LONDON – While the Celtics are looking hard at the top-of-the-draft prospects they can land if they wind up with the Los Angeles Lakers’ first-round pick, Boston will also have its own first-rounder that’s likely to be near the end of the round.
And in this draft, that’s fertile ground to stockpile international talent.
The Celtics went that route in 2016 with a pair of international prospects in Guerschon Yabusele of France (16th overall) and Ante Zizic (23rd) of Croatia.
Luka Doncic of Slovenia is far and away the top international prospect. He's under serious consideration to be the first player taken overall in June.
“I know there’s some skepticism that most folks in the states have with highly-regarded players overseas,” an NBA international scout told NBC Sports Boston. “But this Luka kid, he’s legit.”
Doncic, who will be 19 next month, has been competing at the highest level for Real Madrid since he was 16, winning several accolades while competing against players significantly older and more seasoned in the pro game.
He has shown the kind of offensive diversity that the best NBA players of this generation possess. Doncic can score off the dribble in creating his own shot, find teammates and connect on mid-range jumpers as well as from 3-point range. The one concern with him (and most prospects initially) is consistency and whether he can defend players in the NBA who may be more athletic.
And while the Celtics may seem well stocked at the wing position, it would be difficult to pass on a player like Doncic if Boston winds up with the No. 3, 4 or 5 pick.
As for the other international prospects, most of them are likely to be on the board when Boston picks in the latter stages of the first round.
Here are some of the international prospects that Boston could consider:
Dzanan Musa, 6-8, SG/SF, Bosnia & Herzegovina
While his 195-pound frame raises concerns about whether he can handle the physical toll of the NBA, there’s a lot to like about Musa’s game, which is why many believe he could wind up being a first-round selection. For starters, he has a scorer’s mentality and more important, instincts that have enabled him to be an impact player on teams filled with players significantly older and more experienced. For him to be on the draft board would be somewhat of a surprise when Boston picks near the end of the first round. Some scouts envisioning Musa playing his way into the lottery (top 14). Similar to Doncic, what Musa does well doesn’t seem to be a natural fit for Boston’s most pressing needs in this draft. But if the Celtics stand pat with their own first-round pick and he’s available, passing on him would not be an easy decision.
Rodions Kurucs, 6-10 F, Latvia
A borderline first-round pick last year before pulling out of the draft, Kurucs’ camp is hoping another year of overseas play will be enough to solidify a spot for him in the first round. What sets him apart from a lot of prospects is his versatility to play both forward positions in addition to some at the off-guard position due to his length and above-average athleticism. He has a lot of the emerging skills NBA teams are looking for in a prospect; from the ability to catch-and-shoot, filling the lane in transition, to playing with great energy. But the concern with him remains that he has already had multiple knee surgeries. And for a player who attacks defenses as much as he does, NBA teams have every reason to worry about him re-injuring himself. If not for the injury concerns, Kurucs would be a no-brainer to be selected in the first round. While most would take a pass on him with the injury history, no one should be surprised if he’s on the board late in the first round and the Celtics take a flier on him. Where Boston’s pick will land, any player selected will have some noticeable concern about them. So, teams have to roll the dice and gamble on who they believe has the most upside, right? And at that point in the draft, it’s hard to imagine there will be that many more players still left with more potential upside than Kurucs.
Goga Bitadze, 6-11 C, Georgia
Physically speaking, he has been a man among his peers – he was 6-11, 251 pounds with a 7-1 wingspan at 16. Now 18, he has found the going a lot tougher against older, more physically imposing players. He plays with a high motor and doesn’t mind mixing it up when necessary. And with decent footwork and an improving face-the-basket game, what has intrigued NBA folks is the potential to be a stretch big who can impact both from the perimeter as well as around the rim. He’s worth monitoring on the Celtics’ part as a possible late first-round draft-and-stash candidate, which will likely be the plan for any team that drafts him.
Kostja Mushidi, 6-5 G/F, Germany
He checks off a lot of boxes you like if you’re in the market for a 3-point shooting, defensive-minded wing (aka 3-and-D guy). At 226 pounds, he has enough body mass to be able to be a physical defender. And when you realize he has a 7-foot-plus wingspan, it’s clear that his immediate impact in the NBA will in all likelihood be as a defender. And while he’s a solid athlete, he’s not an explosive player attacking defenses and beating them off the dribble. Part of that has to do with his ball-handling skills, by and large, are still very much a work in progress. Late first round seems a bit high for Mushidi, but if the Celtics trade their late first-round pick for a couple of second-rounders, Mushidi becomes a lot more attractive a player to target.
Other international players to watch: Isaac Bonga, 6-9 PG/F, Germany; Arnoldas Kulboka, 6-10 SF, Lithuania; Tryggvi Hlinason, 7-1 C, Iceland.