Cincinnatti’s Jacob Evans talks about the NBA draft, preparing for the next level and what its like meeting and working with NBA teams at the 2018 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago.
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.
NBA Daily: Portland Trail Blazers Face Several Challenges This Offseason
The Portland Trail Blazers are looking to bolster their roster this offseason but face several challenges, writes James Blancarte.
With the NBA Finals having come to a quick end and the Golden State Warriors parade behind us, most NBA fans have already moved on to contemplating how their favorite teams can improve this summer (with some dreaming of the possibility of adding LeBron James).
However, James has been linked to a handful of teams, which does not seemingly include the Portland Trail Blazers. With the Trail Blazers presumably removed from the James free agency drama, the franchise arguably has its best chance to improve its long-term outlook with the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft. It is easy to forget due to the length and drama of the NBA’s postseason but the Trail Blazers were the third seed in the NBA’s Western Conference with hopes of making a deep run. Of course, the Trail Blazers found themselves surprised and outmatched by an aggressive New Orleans Pelicans team, which led to a 0-4 sweep.
This disappointing loss and the repeat success of the Golden State Warriors demonstrated the need for, among other things, more talent at the wing position. The Trail Blazers go into the draft possessing their own pick (24th overall) and the need for some combination of shooting, shot creation and defense from the wing. The most promising wing prospect, Michael Porter Jr., will certainly be off the board, yet there are plenty of other prospects the team should have an eye on. The Blazers recently held pre-draft workouts, which included Oregon forward Troy Brown, USC guard De’Anthony Melton and Georgia Tech guard Josh Okogie among others. Other wing prospects in the Trail Blazers’ range might include Boise State shooting guard Chandler Hutchison, Creighton shooting guard Khyri Thomas and Cincinnati small forward Jacob Evans.
Any wing that would be selected, assuming he could contribute rather quickly, would help bolster a rotation that includes forwards Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless and Evan Turner, each of whom had varying levels of success throughout the year. With the cap issues mentioned below, it is foreseeable that backup rotation guard Shabazz Napier will not return, making the need for a productive rookie out of this class increasingly necessary.
The biggest obstacle for the Blazers, aside from determining who they might choose in the draft, is that they are well over the salary cap for the foreseeable future. As it stands, the team’s two most productive players are also its top salary earners — Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, respectively. To date, the franchise has resisted breaking up its star backcourt duo. Assuming no drastic move is made, the team would do well to select one of the more defensively capable wings that the team is often linked to (such as Okogie, Evans, Thomas and Melton) in order to add more defensive impact alongside the team’s star guards.
With little cap flexibility and a stated desire to bring back restricted free agent Jusuf Nurkic, the team finds itself in a crunch. After the team’s playoff elimination, Nurkic publicly stated that he wanted to return but that he also wants to be paid what he believes he is worth. Recent reports state that the team is going to allow Nurkic to test the open market as a restricted free agent and will elect to match any offered salary. In essence, the team will allow the market to dictate Nurkic’s salary, which is virtually guaranteed to be less than a full max offer. Count big man Ed Davis (unrestricted free agent) as another productive player the team would like to bring back on a reasonable contract.
If Nurkic doesn’t like any potential offers, he could gamble and opt to take the team’s qualifying offer and hope that further improvement would likely result in better offers next offseason. Assuming Nurkic returns with a new contract at a much higher rate (he made just under $3 million last season), the team may be forced to unload salary to stay under the luxury tax. Likely candidates include forward Evan Turner (around $18 million guaranteed each of the next two seasons) and center Meyers Leonard (roughly $11 million in each of the next two seasons). Each player has flashed the ability to be positive contributors, but too often Turner and Leonard are unable to provide enough production to justify their respective annual salaries.
Unloading an undesirable contract usually comes at a cost. Depending on how unfavorable a contract is, the cost for a team to take on an overly burdensome contract is often a first-round pick. For reference, the Los Angeles Lakers were forced to part ways with the former second overall pick D’Angelo Russell in order to entice the Brooklyn Nets to take center Timofey Mozgov and his contract.
Finally, there remains the more remote possibility that the team would quietly engage in discussion around one of its two stars. A recent rumor involves a trade that would be built around the exchange of McCollum and Cavaliers big man Kevin Love. The supposed purpose of such an exchange would be a bid to entice James to return to the Cavaliers. However, whatever Portland opts to do this offseason, it will face a series of challenges that could have significant consequences next season and beyond. One obvious need is on the wing, which they can seek to address on draft night. But there is more work to do beyond that, which the front office is well aware of.
2018 NBA Consensus Mock Draft – Ver 7.0
Each week, four of Basketball Insiders’ experts take a look at the draft class and weigh in on what they are seeing and hearing in the march up to the 2018 NBA Draft.
Each week, four of Basketball Insiders’ top writers will break down the latest news and notes surrounding the 2018 NBA Draft. Included is an updated mock draft that reflects how each writer sees the draft landscape based on the latest news, workouts, and information from the pre-draft process.
Benny’s Notebook: Fine, I’ll relent: Luka Dončić, sadly, finally drops in my mock. There’s too much noise to ignore it any longer. While I’m willing to admit that there’s plenty to like about DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, and Jaren Jackson Jr., I still believe that Dončić will be the best player in this class. If he does fall to Memphis, how great of a fit would that be? Even if there are doubts about Dončić’s ceiling, putting his NBA-ready game in alongside Mike Conley and Marc Gasol would be an instant victory for the Grizzlies. At just 19 years old, Dončić has already won most of what Europe had to offer — he’d be an excellent catch for Memphis after their nightmare season.
I suppose there is only one mock draft left before the real deal and I really thought I would have moved Michael Porter Jr. up by now. His volatility could shake up the entire lottery — but his workout in Chicago went extremely well, apparently. Out of all the names in the mix for a top seven selection, Porter Jr. remains the one with most intrigue — expect lots more to come here over the next week. Finally, the New York Knicks are doing their due diligence ahead of their pick at No. 9 overall, working out Lonnie Walker, Robert Williams, Aaron Holiday, Kevin Knox, Miles Bridges and others as of late. With Kristaps Porzingis out for the foreseeable future, this is certainly an important selection for New York.
Moke’s Notebook: We’ve had quite a bit of action the past week, with the Suns seemingly going out of their way to give us some drama at the top of the draft. I’ve been told by a few people in the know that they’ve settled on DeAndre Ayton as their guy, but that they’re doing their “due diligence” on other prospects, most notably Jaren Jackson, Jr. and Trae Young. I can’t see the Suns passing on Ayton for either of those guys, so I’ve still got him tabbed as my top overall pick.
Jackson’s stock has risen quite dramatically, and whether the Kings hold on to their pick or trade back (which they’ve been rumored to be considering), I could see him and Bagley III swapping places as the second and third players drafted. Luka Doncic probably won’t slip past the Grizzlies at four, but it’s worth noting that stock of Michael Porter, Jr. has risen incredibly high. There was an ESPN report out of New York this past week that’s consistent with what I’ve been saying since the Combine: Porter is the dream scenario for the Knicks. I could see them engaging the Hawks on a trade involving the 9th pick and Frank Ntilikina for the 3rd pick. That wouldn’t surprise me in the least, though I’m sure the Knicks would prefer to include a player like Trey Burke.
As we get to the mid-to-late lottery, I won’t lie, there’s quite a bit of guessing. The main reason why is because most teams covet the same players, and to a large extent, the teams in the latter half of the lottery will be forced to settle on the second of third ranked prospects on their big board. Two guys who might get drafted much higher than we’re projecting, though, are Lonnie Walker and Jalen Brunson.
After this week, we’ve got one more shot at a solid mock draft, as we are just eight days away from the real thing. Hopefully, we’ll get some additional intel.
Jesse’s Notebook: While workouts continue and players like Luka Dončić commit to staying in the draft, there are still a wide range of scenarios that can play out. The Sacramento Kings have scouted Dončić but they reportedly have strong interest in other players and could look to trade down to extract more value in the draft. There seem to be several viable trade scenarios that could shake up the board and throw all mock drafts off the rails. The Clippers, armed with the 12th and 13th picks, could push to trade up in the draft and acquire a top-10 player. However, it looks like Los Angeles will have some notable talent to choose from when they are on the board.
There is still no consensus on the overall health of Michael Porter Jr. It appears that he continues to round into shape but the long-term concern is something teams have to consider. There seems to be little risk that Porter Jr. drops out of the top-10 at this point, but it’s tough to pin down where he may ultimately land. If Porter Jr. overcomes his health issues, the team that selects him could end up with the best player from this draft class.
Elie Okobo has generated some positive momentum and seems likely to be selected in the first round. Okobo has potential on both ends of the floor and could be a surprisingly effective player if he ends up with a team that puts particular emphasis in building up his overall skill set.
Steve’s Notebook: As things are starting to take some shape at the top of the 2018 NBA Draft, there are some things to watch in the final week of the draft process. It seems the Phoenix Suns are locked in on DeAndre Ayton. The Suns have been leveraging the power of the top overall pick to get looks at the other top names in the class, but the overwhelming belief in NBA circles and what’s coming out of Phoenix is Ayton is the guy.
The Sacramento Kings at number two still seems fairly wide open. The prevailing thought in NBA circles is the Kings have serious eyes for Michael Porter Jr., however that’s far from locked in according to sources close to the process. The shortlist in Sacramento seems to be Porter, Jaren Jackson Jr., Marvin Bagley III, and Luka Dončić. The Kings don’t seem to be locked in on Dončić, but sources close to the team say he is still very much in the conversation.
The Hawks at number three get interesting because they still seem to be open to trading their pick, but only if they can net Trae Young in the process and gain more assets, either additional picks or young guys on rookie scale contracts. There is a sense that the Hawks are trying to move Dennis Schröder around the draft. It’s unclear if there is any real value to have for the Hawks, but they seem more than open to it. It is not out of the question the Hawks take Young at three, so that could be an interesting draft domino.
Some other draft scuttle is that UCLA guard Aaron Holiday may have a promise in the mid-teens; word is he has been invited to the NBA Draft Greenroom.
Kentucky forward Kevin Knox could be the Cavaliers’ guy at number eight. His floor is expected to the be the Clippers at 12.
The Lakers, Clippers, and Celtics have all explored move-up options, but at this point, it does not seem like any of them are willing to pay a hefty premium to move up, but they are situations to watch as the draft unfolds, especially if players start to fall in a very unexpected sequence.
There will be one more Mock Draft on Wednesday of next week, so stay tuned.
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