Selecting an international basketball prospect in the NBA draft has always been viewed as a risky move for the Detroit Pistons since the event's infamous 2003 edition, in which they passed on Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh and went for Serbia's Darko Milicic. Ever since, the Pistons have been far more cautious of unreliable players hailing from across the Atlantic, their only such pick being that of Swede Jonas Jerebko.
However, this time they'll have the likes of Mario Hezonja and Kristaps Porzingis, who have been promising young stars in their stint in Europe. Both are virtually first-round locks and most of us are guessing that the Pistons will look at them very closely -- not to leave out the legion of lesser-known foreigners that could hear their name called in the second round or late in the first. Which of these players will draw the most attention from the Pistons?
Mario Hezonja, Croatia
Stan Van Gundy has not made any attempts to keep his interest in 6'8" Croatian guard-forward Mario Hezonja a secret. In April, he arrived in Palau Blaugrana to watch the sharpshooter play in FC Barcelona's last few games. According to The Detroit News, Van Gundy has been hunting for youngsters with both size and skill shooting the ball, and Hezonja fits the bill like few other players.
The 20-year old Hezonja may not get big minutes, being on one of the greatest teams in all of Europe, but his shooting has, at times, been behind some of their biggest victories. Not many players—even in the NBA—can connect on five threes against Real Madrid in two straight meetings. Only in early April did Hezonja lead Barca to a tight win vs what Eurobasket.com calls the #1 European team, and he continues to act as one of their most dangerous outside weapons despite seeing very limited minutes in both Euroleague and ACB play.
Hezonja has the height SVG is looking for, but lacks the body to truly survive through the 82-game NBA season. His frame sometimes restricts him to drive to the basket, although he can do that very well on some occasions. It also remains a question whether or not his defense will meet what the league requires. Nevertheless, his giant upside makes him stand out in an inferior class of shooting guards, and he would strengthen a position for the Pistons that needs a serious upgrade.
Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia
Another formidable big man that is expected to be taken early in the night, Porzingis can provide a scoring punch from outside, has a rare ability to move all around the court, and has the size needed to keep up with other players of his position. The towering Latvian is on Baloncesto Sevilla and plays in the same ACB league as Hezonja's Barcelona. His team is no joke either, having qualified for the Eurocup, the second-best club competition in the continent. In fact, Porzingis was so impactful at the transnational level that he was named the 2014-15 Rising Star, a title previously held by NBAers Donatas Motiejunas and Jonas Valanciunas. He will headline a relatively long list of early draft entrants coming from Sevilla, the others being center Guillermo Hernangomez and guard Nikola Radicevic.
Almost everything about Porzingis makes him attractive to the NBA. The fact that he came off the bench in 13 of 16 Eurocup games, only to lead his team in points, index rating, and blocks, with 11.6, 13.1. and 1.2 respectively. His inconsistent but impeccable shooting have always been talking points for scouts. His height, youth, and room for improvement are even more significant factors teams, including the Pistons, have been looking at closely. Even so, lack of strength has been an issue and it may lead to defensive struggles.
At this very point in time, there may be little space for Porzingis in the Pistons' roster, but with the way things are going, they will begin to need someone to fortify the front court. If Greg Monroe leaves for Boston or some other team, Detroit may need to rely heavily on their top draft picks. There's always a good chance that they will turn to the NCAA, but if they want a boost from the Euros, Porzingis is probably one of their most viable picks.
Timothe Luwawu, France
France never runs out of youngsters that can be thrust into an NBA roster in little time. Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier, for example. The amount of hype that surrounds 6'7" Timothe Luwawu of the LNB Pro A's Olympique Antibes, though, is extremely low. The swingman may be the next best outside shooter Europe has to offer in the final round of the draft outside of Mario Hezonja and Kristaps Porzingis. Like Porzingis, he can make an impact on both the offense and defense, and his versatility would make hearing his name called in the latter half of the night no surprise.
Detroit entered the 2014-15 season with what could have been a three-headed monster in Andre Drummond, Josh Smith, and Greg Monroe. Smith's time with the Pistons was characterized by poor shooting and was cut short thanks to a bold move from Stan Van Gundy, and Monroe has been at the center of free agency rumors. Luwawu, a teenager, may not necessarily have the expertise needed to make an impact up front nor the experience playing at a high level. However, if he can continue to head upwards, with some time, his shooting expertise could draw the attention away from Drummond and company and ultimately enhance the bigs' authority on the floor.
Aleksandar Vezenkov, Cyprus/Bulgaria
Vezenkov is projected to be an early second-round selection, and the Pistons may not have the opportunity to pick him, but Detroit could potentially get a steal if teams like the Philadelphia 76ers go for someone else. His success in the Euros may not translate into success in the NBA, and he may not survive for long in his first few seasons in a far more demanding environment, but there is also the chance that he becomes an asset for Detroit.
The Bulgarian small forward stands 6'8," and given that he can shoot the ball and be a constant threat on the offensive end, he is on Van Gundy's radar for sure. According to RealGM, the Aris man led the star-studded Greek Basket League in points and ranked second in rebounds ... at 19 years old. As the A1 season comes to a close, he will try to win the league's Young Player of the Year award for the third consecutive year. Additionally, Vezenkov has repeatedly made statements with the Bulgarian youth national teams, posting huge numbers at FIBA Europe competitions.
Vezenkov, as much of a statistical machine as he is in Greece, may have trouble finding his footing in the NBA. Currently, he doesn't have the body to match more seasoned forwards in the United States, and would be a gamble for any team that selects him. However, the Pistons would only benefit from the pick if he is still available to them. Vezenkov could help out with scoring at the SF position and would make do on Detroit's roster as a tall outside shooter.