The international pool is going to play a large role in this draft. There's no doubt about it.
Not only are people around the league relatively underwhelmed with the domestic college class of players, but the international crop this time around is fairly strong. That crop does not even include guys like Ben Simmons, Buddy Hield, and Jakob Poeltl who attended college while being from international waters. Instead, when we refer to international players, we refer to them as the NBA does: players declaring for the draft after playing outside of the United States over their last few seasons.
The 2003 draft holds the record for most international players selected in the first round with eight. In the 2016 draft, I currently have 10 international players in my top 37 players, which means this draft could end up surpassing that for international dominance in the opening stanza.
That means it's worth getting to know some of the overseas players who could end up joining the ranks of the NBA sooner rather than later. Here's a quick rundown of what you need to know about those 10 international players.
Bender is the guy most NBA draft fans are familiar with. He's still just 18 years old, and playing in European competition for one of Israel's top teams. That's pretty rare, and it speaks to how strong of a prospect Bender is even if he's only getting slightly over 10 minutes per game.
The 7-foot Croatian has been inconsistent against the tough level of competition, but his production hasn't been all that bad on a per-minute basis. Bender is currently averaging 11.5 points, six rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game, which is actually pretty strong for his age given the high level of competition. What teams like about Bender is that he's a true 7-footer who can not only hit shots from the outside, but he also defends players both on the perimeter and inside as well as has terrific feel for the game in terms of the way he attacks the ball and makes passes. He's not the most explosive athlete and he's still rather skinny in his frame, but Bender profiles well in the modern NBA given his skill set.
This isn't a situation like Kristaps Porzingis last year where you can expect Bender to come in immediately and star. Heck, it's not even assured yet that he comes to America in the 2016-17 season (even though if you made me predict now, I'd say he comes over). But long-term, Bender should become an excellent NBA player, and he's currently projected to go in the No. 3 through 12 range.
Timothe Luwawu | G/F | Mega Leks (No. 12)
Luwawu could have left for the draft last year and would have had a shot to go in the first round, but instead returned to European hoops and moved from the French League to the Adriatic League. There, he broke out in a big way for Mega Leks this season, scoring 14.6 points, grabbing 4.8 rebounds and dishing out 2.8 assists per.
Last year, Luwawu was mostly an athlete at 6-foot-7 with a 6-11 wingspan who profiled well as a 3-and-D type. This year though, he's made some pretty significant strides due to the offensive load he has to handle. He's improved a bit as a ball-handler, made some strides in his jump-shooting ability from behind the arc, and l0oks to have increased his general strength. The key for Luwawu becoming more than just a role player though will be his ability to finish around the rim. Despite the gifts that would make you think he'd be superb there, he's actually really struggled inside the arc this season, only hitting 43 percent of those attempts. That's led to a relatively inefficient 39.8 percent mark from the field that despite his overall development is relatively scary.
Luwawu is currently seen as going somewhere in the No. 10 through 20 range.
Furkan Korkmaz | G | Anadolu Efes (No. 16)
Korkmaz is one of the youngest players in this draft class, not turning 19 until July. At around 6-7, the Turkish wing is a bouncy athlete vertically who makes up for a lack of lateral explosiveness with terrific feel for the game. Like Bender above him, Korkmaz plays for a Euroleague team in Anadolu Efes that actually advanced to the Round of 16, meaning he's only getting 12 minutes per game.
Having said that, he's done relatively well in those 12 minutes, putting up per-36 numbers of 13.7 points and four rebounds as a fourth or fifth option on the floor. Over the last two years, Korkmaz has become quite a strong shooter, hitting 43 percent of his 150-plus attempts over that time. At the junior level, he's also shown the ability to create his own shot and pass for others. Last summer, Korkmaz was named to the All-Tournament team at the U-19 World Championships as an underage player, as well as to the All-Tourney team at the U-18 European Championships. He needs to improve defensively and really improve his body -- he's extremely skinny at this point -- but the tools are there for Korkmaz to become a solid offensive wing who would fit well in a motion/pass-heavy offense due to his playmaking and shooting ability.
Because of his performance in those two events last summer, scouts have a relatively good feel for where Korkmaz is at this point. He'll likely go somewhere near the end of the lottery through pick No. 22 if he decides to stay in the draft.
Ante Zizic | C | KK Cibona (No. 22)
Zizic is the latest in what has become a relatively fruitful tree in the Adriatic League. The 6-11 center (who reportedly has a 7-3 wingspan, per DraftExpress) is putting up terrific numbers as a player who just turned 19 in January. He's averaging 14.5 points and 8.47 rebounds over all competition this season. His rebounding leads the Adriatic League, and his 24.2 PER is one of the best numbers ever put up by a player his age in the league. He was named the league's Top Prospect, winning the award over the aforementioned Luwawu.
Beyond the measurement and production, what makes Zizic such a strong prospect is his motor. The Croatian is not necessarily one of the most explosive guys you'll find out there, but he never stops moving or giving effort. He crashes the glass, runs the floor well, and really does a great job of always just putting himself in the middle of the action. Offensively, he has terrific feel for when to dive toward the rim to get a pass from a teammate, and does an excellent job finishing once he gets there. The biggest question he'll have in the NBA is whether or not he can make better decisions with the ball, as he'll occasionally struggle with turnovers and has never had much in the way of vision to find teammates once he gets into trouble.
Still, it's to ignore the production that Zizic has put up. He's a strong player in a league filled with solid big men that typically five to 10 years older than he is. He should go somewhere in the No. 20 to 35 range in this draft and be a draft-and-stash prospect.
Juan Hernangomez | F | Movistar Estudiantes (No. 24)
The brother of Knicks' pick Guillermo Hernangomez last season, Juan had a superb season in the ACB League -- widely considered to be the second-best domestic league in the world. He' a 6-9 stretch-four type that hit 35 percent of his 3s this season and still was effective inside, putting up a 57.5 true-shooting percentage and an excellent 22.8 defensive rebounding rate.
Given the way the NBA is going, Hernangomez would seem to have a pretty nice skill set to bring overseas to America. He still needs to improve a bit in a variety of ways before he can get there, though. Defense is going to be a bit of a question in the NBA, as he's not necessarily the most mobile guy. Offensively, he hasn't shown much in the way of vision yet in his career. But the shooting is solid, he's tough, and works hard on the floor. With some improvement, it's easy to see him becoming an NBA player.
I'd put his draft range right around No. 23 to No. 45 at this point. Some are going to really like the toughness, feel for the game, and production at his age. Others won't buy him translating to the NBA level due to his relative lack of explosiveness. It's also worth noting that scouts are pretty familiar with him at this point, as he was All-Tournament team last summer at the U-20 European Championships. There won't be any surprises here.
Ivica Zubac | C | Mega Leks (No. 27)
Zubac had a bit of a trying year on the professional level this season after a bit of a breakout last summer at the U-19 World Championships. During that event, the 7-footer averaged 17.6 points and 7.9 rebounds on the Croatian team that won the silver medal. In the title game against players like Chinanu Onuaku and Harry Giles, Zubac had a solid double-double as the Croatians fell just short against the Americans.
However, he wasn't able to build on that success this season for a variety of reasons. Zubac has been forced to move clubs twice this season. He began the season with Cibona, like Zizic above him, but left due to payment issues. He tried to move across the city of Zagreb to Cedetiva, but the Croatian federation held up that move. He's now with Mega Leks, and hasn't really gotten much in the way of playing time this season. Therefore, scouts will basically be going off of what they've seen in past events as opposed to this year. Luckily for Zubac, there's a lot to like. He's a mobile 7-footer who finishes well and has solid touch around the rim. His frame is superb, and he should be able to continue to grow into becoming a true big-bodied center.
I'd put his draft range quite similarly to where Zizic's is. Something in the area of No. 20 to No. 35. Unlike Zizic though, Zubac apparently wants to come over to the NBA as soon as possible, which could help or hinder his stock from team to team depending on their situation.
Isaia Cordinier | G | Denain (No. 34)
Cordinier is a 6-5 guard with a bit of bounce and shooting ability. Currently, he's averaging 10.9 points per game in the French Pro-B league, while putting up 3.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. It's solid production for the relatively raw wing, but what teams will be looking for is more what he can be than what is now.
The French wing has superb play-making ability for a wing, capable of seeing the entire floor and making tremendous passes for others. He's also hitting 43 percent of his 3s this season, which bodes well for the next level. The key for him at this point is his ball-handling ability, as while he's shifty and has solid change of pace, he still needs to get to the point where he feels comfortable handling in tight spaces. His body could also use some work, especially in the lower half, and defensively he's struggled a bit this season with hand-checking.
Still though, the athleticism, feel, and shooting is there to go with the size. He got a chance to show off some of these skills at the Nike Hoop Summit this April, but in the end the week ended up not particularly showcasing much due to the superiority of the USA team over the World Team. If Cordinier stays in the draft, I'd expect him to go somewhere in the No. 25 to No. 40 range.
Petr Cornelie | PF | Le Mans (No. 35)
Cornelie is an interesting 6-11 stretch-four type who is hitting 43 percent of his 3-pointers this season for Le Mans in French Pro A and European competition. On the whole, he's averaging 8.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, which isn't bad production given that he's still 20 years old.
Cornelie is athletic, moves well, and can stretch the floor, meaning he's certainly going to have some takers when it comes to getting drafted. However, he's still extremely skinny at this point, and doesn't seem to have a frame that looks like it will handle weight well. He's also not much of a passer, as his 3.3 assist rate is among the lowest in this international crop. His feel for the game can be a bit low from time to time, it seems like.
Still, as mentioned above, any time there is a 6-11 shooter like Cornelie, he'll garner some interest. If he decides to stay in the draft, I'd expect him to go anywhere from No. 25 to No. 45.
Paul Zipser | SF | Bayern Munich (No. 36)
Zipser is a regular rotation player at 22 years old on Bayern Munich, a Euroleague team that was eliminated in the first round but is now finding success in the Eurocup. At 6-8, 210 pounds, Zipser profiles well as a wing in the NBA. He's known as a good, versatile defender that has hit over 40 percent of his 3s in every professional season that he's undertaken at Bayern, with around two and a half of those years being as a rotation player getting 10 to 20 minutes a game.
As a 22-year-old, he'll be automatically eligible for this NBA Draft. Really, there's a lot to like about him. He's athletic, defends multiple positions, hits shots, plays well away from the ball, and has terrific feel for the game. It's extremely easy to see a team plugging him into their lineup sooner rather than later and having a solid contributor. The reason his stock isn't necessarily higher is because he's just doesn't quite have the ceiling of some of these other players right now.
However, if a team is just looking for a solid guy that they can fit into their lineup now, Zipser is who they're looking for. Look for him to go in the No. 20 to No. 45 range of the draft when it comes down to it.
Zhou Qi | C | Xinjiang (No. 37)
Zhou is one of more divisive prospects in this draft. Long been considered one of the top young players in his country, the 7-2 center has a tremendous 7-6 wingspan, good shot-blocking instincts, and good touch around the rim. He's averaging 15.8 points and 9.7 rebounds per game to go with a block rate that basically dwarfs any other in the league. The important number to look at there is the rebounding, as his defensive rebounding rate has gone up from 17.9 to 24.3 this year, a massively important leap if he is to carve out an NBA role.
He's done that by improving his body over the last year. When Zhou went to Hoop Summit in 2015, he was extremely skinny and ended up hurting his ankle early in the process. This season, he seems to be a bit more solid, even if the frame still looks to be an issue. His muscle mass has definitely increased, but the question still remains as to whether it will be enough to deal with the physicality of being a rim protector in the NBA.
I have Zhou below the nine players above him because I'm not sure I buy into his body ever maturing enough. I'd put his draft range as the most volatile of these players, anywhere from No. 15 to No. 45. He'll be at the draft combine -- the only international player in attendance -- where he will look to assuage some of the doubts. If he can do so, he might be able to work his way into that first round picture in a bigger way.