Below is the Q&A session between myself and Jay. You can also hear my “thoughts” on the video segments CBS Sports is running on the web site. After the Q&A, I expand a little more on the talent available. During the days leading up to the draft, I will be breaking down the talent, position-by-position, followed by a look at some of the top players and which teams have zeroed in on those prospects.
CBSSports.com Interview with Dave-Te’ Thomas
Jay: You have to go back to 1999 to find the last time you didn’t have at least four players not coming from college or high school taken in the first round. Do you expect that number to be far less than four this year?
Dave-Te’: Honestly, I doubt if any international player is selected in the first round, and for good reason. After the Minnesota/Ricky Rubio fiasco, teams with first round picks are not going to use them on guys that you won’t see for several years. When Jan Vesely and Donatas Motiejunas pulled out of the 2010 draft, it leaves the NBA to eye US talent instead. On top of that, second rounders like Pablo Aguilar, Bojan Bogdanovic and possibly Robin Benzing will also stay in Europe.
Jay: Many regarded Donatas Motijuenas the best of the foreign born prospects. The seven-foot Lithuaniain withdrew from the draft. Czech Born player Jan Vesely decided now wasn't the right time either. So, who is the best of this year's foreign players?
Dave-Te’: This leaves Kevin Seraphin as the new “King of the Hill” among imports, but no team will guarantee that he will hear his name called in the first round, especially since he’s sidelined with a knee injury that kept him out of the most of his team’s playoff games.
Jay: Are any of them guys that are poised to come over and play now?
Dave-Te’: No. The small amount of players still looking to swim across the pond to play here has dwindled. Most are nothing more than D-League type of players. Tibor Pleiss might have garnered first round attention, but he’s signed until 2012 and then wants to play a year or two in Spain before even thinking of venturing here.
Jay: Who is next that teams may take a flyer on in the second round?
Dave-Te’: Outside of Seraphin, if he slips, I really like Nemanja Bjelica of Red Star-Belgrade, as he has a lot of upside with his ability to play the two- and three-spot, but he can also gain minutes at the four. My favorite this year is Ryan Richards, an English power forward playing in Spain. He’s rawer than sushi, but of all the big men overseas, I can’t see anyone with more potential. Germany’s Tim Ohlbrecht might be Germany’s best product since Dirk Nowitzki, a player he was compared to recently.
Jay: Are they all big men, or any guards in the bunch like a Rodrique Beabois of the Mavericks?
Dave-Te’: Sort of part of the previous question, but I see Alexey Shved-Dynamo Moscow as Russia’s version of Penny Hardaway and he’s better than most combo guards in the states, thanks to his range and ability to shoot from the perimeter. He might be the best-kept secret in this draft, if not for Ryan Richards’ inclusion. Rail-thin Thomas Heurtel-France put on an impressive show, walking away with Eurocamp MVP honors and he is a fine ball handler, but maturity issues, along with a weak frame make teams hesitant to invest in him, feeling he will stay in Europe for a few more years.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE FOREIGN PROSPECTS
This is probably the weakest crop of imports available to NBA teams in recent years. More and more of the Europeans are signing long-term deals to stay on their home turf, making this year’s group nothing more than hopeful second round types who might be greatly disappointed that they came across the ocean to play with the “big guys.”
SAME TIME, NEXT YEAR
The top European talents pulled out of the draft back in May, leaving an unhappy group of NBA scouts who ventured over to Italy for the adidas Eurocamp. Lithuanian big man, 19-year-old power forward Donatas Motiejunas decided to stay with the Benetton Treviso (Italy) club for one more season, despite predictions by many NBA general managers that he would have gone late in the lottery. He will receive a strong challenge from KK Partizan-Belgrade small forward, Jan Vesely to see which international product will be the first one selected in the 2011 draft. Many scouts feel that Vesely’s quick, effortless release and ability to shoot from deep range makes him the best forward product to come out of Europe since Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki.
CENTER OF ATTENTION
Artisom Parakhouski was born and raised in Minsk, Belarus by parents who both coach national Belarusian sports teams. He was forced to switch to basketball, a sport he had never even played, when his body grew too large for any realistic soccer aspirations. He came to the U.S. as a teenager, becoming the elite center in the junior college ranks before enrolling at Radford, furthering his acclimation to the US brand of basketball. Only the fifth player in Big South Conference history to earn back-to-back league Player of the Year honors, he is considered a solid second round pick.
The best post man in the European ranks basically shot his foot off recently in Treviso. More flakier than a croissant, FMP Zeleznik’s Miroslav Radulija showed up at the Eurocamp, parked himself in the corner of the gym and then spent his time shooing off scouts, refusing to work out or be interviewed by teams. One scout told him point blank, “I woke up from my nap to deal with this?” Look for the offensively skilled big man to sit and wait a real long time before an NBA team calls his name. A possibly first rounder with a solid workout for the scouts, it would not be surprising that he falls right off the draft boards.
If not for a recent knee injury, Kevin Seraphin would be a certain first round draft pick. He is far from a finished offensive product, but the French import saw his scoring numbers improve last year, thanks to his activity around the offensive glass, but he also showed that he is a capable defender, solid shot blocker and an efficient ball handler who more than doubled his assist total in 2009-10 from the previous season. Look for him to be selected between picks 20 and 30.
Looking for this year’s Rip Van Winkle? Look no further than Ryan Richards. He’s yet to face high level competition, spending most of his organized basketball days in England, but he’s a classic “head banger” with the NBA-ready body and a strong work ethic. A team taking him in round two could end up with a Ben Wallace type in a few years.
IN GUARDS WE TRUST
There are no Tony Parkers in the European guard class, but luckily, at least for Minnesota fans, there are no Ricky Rubio “I’m coming, I’m staying” types at this position. The best guard prospect is Alexey Shved-Dynamo Moscow, a 6:05 combo guard who has displayed a very consistent jump shot, along with the ability to pull up off the dribble to either connect from mid-range or take a smooth crossover and go to either side on the way to the basket. With that added 25 pounds of bulk on his frame, Shved is definitely ready for the NBA, but he could be a big steal in the second round. The Lakers are coveting his versatile skills, but San Antonio might want to repeat the success they had with Tony Parker by making Shved the #49 pick on Thursday.
One other guard that definitely helped himself at the Eurocamp (earned MVP honors) was Thomas Heurtel-France, whose rights are actually owned by ASVEL Villeurbanne, the team owned by the Spurs’ Tony Parker. Despite his slight frame, he is effective attacking the rim and drawing contact. He is also a darting slasher who knows how to utilize his above average cross-over and is also capable of making his shot coming off the dribble. He might be better off letting his body mature another year over in Europe, but expect some team to take him in the second round.
INTERNATIONAL CREAM OF THE CROP
Point Guard… Thomas Heurtel-Strasbourg, France
Shooting Guard… Alexey Shved-Dynamo Moscow
Center… Artisom Parakhouski-Radford (from Minsk, Belarus)
Power Forward… Nemanja Bjelica-BC Red Star, Belgrade
Small Forward… Kevin Seraphin-Cholet, France
Point Guard… Stefan Markovic-KK Hemofarm, Serbia
Shooting Guard… Martynas Gecevicius-SG Lietuvos Rytas, Lithuania
Center… Miroslav Raduljica-KK FMP Zeleznik, Serbia
Power Forward… Tim Ohlbrecht-Telekom Baskets Bonn, Germany
Small Forward… Vladimir Dasic-ex-Real Madrid, Spain
Point Guard… Heurtel
Shooting Guard… Pietro Aradori-Angelico Biella, Italy
Center… Tibor Pleiss-Brose Baskets Bamberg, Germany
Power Forward… Paulo Prestes-CB Murcia, Spain
Small Forward… Ryan Richards-Kalise Gran Carnia, Spain
SEE YOU NEXT YEAR (best of the players that withdrew from the 2010 draft)
Pablo Aguilar... CB Granada, Spain
Robin Benzing... Ratiopharm ULM, Germany
Bojan Bogdanovic... Cibona Vip Zagreb, Croatia
Donatas Motiejunas... Benneton Treviso, Italy
Jan Vesely... KK Partizan Belgrade