From The Olympics To The NBA
Alexey Shved, Joel Freeland and Jonas Valanciunas are just some of the Olympians on their way to the NBA, but there’s a host of other players who have yet to punch their ticket to the top league in the world.
Some—like Argentina’s Pablo Prigioni who recently signed with the Knicks—are veterans who could take one last shot at America while others are rising youngsters who could hear their names called by commissioner David Stern (or, more likely, deputy commissioner Adam Silver) at the NBA Draft.
League scouts will be familiar with all of the following names, but the casual fan might need an introduction. That’s why we here at HOOPSWORLD have compiled a list of players who could find their way to the NBA before the next Summer Olympics role around in 2016.
Marcelo Huertas (Brazil) – 6-3 point guard
If the Knicks’ signing of Prigioni has taught us anything, it’s that there’s always room for another savvy point guard in the NBA, regardless of his age.
Like the 35-year-old Prigioni, the 29-year-old Huertas has always flirted with the temptation of coming to the NBA. The only difference is Brazil’s starting point guard hasn’t yet taken the plunge.
Through three Olympic games, Huertas ranks second in the tournament with 7.0 assists per game and a 3.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Huertas played poorly against Russia and Minnesota Timberwolves rookie Alexey Shved, dishing out just three assists and scoring eight points on 4-of-11 shooting in a 75-74 loss.
Unfortunately for NBA teams in need of backcourt depth, Huertas has a sizeable contract with Regal FC Barcelona who have locked up “Marcelinho” for the next three seasons. And, according to a tweet by Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com, Huertas’ contract includes a €7 million buyout, which is about $8.6 million. And since NBA teams can only pay a portion of that, he’ll have to wait for this deal to expire before he can come to America.
Raul Neto (Brazil) – 6-1 point guard
Neto is frustrating to say the least.
After a few years of teasing the world with his obvious talent, he improved his game in the Spanish league, averaging 17.2 minutes per game.
He’s still only 20 years old, so he has time to turn his flashy moves into sound, fundamental basketball repertoire, but everyone has been waiting for Neto to break out since he was 18.
And, since Brazil has a ton of backcourt depth, Neto has only played six minutes thus far in the Olympic tournament.
Here’s to waiting.
Macram Ben Romdhane (Tunisia) – 6-8 forward
Ben Romdhane is only 23 years old so he definitely still has an opportunity to make it in the NBA. The questions surround his skill and athleticism.
The good news is that he has solid shot selection (18 of 36 from two-point range in the Olympics and he’s only attempted six three-pointers) and he’s aggressive around the ball (29 rebounds through three games).
Perhaps the biggest knock against Romdhane is that he hasn’t faced tough competition in the Tunisian league. However, he did score 22 points in 36 minutes of action against Team USA.
Salah Mejri (Tunisia) – 7-0 center
Sometimes the best NBA prospects aren’t necessarily the best players from foreign leagues. The guys who can seemingly do it all in France very rarely find themselves performing at the same level in the NBA.
However, if you can do one thing extraordinarily well, then you might just have your ticket to the States.
And that’s the situation Mejri finds himself in.
The seven-foot center has been the most-prolific shot blocker in the Olympics, averaging 4.0 blocks per game and 4.9 blocks per 40 minutes.
He’s also tied with Yi Jianlian for first with 10.3 rebounds per game.
Yes, the bulk of Mejri’s stats came from one performance, but when that one performance is against Argentina, it’s safe to say it’s valid.
Mejri blocked seven shots and had 19 points and 14 rebounds in Tunisia’s 92-69 loss to Argentina.
According to a post by Sportando, Mejri will likely play with Lagun Aro in Spain next season.
Alade Aminu (Nigeria) – 6-11 center
Aminu went undrafted out of Georgia Tech, but Al-Farouq’s brother has been making progress with France’s Élan Chalon.
The 24-year-old Aminu is bigger than his brother, and more of an interior defensive presence as well. Through three games he’s averaged nine points and seven rebounds per game, with his best outing coming against Tunisia (15 points, nine rebounds).
Unfortunately, Aminu looked pretty bad (two points, six rebounds) against the United States, but I guess that goes without saying.
Matthew Dellavedova (Australia) – 6-4 shooting guard
Dellavedova is still just 21 years old and he currently attends St. Mary’s College, so he’s definitely on the right track to be in the NBA at some point in his career. And, by following countryman Patrick Mills’ career arc, Dellavedova knows that the path from Australia to Division I to the NBA is realistic journey.
Unfortunately, the shaggy haired guard hasn’t done much to distinguish himself in three games. Yes, he’s gotten plenty of minutes (averaging over 28 per game), but Dellavedova hasn’t scored more than nine points or dished out more than five assists in any game (although he did both against a solid Spanish team).
Perhaps the best road for Dellavedova would be to play abroad for a season or two and work on some defensive fundamentals and then he’d be an excellent candidate to return to the States to play in the NBA.
The troublesome thing about Dellavedova is that his three-point accuracy has dipped over his college career. He made 39.8 percent of his attempts as a freshman (2.2 per game), but made just 35.5 percent last year (1.8 per game).
Mantas Kalnietis (Lithuania) – 6-5 point guard
A former slam-dunk champ, Kalnietis combines good size and athleticism, which is enough to make him an NBA prospect. Unfortunately, Kalnietis made just 22 percent of his three-point shots for Lithuania’s Žalgiris Kaunas last season.
He’s missed all seven of his three-point attempts in the Olympics, to make matters worse, and he’s only made 5 of 13 shots from inside the arc as well.
But Kalnietis has averaged five assists per game and has looked very good on defense. If he can keep his turnovers in check—as he has in the Olympics—he’s someone who could consider signing a one-year deal in the NBA when his contract expires next summer.
Andrew Lawrence (Great Britain) – 6-1 point guard
A senior at the College of Charleston, Lawrence wouldn’t have gotten an opportunity in the Olympics had it not been for the fact that his is the host country.
But in spite of that stroke of luck, Lawrence really hasn’t been able to take advantage of the situation. His only really extensive performance came against Spain when he made a three-pointer and two free throws to finish with five points.
He’s a good athlete, though, so you can expect to see him discussed more during the 2012-2013 college season.
Sergey Karasev (Russia) – 6-7 swingman
He’s only 18 years old, so the fact that Karasev has barely played during the Olympics isn’t too much of a concern.
He is, however, 6-7 and can play both the two and the three, so teams are naturally going to be interested in him at the NBA level, particularly when he consistently makes over 80 percent of his free throws as he’s done throughout his career.
Karasev is going to prove himself some day. This just might not be the right time.
Facundo Campazzo (Argentina) – 5-10 point guard
Unlike Neto, Campazzo is a young point guard who is seeing some time for his respective team.
The smallish point guard played sparingly in the first two games, but logged 39 minutes in Pablo Prigioni’s absence as Argentina disposed of Tunisia on Thursday.
Campazzo finished with 12 points, seven assists and a remarkable nine rebounds, which suggests his height might not be a major issue at the NBA level.
Even if he doesn’t finish the tournament as strongly as he played against Tunisia, Campazzo played well during the South American Championships (10.8 points, 3.0 assists per game), so there’s a decent body of work for NBA scouts.