Five stashed international NBA picks coming stateside
By Miles Wray
Keeping track of an international draft pick—one who is playing in a league elsewhere in the world—is really hard to do as an NBA fan, but absolutely essential to teams looking to find a competitive edge. After the energy of the draft has died down, it’s hard to remember who all the many different names are. And then, boom, suddenly Omer Asik, or Tiago Splitter, or Marc Gasol, or Nikola Mirotic is tearing up the league.
Here are five stashed draft picks (or international free agents) who have been signed to guaranteed contracts by NBA teams already this summer:
Raul Neto, Utah Jazz
2013 Pick No. 47
Last summer at the FIBA World Cup, Neto was a rotation player for a Brazilian national team that was loaded with NBA veterans like Splitter, Nene, Anderson Varejao and Leandro Barbosa. In that tournament, Neto shot 70.6 percent from the field in 17 minutes per game, averaging 7.6 points, 2.3 assists and 1.1 steals. An imaginative passer, Neto needs to be placed in the right system in order to thrive: He shot 40 percent on three-point shots in the World Cup, followed up by just 20.5 percent in the Spanish League in the 2014–15 season. Neto will presumably be competing with lottery picks Trey Burke and Dante Exum for minutes in Utah’s increasingly formidable lineup.
Tibor Pleiss, Utah Jazz
2010 Pick No. 31
After having his draft rights owned by the Oklahoma City Thunder for nearly five seasons, the Thunder traded the rights to Pleiss in the trade deadline deal that saw Enes Kanter leave Utah. A few short months later and the Jazz decided to bring the big German center stateside. Although plenty of teams are tempted to go with a “small-ball” approach after watching the success of the Golden State Warriors, Pleiss helps make the Jazz bigger than ever. He’ll probably back up Rudy Gobert at the center position, with Derrick Favors, Trevor Booker and rookie Trey Lyles all capable of sliding to center in a smaller lineup.
Walter “Edy” Tavares, Atlanta Hawks
2014 Pick No. 43
Tavares is a giant, giant man—his hands make a basketball look really, really small. He played in the Summer League with the Hawks after getting drafted last summer, and after easily setting a career high in minutes in the Spanish League in 2014–15, Tavares is now an Atlanta Hawk. In this year’s Summer League, Tavares is starting every game and blocking three shots per contest—in only about 20 minutes played per.
The NBA’s only-ever player from the incredible-looking African island country Cape Verde, Tavares’ game exists almost entirely underneath the rim on both offense and defense. Interesting, then, that Mike Budenholzer and the Hawks decided to select him in the draft last year. At the time, Budenholzer was clearly keen on running out lineups that had legitimate long-range threats at every position, with Al Horford and Pero Antic sharing the center position. Things have changed in Atlanta, though, clearing the way for Tavares’ arrival: Antic decided to go back to Europe, and the more conventional Splitter was acquired in a salary-dump trade from the San Antonio Spurs. With both Splitter and Tavares now on the roster, this year’s Hawks could look pretty different from last year.
Boban Marjanovic, San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs seem to have an incredibly fine-tuned awareness for nabbing this type of player: A few years ago, they found an undrafted center playing in the Slovenian league, signed him and then three years later Aron Baynes received a $20 million contract from the Detroit Pistons in free agency. With LaMarcus Aldridge now taking up such a giant portion under the salary cap, the Spurs have had to get financially creative in filling out the rest of their roster. Signing a 7’3” giant with a deft passing touch for one year an $2 million definitely feels like the kind of move that leaves the rest of the league continually having to play catch-up with the Spurs.
Nemanja Bjelica, Minnesota Timberwolves
2010 Pick No. #35
The financial commitments to the earlier four players listed pale in comparison to the three-year, $11.7 million contract that Bjelica and the T-Wolves agreed to. Bjelica will be joining a roster that now also includes Damjan Rudez, who made his NBA debut with the Indiana Pacers last year and was just traded for Chase Budinger. While Rudez has just the one year of NBA exprience, he’s been a professional player since 2002; Bjelica is a 27-year-old NBA rookie who has nonetheless been playing since 2007. It certainly looks like the rebuilding Timberwolves are making the acquisition of the Euroleague veteran an intentional strategy. After all, things have worked out pretty well with stashed 2008 second-round pick Nikola Pekovic.
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