The threat of a lockout next season has many of the top college underclassmen thinking about staying in school. That has NBA general managers turning their attention overseas. Here's a look, in order, at five of the top foreign talents that could be in this year's draft.
JONAS VALANCIUNAS, C,Lithuania He popped up on the NBA radar last summer after his MVP performance in the 2010 under-18 European championships. The 6'11", 240-pound center is a little light but has a solid low-post game and runs the floor like a gazelle. Says a Western Conference exec, "Once he gets stronger, he is going to be a force. If he were in college right now, we would be talking about him going Number 1."
Plays Like: "[Bulls center] Omer Asik," says the exec, "but [Valanciunas] is more talented."
ENES KANTER, C,Turkey The 19-year-old enrolled at Kentucky last fall but was ruled to be ineligible by the NCAA for receiving "significant" money to play in Turkey. Though the 6'11", 262-pound Kanter has not played this year, he practiced regularly with the Wildcats through their Final Four run. "He's not crazy athletic," says the West exec, "but he can flat-out score."
Plays Like: A scout compares him to the Sixers' Elton Brand.
JAN VESELY, PF,Czech Republic Vesely, 20, was FIBA Europe's Young Men's Player of the Year in 2010. An aggressive slasher, Vesely finishes well in traffic, and his quick feet allow him to defend three positions. Size is an issue: Vesely has the height of a center (6'11") but the weight (240 pounds) of a small forward. He could also improve the range on his jump shot. "I really want to see him work out against some top college players," says the West exec. "There are a lot of questions."
Plays like: Utah's Andrei Kirilenko.
DONATAS MOTIEJUNAS, PF,Lithuania A skilled scorer, Motiejunas, 20, is a seven-footer with a lethal face-up game, with the ability to score off the dribble or with a feathery midrange jump shot. A red flag for scouts: Motiejunas's inability—and occasional unwillingness—to defend. "He defends with his length," says the West exec. "And sometimes he will only do it for half the game. His skills are going to impress a lot of people in workouts, but he doesn't like contact."
Plays like: One scout says that Motiejunas "has a little Manu Ginóbili in him."
NIKOLA MIROTIC, SF,Montenegro Mirotic—who has a $2 million buyout clause with Real Madrid—is an excellent three-point shooter (44%). The 20-year-old has a quick release and excels in catch-and-shoot and pin-down sets. "He has a real sweet stroke," says the West exec. "He can shoot over you, and he will run in transition and dunk on you. His upside is off the charts."
Plays like: A more athletic Mike Miller.
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On New York, which is 10--12 since acquiring Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups from the Nuggets:
The activity level is not the same. Before, they were playing freely, sharing and spreading the ball around. Now, when Amar'e Stoudemire or Carmelo has the ball, everyone else is standing around. Chauncey is a half-court player. He's fine in pick-and-rolls, but they need a point guard who can keep the dribble alive. They need a Steve Nash or an Aaron Brooks, someone who can push the ball to the baseline. Chauncey pushes it to the three-point line. Guys who can take it further can flatten out defenses and create driving angles and open shots. Their system needs an overhaul. It's tough to be successful with two ball stoppers in Amar'e and Carmelo and a point guard like Chauncey.
ROBERTO SERRA/IGUANA PRESS/GETTY IMAGES (MOTIEJUNAS)
BALTIC BALLER Motiejunas is a shade under seven feet but has a game one scout likens to that of Ginóbili.
BILL FRAKES (BILLUPS)