Throughout August, I spent time looking at each of the power five conferences’ top NBA prospects, as well as the best mid-major prospects. Now it’s time to look at the best international prospects who could take part in the 2016 draft. This group of prospects has only a couple first-round locks, with the rest being projected in a broad range on other NBA draft sites.
France is well-represented on this list, with Brazil also having a couple prospects with a chance to get drafted next year. Other countries who have prominent prospects include Bulgaria, China, Turkey and Croatia, but how is the top five represented among these six countries?
Honorable mention: Jonathan Jeanne C France, Petr Cornelie PF France, George de Paula PG Brazil, Danilo Fuzaro PG/SG Brazil, Timothe Luwawu SG/SF France, Rade Zagorac SG/SF Serbia, Alpha Kaba PF/C France
5. Aleksandar Vezenkov 6-9 225 SF/PF Bulgaria
Vezenkov was a one-time Xavier commit – before his father’s coaching ties to Aris Thessaloniki led to him signing there in 2010. Since signing there at 17, he’s done a nice job increasing his playing time and productivity, leading the Greek League in scoring this past season at 20 years old. Vezenkov was the only player under 20 to average 20+ per 40 minutes in a major European league last year, which is what makes him intriguing as a draft prospect.
Vezenkov has below average physical and athletic tools for an NBA power forward at 6-9 and 225 pounds, which will make defending at the NBA level a huge proposition. However, he has the ability to be a matchup problem as a stretch 4 – he shot 37.5 percent from three last year, which should translate to the NBA. Vezenkov has the handle and smarts to take opponents who overplay his jump shot off the dribble, which should help him when he makes the jump to the league.
Vezenkov also has a promising in-between game, capable of making floaters and using the backboard to score at different angles, which helps his overall offensive game. He does a nice job taking care of the ball as well, so he can fit in pace-and-space, ball-moving offenses that have been popular these days. But it still remains a question if he can overcome his lack of athleticism and be a productive backup stretch 4 in the league, because that’s what his role would be at the highest level.
4. Guerschon Yabusele 6-8 260 PF/C France
Arguably the most interesting prospect on this list, Yabusele is a bull in a China shop – a strong, explosive athlete who has nimble feet and a promising feel for the game. At 6-8 and 260 pounds, he’s a tad undersized, but he more than makes up for it with his girth and length. Yabusele shows promise on his jumpshot as well, and his projection could really take a leap if he shoots better than the 14-51 (27.5 percent) he shot from three at Roann last year.
Yabusele is also a good defender at this stage, who shows more activity running the floor while playing passing lanes than your typical big man. He does a nice job utilizing his immense frame to carve out space on the low block to finish and get rebounds. However there are a few areas of improvement the big man needs to make to give him an NBA career.
Yabusele is really aggressive as a defender and will need to play smarter to stay out of foul trouble. His shooting ability can continue to be developed, although he did shoot 88-113 (77.9 percent) on free throws last year, showing touch that can continue to improve. If he’s able to keep developing at a rapid pace, expect him to be selected in the 2016 draft.
3. Zhou Qi 7-2 210 C China
Qi is another intriguing prospect on this list; a 7-2 center from China with a slight frame and skinny – but long – arms. Qi has surprising mobility paired with skill level, as he can dribble the ball up the court as well as shoot from range with legit center size. He uses his length as a shot blocker and has the lateral quickness to support from the weak side. The big man also shows nice instincts as a passer, which allows him to play in a variety of different systems.
However, Qi might have a similar issue to Kristaps Porzingis in that he’s “too tall” to play in the NBA with his high center of gravity, allowing opponents to knock him off his spot easier. Qi already desperately lacks the strength needed to guard top-notch centers in the league, which will hurt him as a rebounder and shot blocker. He’ll need to get stronger in his lower body if he wants to succeed at the highest level.
Qi still has a lot of upside as a player and prospect, although his age is still a question mark. He hasn’t shown the dominance other past Chinese prospects like Yao Ming and Yi Jianlian showed before arriving, which brings skepticism about how he might translate. Expect Qi to be a draft-and-stash selection in 2016 for a team to see how much he might improve before the possibility of being brought to the NBA.
2. Furkan Korkmaz 6-7 175 SG Turkey
Korkmaz is the lone swingman on this list and is being projected in the lottery of the 2016 draft on several draft sites. Korkmaz is a very good scorer who won’t be fazed by the speed of the game at the highest level. He’s been playing at the professional level overseas for years now, which should bode well when he finally heads to the NBA.
Korkmaz’s size (6-7) presents mismatches at shooting guard, where he’ll look to take advantage of that size. His game has really grown over the last few years, and now he won’t hesitate to attack the basket and finish – despite possessing a lethal jump shot (41.4 percent from three last year).
You’d be hard-pressed to find an 18-year-old with the amount of professional experience as Korkmaz, which is a tribute to his skill level. He still has to add a lot of weight to play defense at the NBA level, as he’s a slender 175 pounds. Overall, his consistency has fluctuated at the professional level, which is understandable thanks to his youth. If he’s able to add strength and gain more consistency, expect his name to be called in the lottery come June.
1. Dragan Bender 7-0 215 PF Croatia
Bender has the potential to be a star at the NBA level, thanks to his fluidity, size and skill set. At the Adidas Eurocamp, Bender measured out at 7-0.5 with a 7-2 wingspan and 9-3 standing reach on a 216-pound frame. Those numbers compare favorably to other skilled stretch 4s, although Bender still has to add a bit of strength to help him near the rim and defensively at the next level. At just 17 years old, he’s already becoming a key contributor for Ramat Gan in the Israeli Second division, averaging 9.4 points and 7.4 rebounds last season.
Bender is extremely skilled in all facets of the game – passing, dribbling, shooting – you name it, he can contribute. That’s what makes him so intriguing in this “positionless” NBA era we live in; he can exploit a number of mismatches in many different ways. He could likely contribute at multiple positions when he reaches the pros, as he has the size of a power forward but skills of a small forward.
However, Bender needs to continue to improve his outside shot to round out his overall game. Gaining strength should continue to be a priority for him, because his ceiling is likely highest at the 4, where he’ll see much stronger opponents in the NBA. He also lacks athleticism, which could be problematic down the line when it comes to finishing around the basket.
Overall, Bender’s skill level is obvious, and he doesn’t even turn 18 until November. With continued growth and development, expect him to be a top 10 pick in 2016.