Some of the most intriguing NBA draftees aren’t even suiting up for NBA teams this year. They’re playing thousands of miles away on international clubs, waiting for the right moment to leap to the world’s greatest league.
These international studs haven’t joined the Association yet for various reasons. Many are kept overseas by their NBA franchise until they develop more and fit the roster financially. A few are waiting until their international squads acquire a suitable buyout. And others haven’t arrived to the U.S.—and may never arrive—because they’d simply rather not leave their home continents.
Who are the most valuable young studs waiting in the wings? We looked at the players who have the best mix of overseas production, tangible skills and long-term potential. Prospects who have more prime years ahead of them were favored and ranked higher than players who are closer to the end of their careers.
Note: Players who went undrafted and don’t currently have draft rights held by an NBA team were not included (for example, Serbian Milos Teodosic).
5. Ante Tomic, Croatia C (7’1″, 28 years old)
NBA Rights: Utah Jazz (Drafted No. 44 in 2008 by Jazz)
Current Club: FC Barcelona, ACB League (Spain)
After recently signing a three-year extension with Barcelona, 28-year-old center Ante Tomic is unlikely ever to play in the NBA. And if he does, it won’t be until he’s in his early 30’s.
But the Croatian tower still cracks our list of valuable European draftees because he’s that good.
Tomic is one of the most well-rounded centers you’ll find outside the NBA. He complements superb footwork and touch around the rim with terrific pivot-man passing skills, and the latest results were 19.0 points and 3.8 assists per 40 minutes against Euroleague foes last year. Tomic has also become a proficient rim protector by using his length and timing to alter shots in the post and clean up as a help defender.
If he ever joins the Utah Jazz, he would immediately help streamline the frontcourt offense and significantly enhance the team’s depth. It’s unfortunate for NBA fans that he’s currently spending his peak years in a different league.
4. Sergio Llull, Spain G (6’3″, 27 years old)
NBA Rights: Houston Rockets (Drafted No. 34 in 2009 by Denver Nuggets)
Current Club: Real Madrid, ACB League (Spain)
While Llull is more accomplished and established than the players ranked ahead of them, we slotted him at No. 4 because he’s already 27 years old and his prime years are quickly ticking away.
Right now, he’s at the top of the European basketball world. Llull is coming off a 2015 ACB League Finals MVP performance and 2015 Euroleague title for Real Madrid, followed by a Eurobasket gold medal for Spain.
The 6’3″ combo guard is an integral part of so many championship runs because he’s seemingly always in the right plays and displays sparkling fundamentals. During Euroleague play last year, Lull notched 10.4 points, 5.8 assists and 38 percent three-point shooting in 27.5 minutes per game.
Llull can run an offense smartly as the point, drive and shoot aggressively as a 2-man and also deliver stout defense in the backcourt. He wouldn’t be an electrifying star for the Rockets, but he’d massively bolster the backcourt as a valuable role player.
Sergio Llull can defend. Has shut down Smart drives on two tough closeout situations.
— Nate Duncan (@NateDuncanNBA) October 8, 2015
Man, I’d love to see what Sergio Llull could do in the NBA. His game is so fluid.
— Fred Katz (@FredKatz) September 17, 2015
3. Cedi Osman, Turkey G-F (6’8″, 20 years old)
NBA Rights: Cleveland Cavaliers (Drafted No. 31 in 2015 by Minnesota Timberwolves)
Current Club: Anadolu Efes, BSL League (Turkey)
Many European NBA draftees are more decorated than Osman, but they don’t own the lofty two-way potential he has at 20 years old.
The Turkish prodigy is 6’8″, but he plays with the speed, fluidity and scrappiness of a 6’0″ guard. His shot-creating and shot-making repertoire are still being polished, but he’s effective because he drives hard, plays smart and collaborates with teammates seamlessly. In the open floor, Osman uses his springiness to besiege the rim as an attacker and make disruptive plays on defense.
Love the way Osman plays. Goes as hard as anyone in the draft. 6-8 wing. Great feel. Gets after it on D. DX Profile http://t.co/cxNLCpoAbz
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) June 26, 2015
Osman won’t arrive in Cleveland until at least 2017, but general manager David Griffin can’t wait to plug him into the Cavs system (per Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com):
I think his skill set suits us very, very well in terms of his athleticism, ability to play in transition and his ability to slash as an athlete…Other than the lottery picks that were taken (Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonja), he was by far the player we valued the most in Europe.
2. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Serbia SG (6’6″, 23 years old)
NBA Rights: Phoenix Suns (Drafted No. 27 in 2014 by Suns)
Current Club: Fenerbahce Ulker, BSL League (Turkey)
Armed with a smooth shot, crafty slashing skills and loads of length on the wing, Serbia’s prized weapon earned a first-round selection in 2014 based on his play for Partizan.
Bogdanovic joined Turkish club Fenerbahce Ulker last season, splashing threes and making plays off the bounce en route to his second straight Euroleague Rising Star award. The Phoenix Suns hope his inside-out production will soon translate to NBA success.
He’s attractive as an NBA prospect because he can shoot over wings as an off-ball weapon or serve as a shifty initiator. If he finally makes his way to Arizona, Jeff Hornacek will be able to use him in a myriad of ways. Check out his recent work in an exhibition clash against the Brooklyn Nets:
1. Dario Saric, Croatia F (6’10”, 21 years old)
NBA Rights: Philadelphia 76ers (Drafted No. 12 in 2014 by Orlando Magic)
Current Club: Anadolu Efes, BSL League (Turkey)
Saric was a premier prize on NBA scouts’ radars as early as the 2012-13, but he withdrew from the 2013 draft and didn’t enter until 2014. After earning Adriatic League MVP honors for Croatian club Cibona and then signing with Anadolu Efes in Turkey, he was picked in the 2014 lottery by the Orlando Magic and immediately dealt to the Philadelphia 76ers.
Why all the fuss over someone who may not come stateside until 2016 or 2017? The Sixers have high hopes for his eventual arrival because he’s so versatile. Saric has the size to rebound, shoot and pass over most 3’s and 4’s, and his ability to create offense from any spot is invaluable.
Can't believe Saric is only 21. He moves really well for his size, knows how to use his strength. Gonna be fun having him in the NBA.
— Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles) September 6, 2015
While he doesn’t have the athleticism to be a dominant slasher or top-tier defender, he remains competitive in every area due to his sharp awareness and toughness. Saric is active on both ends, crashes the boards and exhibits extraordinary vision in the open floor. He averaged 4.1 assists per 40 minutes last year, a superb mark for a 6’10” forward.