View Full Version : NBA draft: The numbers on international lottery picks (ESPN)

06-24-2015, 04:11 PM

Ryan Feldman, ESPN Stats & Information

Every few years, it seems that there's an international prospect who is "the next Dirk Nowitzki." Remember when it was Jan Vesely and Andrea Bargnani and Nikoloz Tskitishvili?

This year, that player is Kristaps Porzingis. We've heard similar opinions about Mario Hezonja.

But despite both players being projected as top-10 picks in Thursday’s NBA draft, the numbers say it isn’t wise to draft an international player in the lottery.

Nowitzki, Gasol: 2-for-2

Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol were the first European players who became lottery picks. They both became All-Stars.

Since then, 16 Europeans have been lottery picks, and none of them have been All-Stars.

Since 1998 (when Nowitzki was drafted), 21 percent of lottery picks from American colleges have been an All-Star at least once (41 of 194). Meanwhile, 11 percent of Europeans drafted in the lottery since 1998 have been All-Stars (two of 18).

Including all international lottery picks, 13 percent (three of 23) have become All-Stars: Nowitzki, Gasol and Yao Ming. (An international/European player is defined as a non-American player who did not play American college basketball.)

After the selection of Yao in 2002, 19 international players have been drafted in the lottery, and none have been All-Stars.

Using win shares to evaluate selections

Using win shares -- an estimate of the number of wins a player contributes to his team -- the numbers say that college players have been much more successful than international players when drafted in the lottery.

College lottery picks have averaged 69 percent more win shares per season and 88 percent more win shares for their career than international lottery picks.

Outside of the lottery

For teams drafting outside the lottery positions, it makes sense to take a chance on an international player later in the first round or the second round. Plenty of those players have turned into great value picks, including Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Marc Gasol.

But the numbers show that the odds are better to use a lottery pick on a college player rather than to take a chance on an international player

06-24-2015, 04:16 PM
considering the numbers, are we too bullish on Porzingis and Hezonja? How high are you guys on these two players? Do they fall in line or break the mold like Pau and Dirk?

06-24-2015, 04:21 PM
Not trying to jinx these young guys, but here's an article from way back with some perspective on Darko.

Darko Milicic This 17-year-old 7-footer may be the NBA's No. 2 draft pick

Ever since Michael Jordan first started denigrating Toni Kukoc,
Europeans in the NBA have routinely been stereotyped as
fair-skinned suburbanites who shy away from contact in the paint
or conflict in the locker room. Seventeen-year-old Darko Milicic
is about to stomp on that stereotype--if not leap over it

Milicic (pronounced MIL-i-sich) is the prodigious
7foot center from Yugoslavia who is expected to be the No. 2 pick
behind LeBron James in this year's NBA draft, and he's far from
When Milicic was 14, he moved 100 miles from his home in Novi
Sad, Montenegro, to the remote Serbian industrial town of Vrsac
to join the junior team of the club Hemofarm. At an age when most
Americans are still in junior high, he was living alone in an
apartment and practicing basketball in the mornings and evenings
with a full day of school in between. In return he received room,
board and $100 a month, much of which he sent home to his

"I was the youngest player on the team," Milicic said through an
interpreter last week. "I think that move was much more difficult
than the move I will be making next year to the NBA."

Last season Milicic was called up from the junior team to play
with Hemofarm in the same league that produced Kukoc, Vlade Divac
and Dino Radja. Milicic was 16, and in his first game he guarded
a 40-year-old. "He was trying to use every trick, trying to draw
the contact and talking trash to me," says Milicic. Does young
Milicic talk trash? "No," he says, "I like to stay focused on the

These days Milicic is focused on the NBA draft. Commissioner
David Stern's ruling last month that a player could be drafted if
he's 18 in the same calendar year as the draft--not by the May 12
application deadline, as he had previously declared--ensured that
Milicic, who will turn 18 on June 20, will be a hot item six days
later, when NBA teams make their selections. If he is the second
pick, he could sign a guaranteed three-year contact worth more
than $11 million.

Why is the NBA so high on Milicic? He's averaging only 9.6 points
and 4.9 rebounds in 17.9 minutes per game, and his coaches
constantly badger him in the manner of Bobby Knight, as is common
in Serbian basketball. But Milicic is more than an athlete; he's
an all-around shooter, passer and rebounder who makes his
teammates better. "He has the makings of the most dominant center
in Europe since Arvydas Sabonis," says an NBA scout who isn't
sure that James should be picked ahead of Milicic.

A lefty with wide shoulders, Milicic has a well-developed
245-pound body, and he's only going to get stronger. He has been
lifting weights the past two years and says that he does 150
push-ups and 200 sit-ups every night. Milicic has an explosive
first step and a knack for converting loose balls around the
basket with hands that seem as big and soft as baseball mitts.
"He's not going to have any trouble competing physically,"
predicts one G.M. His weakness? He has spent so much time
learning to shoot the three-pointer and to beat his man off the
dribble that he doesn't know how to play with his back to the

Until last month, when his club rewarded him with a new
two-bedroom apartment, Milicic had been sleeping on a pullout
couch in a small studio with a space heater at his feet. While
LeBron James received a $50,000 Hummer for his 18th birthday,
Milicic doesn't even have a driver's license. The two throwback
jerseys valued at $845 that earned James a two-game suspension
were worth more than a weekly paycheck for Milicic, who is making
$20,000 this season for playing against grown men with two-day
stubble and cigarette breath. "I have worked really hard and made
something of myself," Milicic says. "In Yugoslavia there is a
little too much structure in the game, and it takes away from the
creativity of the player. I am looking forward to the freedom. I
am ready to go to the NBA."

06-24-2015, 04:27 PM
So because 16 others didn't pan out that means that these two won't? I don't buy it.

06-24-2015, 05:01 PM
Valanciunas has been good for us, a few other young euro bigs in league look good right now too, that Porzingis kid can shoot the lights out tho, id take em at 3

06-24-2015, 05:38 PM
considering the numbers, are we too bullish on Porzingis and Hezonja? How high are you guys on these two players? Do they fall in line or break the mold like Pau and Dirk?

Eventually they will break the mold, but its tough so say when. The NBA draft is a risk with each pick made, but the risk on international lottery picks is even greater. There just doesn't seem to be a good way to really scout these players. There have been plenty of good European players, but not high lottery picks. One day an international prospect will come along and be an all time great. We will really see the next Dirk, or someone even better. But who knows when that time will come.

06-24-2015, 06:45 PM
Porzingis is a bust waiting to happen.

06-24-2015, 06:59 PM
I mean, it's a rocky history, but these are wholly unique players. Darko Milicic's career has no bearing on the abilities and potential of these two guys (focusing on Mario and Porzingis). Nor does any one else's. I really struggle to pretend like those guys' failures really matter. These guys will be as good or bad as they are purely based on how good or bad they are. Merely writing them off because they fit into a VERY broad group that hasn't quite had a ton of success yet is probably foolish.

Like mgjohnson7851 said more concisely: just because 16 others didn't pan out that means that these two won't?

Nah. Not at all. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. But nothing we're talking about here is predictive.

It sounds a lot similar to the HS debate in the early 2000s. Just because Darius Miles, Jonathan Bender, Kwame, Eddy Curry, Tyson Chandler (for a while), Diop, etc. all "busted" doesn't mean LeBron was going to. LeBron is LeBron. What those guys did or didn't do never mattered for a second.

Unless Russell falls, I want Mario or Porzingis far more than anyone else in this draft. Maybe it's foolish...but if it is, it isn't because those other guys failed.

06-24-2015, 07:26 PM
European style is play is simply different than American to make an accurate projection