How will top Euro prospects do in NBA?

June, 25, 2008

In the past couple days I've rated both the best perimeter prospects and the best frontcourt prospects coming out of college.

That leaves out one important participant in Thursday's draft festivities: Italian forward Danilo Gallinari.

Fortunately, I have a system for converting Euroleague performance to NBA performance, one that's been uncanny in its accuracy in previous seasons. For instance, a year ago I projected a PER of 7.36 for Marco Belinelli, 15.16 for Juan Carlos Navarro and 16.27 for Luis Scola. The actual numbers were 8.23, 11.90 and 16.18, with only Navarro deviating from his projection. Previous seasons have shown similar accuracy.

The reason this works is that there's a predictable relationship between a player's stats in the Euroleague -- the highest level of European basketball -- and what they'll be in the NBA. Crossing the Atlantic does the following to a player's results:

• Scoring rate decreases 25 percent
• Rebound rate increases by 18 percent (there are more missed shots in NBA play)
• Assist rate increases by 31 percent (Euro scorers are tightwads with assists)
• Shooting percentage drops by 12 percent
• Overall, PER drops by 30 percent.

In the case of Danilo Gallinari, he projects to a PER of 13.21 -- pretty darn good for a 20-year-old. The caveat is that he did this in just 11 games for a bad team, AJ Milano, that won only three games. As a result he shot more than he would normally at the pro level, and likely a worse percentage. His projected numbers from Europe are 14.5 points per 40 minutes and 37.0 percent shooting; I'd expect the points to be lower and the percentage to be higher unless he's picked by a truly awful team (in a related story, the Clippers pick seventh).

This is a "Year 1" projection, as opposed to the "Year 3" projections I used for the college prospects, and once you factor in his age and growth potential you'd have to presume he'd be up around 15 or 16 by Year 3. If so, it would make Gallinari one of the top prospects in this year's draft, and his status as a likely selection between six and 10 seems reasonable.

If I had to slot him into my board, I'd rate him sixth -- combining my numbers with some subjective opinion, I have Michael Beasley and Kevin Love as the two best players, followed by Derrick Rose, Joe Alexander and Darrell Arthur. Gallinari, Jerryd Bayless, Marreese Speights, Brook Lopez and D.J. Augustin round out my top 10, with Mario Chalmers and Roy Hibbert the next two names on the board. Since there's only about 12 guys in any draft who can play, those are the 12 I'm putting my money on.

Actually, there are two other foreign players that I think might be better than Gallinari, and both are in this draft. Unfortunately, contracts may get in the way of either ever coming to the NBA.

The first is Omer Asik, a Turkish center who played for Fenerbahce Ulker in Istanbul this past season. In 279 Euroleague minutes -- granted, a smallish sample -- his performance projects to 12.2 points and 13.5 boards per 40 minutes, with 52.3 percent shooting and a 15.23 PER. He blocks shots, too, setting a Euroleague Round of 16 record for rejections this year.

He's 22, 7-feet tall with a decent frame and relatively new to the game and still improving. So what's the hang-up? Apparently he signed a five-year deal to stay in Turkey with no buyout, meaning he might not play in the NBA for a long time. That would be a shame. I have little doubt that Asik should be a lottery pick, but the contract issue may leave him as a mid-second rounder.

The second is Nikola Pekovic, a 22-year-old Montenegrin with a similar contract problem. Pekovic was little-known 12 months ago but absolutely dominated in the Euroleague this year.

My numbers from 2008 suggest he could start for most NBA teams tomorrow -- 18.3 points and 12.0 boards per 40 minutes, with 51.4 percent shooting and a 17.09 PER. I take this with a bit of a grain of salt, because his numbers from 2007 were terrible, but only a bit -- if it weren't for contracts I'd have him rated third on my board. Yes, third.

Unfortunately, you won't be hearing his name until much later. Pekovic signed a big-money deal with Panathinaikos in Athens -- reportedly for 4.5 million euros, which at the current exchange rate is about 300 billion dollars -- making it all but impossible for an NBA team to sign him under the rookie salary scale. As a result, he seems pegged for the early part of the second round. Nonetheless, if I'm the Timberwolves I take this guy at No. 31 before Adam Silver gets to the podium.

As far as the other prominent Europeans go, the forecast isn't nearly as positive. For starters, Ante Tomic and Alexis Ajinca didn't compete in Euroleague, so I can't tell you about them. Same goes for Marc Gasol and Rudy Fernandez, incidentally, although both put up strong 2007 numbers.

One guy I can tell you about is Nicolas Batum. Teams are apparently worried about drafting Batum because of a possible heart ailment. I'd recommend avoiding him for other reasons -- like the fact that he can't play, for instance.

His numbers project to 9.6 points per 40 minutes, 39.8 percent shooting and an 8.89 PER. It's not like this was an off-year either -- his 2007 numbers are nearly identical. I understand that he's only 19, so perhaps there's some value in using a late second-round pick on him and stashing him in Europe to see if he grows, but that's about as strong a recommendation as I can muster.

Several other European second-round prospects project somewhere between bad and awful. Semih Erden, Goran Dragic, Mantas Kalnietis, Novica Velickovic and Uros Tripkovic all project to single-digit PERs, and not necessarily high single digits either. Each appears to be a waste of time even as a second-round pick.

Also, a few players over there whose rights are owned by NBA teams could be coming over soon -- though of late, most of the movement has been the other way given the strength of the euro.

Sadly for Spurs fans, Tiago Splitter is one example of the dollar's weakness keeping a prized player on the other side of the Atlantic. His projected NBA numbers are outstanding -- 18.5 points and 10.3 boards, 54.4 percent shooting, 18.11 PER -- and it's unfortunate that such a wise draft choice has to be wasted because of a silly thing like currency fluctuations.

Houston owns the rights to Lior Eliyahu, who again played sparingly for Maccabi Tel Aviv. His numbers this year aren't nearly as strong as the ones from a year ago (11.0/8.8/5.6 per 40 minutes, 11.84 PER), but combined with last year's, the numbers suggest he'd be a decent role player.

The Hawks still own David Andersen's rights, and his new deal with CSKA Moscow would allow him to bolt after this season. Andersen's numbers again were solid -- 16.5/11.8 with a 15.0 PER -- but he's 28, so time's a-wasting.

Finally, there's Reyshawn Terry -- a second-round pick of Dallas a year ago who was persuaded to spend a year in Europe. He put up decent role-player numbers over there (13.1/10.6 but 37.2 percent shooting, 11.99 PER). For the Mavs, he'd likely play outside more but see the rock less, so those point and rebound numbers should go down but the percentage should go up.


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