International vs. America Debate (Part 2 of 4)
Here is Part 2 of 4 of Gavin’s look at International players in the NBA. The numbers and analysis he has done are very intriguing. Enjoy!
Growing up a Bulls fan and suffering through the post championship era where grown men’s affinity for Benny the Bull and the Luv-A-Bulls greeting them at the gate at O’Hare was grossly overestimated, the draft was an eagerly awaited opportunity to reel in additional players to supplement our free agent splashes like Ron Mercer. In addition to those American college, high school, and elementary school players we drafted, we also were told of the mysterious present Jerry Krause had wisely selected in 1995, and tucked away until the time was right in 2000: Dragan Tarlac.
As each year passed, it seemed that the chances of ever signing “The Red Dragon” were growing more and more remote. While we eventually did sign Tarlac five years later, it made me question how many players are drafted but never actually sign with an NBA team (regardless of whether they play or are assigned to the NBDL).
How many international players that are drafted eventually sign with an NBA team?
2008 – 4 of 10
2007 – 6 of 13
2006 - 9 of 15
2005 – 11 of 15
2004 – 8 of 13
These numbers look encouraging for those who argue that drafting international players is advantageous for teams looking to defer the hit to their cap in a given year. While a majority of players do not sign with an NBA in the first two years after they are drafted, they are still building their skills in competitive leagues overseas while the NBA team that holds their rights hopefully stays under the cap while remaining competitive (see San Antonio for the blueprint on this). After two years or more, the chances of signing international draftees increase as players have been allowed to further build their skill sets while exhausting their contractual obligations to their club teams. In theory, not only does the NBA team receive a better player than they originally drafted, they no longer have to worry about any contract buy-out clauses that might dissuade the drafted player from joining the NBA.
I have to admit I found these numbers interesting in the sense that they seemed low since almost a third of the international players drafted in the 2004 and 2005 drafts never signed a rookie contract with an NBA team. Yet, they also seemed high in the sense that you don’t hear of too many new international players playing in the league each year.
This led to a logical follow-up question: How many international players that were drafted are currently with an NBA or NBDL team?
2008 – 4 of 10
2007 – 6 of 15
2006 – 4 of 15
2005 – 4 of 15
2004 – 4 of 13
Those numbers from ’04 –’06 that seemed to support the tactic of keeping players overseas for a couple years in hopes of signing a player with some staying power do not pan out. Instead, we find that 50% or more of the players drafted and eventually signed to NBA contracts three to five years ago are no longer playing for an NBA team or their NBDL affiliate. It’s also not as if these players are putting in extremely productive stretches before they leave to return to international clubs. (Google Martynas Andriuskevicius to see an extreme case of the struggles that an international player faces when assigned to the NBDL).
Yet for those who remain, after whittling down the players that remain under contract with NBA teams, we find a mix of above average players and those who may help off the bench.
The draft class of 2008 has seen Danilo Gallinari struggle with back injuries while playing for the Knicks, Alexis Ajinca play spot minutes for Charlotte (averaging 2.3 ppg and 1rpg) before getting assigned to the NBDL, Nathan Jawai playing six games for the Raptors, while Goran Dragic, who was drafted with the 44th pick, might have put up the most encouraging numbers, nearly matching Gallinari’s average stats while playing in twice as many games.
2007 might be the most solid of the recent international draft classes with Yi Jianlian, Marco Belinelli, Rudy Fernandez, and Marc Gasol all looking capable of being key contributors to their teams. While Fernandez has garnered a lot of hype, I don’t see him taking that next step to being an All-Star caliber player. Sun Yue and Kyrylo Fesenko also had spot minutes with the Lakers and Jazz, respectively while also playing in the NBDL.
The 2006 draft class finds Andrea Bargnani, Saer Sene (already on his fourth NBA/NBDL team), Thabo Sefolosha, Oleksiy Pecherov (of the Stewie look-a-like fame) and Sergio Rodriguez all still hanging around. I will discuss Sergio Rodriguez in the next few days when we discuss the potential future of Ricky Rubio in the NBA.
In the last draft class we’re reviewing in this series, the best international player drafted in 2005 had actually already acclimated himself to the US brand of basketball by playing at the University of Utah for two years. For this reason I did not include Bogut or other players like him in my figures. The remaining individuals who continue to whiff even the slightest bit of success include Johan Petro, Ian Mahinmi, Roko Ujic, and the Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat.
While Gortat certainly helped the Magic advance to the Finals this past year, there is a more glaring name omitted from these lists that would certainly have aided the Magic in their playoff run. Fran Vazquez is the poster child for what can go wrong in drafting an international player who lacks the confidence or drive to measure himself against the best in the world in the NBA. Even with the success of the Magic, it’s unclear whether Vazquez will be able to untangle himself from his contractual obligations with his club team in Barcelona.
Tomorrow we’ll discuss the development of the international player in the NBA and the development of international players in the NCAA environment. Thursday will conclude with what all of this means for the potential success of Hasheem Thabeet, Ricky Rubio and Omri Casspi.