While the highly touted crop of NCAA freshmen in the 2014 NBA draft didn't entirely live up to the hype in terms of on-court production, another group in the 2014 draft quietly put up big numbers: international prospects. With multiple young players dominating their domestic leagues or succeeding in international competitions, this looks like the best group of overseas players in recent draft memory.
My projections for international players are built by translating performance in European leagues to the NBA equivalent. In the past, I've done that by looking at how players have fared before or after coming from or going to the Euroleague, EuroCup and Spanish ACB from the NBA. This year, I've added the French ProA League and the Adriatic League by using a second layer of translations: how players have performed in these competitions compared to the Euroleague or EuroCup, since the top teams play in both at the same time.
Another important factor in the projections is regressing them to replacement level by position, since the sample sizes are often much smaller for European players than their NBA peers. For example, EuroCup teams that lose in the opening round play just six games, meaning a heavy adjustment is needed for fluky performances. After projecting a year of development based on the performance of players scored as similar by my SCHOENE projection system, I combine age and projected performance to come up with WARP projections that put international players on the same scale as their college counterparts (WARP = wins above replacement player).
The results are striking this year. Four of the top five prospects by WARP in the 2014 draft have never played in the NCAA. Except for Ricky Rubio, all four rate better than any previous European prospect in my database (which includes most international players back through 2006).
TOP 10 INTERNATIONAL PROSPECTS BY WARP (2006-13)
* projected WARP
Here's a look at the top 10 prospects who played internationally this year based on projected WARP.
1. Clint Capela, PF, Chalon (3.4 projected WARP)
Capela's star has lost much of its luster since a disappointing effort at the Nike Hoop Summit in April, but it's worth remembering why he was once considered a likely lottery pick. Before age 20, Capela was one of the best players in the French ProA League and put up similar numbers in Chalon's brief EuroCup stay. He projects as a high-percentage finisher, a plus rebounder and a good shot-blocker from the power forward spot. SCHOENE compares Capela to former No. 3 overall pick Derrick Favors during his rookie season.