This NBA Draft is likely to be the best infusion of international talent the NBA has seen since the original international players began invading the NBA in 1989. While this draft likely doesn't contain a Dirk Nowitzki or a Yao Ming, there could be as many as seven 1st-round international players this year, and several more could go in the early 2nd round. The depth of rotation-level players in the draft is great, and that can be said for international players, too. There is also every type of international player available here: Players from Europe and Asia, bigs and guards, high-profile prospects and diamonds in the rough. Here's a quick ranking of the international players who should expect to be drafted on Thursday night, and a chance to learn a little bit about each player.
1. Dragan Bender, PF, Croatia
2015-2016 team: Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel)
Projected draft range: picks 3-8
Bender is this class's flagship Euro. He should be a top-5 pick on Thursday, and has the best star potential of any international player this year. He first flashed onto the scene at the U18 World Championships in 2014, where he went toe to toe with Thon Maker and Domantas Sabonis, among other 2016 prospects. He then torched the competition at the 2015 Nike Hoops Summit. He has great size at 7'1" and a non-stop motor, and has played well in every opportunity against the best players in this class.
Bender didn't really play much at Maccabi Tel Aviv, averaging 4.5 points and 2.5 rebounds per game on 42.3 percent shooting in 12 minutes per game this year. However, that should come with the caveat that Bender's role was often jerked around, as he'd switch between huge stretches of playing time and getting buried on the bench. He still has plenty of upside, as he's one of the youngest players in this class overall, and he's flashed excellent ability as a floor spacer, rim finisher, and rim protector. He'll need to get stronger and be more disciplined, but there's plenty of time for that to come, and he's well worth one of the top picks in this draft.
2. Timothe Luwawu, SG, France
2015-2016 team: Mega Leks (Serbia)
Projected Draft Range: Picks 8-16
Luwawu almost went into the 2015 NBA Draft, but was forced to back out due to a lack of scouting feedback. Instead, the Frenchman moved from France to Serbia, where he became the best player on a young but extremely talented Mega Leks side. Luwawu went from averaging 7.1 points per game on a 45.3 eFG% in 14-15 to 14.5 points on a 48.2 eFG% this year, while also switching to a more competitive league in terms of talent level. That he was able to morph from role player in France to top scorer on a good Adriatic League team is a great sign.
Luwawu projects as more of a role player in the NBA, but he has all of the tools to be a good one. He has great length and athleticism, which, in addition to aiding in his mesmerizing in-game dunking, should allow him to become a pretty good defender at the NBA level. He's a decent passer as well, and while his shooting can be hit or miss, there's hope his mechanics will develop so that he can be an adept spot-up shooter. With his off-the-charts physical tools and development as a scorer, Luwawu is certainly worth a lottery pick.
3. Furkan Korkmaz, SG, Turkey
2015-2016 Team: Anadolu Efes (Turkey)
Projected Range: Picks 10-24
Korkmaz, like Bender, is an incredibly young European prospect who didn't get much time this year on a top-flight team. Korkmaz averaged just 4.3 points per game in 11.6 minutes for Anadolu Efes, the regular season co-champions in the Turkish league. However, he has played a major role on the Turkish junior tournament teams, and projects as a very solid spot-up shooter in the NBA.
Korkmaz has the complete package for a spot-up shooter in the NBA. He's lights-out from the perimeter (39.8 percent this year), with excellent form, and he's very adept at moving without the ball and setting his feet on the catch to get a good shot off. Additionally he slashes well against close-outs, and is a solid passer, swinging the ball and occasionally making good plays out of the pick-and-roll. Korkmaz really needs to improve his strength if he's going to be a factor defensively, but like Bender, he's 18 and has time. He will likely stay in Turkey for a year to fill out his frame before coming to the NBA.
4. Ivica Zubac, C, Croatia
2015-2016 Team: KK Cibona (Croatia)/Mega Leks (Serbia)
Projected Range: Picks 16-25
Zubac has overcome a tumultuous season to be one of the better late-1st round center options in this draft. After leaving KK Cibona due to a wage dispute, Zubac was forced to sit out most of the season, but has been lights out since returning to the court in May for Mega Leks. In 13 games for Mega Leks, Zubac has averaged 10.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game, including the above 31 point explosion against Borac. He hasn't played much this year, but he's been very productive in his minutes.
Zubac is an intriguing player to project due to his quirky skill set. An okay screen setter and pick-and-roll finisher, Zubac instead presents one of the better post games in the draft, and is a very solid passing center. He also doesn't really have great hops to contest shots, but he moves very well laterally, and projects as a pretty decent perimeter defending center. Zubac is outside of the typical mold of your more traditional European big men, and he has high upside due to his skill set, but he does need to improve his consistency, and he has an injury history, including a stress fracture.
5. Ante Zizic, C, Croatia
2015-2016 Team: KK Cibona
Projected Range: Picks 18-30
The other half of Croatia's two-headed center monster, Zizic is the lower-upside, higher-floor option to Zubac. While Zubac is happier posting up and generating offense, Zizic is the definition of an energy big, rebounding relentlessly and finishing everything in sight. Zizic posted 14.4 points per game on 65.3 percent shooting from the field, and had one of the most efficient seasons in international history for a player his age.
A tireless rebounder who bangs the offensive glass at a ridiculous rate, Zizic is also incredibly nimble, and he has been very solid on the break and finishing pick-and-rolls. He however doesn't have much potential as a perimeter defender, and he needs to add bulk to his impressive 6'11" frame to have the same success against NBA bigs on the glass. Still, though, Zizic has dominated lesser competition, and he has the potential to come to the NBA right away and make an impact off the bench.
6. Juan Hernangomez, PF, Spain
2015-2016 Team: Estudiantes (Spain)
Projected Range: Late 1st Round
The brother of last year's 35th pick, Willy Hernangomez, "Juancho" had a productive year as a member of one of the lower teams in the ACB. Averaging 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds for Estudiantes, Hernangomez often played as a floor-spacing four or five, and he did so well, shooting 35.8 percent from three and posting a DRB% of 23.5 percent despite standing just 6'9". Hernangomez also gets lauded as being one of the smarter players in this draft. Coming from a basketball family, Hernangomez is a solid passer and decision-maker on offense, and he makes an impact with heady steals and disruptive play on the defensive end.
Hernangomez needs to refine his skill set, but he looks the part of an NBA stretch four in the mold of an Ersan Ilyasova type. He shoots well and crashes the boards, can create mismatches against a wide variety of defenders, and he even could add some nominal rim protection due to his understanding of help defense. He also has a very flexible contract situation, as he can either come to the NBA right away, or opt to join a better Spanish side, like Real Madrid or Barcelona, if his drafting team decides to go the draft-and-stash route. Drafting Hernangomez is all about flexibility on and off the court.
7. Guerschon Yabusele, PF, France
2015-2016 Team: Rouen (France)
Projected Range: Early 2nd Round
At 6'8", 260, Guerschon looks like your prototypical banger under the basket. However, Yabusele breaks that mold, offering a wide array of scoring potential. Yabusele rebounds well (11.5/19.4/15.4 rebound rates), but he also can play comfortably on the perimeter, with a developing three-point shot (42.6 percent this year), and a nice off-the-dribble scoring game. Additionally, Yabusele defends the pick-and-roll well for a young international player, and should develop into an acceptable defensive option.
There is some concern about Yabusele's height, and whether he will be a tweener who gets stuck defending out of position against quicker threes or bigger fours. However, Yabusele creates just as many mismatches as he faces with his offensive skill set. He is another player who needs the refinement of another year in Europe or the D-League, particularly if he can move from a bad Rouen team to a more structured environment like Strasbourg or ASVEL. His size is a concern, but I'm high on Yabusele's game, and think he will be a good option for a team looking to stash a player in the early 2nd round.
8. Paul Zipser, PF, Germany
2015-2016 Team: Bayern Munich (Germany)
Projected Range: pick 25-mid 2nd round
The best attribute for Zipser is that his game doesn't have any holes. He does a little bit of everything depending on what he's asked. Offensively, he's comfortable stepping out beyond the three-point line, or cutting to the basket to finish a dump-off pass. He passes well, and he's even comfortable creating the occasional shot off the dribble. Defensively, he defended everyone from 6'11" Willy Hernangomez to scoring wing Bogdan Bogdanovic this year, and succeeded in most matchups. He's the most technically sound international player this year, across the board.
What's holding Zipser back then? Well, he's one of the older Euros at 22 years old, and lacks a truly elite skill that sets him apart from competition. It's hard to pick out Zipser's biggest weakness, but the same can be said about his biggest strength. He also suffers from "Which forward spot does he play" syndrome, because of his lack of elite quickness to compensate for his height. Still, though, Zipser is the international version of the four-year college senior. His upside is limited, but he's ready to step in and bring energy off the bench.
9. Zhou Qi, C, China
2015-2016 Team: Xinjiang (China)
Projected Range: Anywhere after pick 20
Qi's potential is there. He's 7'2", has a 7'8" wingspan, and hits mid-range jumpers at a high clip. Qi was a stat-stuffer on one of the better teams in China this year, averaging 15.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 3.2 blocks per game. He rebounds well for a guy his size, and there's no denying that his length will allow him to become a rim protector, even if that ends up as his only positive skill.
However, he's hard to place. There are major concerns about his frame, as he weighs just 218 pounds, about 20 pounds behind even the lightest NBA centers. With that size and that little bulk, it's tough to see Qi being a truly impactful all-around defender, and there are significant durability concerns. There's also the rumor that like Bismack Biyombo in 2011, Qi might be significantly older than 20 years old. If he's entering the draft at 24 instead of 20, and has to wait until 2017 to come to the NBA, that creates a significant risk for an NBA team to take, especially if his body isn't ready for an 82-game NBA pounding. There's plenty to like about Qi, but also plenty of concern.
10. Isaia Cordinier, SG, France
2015-2016 Team: Denain (France)
Projected Range: 2nd Round
Standing 6'5" with a 6'8" wingspan, Cordinier was a surprise entrant to the 2016 NBA Draft. Playing in relative obscurity in the French B League at Denain, Cordinier impressed at the Nike Hoops Summit enough to enter the Draft, where he's a likely draft-and-stash candidate. Cordinier is another high-upside French prospect, with the potential to be a nice two-way two-guard at the NBA level.
Cordinier is an excellent athlete, and uses that athleticism to finish well at the rim, defend on the perimeter, and slash to the basket. He's also a developing catch-and-shoot guy (40.4 percent from three in 15-16), and he can navigate a pick-and-roll pretty well. However, he's very unrefined at this stage defensively, showing poor technique, and his offensive game is inconsistent, especially his jumper. Cordinier is a pick for a team who wants guard depth but is willing to play the long game for him to develop.
11. Petr Cornelie, PF, France
2015-2016 Team: Le Mans
Projected Range: mid-2nd Round
Cornelie is another international stretch four prospect who's worth keeping an eye on. Averaging 8.3 points and 5.2 rebounds a game for Le Mans, Cornelie has potential to step out beyond the three-point line (Shot 40 percent) and has had a lot of success in the international game as a pick-and-roll screener. He moves very fluidly and has solid athleticism on offense to be a nice role player. Defensively, he has good weak-side shot blocking timing and he's a decent on-ball defender.
Cornelie will need to get stronger to have success in the NBA, though. He has the skill set of a prototypical five, but it's hard to make that work when you look like rookie Kevin Garnett. Cornelie's thin frame impedes his ability as a rebounder, and he can get overpowered by centers in the post. If he adds strength, though, there's a lot to like here.
12. Georgios Papagiannis, C, Greece
2015-2016 Team: Panathinaikos (Greece)
Projected Range: mid-late 2nd Round
You can't teach size, and Papagiannis has it: 7'2", 260 pounds, and excellent strength combine to make Papagiannis an imposing force in the middle. However, he hasn't really translated that into on-court production yet, averaging just 6.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per game as a backup for Panathinaikos. Still, though, Papagiannis can finish around the rim, and his 21.3 points per 40 minutes on 64 percent shooting is impressive.
Papagiannis needs further development to achieve the potential his size gives him, but it's promising that his post game is as far along as it is, and there's definite potential for him to become a better rebounder. Defensively, he's a major project, as his lack of speed or hops will limit his ability to protect the rim in a valuable way. That's what keeps him down in the 2nd round, despite the fact that he could probably give useful offensive minutes as a pick-and-roll dive man in the NBA right away.
13. Rade Zagorac, SF, Serbia
2015-2016 Team: Mega Leks
Projected Range: Mid 2nd Round
Rade Zagorac is the third Mega Leks player on this list, which hints at the depth of this incredible young team. He missed a majority of the season with a hand fracture, but when he was available, he was excellent as a scorer, averaging 13.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game. He's a skilled isolation scorer, and can get to the rim against anyone at the Adriatic level. This is his biggest draw as an NBA prospect.
However, Zagorac just doesn't do enough at this point to be higher on the list. He has good size at 6'9" for a small foward, but he doesn't have great quickness or overall athleticism in order to play his style in the NBA. He also has a bit of poor shot selection and overall poor shooting mechanics. Compound that with his on-ball defense, which has a long way to go to be passable, and Zagorac has a lot to continue to work on. However, he should be another decent stash option for a team late in the draft, and if he can improve his decision-making and shooting, could be a nice bench scoring small forward.