Yesterday I wrote about Dante Exum, Jusuf Nurkic, and Clint Capela in part one of my international analysis. Now onto the next tier of international players in part 2:
Inglis checks in at the 6th highest international WARP and 23rd overall, and he offers reasons to be liked beyond the box score. At the Nike Hoop Summit, he measured 6’8.5″ with a 7’3″ wingspan and 240 pounds. For comparison, LeBron James measured 6’8″ 7’0.25″ wingspan 245 pounds pre-draft. For a 19 year old SF prospect, Inglis has an absolutely stellar body. Weight is not precisely descriptive of strength, but based on his defense of Jahlil Okafor who is 6’10.75″ 272 pounds, it appears that his strength is good. His combination of strength, height, and length advantage give him the flexibility to comfortably defend PFs.
The area where he trails LeBron physically is his athleticism, which is only average as opposed to freakish. But if your tools all range from average to great, you net have good tools. Further, DraftExpress believes that he moves well laterally and has good defensive fundamentals. I wouldn’t take this as an absolute truth, but DX is accurate more often than not. Leaving some margin for error on his lateral movement and defensive acumen, Inglis still has quite a bit of intrigue. Size, length, quicks, and defensive instincts collectively offer a ton of upside and versatility defensively. He has the tools to guard either forward position and seems custom built to match up 1 on 1 with star wings such as LeBron. Before getting too excited it’s worth noting that his steal rate was solid but not great (1.6 per 40 pace adjusted) and his block rate was surprisingly low (0.4 per 40 pace adjusted), so he’s far from a guarantee to be a stud defensively. But based on his physical tools and scouting, there is quite a bit more to like about his D than stats suggest, and WARP already likes him as a 1st round pick.
Offensively Inglis shows why he is not receiving 1st round consideration, as he only averaged 4.6 pts per game in 15.3 minutes and is turnover prone. But he doesn’t appear to be a complete zero offensively. He shot well in a small sample making 12/31 3P (38.7%) and 21/29 FT (72.4%). The small samples likely overstate his shooting ability as he is reportedly streaky and his form needs work, but he appears competent enough for his age to be a solid bet to develop into a capable NBA floor spacer. He also has a good assist rate, posting 2.7 assists per 40 pace adjusted.
Layne Vashro has hypothesized that assist:turnover ratio is especially important for projecting 3/4 tweeners to translate to the NBA, and I find that hypothesis to be compelling. Undersized PF’s such as Michael Beasley and Derrick Williams have dominated undersized NCAA competition, and then lacked the basketball IQ to thrive vs. NBA competition that can physically match up versus them. Here are some examples of assist:turnover rate from that mold, and Inglis checks in at a solid 0.84. Note that not all of the players listed were freshmen, and Inglis is the age of an NCAA freshman playing in a tougher league.
Inglis is a bit of mystery box because of his age and limited sample, but add everything up and you have a toolsy 3/4 who offers plenty of defensive upside and versatility as well as the ability to likely space the floor and move the ball. Even though he likely won’t be a big time scorer, his pace adjusted scoring is only a shade under Nic Batum’s first season in France (12.1 vs 12.3). It seems his handles are a work in progress but he has some handling ability to work with nevertheless. If he develops well, he could become an awesome 3 + D role player who fits into almost any lineup. His physical profile and skill set are similar to those of Kawhi Leonard. Even though he is a clear underdog to become as good as Kawhi, he is not drawing dead and is a painfully obvious 1st round value to me.
So why is he rated as a 2nd round pick (36th DX, 37th ESPN)? As far as I can tell it’s because bulk scoring is overrated and French prospects are underrated. If the San Antonio Spurs showed us anything in their demolition of the Heat, it’s that off the dribble scoring isn’t all that important when you move the ball, space the floor, and play intelligent team basketball. Incidentally, the Spurs have drafted three French players in round 1 since 2000 (Tony Parker, Ian Mahinmi, Livio Jean-Charles) as well as Nando de Colo in round 2. They also signed Boris Diaw as a FA after he was released by the Bobcats. Damien Inglis appears to be completely in their wheelhouse. With the Spurs picking last in round 1, I believe he is an underdog to slide past them into round 2.
The 4th member of the super statistical international quartet, Nikola Jokic is an exceptionally skilled, but slow and unathletic big man. His lack of mobility or explosiveness mean that his stats should be de-valued as he projects to become a defensive liability and poor athleticism casts doubt on his ability to translate offensively, but there is still plenty to like.
Jokic is 6’11” with a 7’3″ wingspan and weighs 253 pounds, which gives him acceptable size to play center. What stands out about Jokic is his incredible assist to turnover ratio at 3.0 vs 2.3 pace adjusted per 40. That is absolutely stellar for a 19 year old center playing in a professional league. In Marc Gasol’s final season of European play, he turned 23 midseason and posted 3.0 pace adjusted assists vs. 2.4 turnovers in the ACB and 3.7 vs 3.4 in a smaller Eurocup sample. ACB is a tougher league than the Adriatic, but the discrepancy between leagues is completely dwarfed by Gasol’s 4 year age advantage at the time, and Gasol is arguably the best passing big man in the NBA. Nikola Jokic’s passing is an outlier level of good for a big prospect, and it gives him his own unique form of upside.
Beyond his passing, Jokic is a capable shooter although it didn’t show in his Adriatic sample as he only converted 15/68 3PA (22.1%). By all accounts this is not reflective of his shooting ability and the low % should be chalked up to poor variance. He seems to have a solid shot of becoming a competent NBA floor spacer. His struggles from 3 were atoned for by his dominance from 2, where he converted 63.6% of his attempts. I am not sure he necessarily projects to be a great interior scorer in the NBA since he lacks the explosiveness to finish around the rim with dunks, and it is possible that his 2p% is padded by good variance on mid-range and short jumpers. But he also may have succeeded due to high IQ, good post moves, and touch around the rim. I imagine his interior scoring is translatable to some extent based on his size and skill level, but his lack of athleticism also casts some doubt.
The problem for Jokic is that his poor tools outside of size will likely cause him to struggle defensively. Nate Duncan confirms this narrative with his eye test, although I am not nearly as bearish as Duncan on the implications of Jokic’s physical deficiencies. The fact of the matter is that size is a tool, and a prospect with center height and length and guard skill level cannot be written off due to poor athleticism. He doesn’t need to jump a mile in the air to get his shot or passes off over the defense. When I see DX and ESPN both rate him as 42nd on their big boards, I can’t help but think of Brad Miller who was a statistical beast in college but went undrafted due to being slow, white, and unathletic.
I buy that his poor athleticism drops Jokic out of the top 10 in spite of having top 5 stats. I do not buy that it pushes him out of round 1, as I have him as a clear top 20 value. And frankly I can’t fathom why anybody should rather have Julius Randle than Jokic. Randle is just as slow mentally as Jokic is physically, except instead of being center sized he’s an undersized PF. It shows in steal + block rates, with Jokic’s per 40 rates crushing Randle’s (1.1/1.4 vs 0.6/1.0) in spite of playing in a tougher league. Randle is a much better rebounder (13.5 vs 9.5 per 40), but that is clearly less important than Jokic’s edges in size, skill, and basketball IQ. Randle’s outlier skill is bullying players who are too small to play in the NBA, Jokic’s is one that correlates strongly with NBA success. A similar comparison would also demonstrate that Jokic has superior potential on both sides of the ball to Doug McDermott, yet both McDermott and Randle are projected as lotto picks and Jokic is slated to go in round 2.
I don’t have much to say about Saric. His translated stats are solid but not great as they put him 20th in the WARP rankings. That’s roughly what I anticipated, and outside of his 6’10” height he doesn’t have a single tool that is average or better. I simply don’t see how he has the physical package to thrive as a primary ball handler in the NBA. The scouting narrative is that he has a virtuoso passing ability that gives him unique upside, which doesn’t strike me as quite enough to override his deficiencies. I could see him being a Boris Diaw stretch 4 type who can move the ball and occasionally knock down 3’s or create a little of his own offense. Or he could be an Evan Turner who cannot translate his ball dominant ways to the NBA as he faces tougher defenses. He seems like a fine flier in the late 1st round, but I don’t see how he’s worth a gamble in the lottery. It appears that Nate Duncan agrees with my assessment, which is enough to make me feel comfortable that I’m not missing any details of integral importance with my assessment from afar.
Even though Saric is hyped as the 2nd best international prospect in this class, I believe he’s only the 6th or 7th best in the class.
Micic only rates as an early 2nd rounder according to WARP, but based on Duncan’s scouting report WARP may underrate him. Duncan is especially impressed with Micic’s handling and passing ability, and those skills are not always fully captured by statistics. That is the primary reason why I am comfortable rating Nik Stauskas higher than statistical models, so I do not see any reason why it should not apply to Micic. Also WARP appears to value high assist rates less so than other models, as Kyle Anderson ranks as the 14th best NCAA prospect by WARP whereas he ranks 2nd according to Layne Vashro’s EWP model.
The biggest strike against Micic is that he’s not exceptionally athletic which inhibits his upside. But he has a solid 2p% and DX notes that he finishes surprisingly well in their situational stats. Also his jump shot is mediocre, as he shot 22/76 (28.9%) from 3 and (60/86) 69.8% on FT’s. But shooting is also a skill where prospects are capable of making significant leaps, and that sample hardly seems condemning of Micic’s upside.
Defense is also a concern, but given his strong steal rate (2.1 per 40 pace adjusted), good size (6’5.75″ height 6’7″ wingspan 202 pounds), and the fact that he is not woefully slow or unathletic, I wouldn’t say he’s guaranteed to be a sieve. Also he has the size to guard SG’s at least part time, which opens the door for a wide range of back-court pairings and mitigates the fact that he plays the current deepest position in the NBA.
People tend to associate athleticism with upside, but certain skill sets can buck that trend. I doubt anybody pegged John Stockton or Steve Nash as high upside prospects when they were drafted in the mid 1st round, but they went on to become two of the best offensive players of all-time. That level of greatness may not be within grasp for Micic, but if he’s as crafty as Duncan suggests it’s fair to say he has an outside shot of becoming great. Even if it’s only 2% that’s worth enough to make him a 1st round value. There are so many good PG’s in the draft and the league already that it naturally depresses the value of players at the position, but I buy Micic as somebody who should get drafted in the 20’s instead of the 30’s as consensus suggests. I also believe there is a fair case to be made that he’s a more valuable prospect than Saric.
Walter Tavares has appeal as an Omer Asik type of prospect who thrives off size, defense, and rebounding, and is a complete zero offensively. He is already 22 and still making up for a late start, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he simply started playing too late to make a big impact. I think he’s likely worth an early 2nd or maybe even a late 1st based on his body and mobility, but he’s going to be a drag offensively no matter what so I’ll likely rate him in the 30’s on my final big board.
Bogdan Bogdanovic rates as an early-mid 2nd rounder according to DX and ESPN, and a mid-late 2nd rounder based on most statistical models. I don’t have a strong opinion on him one way or the other– he seems like a fairly balanced prospect without any sharp strengths or weaknesses that make me inclined to doubt models or scouting. He’s a 2nd round flier who might become a decent role player or might not.
Artem Klimenko is a complete and utter mystery box who doesn’t have any translatable stats. If nothing else his physical profile and the fact that he made 74% of his FT’s seems to make him worth an early-mid 2nd round flier. Maybe he has no clue how to play basketball, or maybe he turns out to be a good defensive piece who isn’t a trainwreck offensively. It’s difficult to assign probabilities without a baseline performance against legitimate competition, but I think it’s correct to err on the side of pessimism and gamble on him once the available known quantities are unlikely to amount to anything of substance.
Ioannis Papapetrou also seems draftable as a skilled role playing SF who will likely be a defensive liability. Beyond that I’m not sure if anybody merits a pick– perhaps Alessandro Gentile but he sounds like more of a undrafted FA.
While WARP rating internationals as 4 of the top 5 players in the draft slightly overstates the goodness of this international class, I believe it is closer to correct than the scouting consensus. In my estimation, there are 7 internationals who are worthy of a 1st round selection. 6 of those players are underrated by ESPN and DX big boards, most of them by comfortable margins. Dario Saric is the lone overrated international. There are another 3-5 players who merit a look in round 2 who all seem rated roughly appropriately by DX and ESPN. This international class is loaded, and with enough luck it may measure up to the 2008 class that included Danilo Gallinari, Serge Ibaka, Nicolas Batum, Nikola Pekovic, Omer Asik, and Goran Dragic.
The funny thing is that the draft at first was pitched to be the best NCAA class ever. But then Wiggins, Randle, and Parker all started to look like possible busts, and the class was salvaged by the emergence of Joel Embiid as a possible superstar. Now Embiid has a frightening injury narrative, and there may not be a single player in the class who makes for an above average #1 overall pick. At this point, the NCAA crop has a number of solidly good prospects but overall is unspectacular, and the international class is responsible for keeping this draft afloat. While Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins are currently projected as the top two picks in the draft, I would not be at all surprised if a handful of internationals end up developing into better pros than one or both of them.
I believe that colossal international busts like Darko Milicic and Nikoloz Tzkitishvili frightened scouts into taking a more conservative approach in evaluating internationals, but after the success of the 2008 class and Giannis Antetokoumpo appearing to be the steal of the 2013 draft it’s worth wondering when that trend is due to reverse. Given the strong statistical crop this year as well as the increased emphasis on analytics across the NBA, I am fascinated to see how many of the top internationals go above their expected slot this season.