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SALT III: Weapons of Draft Destruction

A conversation with a respected European scout about the second round big men in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images

Editor's Note: When I got the chance to interview legendary European scout, Youtube videographer, and internet meme generator Russian Bee, I knew I couldn't pass it up. After making the pilgrimage to his yurt and spending three days in a fermented mare's milk and sugar beet induced trance, we began discussing some of this year's European NBA Draft prospects. We didn't focus on Porzingis or Hezonja, who have been written about more than the leaders of their respective nations over the past few months. Instead, we talked about the second round prospects, starting with the bigs. This is a rough transcript of the first part of the conversation that followed.

Mr. Eggplant: One of the things that strikes me is how much power YouTube videographers can have over American fans perception of European players. What do you think about YouTube scouting and the influence these people have over the draft? YouTube videographers might be the most powerful people in the world, but let's be honest. If something is caught on video, it happened and is real, am I right? A good rule of thumb when watching television. You need information on players and I think you should always watch video to get idea of players at least. The problem is that most videos aren’t very good because they distort views of players. Highlight videos for example make everybody look like great all-around players. Few make an effort to show a balanced view of a player’s skills. So don’t look for 3 minute long highlight tapes. If you really want to know, there are some people who do longer features on players. Not for every player, especially in the second round. But there is some stuff that can give you an idea. If you’re looking for stuff on Kristaps, only watch highlights tho.

Mr. Eggplant: Are you saying Kristaps does things other than dunk and hit threes? A good example of what I'm talking about is one of the first videos I saw when researching Nikola Milutinov. It is roughly titled, "To How Many Fouls Is Nikola Milutinov Entitled?" and it's not a great look. He appears slow and lazy in that video, constantly grabbing his opponent instead of moving his feet to box out and none of his highlight videos or statistical accomplishments have been impressive enough to dispel my initial prejudice against him. As a result, I am completely out on Milutinov pending further evidence. Thoughts on Milutinov?

Editor's Note: This video has been pulled from YouTube. It featured Milutinov failing to establish good rebounding position and then blatantly fouling his opponent to prevent giving up the rebound. He does this about six or seven times in the course of the same game. And now for something completely different.  The book on Milutinov is that he’s a seven footer with good wingspan and NBA-level athleticism. Honestly, I believe that this is good enough to warrant some serious looks in the second round. He’s still just 20 years old and has been a pro forever, playing professionally since the age of 16, I believe. He’s not a dominant offensive player and can’t create much offense but I could see him as a Robin Lopez-type who gradually increases his value by improving defense and be a powerful finisher on occasion. Nikola has not developed a single skill you can see translate immediately, but I think he showed enough flashes. He can block shots, look like a dominant rebounder occasionally and is just enough of a passer. He’s stretchy and has been incorporating a mid-range shot for some time now but has been a miserable free throw shooter. He’s a weird player in a sense that he couldn’t stand out at youth competitions which is generally a bad sign. But again: It’s the second round and Milutinov brings some NBA athleticism and size with a slowly improving all-around skillset. He’s not a sure thing and might not scrap together enough out of his skillset, but I’m not too down on him. He’s responded fairly well to the situation in Belgrade, play Euroleague and Eurocup in the last two years. I could see him become a fine, defensive energy big either coming off the bench or becoming a fringe starter on teams that eschew looking for creation from the center position.

Mr. Eggplant: He's 7 feet tall and can rebound, but looking at his numbers I still see some red flags, primarily his paltry steal and block rates (0.7 STL & 1.0 BLK per 40 pace adjusted over the past two years). For a rebounding & defense guy without the ability to create offense? I think I"ll pass. Another problem for couch-bound American faux scouts like me is lack of evidence.This is a huge problem when it comes to the mystery box of the draft, Alpha Kaba. I have this one minute video from the 2013-14 season and that's it. He's hit at least two jump shots in his career. I guess that's encouraging. Given how young and raw Kaba appears to be, that's kind of like drafting Dante Exum based on his junior year of high school. Any light to shed on the new A.K.? How should you know anything of Kaba? Even if you watched each and every of his season minutes, you wouldn’t have an idea on who he is and what he can do. He played just 30 minutes this year! Sometimes, there just isn’t enough info. If there’s just not enough info, you just can’t make a confident call. And that’s fine too. You can dig a little deeper and see if Kaba has been active in the youth circles. You need to do some investigative research. Here’s where my experience with the FSB comes in handy. Look, he’s been participating in the Albert Schweitzer Tournament 2014 which is a bi-annual prestigious youth tourney that has seen many future NBA players from all over the world. He’s also been a member of the 2014 U-18 squad. A quick youtube check will show you that some guy uploaded all AST 2014 games played by the US squad. The Americans also competed against Team France with Kaba. FIBA has started uploading its youth tourney games for free and there’s a chance you can see more of guys like Kaba. If you’re lucky, somebody has seen these games and written a thorough report or even made a video. If not and you still want to know so much more about this guy, watch the available youth games.

Mr. Eggplant: I found a scouting report about Kaba at that event. It called him "athletic...A serviceable backup". Apparently he started one game and went for 19 & 13. From his international competition stats, he looks like a good rebounder and very raw. Honestly, I still don't know what to think of him. Could be worth a stash in the 50s. He's also my best bet for a Caboclo-style rise on draft night. In a similar vein to Kaba, one of the more intriguing and mysterious prospects to me is Lithuanian big man Arturas Gudaitis. Of course, I'm basing this off about 500 minutes spread out over several contexts and a highlight video. He's tall and can dunk. That's really all I'm confident of even though he hit a few shots in the aforementioned highlight video. What do you think of him? With Gudaitis, it’s even easier. He’s part of Zalgiris Euroleague team and you’d have 300 minutes which you could track down of him if you really wanted. I can’t say too much about him. Gudaitis has held his own against these guys but he’ll also be 22 years old at the time of the draft, has just started to play professionally and likely demands some more time in Europe. Surprisingly polished scorer though for the European game and a very good free throw shooter as well so I can understand the intrigue.

Mr. Eggplant: He seems to move pretty well, too and he doesn't have any statistical red flags. I could talk myself into taking him early in the 2nd Round. On the other end of the spectrum are Mouhammadou Jaiteh and Guillermo "Wily" Hernangomez, who I think are more known commodities, and therefore not as interesting to talk about. Both are impressively efficient scorers at a young age, but neither is much of a rim protector. Wily looks slower to me, so I would rate Jaiteh a bit higher, but at first glance both look like they would top out as backup centers, probably without much financial incentive to make the transition to the NBA. Is there any reason I'm underselling either player? I think that’s fair even though they are different players. As you said, Jaiteh has been an efficient scorer on decent usage on each level he’s played. After a strong and long campaign within France’s youth division, Jaiteh has gained vast experience in the French League and several international formats like the Euroleague. Jaiteh’s physical profile is interesting as he’s fairly long. However, he’s not an above-average athlete and I have doubts that he’ll be able to use his lengths on defense because he lacks instincts. Offensively, I have question marks as well since he’s fairly raw. If he can’t brush up his defense, I have a hard time seeing him contribute enough offensively for an NBA team to consider.

Mr Eggplant: Given his lack of blocks, the questions surrounding his defensive habits, instincts, and positioning seem lethal for his draft-ability, at least in my eyes. What about Wily? Hernangomez is no athlete, but he’s surprisingly complete at his age. He’s one of only a handful sub-21 years old’s to post a PER of 20+ in the ACB. Rubio was one of those guys as well of course. With Porzingis, Hernangomez is anchoring one of the worst defenses in the ACB but I have hope that Willy’s iq can translate to the defensive end even though you’d have to expect him to be quite bad at first within NBA game speed. He’s no wooden block though either. Offensively, Hernangomez can do a bunch of stuff that could be interesting for NBA teams. He’s a nice high post passer, can roll to the rim as well as post-up and net a mid-range jumper every now and then. I think Hernangomez has to really nail the passing and mid-range shooting to become a player in the NBA. While he’s efficient, he has trouble finishing over length when he doesn’t have pristine position so I worry about that when projecting him to the NBA. He has a number of go-to-moves in the post though and can spin out very nicely out of a post-up thanks to his wide frame, similar to how Pek gets a bunch of his points. He needs to become a better passer out of post-ups to really use them effectively.

Mr. Eggplant: It seems you have many concerns about both, but think that Hernangomez has a better chance of succeeding in the NBA due to his higher offensive skill level? The question is how much upside does either have? Hernangomez is polished for his age and might just need to keep working on his versatility while shaping his body to get out as much as possible defensively. He’s actually with Real Madrid on loan with Barcelona and looks destined to become a Euroleague level center. I don’t know whether Jaiteh can top out as clear Euroleague talent, so giving the NBA a shot should be a real possibility with him.

Mr. Eggplant: The final big that could be a 2nd Round possibility is Moussa Diagne. Diagne has really weird stats. This year he's hitting 81% of his free throws and has very impressive rebound, steal, and block rates. On the other hand, his A/TO rate is dreadful and his scoring volume isn't much better. On the third hand, he's the most impressive dunker of this whole lot. I like defense, so I would give him a shot in the second round.

Mr. Eggplant: In the end, I think Gudaitis and Diagne are the most impressive players right now,. I think I would draft Arturas first and Moussa second, though it's possible the younger Kaba turns out best of all of them in the long run. It's probably equally likely he busts completely. I probably wouldn't draft Hernangomez, Jaiteh, or Milutinov, though I could be talked into Wily if the top three were gone. Which players would you draft first or not at all? I believe that your ranking is fair even though I could imagine the majority of scouts would grill you for not considering even drafting Hernangomez. With his status in Europe, you could make that argument I suppose. But he's a talented kid and that one guy in this class where you just can see people asking how he could slip to the second round in a few years. Yes, his tools are a question mark but you're on the safe side with his skills. He could become a Vucevic type producer for better or worse. At least, nobody in this second round blows me away that much that I'd definitely would take over Wily.

Mr Eggplant: I'll backtrack a little. I think Wily should be drafted in the second round. He's easily one of my top 60 prospects (#45 to be precise). But I think there are guys who will still be on the board throughout the entire second round that I like a little more. Your rankings? I guess I'd draft Hernangomez/Kaba around the same range, then Diagne/Milutinov, then Jaiteh/Gudaitis a little lower. But there's nobody I'm dying to stash away apart from Hernangomez and Kaba. I might very well be wrong about Gudaitis. Alpha Kaba (formerly known as Pau Orthez but he prefers his jiadhi name Abu Al-Fakaba now) is going to replace Denver bound Nikola Jokic on KK Mega Vizura in the Adriatic League by the way.

Mr. Eggplant: Interesting. So we'll get a much better idea of what Kaba can do after he is drafted. Although I guess you could say that about all of these guys. Anyway, thanks to Russian Bee for his expert scouting opinions, and we will (possibly) return soon with a look at the international perimeter prospects in this year's draft.