Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.
VIDEO: Mario Hezonja finishes the fast break with authority
> There are 100 international players on NBA opening-night rosters. But who’s the top international newcomer we should keep an eye on, the player who’s going to have a huge impact on the league this season?
David Aldridge, TNT analyst: Emmanuel Mudiay. He’s going to be dynamic in Denver once his head clears and he gets used to the speed of the NBA game. Mike Malone will give him the ball and push through his mistakes. A lot of talent and potential there.
Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Huge impact? I’m not sure any international newcomer is going to be able to qualify by that standard. But the one I’m most intrigued to track is Minnesota’s Nemanja Bjelica. The 27-year-old Serbian forward was the 2015 Euroleague MVP and is said to possess an NBA-ready offensive game, not just as a shooter but as a facilitator. Then there is his nickname: Professor Big Shots. I know NBA broadcasters are pulling for Bjelica to live up to that over here, just so they can substitute it for attempts to pronounce his name. Assuming Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell gives him sufficient minutes in the rotation.
Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: I’m not sure “huge impact” is the right description. But I’ll definitely be watching Mario Hezonja in Orlando. The 6-foot-8 forward from Croatia is quick, athletic, fearless and downright cocky. He’ll make shots. He’ll make plays. He’ll make his teammates angry at times by going off the reservation. He’ll make highlight reels. As they used to say in the old days at Disney World, he’s an “E-ticket ride.”
Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: At the risk of getting into semantics, but also the actual answer, no newcomer will have a huge impact this season. But a couple names that fit into the keep-an-eye-on category: Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks and Mario Hezonja of the Magic. Porzingis has a slight edge in immediate impact because he will have more opportunities in New York, even on the same frontline as scorer Carmelo Anthony, than Hezonja will have while trying to push his way to the forefront on an Orlando roster with Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Elfrid Payton, Tobias Harris and Aaron Gordon. But I would not be surprised if both have that huge impact you’re looking for, just un future seasons.
Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’m not sure if any newcomer will have what can be defined as a huge impact, but I’ll be mostly curious about Mario Hezonja in Orlando. This kid has some swagger about him, won’t hesitate to fire away and will dunk in your grill if he gets the chance. Does Emmanuel Mudiay qualify asa n international newcomer? If so, then him as well.
John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The only international newcomer who could possibly have a “huge” impact on this season is Kristaps Porzingis, and that’s if he’s not making an impact at all. If Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks decide that Porzingis’ timeline doesn’t match that of Anthony, they could demand (in Anthony’s case) or explore (in the Knicks’ case) a trade by the deadline. So Porzingis would have then indirectly changed the landscape of the league. Among those that aren’t going to make much of an impact, I’ve long been a fan of Marcelo Huertas‘ pick-and-roll passing, though he might be driven crazy by the Lakers’ second-unit gunners.
Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Kristaps Porzingis has enough upside for 100 newcomers, but I’m going with Mario Hezonja in Orlando. He showed off skills in summer league that opened eyes around the league. The bounce and confidence definitely stood out. His willingness to challenge anybody at the rim really impressed me. Even with his deep shooting range, the trait that will serve him best this season is his fearlessness. He’ll need it playing for coach Scott Skiles, who has a history of being extremely tough on rookies. As for the huge impact, I don’t see “huge” happening for any of these guys.
Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: I don’t know if his impact will be huge, but the best international newcomer is going to be Kristaps Porzingis. He is a longterm project, of course, but his shooting range and length advantage will enable him to help the Knicks as a rookie – and they’re going to need him as they show improvement from last year’s 65-loss season.
Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m not big on the Magic for this season — they are in a tough spot, trying to climb their way up through a highly competitive division — but I love their newcomer Mario Hezonja. A 20-year-old guard from Croatia, Hezonja plays as though nobody’s told him he’s not supposed to be doing the things he does on the court. Oh, you want to drive and dunk on someone? Do it, Super Mario. I know the Magic have Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton in the backcourt and that’s the future they’re building on, but I think it’s going to be tough to keep Hezonja off the floor.