NEW YORK: An injury to potential top selection Joel Embiid of Cameroon is just one of many question marks facing NBA teams as they try to find future stars in Thursday’s draft.
A talent-laden 2014 draft class includes a number of promising international players, with 18-year-old Australian guard Dante Exum perhaps the most intriguing.
Unlike Embiid, who played one year at the University of Kansas before declaring for the draft, Exum hasn’t played at a US college, lessening the chance that the athletic and intelligent 6-foot, 6-inch (1.98 m) youngster will be taken with the first overall pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Embiid, who broke the Jayhawks’ freshman record with 72 blocked shots and was the Big 12 conference’s Defensive Player of the Year for Kansas, had been widely tipped as a likely top pick before he needed surgery last week that used two screws to stabilize a stress fracture in his right foot.
He had already missed the national college championship (NCAA) tournament because of a stress fracture in his lower back and despite his youth the injuries are making teams think twice about him.
Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry — whose team has the second overall selection ahead of the Philadelphia 76ers, Orlando Magic and Utah Jazz — said Monday it would be “hard” to take Embiid.
“He’s a phenomenal individual,” Lasry said. “But with the injury, and how severe and how long it will take him to recover, I think for us today we’re going to want someone who is going to help us on Day One.”
With Embiid’s stock lowered, his Kansas teammate Andrew Wiggins of Canada and Jabari Parker, a polished scorer out of Duke University, figure to head the field.
Whoever the Cavaliers select will be under the tutelage of new coach David Blatt, a European coaching icon who guided Maccabi Tel Aviv to an upset of Real Madrid in the Euroleague championship.
Blatt also coached Russia to the 2012 Olympic bronze medal, helping develop the talent of guard Alexey Shved, who has since made a successful leap to the NBA.
In making their choice, the Cavaliers may be thinking about more than the talented new players on offer.
The decision of NBA superstar LeBron James to opt out of his Miami Heat contract and become a free agent could have the Cavs thinking about how best to use the draft to shape a roster that might lure James back to his home state.
The Heat, too, will no doubt be seeking to add the personnel that would convince James to stay.
Other teams interested in James, however, might be more eager to save room under the salary cap to make a run at James when free agent negotiations can begin in July.
To see the increasing impact of international players on the NBA, one need look no further than the San Antonio Spurs, who captured their fifth championship this month with a triumph over the Heat with a roster that included two French players, two Australians and players from Argentina, Italy, Brazil and Canada.
The overseas pros on the NBA radar include Croatian forward Dario Saric, the Adriatic League Most Valuable Player for Cibona Zagreb, and Bosnian Jusuf Nurkic, a center with Cedevita Zagreb in Croatia.
Saric, a versatile and skilled 20-year-old, was considered a top-10 prospect, but this week agreed to a two-year deal with Anadolu Efes in Turkey.
That means Saric could now be considered a “draft and stash” prospect — taken later in the draft by a team that will be happy to bring him Stateside when he has had more time to mature. AFP