I was thinking about the New York Knicks pick of Kristaps Porzingis and whether he's likely to be a quality player. It got me to thinking there haven't been many quality international players drafted early in awhile.
The game is probably more international than ever. There are definitely quite a few international NBA players in the league right now. Most of them aren't so great though, and the great ones have mostly been in the league over 10 years or were drafted far away from the lottery.
Looking at the last decade of foreign born lottery picks, here's what we've got (I've gone 2005-2014 as the 2015 class obviously hasn't played):
2005 11 - Fran Vazquez - Epic Bust (never came over)
2005 12 - Yaroslav Koralev - Epic Bust
2006 1 - Andrea Bargnani - Bust relative to draft selection
2006 11 - Mouhamed Sene - Epic Bust
2006 13 - Thabo Sefolosha - Okay but not great
2007 6 - Yi Jianlian - Epic Bust
2008 6 - Danilo Galinari - Okay but not great
2009 5 - Ricky Rubio - Okay but not great
2011 3 - Enas Kanter - Trending towards good
2011 5 - Jonas Valanciunas - Trending towards good
2011 6 - Jan Vesely - Epic Bust
2011 7 - Bizmack Biyombo - Bust relative to draft position
2014 5 - Dante Exum - Wait and see
2014 12 - Dario Saric - Wait and see
Notable later selections:
2005 36 - Ersan Ilysova
2005 57 - Marcin Gortat
2007 18 - Marco Belinelli
2007 28 - Tiago Splitter
2007 48 - Marc Gasol
2008 24 - Serge Ibaka
2008 25 - Nicolas Batum
2008 31 - Nikola Pekovic
2008 36 - Omer Asik
2008 45 - Goran Dragic
2011 20 - Donatas Motiejunas
2011 23 - Nikola Mirotic
2013 28 - Rudy Gobert
2014 16 - Jusuf Nurkic (Early but looks really solid)
There are plenty of quality international players but most come late in the draft and the best of them still sit at that sub all-star level. It shows that the NBA is still pretty awful at scouting international players as far as I can tell.
Of the 12 guys whom have played enough to get a solid feel for, you've got five epic busts. Guys who were more or less entirely worthless. You've got two guys that were busts relative to their draft position and three guys who were okay relative to their draft position but not great.
You've then got two guys whom are trending towards good picks in Valanciunas and Kanter but haven't proven it yet. I guess the upshot of that is they're more recent of the group so maybe the NBA is getting a bit better.
The drafting of international players in the 20+ range has actually been fairly solid with a success rate that looked fairly similar to regular college players.
There are a ton of second round busts with internationals but it's frequently because teams will just grab and stash a guy and hope for the best because they don't want to waste the pick on a US player whom they will lose the rights to if he can't make the roster immediately.
The Bulls seem to do pretty well with internationals
The Spurs have always been known as the team with great international scouting as they picked up Ginobili, Parker, and Splitter, but the Bulls might be the best international drafting team in the past decade.
Looking at the above list of notable players the Bulls drafted Mirotic, Asik, and Sefolosha which is three of the 15 internationals which I'd list as solid picks.
As for the whole thought on whether Porzingis will pan out, who really knows. In the end, he's an individual and will pan our not based on his abilities not on what previous players have done.
That said, if I were a Knicks fan I'd not be real thrilled with the pick on the surface.
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