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05-19-2003, 11:40 AM
NBA Draft: And then there were 16 ...
By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Thursday, May 15
Updated: May 15
11:16 AM ET


"As many as 13 international players in the first round?" a well respected NBA scout asked me in a phone call on Wednesday. "You've got a bad case of Euro fever, man. Do you understand that means that only 16 college players would go in round one? That's crazy man."


Perhaps. Given that the most international players ever selected in the first round is six, 13 does seem a bit excessive. That is, until you actually start breaking the draft down on paper.

That's exactly what I did with several top NBA scouts and executives last weekend in Barcelona. While most of them expressed reservations about the number of international players who actually would be selected in the first round, after humoring me with a little exercise, they struggled to come up with an alternative.

That's why Europe is literally teeming with NBA scouts and GMs right now. Thanks to increased exposure, better scouting or just a bumper crop of international studs -- some draft records will be shattered this year.

Don't believe me?

Let's take a look at this year's college crop first.

Here are the locks to go in Round 1:

LeBron James (No. 1 overall)
Carmelo Anthony (high lottery)
Chris Bosh (high lottery)
T.J. Ford (mid lottery)
Chris Kaman (mid lottery)
Mike Sweetney (lottery)
Dwyane Wade (late lottery to mid first round)
Kirk Hinrich (late lottery to mid first round)
Luke Ridnour (late lottery to mid first round)
Jarvis Hayes (mid first round)
David West (mid to late first round)
Reece Gaines (mid to late first round)


That's 12 college players who probably can rest easy on draft night. None of these players is expected to pull out of the draft.

A few more have a very good shot of landing in the first round.

Nick Collison (mid to late first round)
Mario Austin (late first round)
Mo Williams (late first round)


That brings the total up to 15 U.S. players who should make the first-round cut.

Now for the tough part. There are as many as 16 international players right now who are considered candidates for the first round. Ten of them appear to be locks if they keep their names in the draft (remember, international players under age 22 are considered "underclassmen" by the NBA and must follow the same process as college underclassmen or high-school players):

Darko Milicic (high lottery)
Mickael Pietrus (lottery)
Maciej Lampe (lottery)
Pavel Podkolzin (late lottery to mid first round)
Boris Diaw (mid first round)
Leandrinho Barbosa (mid first round)
Alexsandar Pavlovic (mid first round)
Anderson Varejao (mid to late first round)
Sofaklis Schortsianitis (mid to late first round)
Zaur Pachulia (mid to late first round)


If you're doing the math, that brings our total to 25 first-round "locks."

The one caveat here is that several international players will pull out of the draft if their agents aren't happy with their projected draft positions. Lampe, Podkolzin, Varejao, Pachulia and Schortsianitis will only stay in the draft if they're projected to go in the lottery or mid first round. Right now that seems to be a safe assumption for everyone but Sofaklis.

Three other international players stand a very good chance of landing in the first round:

Victor Khryapa (late first round)
Carlos Delfino (late first round)
Zarko Carbakapa (late first round)

Again, the caveat here is that Khryapa and Delfino are classified as underclassmen and could decide to pull out. I think it's unlikely either will.

That brings the total to 28 players in Round 1.

Several other U.S. players are currently on the first-round bubble:

Brian Cook
Marcus Banks
Josh Howard
Marcus Moore
Travis Outlaw
Travis Hansen
Rick Rickert
Kendrick Perkins
Ndudi Ebi

Three other international players are also on the first-round bubble:

Zoran Planinic
Malick Badiane
Slavko Vranes

That's 12 players for one last draft slot. For the unconverted, look at another way: If all the international underclassmen we identified (Lampe, Podkolzin, Varejao, Pachulia, Schortsianitis, Khryapa and Delfino) pull their names out of the draft, the number of international players projected to go in the first round is only down to six, tying last year's record.

That's the worst-case scenario for U.S. hopefuls, folks. More likely, a couple will pull their names and the rest will roll the dice. That leads to some interesting battles for those last few first-round spots.

On paper, players like Cook (Big 10 Player of the Year), Howard (ACC Player of the Year) or Banks seem like the logical picks. But something else is working against these kids this year.

With the luxury-tax finally ready to sink its teeth into the NBA's biggest spenders, more and more teams late in the first round are looking for international players they can stash overseas for a year or two. The team retains the kid's draft rights, the player gets more playing time than he would on a top-tier NBA team, and the player's salary does not count on the team's books.

The Nets had great success doing this last season with Nenad Kristic. The Jazz also have gone this route in the past with Andrei Kirilenko and Raul Lopez.

This year, teams with multiple first-round picks (Celtics, Magic, Pistons) and teams whose rosters already are stacked (Blazers and Mavs) are leaning in this direction. Several players like Khryapa, Delfino, Pachulia, Schortsianitis and Varejao are open to staying overseas next year if it gets them drafted in Round 1 this year. That gives them a major advantage over most of the U.S. kids.

No matter how you slice it, some underclassmen, high school seniors and even college seniors are going to be crying their eyes out on draft night.

Among the who's-who of college and high school basketball who look like they'll be potential draft night losers? As many as eight of the bubble players (Cook, Banks, Howard, Moore, Outlaw, Hansen, Rickert, Perkins and Ebi) we just projected, plus:

Chris Thomas
Jameer Nelson
Charlie Villanueva
Josh Powell
Dahntay Jones
Luke Walton
Jason Kapono
Ron Slay
Troy Bell
Marquis Estill

That has to be a sobering thought among the hard-core college hoops fans who still cling to the antiquated "Made in the USA" notion.