Are Porzingis and Hezonja Worthy Top 10 Draftees?

Before I get to the top 2 foreign prospects I wanted to show some history of players who came to the NBA from a foreign league vs. players from American college and high schools over the past 14 drafts. That takes it back to the 1998 draft when Dirk Nowitzki became the first player to be drafted in the top 10 from a foreign league. The chart below shows the success percentage of American and foreign players drafted top 10 from the 14 drafts after from ’98 to ’11. I stopped at 2011, because we probably need 4 seasons before judging what most players will become.

Top 10 Draftees Star Solid JM Bust
American 12 30 50 32
Foreign 3 1 7 5
American % 9.7 24.2 40.3 25.8
Foreign % 18.7 6.3 43.8 31.2

In placing the draftees, I used a win shares per year. Players over 8.0 were dubbed stars. Players between 5.0 and 7.9 were considered solid NBA players. From 2.0-4.9 are the Journeymen (JM) and below 2.0 are the busts.  American or foreign was determined by whether the player entered the draft from an American college or high school or a foreign league. A player’s nationality or country of origin was not considered. Luol Deng is included with the American college group because came into the league out of Duke. Brandon Jennings is included with the foreign players because he went to Europe instead of college.

Thanks to Dirk, Pau and Yao, the foreign players were more likely to star than American players. That’s a small sample thing though. Other than those 3, drafting an American player in the top 10 has been a better risk since the ’98 draft when foreign players really started to become part of the draft discussion. American college and high school players have been more likely to become solid contributors and less likely to become a bust when drafted in the top 10 picks than players from foreign leagues. But teams have been more likely to hit the jackpot drafting from a foreign league. It should be noted that the last player drafted top 10 from a foreign league to become a star was Yao in ’02.

There are 3 players from foreign leagues expected to be drafted top 10, Mario Hezonja, Kristaps Porzingis and Emmanuel Mudiay. I’ll look at Hezonja and Porzingis here. Mudiay will be looked at in the next piece on the top PGs along with D’Angelo Russell.

Mario Hezonja, Barcelona: I’ve warmed to Hezonja quite a bit the more I look at him. Right now he’s young and has put up nice numbers as a part-timer. His biggest strength has been scoring efficiency. He hit .577 on 2-pointers and .374 on 3-pointers this past season which is very solid for a 19 year-old. Those are promising numbers. He scored only 12.4 P40 though, so it remains to be seen if the efficiency continues with increased usage.

Hezonja’s other strength is passing. He’s become a better passer throughout the year and any time a young player improves a skill that’s a good sign for his future. As a defender he hasn’t shown a lot, but has done enough that his numbers aren’t considered a red flag. His rebound rate is very low and that’s his biggest negative. That means he’s probably more of a SG than SF.

Hezonja has the potential to be a very good NBA wing scorer. He’s a solid passer, but his defense isn’t promising, so there’s little chance he becomes a great two-way player. I see him as a prospect who should develop into an effective NBA scorer. He’s still a work in progress and is a ways off from being the go-to guy who averages 20+ PPG, but that is his high end potential. Such players are pretty valuable and even in the deep 2015 draft he’s worthy of a late top 10 selection.

Kristaps Porzingis, Sevilla: Kristaps Porzingis might be the top foreign player drafted. He’s listed at 7’1” with a promising inside-outside game. Size is always intriguing and any tall, mysterious foreign player brings dreams of the next Nowitzki. He also has the potential to be the next Vesely or Bargnani.

The gold standard for athletic 7-footers is Nowitzki. Here is Porzingis compared to other foreign players drafted in recent years who were also tall and skilled.

Foreign Forwards 2PP 3PP P40 R40 SB40 A/TO
Dirk Nowitzki 561 333 32.3 11.3 n/a n/a
Dirk Nowitzki 447 263 24.4 9.0 n/a n/a
Pau Gasol 590 369 18.9 9.4 4.3 0.5
Andrea Bargnani 543 399 19.6 9.3 4.6 0.3
Danilo Gallinari 532 406 21.7 7.0 2.9 0.6
Jan Vesely 715 282 10.3 4.4 1.8 1.0
Kristaps Porzingis 526 316 19.4 8.7 3.5 0.4

Dirk’s numbers are for his 2 pre-NBA years. I listed both to show that he was an impressive player 2 years before being drafted. I got his numbers from this site. Another thing to mention about Dirk is few, if any players have improved as much from his rookie year to his peak as Dirk did. He’s an outlier in terms of development. If Porzingis comes in with similar drive and work ethic he can be special, but this is true of most top prospects. As for the others, Porzingis isn’t in the same league as Gasol and is even below Bargnani at the same point. He’swell ahead of Vesely, so I don’t see him as an epic bust.

So in Porzingis we have a tall player with a lot of skill, but numbers that don’t scream “star” or evn solid NBA starter. He’s being drafted into a league that has been overrating players in similar situations for several drafts now. That makes him a tough player to take in the top 10, especially in this draft which is deep with solid prospects from the college ranks.

This isn’t to say he might not become a solid, or even great NBA player. His numbers aren’t dominant, but they aren’t terrible either. He’s young, tall and talented enough that he’s considered a lock to go in the top 10. If he has the right approach and lands on the right team, I suspect he’ll justify that selection. But that’s a long shot and the same could be said about most prospect, foreign or American. Porzingis posted inferior, but similar numbers to Andrea Bargnani, a player with a similar height and skill set. Any team expecting more than Bargnani when they draft Porzingis is probably going to be disappointed. Porzingis looks like a player whose weak rebounding skills will limit him to a stretch 4 role off the bench. He shouldn’t be a top 10 draftee in this talented class.

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