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Who Are The Keepers: Atlanta Hawks

Nate Duncan breaks down the Atlanta Hawks roster and looks at who will be part of the next contender in the ATL.

Nate Duncan

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The 2013-14 season has been notable for the number of teams with no real hopes of contention. The first step in a rebuilding process, and one that must continue as long as the rebuild does, is to take stock of what talent the team has. There is one major question that should dominate the inquiry: Which of these players will be a part of our next good team? The player’s skill, age, contract and fit all enter into this discussion, as well as a realistic understanding of when the team can hope to be competitive again. This can generally be defined as the date a team’s young core is collectively projected to provide the greatest production. Finally, teams also need to consider the need to maintain flexibility rather than locking up a mediocre core.

The players are split into three different categories: “Buy His Jersey,” “Maybe, It Depends” and “Don’t Get Too Attached.” Players in the “Buy His Jersey” category are those who almost certainly should be in the team’s long-term plans, unless they are absolutely blown away by a trade offer for a superstar. Such players must either be under team control for quite a while longer on a cheap contract, or project to be a championship-level starter or better once their contract ends. The “Maybe, It Depends” category is reserved for players who have shown some promise, but are not necessarily locks to still be in town when the team is next ready to compete. It all depends on how these players develop and their contract situation. Many players in this category are on rookie contracts; once those end, they can become relative albatrosses if re-signed for more than their production would warrant. “Don’t Get Too Attached” is for players who are very unlikely to be a part of franchise’s next good team. In some cases it is because these players have demonstrated that they aren’t very good and don’t really have the potential to improve. But even solid players can appear on this list due to their age, contract status or fit.

The Atlanta Hawks have made the playoffs since 2007-08, but in none of those years did they have a realistic chance of winning the championship.  In the summer of 2012, newly hired GM Danny Ferry began the process of dismantling those teams, trading away Joe Johnson’s enormous contract to the Brooklyn Nets.  A year later, Ferry made no attempt to re-sign power forward* Josh Smith, instead replacing him with a short-term two-year, $19 million contract for Paul Millsap.  Ferry also re-signed Kyle Korver and matched the Milwaukee Bucks’ offer to point guard Jeff Teague.  Before Al Horford suffered a torn pectoral muscle on December 27, Atlanta was chugging along toward the de rigueur middle seed and second-round noncompete.  Now the Hawks are desperately clinging to the eighth playoff seed, but they do so while maintaining flexibility and assets for the future.

*Yes, Joe Dumars, he’s a power forward.

Ferry now presides over a roster without any bad contracts (Teague’s four-year, $32 million deal comes closest), but the long-term plan appears murky.  Without knowing that plan, determining the Hawks’ target date is difficult indeed.  They tried the cap space route with hopes of signing Chris Paul and Dwight Howard in the offseason, but never appeared to be serious contenders for their services.  With only an outside chance of luring a marquee free agent, Atlanta’s options are to 1) continue signing value free agents and hope to unearth a star drafting in the teens, or 2) blow up the roster entirely and accumulate future assets while Philips Arena lies fallow for a few years of losing.  I do not envy Ferry the difficulty of this choice, nor the ultimate unpalatability of either option.

Buy His Jersey

Al Horford

Age: 27

Contract: 2 years, $24 million

Projected New Contract: 3-5 years, $10-13 million Average Annual Value (AAV)

Horford’s second pectoral injury in three season is a bit concerning, but he remains the franchise cornerstone.  Aside from shooting midrangers he does nothing spectacularly, but everything well.  His contract remains a solid value for a versatile lower-level All-Star player.  The Hawks would be unlikely to get fair trade on a value or talent basis were he shipped out.

That said, Horford is very clearly a complementary player who in turn requires his own special complement, all the more so now that Smith toils in Detroit.  Horford is somewhat miscast as a center, but was able to backline above-average defenses with Smith.  Especially as he ages, Horford really needs a jumping jack center beside him to boost the Atlanta defense to championship levels.  It is possible that 2013 16th pick Lucas Nogueira and his 7’5 wingspan could be that player in time, but he is raw, skinny, and missed most of the year for his Spanish league team with severe knee tendinitis.

Horford’s lonely status in the Buy His Jersey category highlights the problem for Atlanta. He remains the Hawks’ best player by a considerable margin, but he is also the team’s best asset.  If Ferry concludes contention is unlikely in the next few years, Horford may be traded before his contract expires in 2016.

Maybe, It Depends

Kyle Korver

Age: 32

Contract: 3 years, $17.2 million

The relative hype of Korver’s NBA record three-point streak has highlighted his best season at age 32.  While his shooting should contribute to far more graceful aging than most players, and his declining contract should mirror his production, it is hard to see Korver as a part of the next Atlanta contender.  With the burgeoning value of shooting around the league, Korver would very likely glean a first-rounder or decent developmental prospect this offseason.

Ferry may wait to deal considering Korver is under contract for three more years, but he should also consider he is unlikely to quite repeat this performance and a high sell may be in order.

Jeff Teague

Age: 25

Contract: 3 years, $24 million

The Hawks swallowed hard and matched the Bucks’ offer sheet for Teague this offseason, making a Mike Conley style gamble that he might grow into the contract as he matures.  After a hot start to the season, Teague has settled in as a slightly below-average starter.  Of particular concern is his 27 percent shooting on threes despite shooting almost three per game.  Only a solid free throw rate saves his efficiency numbers.

At this point, Ferry is in much the same situation with Teague as when he decided to match.  Atlanta has no ready replacement and could not afford to lose the Wake Forest product unless they intend on Sixers-style tanking next year. Yet he remains slightly overpaid, and there is little trade market for him given the glut of point guards around the league.  There are only a few teams that might find him an upgrade.  As a result, Teague may be around for the longer haul.  If he can combine last year’s 35 percent on threes with this year’s free throw rate, he could still live up to that contract, but at almost 26 time is a wasting.

DeMarre Carroll

Age: 27

Contract: 1 year, $ 2.4 million

Once little more than a Renaldo Balkman-style energy player, Carroll has made himself into a solid complementary performer on offense while offering solid wing defense.  He has a 14.3 PER, but more importantly is hitting 38 percent of his threes while taking 42 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.  The Hawks’ player development staff deserves credit for teaching and/or encouraging relatively old dogs like Carroll and Millsap to shoot threes.  Of note, Carroll is 16th in the entire league in Regularized Adjusted Plus Minus (per Stats for the NBA), a plus/minus metric which purports to adjust for the quality of teammates and the opposition when a player is on the floor. Carroll’s is a value contract through next season, although he is not really a keeper with his age and 2015 expiring deal.

Dennis Schroder

Age: 20

Rookie Contract expires 2017

Schroder was listed at 6’2”, 165 in the predraft process, and it looks an accurate weight.  There was hope that Schroder could seize the backup point guard position after a strong summer league, but that fizzled immediately when the real games started.  He started as the backup point guard, but lost the position to Shelvin Mack early on and only recently began playing regular minutes again.  His statistics are among the worst of any player in the NBA, with a net rating of negative 14.9 points/100, a .459 true shooting percentage, and 5.9 PER.

Schroder has two marketable skills right now, namely his vision and ability to pressure the ball. Aside from those, he is not an NBA-quality player at this point.  His lack of strength is a particular problem. He gets bumped off his drives by even the slightest defenders, and his only finishing move is an inaccurate quick flip shot before the defense arrives.  From outside, he shoots a set shot that is not particularly versatile or accurate at this stage. Moreover, only the whimsy of opposing coaching staffs can save him from being posted up.

Schroder has talent, but he remains a lottery ticket. Counting on him as a future starting point guard would be foolish at this stage.

Don’t Get Too Attached

Paul Millsap

Age: 29

Contract: 1 year, $9.5 million

The former NCAA rebounding champion is having perhaps his best year in Atlanta.  He has made up for declining activity on the offensive glass by blossoming into a stretch four this year through tireless work on his long-range shot.  But his All-Star selection, though deserved, was more a product of a weak Eastern Conference than a marker of Millsap’s ascension to superstar status.  He will never be a stopper, and his frontcourt pairing with Horford is unlikely to bear the sort of defensive fruits that might push the Hawks to new heights.

At the expiry of his contract next season, Millsap will likely move on for one more David West style payday assuming he can duplicate this year. Such a contract could make sense for a contender, but not for the Hawks at his age.  As a result, he could well be traded in-season or over the summer if the Hawks conclude that next year will not bring contention.  Millsap is perhaps the ultimate weathervane that will reveal when Ferry will decide to bite the rebuilding bullet, and how hard.  A full season of his services on a value contract would likely fetch far more assets to that end than a move at the deadline if the Hawks are out of contention.

Mike Scott

Age: 25

Restricted Free Agent

Projected New Contract: 1-3 years $1.5-2.5 million AAV

The second-year stretch four has had a breakout year of sorts, and is actually third on the team in PER on the strength of solid jump-shooting.  But he really struggles to hold up defensively and on the boards against first unit players, and the Hawks get torched when he is on the floor.  Moreover, he is a restricted free agent at the expiration of his two-year second round rookie deal this summer, and is nearing prime age already so we can’t expect as much improvement as you might expect from a second-year player.

Shelvin Mack

Age: 24

Restricted Free Agent

Projected New Contract: 1-2 years, $1-3 million AAV

It somehow seems that Mack has been around forever, but he is still relatively young.  He has proved an adequate backup point guard this year after Schroder proved unequal to the task early on, with a 13.7 PER in 19.9 minutes per game.  Mack too is a restricted free agent, and could even glean an Eric Maynor-style contract in free agency which the Hawks would likely be wise not to match.  He still lacks the athleticism to improve much beyond his current level unless he can become an elite shooter.

Elton Brand

Age: 35

Free Agent

Projected New Contract: 1 year, veterans’ minimum

Brand started the year well, but has been stretched far too thin once Horford went down.  With Millsap and Antic injured on the Hawks recent miserable road trip, Brand conclusively proved he can no longer play over 30 minutes per night. Though he still remains smart enough to hold his own as a second unit big, he lacks the quickness to play four and the explosion to play five at his height.  Brand’s contract expires after the season and one would posit he is unlikely to be in Atlanta’s plans going forward.

John Jenkins

Age: 23

Rookie Contract Expires 2016

This has been a lost season for Jenkins as he struggled through 13 miserable games, tried to rehab, and finally succumbed to back surgery in February. He will miss the remainder of the season.  The 23rd overall pick in 2012 out of Vanderbilt showed some encouraging signs as a shooter off the bench in his rookie year, but he probably lacks the height, length, athleticism, or defensive mentality to ever be more than a bench gunner even when healthy. The Hawks have guaranteed his contract for next year, but seem unlikely to pick up his fourth-year option after that unless he can prove he is healthy and effective in camp next year.

Gustavo Ayon

Age: 28

Restricted Free Agent

Projected New Contract: 1 year veterans’ minimum

Hopes were high for Ayon coming off a spectacular performance for Mexico in the FIBA Americas over the summer, but alas he has been unable to stay healthy.  He has played only 26 games this year and is out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.  He will be a restricted free agent over the summer should the Hawks extend him a qualifying offer, and he may still be able to catch on as a fifth big man somewhere on the strength of his rebounding and effort.

Pero Antic

Age: 31

Contract: 1 year, $1.25 million team option

The 6’11, 260 lbs Macedonian has a surprisingly outside-oriented game, launching 58 percent of his shots from beyond the arc at a decent usage for a shooting specialist. He hits 38 percent from out there as a true stretch five.  Antic provides little rim protection and is a below-average rebounder, but considering his shooting he holds up well enough in traditional center duties to be a useful bench big man. At his age, Antic is unlikely to be part of the next Hawks contender, but he is a solid value contract and is under team control through 2015, after which he will be a restricted free agent.  Antic is precisely the type of player the Hawks should look to move for future assets, although it is hard to see anyone parting with a first-rounder for him.

Mike Muscala

Age: 22

Contract: Rookie minimum, team options through 2016

The Hawks’ second round pick was signed mid-season as the big man injury crisis grew, but they probably would have been better off trying someone like Carroll at power forward. Muscala has a -17.2 net rating and 6.8 PER. He gets freight-trained in the post and does nothing offensively to make up for it.  Little indicates he has an NBA future at this point.

Lou Williams

Age: 27

Contract: 1 year $5.45 million

The former Sixers draftee was once one of the league’s best bench scorers, but he has struggled to return to form following a torn ACL.  He has been out of the rotation the last few games as Coach Mike Budenholzer has gone with Mack, Schroder, and Cartier Martin off the bench instead.  Williams takes almost half his shots from three now and hits a respectable 36 percent. He also gets to the line at a reasonable rate, but will need to return his 40 percent two-point shooting to respectable levels to become a valuable contributor again.  It is appearing less likely that will be in Atlanta.

Nate Duncan is an NBA analyst and attorney. He writes regular features for Basketball Insiders and chats weekly at 11 Eastern on Tuesdays.

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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.

Moke Hamilton

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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.

“Prove it.”

Either would look great in a Knicks uniform, but they’d look much better in a Knicks uniform in 2019.

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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.

David Yapkowitz

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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.)

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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.

Ben Nadeau

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Image courtesty of eurohoops.net

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.

Additionally, three of these four players were recently ranked in Basketball Insiders’ latest 60-pick mock draft. For more insight, check out our consensus mock drafts here as well.

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.

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