The next wave
There are quite a few players in Europe able to make it in the NBA in a near future. But we have selected just 13 names among those who could be drafted in New York City next June 26. They are no longer just shooters or big men. They are no Pau Gasol or Predrag Stojakovic. But there is talent – or so it seems.
Jiri Welsch, 6-6 / 1980 / Olimpija Ljubljana (Slovenia)
Welsch is the latest promising prospect produced by a club that has already exported such talents like Radoslav Nesterovic, Vladimir Stepania, Primoz Brezec or Marko Milic over the past few years. Despite competition is not still over in Slovenia, the Czech has taken part in some workouts in Toronto, Houston and Phoenix. At 6-6, he can play both guard positions. The fundamentals are there, so is the athleticism – for European standards. His contract expires in 2004, so there would be some talking to do with Olimpija Ljubljana. Hint: The Indiana Pacers, desperately needed of a backup point guard, signed a collaboration agreement with Olimpija last summer, so it would presumably be easier for them to hire the player right away. Draft projection: Mid-first-round pick.
Jose Manuel Calderon, 6-3 / 1981 / Jabones Pardo Fuenlabrada (Spain)
Has reportedly had contacts with several NBA franchises. Scouts have been impressed with his athleticism, but there are still quite a few holes in his game – too many ups and downs and inconsistent shooting, mainly – to consider drafting him right now. Draft projection: Second-round pick next season.
Sani Becirovic, 6-5 / 1981 / Kinder Bologna (Italy)
Was considered a Drazen Petrovic in the making until he suffered a knee injury that was feared to be a career-ending one. It wasn't that bad after all, but his chances of being a lottery pick – very realistic once – vanished into thin air. As usual coming from the former Yugoslavia, Becirovic – nicknamed "Sani Boy" – has outstanding shooting and passing skills. Physical toughness was a concern last season, but he worked really hard on the gym last summer to achieve an almost NBA-type body. Draft projection: Mid-second-round pick.
Juan Carlos Navarro, 6-3 / 1980 / FC Barcelona (Spain)
Has the talent, the quickness and the mentality to be a good player in the NBA. The problem? He is a shooting guard in the body of a playmaker. A tweener? Probably. A defensive mediocrity? Surely. Lack of minutes in his club and injuries have not been of any help to his exposure. In case any team takes a gamble on him, they will have to go through some tough negotiations with FC Barcelona, the former team of Pau Gasol. Ask the Grizzlies. Draft projection: Late second-round pick.
Bostjan Nachbar, 6-8 / 1980 / Benetton Treviso (Italy)
The European player most likely to enter this year's draft and contribute in his first season in the NBA. Had a breakout year in Italy with the arrival of former Nuggets coach Mike D'Antoni to Benetton Treviso. His offensive game is polished enough to make an impact as soon as he enters the league. A Stojakovic type of tall small forward. Only his defense needs dramatic improvement. Has two years of contract remaining with his team. Draft projection: Mid-first-round pick.
Mladen Sekularac, 6-8 / 1981 / FMP Zeleznik (Yugoslavia)
A big unknown in Europe – but not for NBA scouts. A good body (tremendous wingspan) and a great talent with the ball in his hands. He's an excellent slasher and an above average shooter. Attitude and desire are huge concerns though. Draft projection: Second-round pick.
Boris Diaw, 6-7 / 1982 / Pau-Orthez (France)
Will take part in several workouts before draft day, but he is probably more testing himself than thinking on playing in the NBA right away. His physical skills are above ordinary and that pays off on the defensive end, but definitely needs to improve his jumper. Not an offensive threat at all yet. Draft projection: Second round-pick this year. Would improve his ranking next season.
Florent Pietrus, 6-6 / 1981 / Pau-Orthez (France)
Needs to make a successful transition to the small forward spot if he wants to make it in the NBA. His brother Mickael Pietrus has turned some heads in the NBA, too. Draft projection: Late second round pick – if drafted.
Nikoloz Tskitishvili, 6-11 / 1983 / Benetton Treviso (Italy)
Nikoloz Tskitishvili told HoopsHype this week that he would only consider playing in the NBA next season if he is in the top 10 in this year's draft. That looks quite probable right now. With his size and his talent, he is certainly a lottery pick. At 6-11, Nikoloz can play from small forward -the position in which he feels more comfortable- to center. Has been compared with Pau Gasol (they have a very similar body frame), but his playing style resembles more to a raw version of Dirk Nowitzki. Likes to face the basket and shoot the three more than he enjoys playing in the low post. Draft projection: 6th-13th.
Felipe Reyes, 6-8 / 1980 / Adecco Estudiantes (Spain)
His game has seen constant improvement lately. Could hardly hit a free throw one year ago and now he has even developed a decent mid-range jumper. Plays with heart and has a nice bulk, but lacks size. Despite being just 6-8, he is a good offensive rebounder. Not NBA material yet. Draft projection: Late second-round pick – if drafted.
Fatih Solak, 7-0 / 1979 / Besiktas (Turkey)
The Knicks have been one among many teams to scout this intriguing and extremely raw player coming from Turkey. Started playing basketball just six years ago and has become one of the top centers in Turkey – which is not saying much. Who knows? He could be the next Zeljko Rebraca. Or the next Frederic Weis... Draft projection: Late second-round pick.
Lazaros Papadopoulos, 6-11 / 1980 / Panathinaikos (Greece)
The Russian-born center is really a tough men in the middle, but talent is not on his side. Has been tagged as a problematic player. Strength is his main weapon. Enough to go to the NBA? Draft projection: Late second-round pick.
Zaza Pachulia, 6-11 / 1984 / Ulker (Turkey)
Yet another versatile big man coming from Europe. An intriguing prospect because of his size and skills, but still too young for the NBA. Drafting him now would be a bet for the future. Draft projection: Second-round pick.
Jorge Sierra is the editor of HoopsHype.com
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