Another fateful moment in Cho’s tenure came during the 2015 NBA Draft. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Boston Celtics offered the 15th and 16th picks, a future protected first rounder from the Brooklyn Nets and a future first from either the Grizzlies or Timberwolves in exchange for the ninth pick, which Cho used to draft Frank Kaminsky.
“If it was such a no-brainer for us, why would another team want to do it,” Cho asked rhetorically in defense of the Kaminsky selection, according to Lowe.
Years later, it’s evident that the Celtics dodged a bullet when both Charlotte and the Miami HEAT rebuffed its attempts to move up and draft Justise Winslow. The latter has not panned out while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the players Boston subsequently obtained with Brooklyn’s picks, have developed into starters.
Chris Mannix of Yahoo! Sports reported in the first week of February that Charlotte may target former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak for a high-ranking role in the organization. Kupchak, like Jordan, is a former UNC star. Kupchak would join Jordan’s UNC teammate and Charlotte assistant GM Buzz Peterson.
The G-League is a Path Back to the NBA
The G-League has become an avenue for several player types toward the NBA, writes David Yapkowitz.
When the NBA first instituted their development league, its main purpose was two-fold. The first was to give experience to young players who perhaps were not seeing regular playing time on their respective NBA teams. The second was to give undrafted players a chance at getting exposure and ultimately getting to the NBA.
With the growth in size and popularity of the development league, now known as the G-League, it’s begun to serve another purpose. It’s become a place for older veterans who have already tasted the NBA life to get back to the highest level of basketball that they once knew.
One player in particular who has a wealth of NBA experience is Terrence Jones. Jones is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors.
Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was part of a vaunted class of Kentucky Wildcats that year, which included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. During his four years with the Rockets, he emerged as a dependable reserve and part-time starter. He averaged 9.5 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.
“It was just a lot of excitement and a lot of joy, being part of the Houston Rockets was a lot of fun,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “We had great memories and great seasons, a lot of up and downs, I just enjoyed the journey.”
Jones’ dealt with injuries his last two season in Houston, and when he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Rockets didn’t re-sign him. He was scooped by the New Orleans Pelicans, however, and he made an immediate impact for them. Prior to the trade deadline, he played in 51 games for the Pelicans, including 12 starts while putting up 11.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting, and 5.9 rebounds.
When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, however, they cut Jones. He didn’t stay unemployed for long, though, as he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to add depth for a playoff run. He was unable to crack the rotation, though, and the Bucks cut him as well before the playoff started. After a brief stint in China, he’s now back stateside and using the G-League to get back to the NBA.
“That’s the goal. Right now, I feel I’ve been playing pretty well and just trying to help my team get wins,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I think I can play multiple positions offensively and defensively. Whether that’s creating plays for myself or for others, I think I can help contribute on the offensive end.”
He’s been the second-leading scorer for Santa Cruz with 19.9 points per game. He’s pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and even dishing out 4.5 assists. In the G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team at All-Star Weekend, he finished with eight points on 50.0 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He’s definitely a name to watch for as NBA teams scour the market for 10-day contract possibilities.
Another player who’s had a taste of the NBA is Xavier Silas. Silas is currently with the Northern Arizona Suns, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He went undrafted in 2011 and started his professional career in France. That only last a few months before he came back the United States and latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers.
He played sparingly with the 76ers and was ultimately cut before the start of the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s played summer league with the Bucks, and been in two different training camps with the Washington Wizards.
“It was amazing, any time you get to go and play at the highest level, and I even got to play in the playoffs and play in the second round and even score, that was big,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great time for me and that’s what I’m working towards getting back.”
While his professional career has taken him all across the globe from Israel to Argentina to Greece to Germany and even Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, he sees the G-League as being the one place that will get him back to where he wants to be.
He’s done well this season for Northern Arizona. He’s their third-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and he’s one of their top three-point threats at 39.9 percent. At the All-Star Weekend G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team, Silas had a team-high 13 points for Team USA including 3-5 shooting from three-point range.
It’s isn’t just what he brings on the court that Silas believes makes him an attractive candidate for an NBA team. At age 30, he’s one of the older guys in the G-League and one with a lot of basketball experience to be passed down to younger guys.
“I think it’s a little bit of leadership, definitely some shooting. I’m a vet now so I’m able to come in and help in that aspect as well. But everybody needs someone who can hit an open shot and I think I can bring that to a team,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s the best place for anyone who’s trying to make that next step. We’re available and we’re right here, it’s just a call away.”
NBA Daily: Lillard Playing For Something Bigger
Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has his eyes set on a bigger prize than just being an NBA All-Star.
Playing For Something Bigger
The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle.
By design, the game is meant to be a showcase, not just for the players selected to compete, but for the league and all of its partners, on and off the floor. It is easy to get caught up in how players selected actually play, but the reality is while most see the game as important for a lot of reasons, Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard understands it has to be put into perspective.
“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to go out there and treat it like they are playing for the team they’re under contract for,” Lillard explained this weekend.
“It’s the one time in an 82-game season plus playoffs, preseason and training camp that we actually get a break. It’s necessary to take a mental break, along with a physical break from what we do every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask guys to go out there and play like it’s for the Trail Blazers. My loyalty is to my team; I got to stay healthy for my team. I got to do what’s best for my team. Obviously, go out there [during All-Star] and not mess around too much and that’s how people get hurt and stuff like that. You got to go out there and play and have respect for the game, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go out there and go crazy like it’s a playoff game.”
Lillard notched 21 minutes in Sunday’s big game, going 9-for-14 from the field for 21 points for Team Stephen, a roster that included three Golden State Warriors players. Lillard believes that eventually, he’ll get the chance to share the weekend, his third, with teammate C. J. McCollum.
“Each year you see teams are getting two to three, Golden State got four this year,” Lillard said. “But you look at it and say ‘why is that happening’ and it has a lot to do with team success. Me and C.J. just have to take that challenge of making our team win more games. I think when we do that, we’ll be rewarded with both of us making it. If we really want to make that happen, then we’ll do whatever it takes to win more games.
“I feel like this season we’ve moved closer in that direction. In the past, we haven’t even been in the position to get one, because I did not make it the past two years. I think if we keep on improving we’ll eventually get to the point that we’re winning games and people will say ‘how are they doing this’ and then hopefully our names come up. Hopefully, one day, it’ll happen.”
Another issue that got addressed during the All-Star Weekend was the growing tensions between the NBA players and the NBA referees. Representatives from both sides met to address the gap developing on the court, something Lillard felt was necessary.
“We’re all human,” Lillard said. “As competitors, we want to win. If you feel like you got fouled, you want them to call the foul every time. I think sometimes as players, we forget how hard their job can be. At the pace we play, it’s hard to get every call, and then you got guys tricking the referees sometimes, we’re clever too. It’s a tough job for them. I think when we get caught up in our competitive nature, and we forget that they’re not just these robots with stripes, they are people too. You have got to think, as a man if someone comes screaming at you every three plays, you are going to react in your own way. Maybe you’re not going to make the next call; maybe I am going to stand my ground. It’s just something that I think will get better over time. I think both have to do a better job of understanding.”
With 24 games left to play in Lillard’s sixth NBA season, the desire to be more than a playoff team or an All-Star is coming more into focus for Lillard, something he reportedly expressed to Blazers management several weeks ago.
“There are guys that have this record and guys that have done these things, and I want to at least get myself the chance to compete for a championship,” Lillard said. “If I get there and we don’t win it, it happens. A lot of people had to go see about Michael Jordan, a lot of people had to go see about Shaq and Kobe. You know, those great teams, but I have a strong desire to at least give myself a chance to be there. Take a shot at it.”
With All-Star out of the way, the focus in the NBA will switch to the race to the playoffs. As things stand today Lillard and his Blazers hold the seventh seed in the West and are tied with Denver, and just a half of a game back from the five seed Oklahoma City Thunder.
If the Blazers are going to make noise this post season its going to be on the shoulder of Lillard, and based on what he said, it seems he’s up to the challenge.
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