Honest admission time: Like most reading this article, I don't know much about the two international prospects expected to hear their names called early in Thursday's NBA Draft.
Now, there's been ample due diligence done on this end in preparation for mock draft season. Yet because the Wizards are out of play with the 19th pick, I haven't gone wild researching Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis or Croatian sharpshooter Mario Hezonja.
Recent suspect history of European prospects selected early, that much I know.
Porzingis and Hezonja are both likely to be the first prospects from Europe without any U.S. college experience drafted in the top 10 since the Wizards selected Jan Vesely in 2011.
The new guys should be judged on their merits rather than previous failures. Highlights of the 6-foot-8 Hezonja draining 3-pointers for his team in the second-best league in the world certainly stands out. Same for intrigue of Porzingis, who some believe could come off the board second overall.
Best of luck to them and the teams that select them. Based on the lottery picks tabbed since Pau Gasol went third overall in 2001, they'll need it.
2002: Denver Nuggets selected Nikolz Tskitishvili fifth overall. The 7-footer from Georgia, located where Eastern Europe and Western Asia intersect, only played 172 games during his four-season NBA career.
2003: With the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade available, the Detroit Pistons infamously selected Serbian big man Darko Milicic with the second pick after the Cleveland Cavaliers took LeBron James. Milicic spent a decade in the league, but never developed into anything resembling an All-Star.
2006: Italian forward Andrea Bargnani is selected first overall by the Toronto Raptors. Productive offensively throughout his still active career, Bargnani sports a career average of 15 points per game. However, the 7-footer is a liability in most other aspects of his game when he's healthy enough to play. He averages fewer than five rebounds and one block over his career -- and just 34 games played over the last four seasons. Most famous recently for his way-out-of-line contract, which expired this past season after he played only 29 games with the Knicks.
2008: Health is perhaps the only thing holding back Danilo Gallinari. Drafted sixth overall by the Knicks and traded to the Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony deal, the 6-foot-11 forward has only played more than 65 games twice in seven seasons. Impressive athlete and shooter, but played just 59 games since averaging a career-high 16.2 points during the 2012-13 season.
2009: The Minnesota Timberwolves, using a pick acquired in trade some in these parts may remember, selected Spain's Ricky Rubio fifth overall. The super-hyped point guard arrived stateside for the 2011-12 campaign. At times Rubio looks like passing savant and a defensive presence. At most times he's a perimeter shooting liability that can't stay healthy. Certainly not a bust, but also hasn't lived up to the headlines quite yet. Rubio certainly has the chance as Minnesota continues adding No. 1 overall picks.
2011: Enes Kanter (Jazz), Jonas Valanciunas (Raptors) and Vesely (sixth) went third, fifth and sixth respectively. Only Valanciunas remains with his original team. Utah traded the offensively potent, but defensively challenged Kanter this season in a three-team that netted the Jazz a 2017 first-round pick and perhaps more importantly removed the unhappy big man from the roster. Washington shipped Vesely to Denver for Andre Miller before the 2014 trade deadline. Blessed with athleticism and cursed with zero confidence when handling a basketball offensively, Vesely played this past season in Turkey.
That's some dubious list. Since then, Ukrainian center Alex Len is the only European player selected in the top 10, but he doesn't make the list because of two seasons spent at the University of Maryland
None of this means teams should automatically pass on Porzingis or Hezonja. The Lakers, 76ers and Knicks have room for a 6-foot-11 shot maker like Porzingis. The Magic and Pistons are in the market for a swingman with Hezonja's perimeter.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jusuf Nurkic, two of the more impressive young players in the league, were drafted just outside the lottery over the last two seasons. Perhaps on some level their impressive play in the league boosted draft values for Porzingis and Hezonja. Maybe the new guys are simply all that. Just remember, previous European prospects also entered the NBA with plenty of buzz.
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