NBA PM: Meet the International Draft Prospects

Dante Exum will likely be the first international prospect drafted this year, but here are the other likely international first-rounders… Why does Tom Thibodeau’s name keeping coming up in other teams’ head coach searches when he’s still under contract?

Joel Brigham profile picture
Updated 12 months ago on
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Meet the International Prospects

All anybody has heard about in terms of the draft so far is how excellent the top handful of selections are going to be. Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Joel Embiid and Julius Randle are the cream of this year’s draft crop, with Marcus Smart, Noah Vonleh and Aaron Gordon creeping up right behind them.

Australian guard Dante Exum, however, is a name a lot of casual NBA fans don’t know as much about, but as a likely top-five selection this June he’s definitely someone that’s going to get his fair share of media coverage over the course of the next seven weeks.

Of course, he’s not the only international prospect likely to make a splash in this year’s draft. Every year, people watching the event on television find their team has chosen to select an international player that they’ve never heard of, and that can be frustrating for fans that would rather see a big name like Shabazz Napier or Glenn Robinson III called by Commissioner Silver.

The reality, though, is that Napier and Robinson are late first-round picks at best, and a handful of international prospects will inevitably be selected before them. To keep up your optimism about these unknown European standouts, here’s a quick guide to some of this year’s most notable international draft candidates:

Dante Exum, G, Australia – Far and away this year’s strongest international prospect, Exum will likely play point guard at the NBA level, and at 6’6” that gives him a pretty incredible height advantage at the position. He’s a crafty scorer and incredibly quick, and people that have worked with him rave about his work ethic and coachability. His shot needs some work and he definitely needs to add some muscle, but he’s a potentially franchise-altering talent that will, without question, end up a top five pick in this draft. Top three would even be realistic.

Jusuf Nurkic, C, Bosnia – Just a shade under seven-feet tall, Nurkic is 280 pounds of traditional NBA center already built to bang with the big boys on the next level. He’s got a strong post game with a good hook shot and the ability to draw fouls, all of which are things pro teams want from their big men. He’s also a good free-throw shooter, a good rebounder and a smart player, though he’s not particularly athletic and was very often foul prone while playing in Europe. Nurkic is also relatively new to the sport—he’s only been playing it seriously for five years—so you could look at that as good in terms of his having so much opportunity for growth, or bad in terms of inexperience. A lot of mock drafts have Nurkic going in the middle of the first round right now, and the late lottery isn’t out of the question.

Dario Saric, F, Croatia – This past year there was no bigger star in the Adriatic League, of which Saric was recently named the MVP in the wake of leading his team to its first ever championship. As a 6’10” small forward with a ridiculously diverse set of offensive skills, he’s likely to be pretty in-demand by the time June rolls around, as long as he doesn’t withdraw his name from the draft at the last minute. He actually flirted with the idea of entering the draft last year before ultimately heading back to Europe, but that was for more experience. This year, there are concerns that Saric’s father may encourage him to hold back, since the elder Saric believes the younger Saric is not quite ready for NBA competition. Most scouts disagree with pops and legitimately hope he sticks in this draft. If he does, he’s a potential top-ten pick and definitely one of the most intriguing young players in the class.

Checkout: NBA Playoff Studs & Duds Part 3.

Clint Capela, PF, Switzerland – Capela is the kind of young player a team drafts based on potential, because a kid this athletic, this long and this quick is inevitably going to be on a lot of organization’s radars. That combination boosts his stock as a potential difference-maker on defense, though he’s still very raw and has a reputation for making a lot of silly mistakes. Despite the relatively low basketball IQ, the ceiling is high for this young man, and he’s almost certainly destined to be a mid-to-late first-round pick.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, SG, Serbia – One of the biggest rising stars in Euroleague, Bogdonavic is coming off a huge year in which he broke out in pretty much every way that a young player can. Bogdanovic was awarded the Rising Star award this season, an accolade given to the best young performer in Euroleague, as he finished among the best in the league in both points and steals. He’s a scorer, first and foremost, but is also an affable ball handler that has the wingspan and mental toughness to be a really good NBA defender, as well. He’s still extremely young, but his buyout is reportedly very reasonable as long as he’s interested in coming over to the NBA next season. If he does, he’s likely a late first-rounder. If he makes it known that he’d rather play another year for Partizan, he could slip to the top of the second round. He won’t go much later than that, though.

Other international prospects (Kristaps Porzingis, Walter Tavares, Vasilije Micic and Artem Klimenko) will get looks from first-round teams, but they are more likely the kinds of players teams gamble on in the second round because they can be stashed and eventually brought over if it’s ever financially feasible.

The five listed above, however, have a real shot not only at being drafted in the first round but at being important parts of their new rotations next season. It’s easy to get down on an international pick if you don’t understand the quality of that player’s talent, but there are some guys in this class—including three that could be selected in the lottery—that are much more worthy of excitement than disappointment.

Why Does Tom Thibodeau’s Name Keep Coming Up?

Tom Thibodeau is one of the league’s top three head coaches, which is why the Chicago Bulls awarded him with a four-year contract extension paying him the third-highest annual salary in the league. No coach in the league is responsible for more wins above replacement, as his players always over-perform and Thibodeau always over-prepares.

Chicago has had homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs every year Thibodeau has coached them, and there are three years left on his contract. Joakim Noah is the perfect player to anchor his defense, and the Bulls could not only have a healthy Derrick Rose next year, but perhaps also a splashy free agent like Carmelo Anthony. In other words, he’s got more than enough talent to work with in order to be happy with his situation.

Why, then, are we talking about him as a potential hire for nearly every open coaching job in the league?

It started with the New York Knicks, who as a high-profile team in the NBA’s biggest TV market have no choice to but to explore every possible avenue. Very early in their process, it leaked that they would ask Chicago for permission to speak with Thibodeau, though that interview never ultimately happened.

Must Read: Chicago Can’t Afford to Sell off Thibodeau.

Then it was the L.A. Lakers, who popped up as a landing spot for Thibodeau as soon as Mike D’Antoni resigned, and now it’s the Golden State Warriors, which features an undeniably talented roster of players in need of a new general after Mark Jackson was let go.

Every time an even remotely desirable head coaching opportunity becomes available, Thibodeau is the first name on the list, which is absolutely insane considering he’s still under contract with the Bulls through 2017 and the team has said nothing over the course of the last several months to indicate that they’re even remotely interested in going in a different direction as far as a head coach is concerned.

According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, the problem is that neither the Bulls nor Thibodeau are likely to come out and publicly state that he isn’t going anywhere. The Bulls don’t comment on rumors as a team policy, and anybody that’s ever interviewed Thibodeau knows that if it’s not a question about X’s and O’s, he typically isn’t one to elaborate.

These rumors could stop immediately with a statement from either party, but that hasn’t happened yet. Combine that ambiguity with league perception that Thibodeau has beef with team president John Paxson and GM Gar Forman, and it’s easy to see why other organizations would think they have a shot at landing the former Coach of the Year.

But Johnson, who’s about as plugged into the inner workings of the Bulls as anybody in the industry, characterizes the loss of Thibodeau as “unlikely,” meaning all these headlines are likely to be read as intriguing rumors and little else. The Bulls aren’t letting go of Thibodeau, willingly, any time soon.

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Joel Brigham is a senior writer for Basketball Insiders, covering the Central Division and fantasy basketball.

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