The theme for the 2016 NBA Draft was international flavor.
Eight international players that did not play basketball in the United States last year were drafted in the first round, tying a record set in 2003. There were six players who played collegiately last year that went in the first round, including the No. 1 overall pick, Ben Simmons, out of LSU.
The first player from abroad that was selected was 7-footer Dragan Bender. The Phoenix Suns rolled the dice on the rail-thin, yet talented big man out of Croatia with the fourth overall pick. He played last season for Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv team. He is a player who can run the floor and also bounce off the floor. His thin frame should not be a sign of weakness, as he doesn’t mind banging down low with bigger players.
Aside from his athleticism, he can also be a serviceable perimeter shooter in the NBA. He isn’t someone who will light it up from beyond the arc, but instead someone who can help spread the floor and knock down open shots. Another thing to add to his shooting ability is his high release, which will make it harder for defenders to contest.
The 18-year old is wise beyond his years, as he is used to playing with and against grown men over in Israel. He has a high basketball IQ, something that is very valuable in today’s game. He is the sixth international player selected in the top-4 with the most recent being Kristaps Porzingis, who was drafted fourth overall pick. Nobody thought Porzingis was a good pick until they saw what he could do at the NBA level. Porzingis had a good rookie season and proved he can be a player that is in the blueprint of the Knicks to get better.
The shock of the first round came at the 10th overall pick when the Milwaukee Bucks selected 7-foot-1 Thon Maker, a Sudanese-Australian who played basketball in Canada before finishing up high school here in the U.S. Questions arose leading up to the draft about his actual age and many believed that would hurt his draft stock. Milwaukee took a chance and now have a pair of international big men in Maker and the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo. When Maker first arrived on the U.S. basketball scene, he was compared to Kevin Durant quite often for his ability to shoot the rock and make plays at his size.
He is the first high school player, despite being 19-years old, to be drafted since 2005. After that year, the NBA put the one-and-done rule in, forcing high school players wishing to be drafted to play elsewhere for at least a year. He graduated in 2015 from Canada’s Orangeville (Ontario) District Secondary School and played for an affiliate team after that.
The other international players drafted in the first round include Doamantas Sabonis (11th overall, Lithuania), Georgios Papagiannis (13th overall, Greece), Juan Hernangomez (15th overall, Spain), Guerschon Yabusele (16th overall, France), Ante Zizic (23rd overall, Croatia), Timothe Luwawu (24th overall, France) and Furkan Korkmaz (26th overall, Turkey). Along with Simmons, other notable NCAA Division I international player include Budd Hield out of Oklahoma, who was taken sixth overall by the New Orleans Pelicans and Jamal Murray, drafted seventh out of Kentucky by the Denver Nuggets. Hield is from the Bahamas while Murray is from Canada and even played with Maker in high school.
Depending where international players are drafted, there is either a high-risk, high-reward or a low-risk, high-reward possibility. For teams like the Suns and Bucks, they took a chance on two international players who can turn out to be either really good or really bad in the league. For all the other teams, especially the teams that took international players in the late stages of the first round, there isn’t as much pressure for these players to perform. They might not ever see the light of day in the NBA, while others can continue to develop and become decent-to-good NBA players.
There have been a ton of international players to achieve success in the NBA, including Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Pau Gasol among many others. When thinking of international players who turned out to be total busts, one name comes to mind; Darko Milicic. He was drafted surprisingly second overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 2003 NBA draft, ahead of guys named Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Milicic never panned out in the league.
The NBA draft of 2016 was filled with a ton of international flavor that could really help or haunt the teams that took the gamble.