The NBA receives an influx of foreign big men every June that show up our radar screens as fast as a fleet of fighter jets. You don't need to pay attention to all of them, but there are four foreign bigs from this year's fleet that you absolutely need to know about come June 23.
Note: read my Mock Draft 2.0 and look out for live coverage of the draft from Madison Square Garden on June 23.
Jan Vesely, 6' 11", 21 years old -- Vesely is one of the wildcards of the lottery and his draft position could really affect the landscape of the other big men. A 6-foot-11-inch freak athlete who runs the floor like a gazelle, Vesely finishes everything around the basket, often times with ferocious slams. He has been on the best Serbia team in the ultra competitive Euroleague and has gained invaluable experience playing at a very high level. In other words, think the anti-Darko, who, at 17, usually played no more than 10 minutes in a game due to strange Euroleague politics and the jealousy of older players. Vesely needs refinement and must get stronger -- especially to defend NBA centers in the post -- but he is one of the most talented guys in the draft and, at 21 years old, has a very high ceiling.
NBA Comparison: Andrei Kirlienko in his prime
Enes Kanter, 6' 10", 19 years old, Kentucky (Turkey) -- Kanter is much more skilled than your average 19-year-old center. He set the prestigious Nike Hoops Summit ablaze with a record 34 points in just 22 minutes, most of which came on Ohio St.'s stud Jared Sullinger. The problem with Kanter is the sample size is so small. He didn't play a tick at Kentucky all year due to NCAA infractions. (Essentially he was paid in Turkey and thought he could still play. His dad is a doctor and he comes from a good family so this seems like an aberration more than anything.) Still, our lasting memory of him was a great performance, but it was during an All-Star game. Kanter is also wowing in workouts with his deft shooting touch and willingness for physical play. Don't expect him to fall out of the top three.
NBA Comparison: Al Horford
Jonas Valanciunas, 6' 11", 19 years old, Lithuania -- I'm not quite as high on him as other commentators, but that doesn’t mean he won't be a solid NBA player. Valanciunas is essentially a Swiss-army knife: He does a little bit of everything. A stout rebounder, plus defender and capable low post scorer, I project him as a good rotation guy at the power forward slot and potentially, the first foreign player to come off the board excluding Enes Kanter. He isn't the typical Euro big man either. Valanciunas likes contact and -- like Kanter -- doesn’t shy away from aggressive play. The biggest question mark at this point is his contract. Many people around the league wonder if this could be another Ricky Rubio situation, where Valanciunas is tied down for 2-3 more years in Europe.
Projection: A better and more fluid Andres Biedrins
Bismack Biyombo, 6' 8", 18 years old, Congo -- I'm not sure if any player in this draft plays harder and more aggressively than Biyombo. Still just 18 -- although both scouts and GMs alike have questioned his age -- I see him developing into the type of NBA player fellow Congo native Serge Ibaka has become. At 6' 8", 240 pounds, Biyombo is a pogo-stick, shot-blocking machine who protects the rim with his length and dexterity. He is still a raw talent in need of training, but he does have the distinct advantage of playing in Spain in the ACB, widely considered the second best league in the world. Oddly enough, Biyombo has elected not to participate in any team workouts, which could either help or hurt his draft stock. Last season, he led the ACB in blocked shots and was one of the league's most productive rebounders.
Projection: Serge Ibaka or a better Taj Gibson