We’re getting close to the draft. Most of us probably could care less about the draft with names like Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love still floating out there. With the contender status Rockets already kind of have, most of their attention should be devoted to adding contributors with experience rather than waiting for draft pick to develop. However, as the Miami Heat somewhat painfully demonstrated in the finals, lack of talent infusion can quickly become an Achilles’ heel for a top heavy team.
It is difficult to strike a balance between constructing the roster to win now while developing for the future. There are only so many roster spots. To develop young players, you need them on your roster, but one injury could mean relying on an unprepared rookie out on the court to his and the team’s mutual doom. Investing in experienced players overseas whose development you can monitor under someone else’s dime is a very savvy maneuver that allow NBA team to avoid such dilemma.
Because of how jam-packed this draft is with great college prospects, there are only a few draft and stash targets, and most of them are projected to go in the second round. Rockets currently have the 25th and the 42nd pick, neither of which are in favorable position for surefire value. I think it is likely that Rockets will draft an European prospect in the 2nd round to leave to roster open for more experienced players, so I’m going to run down some of my favorite targets for you.
The latest French product out of INSEP to hit the draft, Damien Inglis looks like he was born to be an NBA wing. He stands 6’8", 240 lbs with a 7’3" wingspan and a sinewy muscular frame. With those physical tools, Inglis projects well to be an NBA caliber defender right out of the gate. Add in solid defensive awareness and fundamentals and you have a pretty excellent defensive prospect. He even checked Jahil Okafor, the American center, at the Hoop summit and held his ground.
Somewhat reminiscent of Nic Batum when he first enter the league, Inglis is a jack of all trades, but master of none. He likes to rebound, can handle the ball, and make crafty passes. He's not especially explosive but can get to the rim and finish. However, he cannot shoot the ball with consistency or play off the ball very well. He was nowhere near as impressive as the previous INSEP product that played in the Hoop summit, Jean Livio Charles, because he wasn't very good playing off the attacks of the ball dominant Emmanuel Mudiay.
He's only 19 years old which means he still has a long way to develop as a player, but what he already possesses can make him an intriguing NBA player.
21 years old Serbian shooting guard pulled out of the draft last year and improved his stock by winning the Euroleague rising star trophy. There’s a solid track record of the rising star winner becoming a solid NBA player, with Andrea Bargnani, Rudy Fernandez, Danilo Gallinari and Ricky Rubio all winning it in the past. NBA hopefuls Nikola Mirotic and Kostas Papanikolaou also seem poised to join that list. There a good chance Bogdanovic could be an immediate contributor if need be as he performed well in the Euroleague, the highest level of basketball outside of the NBA.
Standing 6’6" with 6’11" wingspan, Bogdanovic possess great size to be a swingman in the NBA. His new found success serving as a point guard makes him even more intriguing. He flourished by becoming one of the best all around players in Euroleague, leading his team in scoring, assists and 3 pointers made. He also piled up rebound and steals at a higher rate than average for his position. He's a tremendous bomber from deep, with a super high release and machine-like consistent mechanics when he’s open. He's a solid playmaker out of the pick and roll with his combination of handles, length, and passing.
He was one of the top scorers in Euroleague, at times carrying his team as a one man offensive force for the somewhat injury riddle Partizan team. However, being a primary ball handler also exposed Bogdanovic a little bit. He is after all not a point guard by trade despite his playmaking ability, so his turnover numbers also rocketed up the charts. He makes poor decisions in the paint and lackadaisical reads on plays. His shot selection was also poor, and he took an inordinate amount of long 2s. Add in poor defensive habits despite excellent tools, and the question marks do start to pile up. Some scouts attribute his defensive inadequacy to poor lateral quickness, but he seems perfectly capable at times defending quick players when he moves his feet.
Jokic is a 19 year old Serbian center who made a lot of noise during Hoop Summit practice, showing off an array of crafty maneuvers and skills beyond his age. In the actual Hoop summit game, the more highly touted center prospects like Karl Town, Jr. Trey Lyles, Jahil Okafor, and Cliff Alexander grabbed the spotlight, but the fact that he held his own against some likely first round talents (he actually outperformed fellow '14 prospect Clint Capela) means that this could be a chance to grab a promising youngster on the cheap.
At 6’11" big body with 7’3" wingspan, Nikola Jokic is already the ideal size to play NBA center, and he still could gain a couple inches in the coming years. He likes to pass out of the high post and has terrific vision for his position. He also compensates for his below average jumping ability with soft touches and just crafty moves around the rim. He impressed scouts with his shooting touch at the Hoop Summit practice, something he also showed at FIBA U19. Scouts also spoke very highly of his work ethic and coachability at the summit.
International centers are quietly taking over in the NBA. From starters like Marc Gasol, Jonas Valanciunas, Nikola Pekovic, and Marcin Gortat, to valuable contributors like Omer Asik, Kosta Koufos, and Tiago Splitter, centers with European experience are starting to outnumber and outplay the home grown prospects. With the not so secret departure of Omer Asik on the horizon, it’s reasonable to expect Rockets will try to replenish the talent pool at the position even if he’s not an immediate replacement.
Just to finish the Serbian trifecta, here’s Jokic’s teammate from Mega Vizura, 20 years old point guard Vasilije Micic. Micis is a big point guard at 6’5.75", and is possibly the best passer of the draft, demonstrated a creative flair at every setting. Like Jokic, Micic also showed a level of basketball IQ and maturity that’s beyond his age. A much more experienced pick and roll player than anyone else in the draft, Micic could run an NBA offense right off the plane. He has an old man game to go with his old man look, playing with rhythm and pace to get to spots he wants to rather than with pure athleticism. Many scouting reports describe him as poised and under control, and he definitely showed that at the FIBA U19, facing physical and athletically imposing prospects like Dante Exum, Marcus Smart, and Elfrid Payton. There, he managed to score just as well against them as he did against weaker competitions. In fact, he seems to step up his game against better competition.
Athleticism, defense, and consistent shooting are in question with most European guards, but Micic, despite coming off a torn ACL injury, was able to go toe to toe with the lottery prospects named above, and managed to shoot very well from deep at the FIBA U19 tournament. He is a solid defender that uses his size and length as well as positioning and timing to create turnovers. He may struggle against some NBA athletes that everyone struggles against, but likely won't be a defensive liability because of his smarts and habits. His shooting consistency will need work, as he shot below 70% from the free throw line this season, and after started out shooting 38% from 3, he severely regressed to finish the season with a 28% mark from deep. Micic has some turnover issues, as his creative passes can at times be reckless, and being a big ball handler, his handles can be loose.
Micic is young and has no buy out worries. He has enough skills that warrant an immediate add to the roster, especially one that lack playmakers with court vision like the Rockets, but because of his relative youth, you can also leave him in Europe and observe his development at a higher level. Micic drew comparisons to guys like Milos Teodosic, Jose Calderon, Greivis Vasquez, even Jason Kidd. He has definite role player potential and could be a steal in the second round.
The last guy on the list might be a familiar name to those that follow Texas basketball. Ioannis Papapetrou is the guy that played 1 season of NCAA ball and decided to cash in on the promising season by signing with Olympiacos, leaving some Texas fans kind of irate. I cannot fault anyone from taking the money, but it’s hard to say if coming off the bench as a specialist in Greece improved his chances more than a bigger role in Texas.
Nonetheless, Papapetrou may have just worked himself into the conversation at Eurocamp this year by reminding people that he has skills beyond just being a dangerous 3 point shooter that can get hot. He’s a 6’8" forward that may just be a carbon copy of Omri Casspi. He can really nail it from outside when he’s set, but still not the most consistent shooter. He is however a very efficient scorer in most settings because of his dangerous 3 point shooting and ability to finish with length. He uses his size and strength mismatch on either forward spot to post or take over the dribble. He plays with high energy, which makes up for his athletic deficiencies.
Ioannis won’t be the most glamorous pick since I just said he may be Omri Casspi’s twin, but with his age and ability to shoot from outside, he will alway be someone to keep an eye on. He plays with one of the best clubs in Europe and gets consistent playing time on a deep team. With more experience and exposure, he could become a better prospect. A shooter is never out of a job in the NBA, especially a tall one.