The fascination with international players intensified when Dirk Nowitzki was selected with the sixth pick in the 1998 draft and went on to enormous NBA success, and that trend has remained prominent to this day. 13 international players were selected in the 2014 NBA Draft, two of which were chosen by the Denver Nuggets.
Jusuf Nurkic, a Bosnian-born 19-year-old, was drafted 16th overall by the Nuggets. He had moderate success in the Euroleague with the minutes he was given but wasn’t overly impressive. He did, however, win the MVP of the under-20 European Championships, leading his to the title, so there’s no question that he is getting better.
He is tall and has an extremely big body, but he isn’t very athletic or explosive. Yet, there is a growing list of players who fit the same bill and have proven to be effective in the NBA, so this isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. Taking Nurkic at 16 isn’t that big of a stretch and is probably worth the risk at the end of the day for the Nuggets.
That said, for every Nikola Pekovic, it seems like there are two Nikoloz Tskitishvilis out there. The draft is nothing but a big crap shoot anyway, but once you start talking about international players only specialized scouting teams know about in depth, the unknowns are that much more magnified and the misses feel that much more significant.
Anybody remember the hype surrounding Yaroslav Korolev or Maciej Lampe?
It sure feels like international players bust at a higher percentage than college players, and there has been research done to confirm this hypothesis, courtesy of sportsnstats.com. They posit, and provide the requisite supporting data, that international players bust at nearly a 10 percent higher clip than players coming out of college based on their contribution their team relative to the position they were drafted at. Yet NBA teams continue to reach for these high risk, average reward players.
It is almost a foregone conclusion that there are 10-15 players selected after these international prospects who go on to be contributing players for successful teams, but such is the nature of the draft.
Nurkic recently signed with the Nuggets, who successfully bought out the remainder of his contract with his Euroleague team, and he will be with the Nuggets this fall. This will be incredibly important to begin his assimilation into the league and to accelerate his learning curve.
I sure hope that Nurkic has a long and successful career in a Nuggets uniform, but history sure isn’t on his side. Good thing his size, youth and potential will be.