The European Rookie Class of 2013

Mike Stobe

Every NBA season introduces its fans to a crop of international players that are surrounded by mystery and hype in the weeks leading up to the season. Let’s take a look at this year’s class of rookies who will play with 'Spalding' basketballs instead of 'Molten' ones from now on. Who are they, what did they do the last two years and what does their situation look like within their new team?

  • THE DRAFTEES

Dennis Schroeder

Atlanta Hawks
Germany / Point Guard / 5'11 / Born in '93

Recent history & profile: If you have followed the coverage by local DS hypeman mr. eggplant, you should know everything you need by now. Dennis' story is one of a meteoric rise from a virtual nobody to a lottery prospect. A year ago, Dennis was about to enter his first professional year with extended minutes. Until then, he had just logged 6.6 minutes in 33 games for Braunschweig’s pro team while playing mostly for its youth department. In 2013, Schroeder averaged 12 points on 43% shooting, 3.3 assists on 2.5 turnovers, decent numbers for a 19-year old playing big minutes. Dennis has to prove that his meager finishing and shooting around the rim at the pro level was a fluke, while his strong three point shooting wasn’t (40% on 3.2 shots per game). He had problems turning the ball over too but playing with better teammates in Atlanta on an NBA court should help this issue.

Schroeder’s promise lies mostly in his athleticism, defensive presence and the ability to take over games confidently with his super quick first step, penetration, and vision.

Situation: Atlanta committed a lot of money to Jeff Teague making him undoubtedly the number one, as well as having ball dominant Lou Williams. Schröder’s situation is still superb. Playing with experienced, good to great frontcourt players like Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Elton Brand should help making life a lot easier on the offensive end, as well as having guys like Kyle Korver, John Jenkins and DeMarre Carroll being happy recipients for kickouts and/or cuts to the basket.


Giannis Antetokounmpo

Milwaukee Bucks
Greece-Nigeria / Forward / 6'10 / Born in '94

Recent history & profile: Giannis might have had the craziest rise to becoming a lottery talent. The kid who won’t turn 20 before 2014 was unknown before stories of his unique physical attributes combined with his playmaking skill were spread in the months leading up to the draft. Giannis played in the 2nd Greek division without being dominant which makes him very hard to scout. In 22 minutes, he averaged 9.5 points, 5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1 block and 1.6 turnovers.

Situation: Giannis decision to enter the league right away will cost him playing time but makes him one of the most intriguing players in the league. If the Giannis Show is on the court, you don’t want to miss it, for the better or worse. Is there any player that is harder to project? Michael Beasley maybe? Giannis is a phenom, and his decision to join the NBA so early in his development, without much of a history and maybe at the peak of his hype, feels a little as if Ricky Rubio decided to enter the league aged 17th after that 51 point performance at the U16 Euro Championships. Let's wait and see.


Nemanja Nedovic

Golden State Warriors
Serbia / Guard / 6'3 / Born in '91

Recent history & profile: As with Giannis, Rudy and Dennis, hype can take on different weird instances. As for Nemanja, the "American Committee for Euro Propaganda" consisting of Jonathan Tjarks, Jonathan Givony and Chad Ford like to refer to the Serb as the "European Derrick Rose". Believe me - nobody in Europe calls him that.

Not having had any first round picks, Golden State lucked into one after three draft day deals which involved the Wolves too. Nedovic’s parallel to Derrick Rose stem from the fact that he is one of the few (white) guards in euroball that can play above the rim. Warriors fans won’t like to hear that his shooting was extremely shaky the last few years. He shot the ball well above 34% last year on a good number of attempts, but was between 22%-30% the 2-3 seasons before. Nedovic is really good in slicing through defenses with the ball in his hands but far from being a true point guard.

Situation: Nedovic is a tweener who would fit very wellinto the Warriors roster if he finds his shot consistently. A facet that the Warriors were missing last year was defense at the guard position where Nedovic, along with Iguodala of course, can help as an active defender. Should Nedovic get acquainted to the Warriors offense with all its movement and screening quickly, his athleticism, quick first step and decent ball handling should make him a nice sub for Thompson and Curry. The Warriors have lots of reserve guards in Seth Curry, Kent Bazemore and the more capable Toney Douglas – competition Nedovic shouldn’t fear.


Rudy Gobert

Utah Jazz
France / Center / 7'0" / born in '92

Recent history & profile: The goofy frenchmen made a name for himself after breaking all sorts of physical records, almost being able to dunk without jumping. Everybody agrees that Rudy is a long-term project and some see the potential of a elite defensive player. I liked what I saw in extended highlight clips and even though he is undoubteldy raw, he seems to have nice understanding for defensive position, and posesses good quickness when engaged in pick and roll defense.

Offensively, Rudy is hard to judge because he regularly disappears. His extremely low usage in the French league is a big concern for scouts and even though Rudy claims to have a decent mid-range shot, he's mostly scored on putbacks or when he was wide open. Expect Rudy to have a similar early career path as guys like Hasheem Thabeet, shying away from contact, being lost in the quicker NBA where a center can't just camp under the basket. Whether Rudy learns to adjust and is able to stay on the court without fouling out all the time should decide whether he'll have a chance to start fulfilling his potential in the first place.

Situation: Luckily for Rudy, the Utah Jazz are a tank-happy team this year with a starting center in Enes Kanter who is inexperienced and had trouble staying on the court himself. Behind him and the corpse of Andris Biedrins, Gobert should see opportunities. Playing with an inexperienced PG in Trey Burke might become frustrating offensively though.

Alex Len

Phoenix Suns
Ukraine / Center / 7'1 / born in '93

Recent history & profile: Alex Len is the top dog of the euro players starting their career in the NBA because of his potential and exposure to US audience as a college star at Maryland. You know him better than I do. Scouts love Len's size, athleticism and the advanced and fluid offensive moves he shows at a young age. However, Len has not been able to use the tools to dominate in college basketball as he should as a top lottery pick. While some say that this is due to a series of injuries he had to play through during two college seasons and the adjustment to US general and academic life, doubters feel that due to his meager college production, Len won't be much more than a role player, rather coming of the bench than starting.

Situation: The Phoenix Suns are the Western Conference top contenders for the Wiggins lottery which will allow to practice in heavy NBA minutes. The Suns have a clown wagon full of underwhelming young front court player who shouldn't be in his way. It is not yet known whether vet Channing Frye will return, but the rebuilding Suns shouldn't have much use for him anyway, just like for Marcin Gortat who should be a hot trade target. Whether Len will be able to capitate does not only depend on his talent but his health too. Since the collge season ended, Len has had  surgery on both ankles. Not a great sign for a tall, athletic big.

Sergey Karasev

Cleveland Cavaliers
Russia / Forward / 6'8 / born in '93

Recent history & profile: As a coach's son, Sergey has made a name for himself as an intelligent sharpshooter, doing few mistakes on the court. Karasev actually had a somewhat underwhelming shooting year, shooting only 30% in the VTB United League and 35% in the Russian league. However, the 19 year old also had to carry a lot of the offense, scoring around 15.5 points per 30 minutes in all three competitions he played in (VTB, Russian, EuroCup). Sergey also debuted for the Men’s National Team at the painful EuroBasket, having his best game in the team’s final against Turkey, scoring 25 points 33 minutes.


A much reported issue has been Sergey’s defense which caused some criticism in Europe already, but there’s definitely hope for a 19-year old who might lack athleticism but has great size, intelligence and frame to guard a good portion of the NBA wings. Another knock on Karasevs game is that he doesn’t seem to have as high a ceiling as Antetokounmpo and Schroeder for example. He found his role early and while he could add more ball handling elements to his game in the future, it is tough to see a dramatic development.

Situation: The Russian swingman is joining a Cavaliers team with playoff aspirations, having added Jarrett Jack and Andrew Bynum, as well as anticipating the return of Anderson Varejao. Competing with guys like Earl Clark, Dion Waiters, C.J. Miley and Alonzo Gee, Sergey might benefit if returning Coach Mike Brown uses elements of the Princeton Offense as he did with Lakers. The perimeter defense is shaky at best which will make minute allocation tough for Brown, but the fact that Sergey won’t be the only defensive liability should help him get equal opportunities to play if his offense clicks.



  • EURO STAR FREE AGENTS

Gal Mekel

Dallas Mavericks
Israel / Guard / 6'3 / Born in '88

Recent history & profile: Gal Mekel is no unknown to US basketball. Before playing professionally, Mekel played college ball at Wichita State for two seasons. After leaving Wichita, Mekel turned heads with his play in Europe, giving him opportunities to work out for NBA teams in the last two years. The Mavericks offered him a reasonable deal for both sides. Cuban will only have to pay the league minimum to Gal, who in return will get a multi-year guaranteed deal.

Timing couldn’t have been better for Mekel who was named Israeli League MVP this season. Gal averaged 13.3 points on 53% shooting, 5.4 assists to 2.5 turnover in 32 minutes. He had several big outings like a 32 points in 37 minutes performance and three double-doubles in total. Mekel’s experience showed against inexperienced youngsters at Summer League, where he averaged 9.7 points and 5 assists on 45% from the field. However, Mekel didn’t play in the Euroleague last year which makes it hard to evaluate him against tougher competition. Mekel needs the ball in his hands and uses his vision and terrific passing skill to orchestrate the offense, and against inferior defenses in Israel, he’s been able to score a lot, despite being a very steaky three point shooter.

Situation: Mekel has a tough stand. He’ll have to battle Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, first round pick Shane Larkin and combo guard Monta Ellis for minutes. However, Rick Carlisle is known for getting annoyed by point guards quickly which should give him opportunities to log minutes. Either that or Carlisle signs another 56-year old PG midway through the season. The confidence he got from the 2013 season should give him additional boost in training camp and pre-season, fighting for minutes in Rick Carlisle’s point guard death match. It will be tempting to see how Mekel succeeds in the transition going from hero to zero (for now). Will he be patient? Will he be annoyed by sitting on the bench and go back to chasing titles in Israel before his contract expires?


Luigi Datome

Detroit Pistons
Italy / Forward / 6'8 / Born in '87

Recent history & profile: The Pistons off-season was weird. They signed Josh Smith to play on the wing, signed Brandon Jennings to… play, and they stole KCP from the Timberwolves. In signing Italy’s Luigi Datome – who’s MVP campaign in 2012 was the first by an Italian in the Italian league since Gallinari in 2007 - Detroit might have done something right. The $ 3.5 Million over two years could become a great bargain for the Pistons who were in need of shooting prowess. With Acea Virtus Rome last year, Datome shot 39.4 % on 221 three pointers, as well as 92.6 % on 203 free throws. He also shot 40 & 90 on 3’s and free throws in the previous two season. The 6’8 forward is an intelligent player off the ball and a great rebounder for his size, getting 1.6 offensive rebounds per game in 2013, and almost 5 rebounds per contest at the EuroBasket. It’s tough to say whether these things translate to the NBA.

Situation: Much rather, especially with so many ball dominant players on the team, Datome projects to become a spot-up shooter who won’t be able to use his free throw shooting as a weapon. All in all, he’s a player to watch and should present a nice alternative to the antics of Jennings and Smith who like to play way above their head offensively. With the precarious shooting of defensive aces Drummond and Smith, as well as the few shooting options that are willing to play off the ball, I expect "Gigi"  to play a lot crunch time.


Nick Calathes

Memphis Grizzlies
Greece / Point Guard / 6'6 / born in '89

Recent history & profile: In the Greek national team, Calathes didn't have an easy standing as a "US boy" and youngster looking up to shake up its "golden generation", often times becoming the victim of verbal attacks by his teammates for mistakes he did and didn't do. In 2013, nobody in Greece dares to critize the tall point guard anymore, who has established himself as one of the best Euro guys at his position. Nick led Russian team Lokomotiv Kuban to the EuroCup title, an international competition a tire below the EuroLeague, averaging 13 points, 5.9 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.4 steals, being named tournament MVP.

Calathes is a classical pass-first point guard with solid overall floor general skills, organizing offenses by changing pace and having great vision. Nonentheless, he is a gambler on offense, similar to Ricky which shows in his very high turnover ratio which is offset by his great assist numbers at least. Also, Calathes is one of the weirdest shooters you will come across. Not having been a great shooter throughout his career in Europe, Calathes is especially horrible at the free throw line. In 5 competitions in the last 2 years (Russia, VTB, EuroCup, Greece, EuroLeague), Calathes hasn't even hit 60% of his free throws.

Situation: After dominating the EuroCup as he should have, Calathes has proven that he is a talent that definately should have the right to test his NBA ability. The Grizzlies have won a guard who will be able to help Conley Jr. and Jerryd Bayless organizing the game, but Calathes too most likely won't help solve the Grizz biggest problem: shooting from the perimeter. Thus, Calathes success as an NBA player is on shakier ground than it should be.

Pero Antic

Atlanta Hawks
Macedonia / Forward-Center / 6'11 / born in '82

Recent history & profile: In contrast to Mekel, Calathes and Datome, bulky Pero Antic didn't have a great individual season for Euroleague winner Olympiacos. Despite looking like the lost, evil brother of Nikola Pekovic, Antic (to the frustration of Greek fans) loves to play outside and shoot threes even though he's been more Bargnani or J-Smoove than Kevin Love or Ryan Anderson from there the last few years. Inside, Antic doesn't use his body much on offense apart from going for rebounds which he does decently. In last years Euroleague play, Antic took 115 three pointers which he made at a rate of abysmal 28%. Inside, he only took 66 attempts which he made around 51%. Defensively, Antic is somewhat of a mistery, being able to be a hard one-on-one defender, but very inconsistently the last few years which doesn't bode well given that he's past his prime and entering the most athletic, strongest league in the world.

Situation: With Millsap, Horford and Brand, Antic has strong and proven competition at the 4 and 5 spots which makes it hard to see te 31-year old get many minutes in Atlanta. It's unclear what Atlanta sees in him but with his energy and look, the NBA has won another character and the big teddy can become a fan favorite. If his shot falls consistently, he could be a decent complement to Millsap and Horford every now and then.


  • UNDER THE RADAR

Vitor Faverani

Boston Celtics
Brazil / Center / 6'11 / Born in '88

Recent history & profile: Faverani’s acquisition by the Boston Celtics was a little surprising, especially at the price they’ll have to pay (3 years, $6 Million). Vitor has some big upside that should make him useful in today’s NBA but they are accompanied by minuses that could break his NBA hopes early. Let’s focus on the positives first.

Faverani’s strong suit is offense where Boston desperately needed somebody to help out Kelly Olynyk. Like his Brazilian hombres, Nene and Varejao, Vitor has decent passing skills that he can use from the elbow as well as his mid-range shot which is becoming more and more important for as a means to carve out a role as a big . When he was younger, he was more of a shooter and attacking center of the PnR, not so much a back to the basket center. He was still very good at exploiting mismatches which made him very hard to guard. VItor’s downsides come at the defensive end where he has been useless for most of his career. He increased his effort level but without result. His increased, but headless effort is evident in his defensive rebounding which is ugly whenever he is challenged for a rebound. Thus, Faverani needs players that can cover up for him defensively and on the glass.

Situation: Faverani should get a lot of exposure in the Celtic’s weird rebuilding process and Brad Stevens might like to give him a shot at running some offense from the high post. Boston doesn’t seem to have much offensive power and it’s tough to say whether this is good or bad for Vitor. Can he stand out as an offensive player? Will this drag his offensive game down? Faverani is an intriguing acquisition but the Celts might be the wrong team. Faverani stood in the way of his own progress to some extent for being an extremely moody, immature player in his younger years. People say he's bettered himself but playing what projects to be a losing season under moody floor general Rondo and a coach unfamiliar with pros might cause problems again.

Ognjen Kuzmic

Golden State Warriors
Bosnia and Herzigovina / Center / 7'1 / Born in '90

Recent history & profile: I can’t wait until the "How do you pronounce that?" episode with Charles Barkley on "Inside The NBA". Yes, it’s like "onion". Too bad there’s never been a NBA player named Ognjen Khryapa. The 23-year old 7’1" center Kuzmic is mostly known for anchoring defenses and being strong rebounder offensively as defensively. Offensively, Kuzmic has developed into a player who scores at a decent rate, but mostly not in a go-to-fashion.  For a player of his size, the 52.3% 2FG% is disappointing. Kuzmic has played only one full season in the ACB which makes it hard to project him.

Situation: Don’t expect much, at least for now. Ognjen is stuck deep in the depth chart, behind Andrew Bogut, Jermaine O’Neal, and Festus Ezeli. But as with Nedovic, Golden State does a good job of giving him a realistic chance in the long run. O'Neal won't be there forever and if Kuzmic proves to be as good defensively as Ezeli, his offensive game might help him climb the depth chart.

Miroslav Raduljica

Milwaukee Bucks
Serbia / Center / 7'0 / Born in '88

Recent history & profile: In an attempt to destroy the life's of the Bucks tv announcers, the Bucks added the Serbian big to the colorful group of Pachulia, Ilyasova and Antetokounmpo. Raduljica has been a promising player, winning several youth Euro championships and even be named MVP of the 2008 U20 tourney. He won a few other neat awards like being named into the All-Serbian Team 2010 and Serbian Center of the year in 2010, but Radlujica hasn't really been the player those stats suggest him to be. After being picked up by European top team Andalou Efes, Raduljica was quickly loaned to Germany, Serbia and lastly Ukraine. He can score at a decent clip, coming near to 60% FG% in three competitions (Ukraine league, VTB, EuroCup), scoring ~ 1 basket every two minutes and rebounding very well too.

Situation: Not sure whether it was a good idea to give up on Gustavo Ayon for Miroslav Raduljica, but the Bucks have a decent crop of defensive bigs that have not shown much offensive potential yet so giving the 25-year old who can do damage on his own might not be the worst Bucks decision ever.

Elias Harris

Los Angeles Lakers
Germany / Forward / 6'8 / Born in '89

Recent history & profile: The case of Elias Harris shows how important timing is in the jump to the NBA. After a surprising breakout season in his first year at Gonzaga, where he was seen as a lock for the first round, Harris decided to stay at college where he didn't evolve as a player, seeing his NBA window shutting down. Luckily, Harris after a good pre-draft workout and solid play at the NBA Summer League, the Lakers decided to give Harris a try.

The 6'8 player is hard to track, especially as far as NBA potential goes. Harris made a name for himself as a scorer low on the block as well as a terrific rebounder, but it's unclear whether this will translate due to the size disadvantage he'll face. After successful shooting expierments one year ago (70 3s, 40%), Harris regressed as a shooter (48 3s, 17%) and his NBA success might linger on whether he'll be comfortable adjusting to the perimeter offensively as well as defensively.

Situation: Harris is part of an ugly wing rotation for the Lakers. Losing Metta World Peace who was useful as a defender and occasional shooter, the Lakers signed shot-happy Nick Young and generally happy, despite not very happy when he's forced to shoot, Wesley Johnson. It's unclear how Harris fits into Mike D'Antoni's gameplan, but at least Harris is guaranteed playing time whenever Johnson & Young do what they are known for. In the end, if you can' beat out Wes Johnson for minutes, you better start looking for jobs in Europe.

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