HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – When it comes to international talent entering the NBA Draft, this was a down year.
No international players were selected until the Nuggets took France’s Evan Fournier with the 20th pick. And at most, there will be four international rookies from the 2012 Draft on NBA rosters this season.
But there will be plenty of other new international faces in the league, five from previous drafts and four more free agents that have signed with teams this summer. Here’s what we might expect from each of the nine, listed in order of which guys could make the most impact.
1. Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto, 2011 Draft (No. 5 overall)
The 6-foot-11 Lithuanian had an underwhelming performance at the Olympics, playing less than 12 minutes per game and getting lost at times when trying to defend pick-and-rolls. He’s just 20 years old and may need a few years to make the jump, but there’s a lot of potential there, and he could eventually be the second-best player out of last year’s draft.
2. Mirza Teletovic, F, Brooklyn, Free agent
Teletovic, who turns 27 next month, probably won’t start for the Nets but he should have a pretty big role as a big man off the bench. He averaged 15.8 points and 6.3 boards for Caja Laboral last season, and was the leading scorer (21.7 ppg) in Euroleague play. He’s a bit of a gunner, but has a pretty complete offensive game. Defense may be an issue.
3. Donatas Motiejunas, F, Houston, 2011 Draft (No. 20)
The way the Rockets’ roster is shaping up, the team should be pretty bad, and Motiejunas should get plenty of playing time. He’s a seven-foot stretch four whose range doesn’t quite reach the 3-point line. Still, he had an impressive Rockets debut at Summer League, averaging 23.4 points and 11.2 rebounds per 30 minutes in Vegas.
4. Joel Freeland, F-C, Portland, 2006 Draft (No. 30)
Freeland is really a stretch four with a solid mid-range game. He’s a decent rebounder, but not great. Still, the only real center on the Blazers’ roster right now is rookie Meyers Leonard, so the opportunity is there for Freeland to come in and get playing time.
5. Alexey Shved, G, Minnesota, Free agent
Shved was the breakout player of the Olympics, capping an impressive tournament with 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists in Russia’s win over Argentina in the bronze medal game. He was 6-for-11 from 3-point range in that game, recovering from a slow start beyond the arc. Wolves GM David Kahn has said that Shved is more two-guard than point guard, and he has more size (6-6) than J.J. Barea or Luke Ridnour. Most important, his FIBA profile photo is a classic.
6. Victor Claver, F, Portland, 2009 Draft (No. 22)
Claver barely played for Spain in the Olympics and his numbers from Europe aren’t all that impressive. But Blazers GM Neil Olshey believes Claver is “more suited for the NBA than Europe,” and his best value may be on defense. He’ll be just 24 when the season starts, and if LaMarcus Aldridge plays some center this season, Claver could find some playing time next to Nicolas Batum.
7. Nando de Colo, G, San Antonio, 2009 Draft (No. 53)
The Spurs don’t exactly have an incumbent back-up point guard, so there might be an opportunity for De Colo to play behind fellow Frenchman Tony Parker. But it’s hard to believe that Gregg Popovich liked what he saw of De Colo at the Olympics. He shot 34 percent and had more turnovers (17) than assists (14).
8. Slava Kravtsov, C, Detroit, Free agent
Kravtsov is the big unknown of this international class, having averaged just 22 minutes per game in the Ukrainian league last season. His numbers aren’t going to stand out, but he’s an athletic seven-footer, and the Pistons believe he can make a defensive impact as a back-up center. So maybe he’s the next Omer Asik, but the Pistons’ frontcourt is pretty crowded.
9. Pablo Prigioni, G, New York, Free agent
The 35-year-old Prigioni will be the Knicks’ third-string point guard behind Raymond Felton and Jason Kidd. But Kidd isn’t going to play 82 games, so the Argentine will need to step up at some point. He’s likely to finish the season with more assists than field goal attempts, because you’ll have to dare him to shoot and dare him even more to attack the paint. But he’s a steady hand who will run the offense and get guys the ball where they want it.