BOSTON -- When it comes to acquiring talent, the Boston Celtics won’t hesitate to go wherever they feel it can be acquired.
And with the possibility of having multiple first-round picks in next year’s NBA draft, Boston will certainly give thought to playing the “draft and stash” game in which they select a player with one or more of those first-round picks with the expectation that the player selected stay overseas for at least one season.
They did it two years ago when they selected Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic with the 16th and 23rd picks, respectively, in the 2016 NBA draft and did not bring either player over until the following season.
Yabusele is entering his second season with the Celtics while Zizic was sent to Cleveland as part of the blockbuster trade Boston had last year in acquiring Kyrie Irving from the Cavs.
Looking to go that route makes a lot of sense for this upcoming draft, particularly when most of the top international prospects are viewed by many as being a year or two away from being NBA-ready.
So, who are the top international prospects?
Sekou Doumbouya, 6-9, 230, SF/PF, France
When it comes to the top of the International leaders board, Sekou Doumbouya is easily the top international prospect, a player likely to be among the top-5 players selected in 2019. The 18-year-old forward has shown the potential to be an impact player at both ends of the floor. As a 15-year-old, he was the leading scorer on the French national team which took home the gold during the 2016 FIBA Europe Under-18 Championship. His emergence comes at a time when the NBA continues to become a “small-ball” league which allows players with Doumbouya’s skills to play both forward positions (although him at small forward should be something we see little of at the next level) as well as some center. He has shown growth in terms of shooting the ball more efficiently as well as solid mechanics on his shot, but his feel for the game is very much a work in progress. Defensively, there’s a lot to like about his game but his success at the next level defensively will depend heavily on where he’s placed on the floor. If he’s called upon to play more of a power forward/center role, he’ll be fine. His quickness will make him an asset at both ends of the floor. But if he’s being asked to defend small forwards on a consistent basis, that’s not playing to his strengths. When all is said and done, his upside will be too much for a team picking in the top-five to pass on.
Goga Bitadze, 6-11, 250, C, Republic of Georgia
Projected as a late-first, early-second round pick in 2019, Bitadze has a nice touch inside the paint. And while his level of athleticism leaves a lot to be desired, he has proven himself to be a productive player in a talented Adriatic Basketball league that has produced some of the bigger young bigs in the NBA , a group that includes Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic whose numbers in the Adriatic League are comparable to Bitadze who is younger than both Jokic and Nurkic when they were in the Adriatic League. His shooting mechanics are inconsistent, but he has a high release on his shots which makes it tough for defenders to block his shot or get a good contest on him. Lack of lateral quickness makes defending at this level a concern, for sure. But his ability to shoot mid-range shots (it’s his favorite) as well as provide rebounding at both ends of the floor, make Bitadze someone worth giving some thought to with one of their later picks.
Brian Bowen, 6-7, 200, USA (will play in Australia)
This may be one of the more intriguing prospects in next year’s NBA draft. Just to catch you up, Bowen was among those mentioned in the FBI’s investigation into rules violations at the University of Louisville. Bowen’s family was allegedly paid $100,000 for him to attend Louisville. He committed to the Cardinals, de-committed, then signed on to play for South Carolina before the NCAA ruled him ineligible for this upcoming season. Having entered and withdrew from the 2018 draft, he has since agreed to play for the Sydney Kings. A top-20 prospect in high school, Bowen excels in the catch-and-shoot game aided by an ultra-quick first step. He needs to improve his decision-making offensively, and consistency has to become a part of his overall play at the other end of the floor. A solid season with the Kings will do wonders for his stock which when all is said and done, will likely result in him being picked somewhere the middle to latter stages of the first round.
Luka Samanic, 6-10, PF, Croatia
Molded in the form of today’s big man, Samanic has skills that translate to him being able to be utilized in a multitude of ways. SI ranked Samanic as the 11th-best prospect heading into the 2019 NBA draft. That seems a bit high for the 6-foot-10 big man, especially when you consider the level of competition the 18-year-old has faced. Although to his credit, he has shown the ability to score, rebound and make his presence felt when facing off against his peers, which was indeed the case in January when he led the Under-18 FC Barcelona Lassa team to the championship game of the U18 Adidas Next Generation Tournament. Samanic, who turned 18 years old in January, didn’t get the win but he was still named Tournament MVP after averaging 23.3 points, 14.8 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots per game.
Adam Mokoka, 6-5, 210, SG, France
Mokoka looks the part of a combo guard in the NBA, but his game needs a good deal of refinement before what works overseas has a shot at translating to good play in the States. Considered by most at this point a second-round pick in the 2019 draft, one of Mokoka’s greatest strengths is his play defensively. The 20-year-old from France was named the LNB Pro A Best Young player award-winner last season, averaging just 3.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game. He entered the 2018 NBA draft, only to wisely withdraw and set his sights on the 2019 draft. You love his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame and that he’s locked into being an above-average defender. But he will have to show significant growth as a scorer and facilitator this upcoming season, in order to convince NBA folks there’s more to his game than what he does defensively.