Five for Fighting: Five foreigners fighting for a place in the 2011 NBA Draft

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L-R: Enes Kanter, Jan Vesely, Jonas Valanciunas, Bismack Biyombo, and Donatas Montiejunas
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Kyrie Irving. Derrick Williams. Brandon Knight. Kemba Walker. Jimmer Fredette. Marcus Morris.

These are some of the top-flight rookies that will hog the spotlight in this year’s NBA Draft. They’ve all built their names/brands/reputations from stellar “careers” in the college ranks, and most know-it-alls believe they’re as good as it’ll get in what is otherwise a relatively shallow pool of pro neophytes.

But I believe the biggest surprise from the 2011 NBA Draft will actually come from foreign shores.

And there are several names we should know before David Stern calls out the picks in New Jersey.

At their best, some or all of these international players can be lined up with fellow foreign greats like Pau Gasol, Nene, Luol Deng, Andrew Bogut, Andrea Bargnani and Yao Ming (yes, THAT Yao Ming, the guy who used to play before he jammed his foot somewhere).

At their worst, some or all of these guys can end up the way of Nikoloz Tsikitishvili, Darko Milicic, Zarko Cabarkapa, Rafael Araujo, Fran Vazquez, Yaroslav Korolev, or Mouhamed Sene. Don’t know half of those names? That, my friend, is the whole point.

All of the following incoming rookies are big names in their respective countries, and literally big players too. Most are advertised as (what else is new?) the “next” Dirk Nowitzki or Pau Gasol, but I highly doubt we’ll see guys in the molds of those two in the near future. But who knows? I’m sure most NBA teams will settle for the next Andrei Kirilenko or Danilo Gallinari.

So here they are, the five most drummed up foreigners in the 2011 NBA Draft:

Turkey's Enes Kanter is primed for the big time
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1) Enes Kanter from Turkey – He’s 6’11” and just 19 years of age. Quite reasonable to expect he’ll put maybe two more inches on his frame right? That alone is scary. Add the fact that he was a monster in the 2010 Nike Hoops Summit – netting 34 points in only 22 minutes (that’s a summit record mind you). He was set to play for Kentucky, but his paid stint in Turkey rendered him ineligible. Nevertheless, he’s too big and too skilled to be ignored. Some people have compared him to Al Horford, and if he does live up to that billing, then watch out. At his worst, he could be the next Rony Seikaly.

Throw-down from Jan Vesely of the Czech Republic
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2) Jan Vesely from the Czech Republic – Here come those Eastern Europeans, bringing their wide wingspans, lithe movement, and sharp shooting. Vesely is billed as Dirk’s heir apparent, although how many times have we heard that before (hello Darko)? His high stock is due mostly to his tremendous upside, which is the scary (not in a good way) part. He could be the biggest boom-or-bust in this lot, and whichever team is willing to risk that has to be ready for the worst case scenario. He’s noted for his defense, dunking prowess and shooting. Too good to be true? I know, right? But maybe he IS that good. In all probability though, if he doesn’t turn up to be Dirk 2.0, then maybe he can be… the 3rd Mike Dunleavy in the NBA.

Lithuania's Jonas Valanciunas jams it home
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3) Jonas Valanciunas from Lithuania – Basketball and Lithuania have always been good to each other, and Jonas Valanciunas seems to be another proof of that notion. Like Kanter, this guy is just 19, and he might still grow. Again, scary. What are those Europeans on anyway? Do they drink Cherifer 3x a day or something?! Crazy. Anyway, what’s different about Jonas is that he breaks the stereotype of Euros as “soft” (you reading this Pau?). He and Kanter are both contact-mongers and that’s a great thing for a kid this young and talented. If he meets his potential, then he might be an amped-up Andris Biedrins, but if he bombs, then you could be looking at a Primoz Brezec clone right here.

Bismack Biyombo is a defensive demon
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4) Bismack Biyombo from Congo – The only non-Euro on this list, and the only guy shorter than 6’11”. But don’t knock him. He’s probably the most athletic of the bunch, and he can swat shots with the best of ‘em. He won’t light up the scoreboard, but he’s not built for that anyway. Think Serge Ibaka, and you have Biyombo. Not exactly All-Star material, but considering the depth, or lack thereof, in this class, getting an Ibaka-ish player is like finding an oasis in the Sahara. And the other thing that separates him from everyone else here? He’s just 18. An 18 year-old Serge Ibaka. Wow. Or an 18 year-old Olumide Oyedeji. Whut?! Let’s hope not.

Donatas Montiejunas: Boom or Bust?
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5) Donatas Montiejunas from Lithuania – The second Lithuanian on the list, and, not surprisingly, he plays very similarly to Jonas. The big knock on Donatas is that he’s a defensive liability. Not because he’s inherently terrible, or doesn’t have good laterals. It’s more of his effort, and in the NBA that counts for a lot. He’s probably the most polished all-around scorer on this list, but, again, scouts believe the biggest question mark here is whether he can defend someone as good as, oh I don’t know,  Marc Gasol, or as passable as Johan Petro. The dream is for Donatas to be an Andrea Bargnani imitation, but the nightmare is he might be more like Vladimir Stepania.

So there you have it. The Fab Five Foreigners of the 2011 NBA Draft. They’re worth writing about right now, but who knows if we’ll still remember them after a couple of years? Can they be called top-flight too, or just flights-of-fancy?

You can find more info on the upcoming 2011 NBA Draft here:

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