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Evaluating top international prospects

2/22/2012

There was a commercial when I was growing up about the lonely Maytag washing machine repairman. He was never needed, the commercial would say, because the machine was so reliable that it never broke down.

I have evaluated the international prospects for ESPN during each of the past eight NBA drafts. Last June, I was particularly busy as six international players were drafted in the first 31 picks. This season, however, I may be as busy as that Maytag repairman.

As hard as it is to believe, at this point in the season, there is not one international prospect that I can definitively say will be drafted in the first round. In fact, there is no player even worthy of the "draft and stash" first pick in the second round spot -- the one that the Minnesota Timberwolves used to steal Serbian Nikola Pekovic in the 2008 NBA draft.

While it's certainly possible that a couple of players will emerge as first-round selections by June, none are expected to help an NBA team anytime soon. The list I've provided below, however, is made up of five players who should play in the NBA some day. Start to get to know them now, even if they don't show up in the 2012 NBA draft:

Furkan Aldemir, 6-foot-9, F

Galatasaray, Turkey

Aldemir is known in Turkey as "Mr. Rebound," a name he earned last summer as he dominated the European Under-20 Championships on the glass. In nine games, he averaged 16 rebounds per contest en route to being named to the all-tournament team.

After his outstanding summer, the 20-year-old has picked up where he left off this winter. He is already contributing to a Galatasaray team that has made it to the Top 16 in the Euroleague this winter. In his first start in November in Europe's best league he had a double-double and is currently averaging almost seven points and five rebounds in 17 minutes.

Aldemir doesn't possess the length and athleticism of the Chicago Bulls' Omer Asik but, at 6-foot-9, is well put together, plays physically and has a nose for the ball. And although he has no perimeter game whatsoever, he eventually will be effective around the basket, using both hands to score.

His value as a late first-round or early second-round selection is on his potential to be a role player in an NBA rotation some day because of his rebounding prowess. At his age, his motor already runs high and there is still room for his skills to develop.

Evan Fournier, 6-foot-7, G/F

Poitiers, France

Fournier was last seen on this side of the Atlantic in this past spring's Nike Hoop Summit, where I loved what I saw of him in the practices but he finished with an underwhelming performance in the game. Prior to that he had been playing in France's Pro A league, where he was the youngest player to ever score 20 points in a game, surpassing Tony Parker's record.

At 6-7 and 19 years old, Fournier has excellent shooting guard size and good -- but not great -- athleticism, although at this point in his development, he is a below-average outside shooter. And, while not armed with great ballhandling skills, he is an effective slasher to the basket. Currently he's averaging 14 points per game for Poitiers, but is shooting 27 percent from behind the arc.

While Fournier has prototype NBA wing size, there is still a lot of polishing up left for him to do. But his track record is solid and he's young enough that there is plenty of time for him to do so.

Sergey Karasev, 6-foot-7, G

Triumph, Russia

Karasev is one of my favorite young players in Europe right now, although he's only 19 years old and less than 200 pounds soaking wet. He popped up on NBA scouts' radars last summer at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships in Russia's win over Team USA in the quarterfinals. He dropped 17 points on Jeremy Lamb, Doug McDermott & Co. in what was a big upset.

His skill level and great feel for the game have allowed him to already have an impact for Triumph Moscow in Russia's top basketball league. And while Karasev is not a natural point guard, he has tremendous ballhandling and passing skills with either hand, excellent court vision and good quickness for a 6-7 wing player. It is no surprise because his father, Vasily, was an outstanding point guard for Russia's national team in the 1990s.

Combine Karasev's basketball acumen with a jump shot that is accurate, but will get better with improved strength and physical maturity, and you have a rising European star. Remember his name and file it away, because it's unlikely we will see him in the next two NBA drafts.

Nihad Djedovic, 6-foot-6, G

Acea Roma, Bosnia

Djedovic has already had two solid seasons in Italy's Lega Basket A and, as a 22-year old, will be automatically eligible for June's draft. He is a big combo guard who has always reminded me, stylistically, of former Lega A star Manu Ginobili. Obviously, an NBA team that drafts him, likely in the second round, is apt to not get that lucky.

Djedovic could have been a potential first-round selection, but his inability to consistently knock down jump shots has long been his Achilles' heel. He's currently shooting under 30 percent from the international 3-point line due to his very low release point on his shot, which has never been corrected.

Instead, Djedovic uses his strength, toughness and size, along with a crafty handle, to get to the rim at will in a physical league. And he sees the court well and is a willing passer. Defending quick guards will be an issue, but he'll have little problem with bigger guards.

While he's not that highly thought of right now, Djedovic will impress in NBA workouts because of his maturity and experience at a high level of basketball already. At the moment, he's a good gamble later in the draft. Hey, Ginobili was drafted with the 57th pick.

Augusto Lima, 6-foot-10, PF

Unicaja Malaga, Brazil

I have been paying close attention to Lima at the adidas EuroCamp the past couple of years, and every NBA team is aware of him, as well. In addition to playing in Spain's ACB league the past two seasons, he also had a stint last summer with the Brazilian national team in the FIBA Americas Championships that qualified for the London Olympics.

Lima has good NBA power forward size, runs very well and, generally, plays with a high motor. He could eventually afford to add about 20 more pounds, but he won't turn 21 years old until the fall. His perimeter game is nonexistent and all of his game around the basket consists of putbacks and short jump hooks.

While his statistics are very pedestrian at the moment, part of that can be attributed to the fact he has been injured at times, and he does play on one of the most experienced teams in Europe. And given Ricky Rubio's anemic numbers in the same ACB league that Lima is playing in, that should not hurt his draft status if a team is looking for a high-energy inside player for a season or two down the road.