COMMENTARY | NBA Draft Includes Trio of Elite International Prospects
2015 NBA Draft

COURTESY EUROCUP BASKETBALL Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis is expected to be selected in the top-ten picks of the NBA Draft.

Latvian forward Kristaps Porzingis is expected to be selected in the top-ten picks of the NBA Draft.

Georgetown has a love affair with just about anything international. It includes a world-class School of Foreign Service. Study abroad is at the heart of the college experience for many students. The beloved mascot is an English Bulldog. So the 2015 NBA Draft, with its strong foreign contingent, should be of special interest to basketball fans on the Hilltop.

Latvian seven-footer Kristaps Porzingis has been the biggest riser in the final days before the draft. Grantland published an article describing the hype surrounding him as a “perfect storm.” What’s more, he might what it takes to back it all up.

Porzingis can shoot. Porzingis can run the floor. Pozingis has elite athleticism. And Porzingis can do it all while standing at 7-foot-1. There is not much more you can say about a draft prospect to explain why he could develop into a potential star. His raw tools combine to deliver enormous upside. The Latvian’s ceiling is so high that the Lakers are reportedly considering taking him with the second overall pick.

But those tools are likely several years away from being ready for the NBA. The lanky forward is just 19 years old and has drawn concern about his ability to translate potential into actual success at the highest level. His passing, ball-handling skills and strength are big question marks. Being tall and athletic only gets a guy so far if he can’t get use those skills in the paint, especially if part of his problem is lacking the strength to play inside with the league’s other big men.

Five years from now, Porzingis could be elite in the frontcourt. Or he could turn out to be a 7’1” firework, bursting onto the scene and fading away just as quickly.

Joining Porzingis at the top of the draft board is Croatian guard Mario Hezonja. Hezonja can be summed up perfectly in one video. With less than 10 seconds remaining in the game and his team up by 19, Hezonja makes an athletic play to steal the ball, puts the ball between an opponent’s legs, throws down a ridiculous one-handed dunk as time expires and then celebrates his own play. It’s thrilling stuff, but basketball traditionalists will cringe and mumble something about “respecting the game” and “playing the right way.”

Most of Hezonja’s biggest knocks are all similarly attitude related. He trash talks, ignores open teammates to take a contested shot or make a flashy pass and he calls for the ball like he is playing MyCareer mode in NBA 2K15. He says he would be the overall No. 1 pick if he played in America.

But some team with a top-10 pick — mock drafts say Sacramento at sixth or Denver at seventh — will, and it is going to land one of the best pure scorers in the draft. Hezonja has the potential to do everything necessary to be a top wing player. His shot and ability to drive to the rim are his biggest strengths, and he has drawn comparisons to Klay Thompson. Add in the tools to be a plus defender and the Croatian looks to have real potential. Just don’t ask him to keep his head down and stay humble.

Rounding the trio of elite international talents is point guard Emmanuel Mudiay. Mudiay is simultaneously the most interesting and least talked about of the three players discussed here.

He is a fascinating prospect because of the path he took to the top of the draft board. Born in Kinshasa, DR Congo, Mudiay played for Deion Sanders’ high school in Texas. Not the school Sanders attended, but rather the one he founded. Then Mudiay chose to skip college and play overseas in China. After an injury-plagued season in Guangdong, the point guard is ready to take on the NBA. The NCAA may no longer have a monopoly on developing top-tier talent.

As a player, Mudiay is the opposite of Hezonja in many ways. The 6’5” guard excels at all the skills necessary to run an offense. He passes and handles the ball as well as anyone in the draft, but that’s par for the course for any point guard worthy of an early first-round pick. His real strengths, however, are his physical gifts. Mudiay plays with a strength and quickness that has propelled him as high as third in some mock drafts. The year of experience as a professional should also count in his favor. He went to a foreign country as an 18 year old and emerged on the other side as an elite NBA prospect. That should almost prepare him for playing in the city of Philadelphia.

Nevertheless, there are drawbacks to Mudiay’s game. He is a streaky shooter and poor from the free-throw line, which is concerning from a backcourt player soon to be drafted with a top-five pick. An ankle injury suffered in China won’t help his case either. But NBA coaches can work on a teenager’s shot, and trainers can work on his ankle. They cannot teach quickness, physical strength or a natural feel for the game, qualities that Mudiay has in spades.

Andrew May is a rising junior in the School of Foreign Service

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