From Simmons down, international players will fill NBA draft
NEW YORK (AP) Cleveland had one. So did Golden State.
Both teams in the NBA Finals featured an Australian-born No. 1 draft pick: the Warriors' Andrew Bogut (2005) and the Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving (2011).
Now Ben Simmons might be next to go from Down Under to the very top of the NBA draft.
The LSU freshman is considered the likely choice when the Philadelphia 76ers make the first pick in the draft Thursday night in New York.
Simmons, who moved to the U.S. as a high school sophomore, would be the third international player in four years to be selected first, joining Canadians Anthony Bennett (2013) and Andrew Wiggins (2014).
Another player from Canada, Jamal Murray, could go quickly, and as usual the draft should include many more international players, most of whom, unlike Simmons and Murray, didn't play college ball in the U.S.
''I actually think we have a really solid group of international prospects that frankly might be better than some of the American prospects that are going ahead of them because of the familiarity that's there,'' ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford said, predicting perhaps as many as seven or eight international players in the first round.
The record for international first-round picks is 12 in 2013.
A look at some of the possibilities this year:
BEN SIMMONS, AUSTRALIA
The versatile 6-foot-10 forward who turns 20 next month averaged 19.2 points, 11.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in his lone college season, the first SEC player to rank in the top five in all three categories in the same season. But his impressive individual play didn't translate to enough team success, as the Tigers were only 19-14 and missed the NCAA Tournament, ending Simmons' season before many casual fans could see him. Like Irving, his father played professionally in Australia.
JAMAL MURRAY, CANADA
Only Stephen Curry (122) made more 3-pointers as a freshman than Murray's 113 last season at Kentucky, when the 6-4 guard averaged 20 points. That's the highest scoring average for a Wildcats player under John Calipari, but Murray's most impressive play might've come before he arrived in Lexington, as he scored 22 points - all in the fourth quarter and overtime - in leading the Canadians past the U.S. last summer in the semifinals of the Pan Am Games.
DRAGAN BENDER, CROATIA
Following Kristaps Porzingis' excellent rookie season for the New York Knicks, another 7-footer with 3-point range could be picked early. The 7-1 Bender, who made his professional debut at age 15, shot 41 percent from behind the arc for Maccabi Tel Aviv during the 2015-16 Israeli League regular season. Listed at just 220 pounds, he will likely need to bulk up for NBA play, but he's unlikely to last longer than New Orleans at the No. 6 pick.
ZHOU QI, CHINA
Led the Chinese Basketball Association in blocked shots for the second straight season, averaging 3.2 in 2015-16 for Xinjiang. The 7-foot-1 forward/center also averaged 15.8 points and 9.8 rebounds while showing an improved offensive game, making nine of his 15 3-point attempts after going just 1 for 10 the previous season. He also shot 58 percent during last summer's FIBA Asia Championships, helping China qualify for the Olympics.
JUAN HERNANGOMEZ, SPAIN
Could be ready for the leap to the NBA after playing the last three seasons for Estudiantes in Spain. The 6-foot-9 forward's playing time and production made a huge jump this past season in the strong ACB League following his impressive run in last summer's Under-20 European Championships, where he led the Spanish with 14.2 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Could join brother Willy Hernangomez, whose draft rights are owned by the New York Knicks, in the NBA.
TIMOTHE LUWAWU, FRANCE
The Frenchmen says he admires Paul George because of his all-around play, and he's shown some of the same versatility as Indiana's All-Star forward. The 6-foot-6 swingman averaged about 15 points in a solid first season playing in Serbia for Mega Leks of the Adriatic League, after opting to withdraw from the 2015 NBA draft. That decision should pay off with a first-round selection this time.
FURKAN KORKMAZ, TURKEY
Will arrive in the NBA with important professional experience under his belt as a two-time All-Star playing for Efes in the Turkish League. Good size for a guard at 6-7, he won the Turkish League's dunk contest at its All-Star event while also making nearly 50 percent of his 3-pointers in Turkish Superleague action. Put himself on NBA scouts' radar with multiple strong performances for Turkey in junior level tournaments.