While it didn’t come as too big a surprise to the general NBA community, top draft prospect Dante Exum officially declared for the 2014 NBA Draft on Tuesday, which means he’ll be one of the top international players available in this year’s draft.
Hopes are high for Exum, and he’s a big reason why so many teams are perfectly okay throwing away their 2013-14 seasons in favor of draft picks. He isn’t the first international player with big NBA dreams though, and they don’t all make it through their time in the league with the kinds of success stories they were hoping to come away with. For every Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker there’s a Darko Milicic and Nikoloz Tskitishvili.
Whatever Exum ends up being, here’s a look at the top international prospects of the last ten years and how they eventually fared in their time with NBA teams:
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors (5th Pick, Lithuania, 2011)
In only his second season in the NBA, Valanciunas is averaging 10.4 PPG and 8.6 RPG while shooting .501 from the field, so despite still being relatively inexperienced, he’s the guy Toronto is building around for both the immediate future and the long run. At 21 years old, there is still plenty of room for growth, and what he’s shown early in his career certainly has been impressive. Without question, he’s the most promising international big man of the last decade.
Jan Vesely, Washington Wizards (6th Pick, Czech Republic, 2011)
It’s still too early to make a call on the uber-athletic Vesely, but the returns have not been great through his first two-and-a-half seasons in the league. He’s never averaged more than 4.7 PPG or 2.6 RPG, and both of those numbers came in his rookie season. Despite that, he’s starting to see some more minutes this year, and you still can’t teach seven-foot, but it just hasn’t all come together for him yet. There’s still time for him to redeem himself, but Washington was likely hoping for more out of a pick this high.
Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Bobcats (7th Pick, Congo, 2011)
When Charlotte drafted Biyombo a few years ago, they envisioned him being a Ben Wallace type of player, completely dominant defensively and on the glass if a little underdeveloped on the offense end. Well, the lack of offense has been as advertised (4.6 PPG for his career), but Biyombo hasn’t been the defensive stud they’d hoped for. He’s only hauling in 4.0 RPG and swatting away 1.1 BPG for the Bobcats this year, and his minutes are down, too, meaning this guy’s career isn’t headed in the right direction. Sometimes a player can have all the measurables, but the on-court ability just comes up short.
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves (5th Pick, Spain, 2009)
It wasn’t easy getting him to the United States, but Rubio has been exactly as good as scouts thought he’d be heading into the 2009 NBA Draft. He currently averages 8.2 APG (fifth in the league) and 2.7 SPG (first in the league), and is just about the only “pure” young point guard in the league. With so many score-first ball-handlers in today’s NBA, Rubio is a delightful anomaly, even though he still can’t shoot the ball particularly efficiently (.359 career FG%).
Danilo Gallinari, New York Knicks (6th Pick, Italy, 2008)
Injuries have brought his career momentum to a screeching halt this year, and in fact he’s only had two seasons in his six-year career in which he’s played more than 62 games. Despite that, Gallinari has been one of the better international lottery picks of the last several year thanks to his outside shooting (1.8 threes per game for his career) and scoring (14.5 career PPG). Assuming he heals up okay from his ACL surgery, he’ll continue to be productive.
Yi Jianlian, Milwaukee Bucks (6th Pick, China, 2007)
While Yi was great when a chair was guarding him, actual NBA defenders weren’t quite so forgiving. In five seasons in the league, Yi averaged 7.9 PPG, 4.9 RPG and a middling 11.2 PER. To be fair, Yao Ming was a hard act for a Chinese player to follow, but Yi just didn’t have what it took to succeed in the NBA. Now, he’s back in the Chinese Basketball Association with the Guangdong Southern Tigers, the team he played with from 2002-2007. In his first year back sin China, he averaged 24.6 PPG and 10.5 RPG.
Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors (1st Pick, Italy, 2006)
While a torn elbow ligament has put this current season on hold, Bargnani has had a decent eight-year career in the NBA, averaging 15 PPG and 4.9 RPG over those eight years. The problem is that those aren’t the kinds of numbers one expects from a No. 1 overall pick, but it’s not like he’s been Michael Olowokandi bad. He’ll have a long career, but he’ll never be the star Toronto hoped he’d be when they used that first overall selection on him back in 2006.
Mouhamed Saer Sene, Seattle SuperSonics (10th Pick, Senegal, 2006)
Sene was a hot name in 2006 for the same reason that Bismack Biyombo was a hot name five years later, but despite a 7’8.5 wingspan, Sene never really found success in an extremely succinct NBA career. He averaged only 2.2 PPG, 1.6 RPG and 0.5 BPG during his three years in the league, so his tenure here was a short one. He has bounced around a lot since leaving the NBA for good in 2009 and now plays in France for Sharks Antibes.
Thabo Sefolosha, Chicago Bulls (13th Pick, Switzerland, 2006)
In this case, the numbers don’t quite represent how decent an NBA player Sefolosha has been, as it has been his defense that has kept him employed this long. While 6.4 PPG and 3.8 RPG over the course of one’s career isn’t impressive in the big scheme of things, Sefolosha has been a solid rotation guy for some really good Oklahoma City Thunder teams. He has never been a star, but he’s done more than enough to ensure a long NBA career.
Fran Vazquez, Orlando Magic (11th Pick, Spain, 2005)
At one time, it was believed that Vasquez would team up with Dwight Howard to formulate Orlando’s frontcourt of the future, but Vasquez decided his time would be better spent remaining in the Spanish ACB League. At one point, he said it would be for just one more season, but that was followed by six years with FC Barcelona, who eventually traded him to Unicaja Malaga. He has yet to play a single NBA game.
Yaroslav Korolev, L.A. Clippers (12th Pick, Russia, 2005)
Korolev’s two seasons in L.A. were extremely uneventful, as he scored a total of only 37 points in that time. He’s bounced all over Russia and the D-League in the years since, but to be fair, 12th overall selections aren’t supposed to be “sure things” no matter where they come from. In this instance, however, Korolev clearly didn’t work out in the NBA.
Andris Biedrins, Golden State Warriors (11th Pick, Latvia, 2004)
Despite the fact that he’s been kind of a punchline because of his big contract and waning abilities, Biedrins has had a longer NBA career than anybody on this list, and it’s a career that actually included a few really good seasons. In 2008-09, he averaged 11.9 PPG and 11.2 RPG while shooting .579 from the floor, while the year before he put up 10.5 PPG and 9.8 RPG while shooting an incredible .620 from the field. He wasn’t always as bad as he is now, and he’s certainly been good enough to stay in the league for a long time. He’s not the best international player of the last decade, but he’s certainly not the worst, either.
Where Exum may end up on this list a few years from now is something that pundits will debate for the next several months leading up to the draft. He’s in the mix with some huge names, so a team taking a chance on him will have to make sure it’s a justifiable gamble. They aren’t all the winners teams hoped they’d be, but Exum looks about as promising as anybody mentioned above.
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