NBA draft: Top 5 European prospects
1. Ricky Rubio
Team: Joventut (Spain)
Rubio is the best international guard prospect since the late Drazen Petrovic 20 years ago and, possibly, the best 18-year-old in the world right now. Rubio became the youngest player to ever play in the Spanish ACB at the age of 14, and has become an Internet video sensation the past four years. He also made an impressive showing for Spain in the 2008 Olympics.
While comparisons to Pete Maravich might be setting the bar a bit high, Rubio does have the Pistol's flair, magical ballhandling and passing ability. Additionally, his outstanding defensive awareness and long arms helped him become his league's defensive player of the year this season. A spotty jump shot and a body that is not yet ready for 82 NBA games are the only things holding him back from being a star early in his career. But his game is mesmerizing, and in an up-tempo system, it will be fun to watch him grow up.
2. Victor Claver
Team: Pamesa (Spain)
Before breaking his foot in December, Claver was at least a mid-first-round talent who would have been an All-American if he were playing in the NCAA. When healthy, he is an outstanding shooter and a high-flying athlete who has "NBA small forward" written all over him. He needs to improve his strength and his ballhandling in order to help a team right now, but the 21-year-old would be a steal for a team willing to wait two or three years.
There is talk that his agent will keep him out of workouts with NBA teams in the hope of hiding him and slipping him into the second round. This would allow Claver to stay in Spain until he deems himself ready to come to the NBA and not be subject to the NBA rookie salary scale.
3. Omri Casspi
Team: Maccabi (Israel)
Casspi is a tough-minded small forward prospect in the mold of the Sacramento Kings' Andres Nocioni. He has cracked the lineup for Maccabi Tel Aviv, traditionally one of Europe's best teams, with his ability to get to the rim and get garbage baskets.
In 2007, Casspi made his debut in the United States with an impressive performance against the likes of O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love and Michael Beasley at the Nike Hoop Summit in Memphis. He showed his fearlessness and toughness in not backing down from the American stars. In order to make the jump to the NBA level, Casspi will definitely have to improve his outside shot the same way Nocioni did. If he doesn't, he's better off having a nice career in Europe.
4. Brandon Jennings
Team: Lottomatica Roma (Italy)
The former high school All-American who opted for Europe after not gaining academic eligibility at Arizona has had a season of mixed results. In his first season as a professional, there was no denying his outstanding athletic ability and great speed in the open court. That excites a lot of NBA teams. But his weaknesses showed in Italy's Lega A, where he displayed below-average outside shooting and the inability to run a team in the half-court offense.
One of Jennings' mistakes this year was in choosing a team with a number of experienced guards. He was not allowed to play through his mistakes and inexperience as he would have been at Arizona or with a smaller Italian club. While that has set his development back, he still remains one of the quickest players in this year's draft and a likely lottery selection.
5. Jonas Jerebko
Team: Angelico Biella (Italy)
Four years ago, Jonas Jerebko signed to play basketball at the University of Buffalo in his father's hometown. Chris Jerebko starred at Syracuse before embarking on a professional career in Sweden, where he married and settled down. Ultimately, his son gave up a basketball scholarship for a professional career in Italy. The move has turned out well, as Jerebko has become one of Italy's brightest young stars and a potential first-round selection.
Jerebko is a versatile small forward in the Luke Walton mold. He is an excellent passer, an underrated defender and more athletic than he looks. An improving outside shot and a body that is filling out along with two seasons of solid playing experience in one of Europe's top leagues makes him an intriguing prospect and a good value for teams in the second half of the first round.
Others to watch: Rodrigue Beaubois, 6-3, France; Vladimir Dasic, 6-10, Montenegro; Sergio Llull, 6-3, Spain; Artem Zabelin, 7-1, Russia; Henk Norel, 6-9, Netherlands; Paulo Prestes, 6-10, Brazil; Patrick Beverly, 6-3, USA (played in Ukraine); Joe Ingles, 6-9, Australia; Slava Kravtsov, 7-0, Ukraine; Rudy Mbemba, 6-0, Sweden
Fran Fraschilla, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, is a regular contributor to Insider.
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