Basketball has truly become a global sport. It’s played anywhere and everywhere. International players in the NBA are making their marks and changing the game. Each year, NBA teams are signing more and more foreign players.
For the past six seasons, there have been more than a hundred international players on NBA team rosters. In the last ten years, 27 international players have been drafted in the top ten, with 16 in the top five.
The 2020 draft will bring a new crop of international players hoping to make it to the world’s greatest league. Here are the top 3 international players that have the best chances to be drafted early by an NBA team.
1) Deni Avdija, Israel
At 6 ft 9 in (2.01 m), Deni Avdija has terrific ball-handling and passing skills. Although he can play several positions, his court vision and playmaking ability would make him ideal as a point guard.
The 19-year-old has a good deal of international basketball experience despite his age. He is the youngest player to sign a professional contract with EuroLeague team Maccabi Tel Aviv at 16 years old.
He was part of the Israeli team that won consecutive titles in the FIBA U20 European Championship title in 2018 and 2019. Avdija was named MVP for the 2019 tournament, with an average of 18.4 points, 8.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.4 blocks and 2.1 steals per game.
The reigning Israeli League MVP is likely to be picked as early as fifth in this year’s draft. If that happens, Avdija would become the highest-drafted Israeli player in NBA history.
One aspect of his game that is a cause for concern is free throw shooting. He shot just under 59% from the free throw line in 59 games for Maccabi Tel Aviv last season.
Nevertheless, Avdija remains optimistic that he’ll be able to overcome his free throw shooting woes. He said, “It’s a matter of time and I think it’s a matter of the head. I think I can shoot even above 70%. I’m going to get there.”
2) Killian Hayes, France
New York has expressed interest in the left-handed point guard from Cholet, France. The Knicks are shopping for guards and have the eighth pick in this year’s draft.
In 2017, Killian Hayes led the French team to a gold medal finish in the 2017 FIBA U16 European Championship. He was named tournament MVP, tallying 16.6 points, seven rebounds and 5.1 assists per game.
The 19-year-old has created quite a buzz in France and the coming draft has aroused much anticipation. French basketball fans are hoping that Hayes will be the next Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum or Rudy Gobert.
Hayes will serve as a sound investment for any ballclub. He already possesses the maturity and creativity needed for an efficient all-around playmaker. In February 2020, sportswriter Sam Vecenie noted that “his vision is absolutely off the charts, and his ability to complete passes off of a live dribble with his left hand is unbelievable out of ball screens.”
At 6 ft 6 in (1.98 m) and 216 pounds (98 kg), Hayes has a suitable size for a point guard. His height and heft will allow him to have his way against defenders.
During the 2019-2020 EuroCup season for German club Ratiopharm Ulm, Hayes recorded 12.8 points, 6.2 assists and 1.5 steals in 26.8 minutes per game.
Observers have said that he may need to be more assertive as a lead guard. They added that his predominantly left-handed dribbling may limit his playmaking options in the NBA. But scouts often talk about Hayes’ solid work ethic, which will benefit his game tremendously as he continues to improve.
3) Aleksej Pokuševski, Serbia
Don’t let the 7 ft 0 in (2.14 m) Pokuševski’s height fool you. He is limber, agile and fast. He plays so unnaturally dexterous for his height that coaches play him in the small forward or power forward position.
At 208 pounds (94.4 kg), Pokuševski moves fluidly on the hardcourt. He can change gears very quickly, making him the perfect (very big) wing man. He has outstanding off-ball defensive skills, adroit shot-blocking instincts and advanced ball-handling abilities.
The 18-year-old has exceptional court sense and awareness, accurate passing skills and isn’t afraid to hustle for loose balls. In the 2019 FIBA U18 European Championship, he averaged 10.0 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 2.7 steals, and 4.0 blocks in seven games.
His weaknesses are lack of strength, insufficient interior scoring and poor shot selections, among others. All of these can be attributed to his youth and inexperience. The team that will take him should invest in a long-term program to develop his skills to the fullest.
Though largely untested, Pokuševski is an intriguing prospect because with the right team, he may end up as a unique one-of-a-kind franchise player.