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NBA PM: Top International Prospects for 2016

Kristaps Porzingis got a ton of hype before the 2015 draft; who will be the next big international prospect?

Joel Brigham profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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Top International Draft Prospects for 2016

By the end of the summer, we typically have a pretty good idea of which players will be atop the following year’s mock draft boards. There are bound to be some surprises (like D’Angelo Russell this year, for example) who pop up out of nowhere during the upcoming NCAA season, but the projections are often accurate.

This year, it certainly looks like LSU’s Ben Simmons, Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere and Cal’s Jaylen Brown are among the top prospects we’ll watch throughout the college hoops season and perhaps well into March Madness. But as we learned this past year with players like Mario Hezonja and especially Kristaps Porzingis, teams are opening themselves back up to using high lottery picks on international players after a period of several years where that had not been the case.

Knowing this, it’s not a bad idea to familiarize ourselves with some of the top international prospects heading into this coming season, particularly the first three on the following list, who many have pegged as potential lottery picks for the 2016 NBA Draft should things continue on their current pace:

Dragan Bender, Croatia

For now, the most highly-touted international player of the upcoming draft class is Bender. He is a 7’1 stretch-four with a set of talents that should make him one of the most exciting young players of the next 10 months. He doesn’t look like the kind of player who’s going to bang on the block much, but he’s got a nice mix of back-to-the-basket moves and outside range. His three-point shot is surprisingly effective for someone his size, but he also can put the ball on the floor and thread the needle with efficient passing. Also, Bender is currently only 17 years old, so all these skills come in a package that still packs tons of potential. For now, he looks like a top-five pick, and that’s definitely more of a floor than a ceiling.

Furkan Korkmaz, Turkey

A crafty 6’6 scorer, Korkmaz is a player who, through a strong showing during the FIBA World Championships this past summer, more or less solidified himself as a player who could very well find himself in the conversation for the lottery next summer. The kid plays with swagger and can score from pretty much all over the floor. He’s got this high release on his jumpshot that makes it incredibly challenging to defend, and he plays ball (on offense, at least) like he’s been watching a lot of tape of Stephen Curry. He won’t be that good, obviously, but he’s an athlete with an exciting NBA future and certainly will be one of the best international kids in this next draft. Outside of Bender, he’s generated the most hype so far.

Zhou Qi, China

While Zhou is an absolute tower of a young man at 7’2, he’s also rail thin at just a shade under 210 pounds. That obviously means he’ll have to spend some time in a weight room once he makes his way to the states, but considering his skillset, that thin frame will seem minor in the big scheme of things. He has long arms, huge hands and a really nice touch around the basket. He might be a little soft, but if he ended up playing any power forward in the NBA he’d be able to float out a little bit and knock down some midrange-to-deep shots. He’s quick for his size, but that comes with being so light. The talent and size are there, but he needs more of an NBA body. That, however, is something a team can work on after they’ve drafted him. Zhou looks like a first-rounder, and clearly one of the most talented international prospects in his class.

George De Paula, Brazil

If the name sounds familiar, it should. De Paula, who also has gone by George Lucas, was a kid who climbed up draft boards this past summer before ultimately bowing out of the process to play another year in Brazil. It mostly was his lack of experience that put his draft stock in question this past summer (De Paula had only his second-ever full-on English conversation at the Draft Combine this spring), but at 6’6 and with a 7’0 wingspan, De Paula is an absolutely phenomenal physical specimen. He has the some of the biggest hands ever measured at the combine (for a point guard or any other position), but he’s still very raw and certainly could use another year of seasoning. A strong year and pre-draft process could make solidify him as a first-round pick.

Timothe Luwawu, France

Luwawu, who also tested the waters in last summer’s NBA Draft, probably had a sense that he wasn’t going to be drafted where he hoped. Next summer, however, should be a different story, as the charismatic 6’7 swingman is projected to be selected early in the second round. He’s not as prolific a talent as the some of the more athletic and offensively gifted international players heading into the draft pool for 2016, but he uses his long arms and wide stride to serve as a potentially elite NBA defender. That should be his niche should he actually come over, but he’s good enough at everything else to be a solid, well-rounded pro player.

Aleksander Vezenkov, Bulgaria

While all international players are sort of sleepers in their own right, Vezenkov is a sleeper among international prospects. He had a great season last year in Greece, where he scored a ton of points and shot almost 50 percent from three-point range. He’s a crafty lefty who can score a lot of different ways, and while he’s not necessarily the most athletic European prospect in the pool, he’s heady and creative enough to get things done all over the floor. His jumpshot, though, is where his bread is buttered.

Alpha Kaba, France

Because he’s 6’10 with a 7’5 wingspan, Kaba is the kind of prospect that NBA teams are interested in strictly because of his measurables. He’s a rail-thin power forward that needs an American weight program in the worst way, but his height and length are exactly the sort of things that scouts love. He has the potential to be a solid defender with a wingspan like that, but there are questions about his drive and durability. He put his name into the 2015 Draft but ultimately withdrew. He’s hoping that he’ll have more success in 2016.

Of course, there’s a possibility that other international prospects will break out over the course of this upcoming season, and there’s also the possibility that some of the kids listed above could get hurt or fall off the map. Bender and Korkmaz look like the best bets for NBA success, but there are plenty of international players to keep an eye on throughout the next year.

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

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