TORONTO,ON–If you don’t know how I feel about Raptors and Euro players, take a look at this article. Needless to say, I am an advocate of the Raptors moving away from the “Euro movement,” and acquiring North American talent instead. With that said, it would be unwise for Colangelo and his staff to ignore and hold a prejudice against European players because of past experiences. With the lack of depth in this year’s draft class, the Raptors, and other NBA teams with high picks, are looking at unknown European talent. NPH will take a look at the European players that could be available when the Raptors make their fifth overall selection next week.
Part 1- Jan Vesely
Jan Vesely is receiving praises as the best international prospect in the upcoming NBA draft. He is a 6’11 combo SF/PF with fantastic athleticism, often compared to Andrei Kirilenko. The Czechoslovakian Vesely is an energetic player who loves to dunk and finish hard at the rim, a quality the Raptors could use on the offensive side. Many general managers around the league believe Vesely is the most capable international player to step in and make an immediate impact.
As a matter of fact, ESPN’s Chad Ford polled some NBA general mangers for their choice of best international player in this year’s draft. Vesely received the most amount of votes.
His defense has also garnered some praise, but with every young player, there are flaws. Scouts say the 21-year-old Vesely is not a great ball handler, and his 31% shooting from the three-point line and 49% shooting from the charity stripe leaves a lot to be desired.
The Raptors have been watching Vesely for a while now, but don’t take too much from it, any scouting team has to do their due diligence when you have a fifth overall pick in the draft. Colangelo has personally seen Vesely a handful of times, most recently on June 8 when Vesely helped lead Partizan Belgrade to the Serbian league title, contributing 18 points and five rebounds.
The Raptors are in need of a swingman, someone who can create their own play off the dribble while keeping defences honest with a three point shot. Vesely does not look like he can be this player. Especially considering Demar Derozan’s limitations from the 3-point line, Vesely does not look like a good piece to pair with DD.
It is in this opinion that the Raptors should stay away from Vesely. Although he is a player with potential upside, he does not fit in with the Raptors plans moving forward. Raptors should look for a more dynamic ball handler and shooter at the small forward position.
Part 2: Jonas Valanciunas
Valanciunas is a 6’11 Centre with a 7’4 wingspan. Unlike most big men who can play at the four or five, Valanciunas is a true centre who gets a lot of credit for playing well in the paint. He has great rebounding instincts, while possessing the ability to block shots. He also has solid box out skills- a rarity for a 19 year old. Valanciunas’s strength in the paint will allow him to score points with tip-ins and put backs. In addition, he runs the floor very well despite his great size. Valanciunas averaged 7.6 points and 5.4 rebounds in 15 minutes per game last season with Lietuvos Rytas.
Valanciunas looks like a player with tremendous upside, but some of his weaknesses may cause the Raptors to stay away from him. International scouts believe that despite weighing in at 240 pounds, Valanciunas is skinny and will struggle guarding the premier, stronger centres in the league. His hustle on the defensive end is a positive, but he has a tendency to get into foul trouble. In addition, Valanciunas has almost no outside game, as most of his points will come from teammates setting him up for easy baskets, or garbage points from put-backs. He struggles to create his own opportunities due to a lack of explosiveness.
The information is all there, so how can he help the Raptors?
His game is somewhat similar to Amir Johnson, except Amir can pull back and make a medium ranged jump shot. Otherwise, the hustle in the paint is similar, but so is the tendency to pick up fouls early and often. Valanciunas is being considered a project player, who is probably a couple years away from adjusting to NBA ball and contributing regularly. Considering how similar he is to Amir Johnson, he probably will not be a great pick for the Raptors. In addition, Bryan Colangelo and his new two year contract might be hesitant to draft a player who is a couple of years away from contributing. Colangelo might want someone who is ready to help right away, meaning Valanciunas might be drafted elsewhere.
Next Up on Raptors Draft Watch: The Euros
Part 3: Enes Kanter
Photo Credit:AFP Photo/Andrej Isakovic