Titus’s NBA Draft International All-Stars
When Grantland’s editors asked me to write scouting reports for the prospects in this year’s NBA draft, I assumed they only wanted me to cover the players who I’d observed while covering college basketball. I thought I’d be off the hook for international players, since that’s Fran Fraschilla’s turf and I’m pretty sure it’s against federal law to step on the toes of one of America’s finest storytellers. I was wrong.
Truth be told, all I know about this crop of international prospects is that some people think Dante Exum has the potential to be the best player in this draft and that there’s a projected second-rounder from Serbia named Bogdan Bogdanovic. (Sadly, Bogdan Bogdanovic did not make the International All-Stars cut, but stay tuned, because he’s a shoo-in to be named captain of the Longar Longar/Duany Duany All-Stars.) The easy play here would be to pretend I know what I’m talking about and laugh to myself when no readers call me out because none of us know much about these guys. But screw the easy way — let’s learn about these guys together, using the only appropriate way to form ironclad opinions on basketball players, YouTube mixtapes.
Here’s how this is going to work. To prove I’m not handpicking highlights to make some prospects look better than others, I’m just going to go search each player’s name on YouTube and post the first nonprofessional video I find. Why “nonprofessional”? Because this nation was founded on techno and/or rap music laid over grainy basketball highlights. (I believe it was Patrick Henry who said: “Give me highlights of Bill Walker dunking on high school students set to ‘We Ready’ and ‘I Ain’t Never Scared,’ or give me death!”) And just because it’s fun, I’m also going to take a stab at what each guy’s “FRASCHILLA’D” moment will be on draft night, which is to say that I’m going to guess the irrelevant-yet-strangely-interesting story that Fraschilla will tell about him when his name is called.
Let’s get to it.
Dante Exum (Australia)
Wait, what? This is it? This is the guy who could be as good as Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, and Joel Embiid? Did NBA scouts even watch this thing? I know they’ve watched Exum play hours upon hours of real basketball over the last few years, but that only tells me that NBA scouts know how to waste time and money. If I were them, I’d live by one hard-and-fast rule: If there isn’t a single play on your mixtape that makes me cover my mouth with a fist, then I’m not drafting you. And I don’t want to sugarcoat this — the only time I covered my mouth during Exum’s mixtape was when I almost spit Cheetos on my laptop from laughing at the stink face Spain’s coach makes at the 2:38 mark.
I’m crossing my fingers that a Kiwi made this and purposely omitted the best plays to smear the Aussie’s reputation. Or that Australian basketball fans subscribe to the Norman Dale Philosophy of Fundamentals, and this mixtape was made for an audience that appreciates bounce passes and board slaps more than us dunk-loving Americans. Or that Exum hasn’t played that many televised games and the YouTuber making this mixtape didn’t have much material to work with. If none of these scenarios is true, then Exum might be the proud subject of the most disappointing basketball mixtape I’ve ever seen.
Look, I won’t deny that Exum looks like he belongs in the league. You can see that once he bulks up he’ll have an NBA body, and his jump shot is almost smooth enough to make me not regret the time I lost watching his mixtape. But holy smokes, can Exum go left at all? Watching this video made me wonder if he broke his wrist and was trying to avoid dribbling or finishing with his left hand. The highlights also don’t make him look very athletic, his handle seems a little sloppy, and half the video is devoted to bounce passes made against a high school JV team. The point of a mixtape is to showcase the most jaw-dropping plays of a guy’s career. If Exum’s version of a jaw-dropping play is taking two dribbles into the lane, jump-stopping, and throwing a bounce pass for a board-slap layup to a 6-foot-2 high school center who might be a carny in five years, I can’t help but react with skepticism.
I’ll cheer for Exum to succeed in the NBA just because the best Australian basketball players of all time are Kyrie Irving (who was born in Australia but grew up in the States), Andrew Bogut (meh), Patty Mills (promising but nothing to get excited about yet), and Luc Longley (that’s three-time NBA champion Luc Longley to you, pal). That’s not exactly a murderer’s row, and I’m a little worried that Exum might be more of the same.
FRASCHILLA’D MOMENT: “Interesting story about Dante Exum, you guys: When he was 12, he already wore a size 14 shoe. His dad told me that he could never find a shoe store that carried big enough shoes for Dante, except for one place in Melbourne that was right next to a Lebanese restaurant. And that’s why Dante’s favorite food is falafel. Back to you guys.”
Dario Saric (Croatia)
Oh look, it’s another TooMainey Production! If Saric’s mixtape turns out to be as boring as Exum’s, I’m going to suspect Mr. Mainey of trying to ruin these players’ futures. Let’s take a look.
WHOA. Now THAT is a mixtape. I think I just fell in love with a Croatian who will be out of the league in four years. This does not bode well for Dante Exum.
Let’s start with the obvious: Saric oozes confidence. If he ends up having any success in the NBA, he’s so cocky that he’ll almost certainly become the most hated player in the league. It’s not that his theatrics are worse than what many NBA players do. But Saric is Eastern European, and if professional wrestling has taught me anything, it’s that Americans HATE cocky Eastern Europeans who can back up their talk. (Also, that any contract signing done in a ring is guaranteed to end in a brawl.) Did you see that celebration at 2:36? The man interrupted a Jason Terry airplane celebration to rub on his European mull-hawk (mullet/Mohawk). I’m ordering customized jerseys of every NBA team with Saric’s name on them, just so I can wear his jersey as soon as he gets drafted.
As for the basketball, Saric looks … not bad, right? He showcased everything in that mixtape — a smooth jumper, solid handles, blocked shots, no-look passes, multiple authoritative dunks, some post game, finishes with both hands, and a few plays that leave you thinking he’s got a high basketball IQ. And best of all, he did it against competition that doesn’t look like it won fourth place in the Gus Macker Toilet Bowl.
I wonder how big and old Saric is. I’m worried that he’s only 6-foot-7 and that he looks so physically mature because he’s actually 27. I know I promised to evaluate these guys using nothing but their mixtapes, but I’m breaking that rule because I need to know what’s really good with Saric if I’m going all-in on him. Let’s see …
Google says 6-foot-10, 220 pounds! And he’s only 20! I’m sold.
VERDICT: First-ballot Hall of Famer.
FRASCHILLA’D MOMENT: “It’s funny that you guys mentioned Joel Embiid being born in Cameroon earlier, because Saric has a similar story — a woman also gave birth to him. And one summer he and his uncle went fishing in Zagreb, where they caught what Saric describes as ‘the biggest tuna I’ve ever caught in my life.’ Then they went home and made that tuna for dinner. And now his uncle is here at the draft with him. Amazing how things work out.”
Jusuf Nurkic (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Great. Another big, foreign, white guy who exceeds at being big, foreign, and white. Nurkic showed a couple of basic post moves and he hit that half-court bomb toward the end of the mixtape, but for the most part each of his highlights could be chalked up to him being bigger than the guy guarding him. If he’s 7-foot-3 and 290 pounds, then he’ll be able to keep it up in the NBA. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure that if you took “Big Country” Bryant Reeves out of whatever Oklahoma body shop he works at, shaved his flattop (I know this is sacrilegious to even joke about), and tossed a “Nurkic” jersey on his back, I probably wouldn’t notice the difference between them.
VERDICT: Nurkic will suck through the entirety of his rookie contract, before the Spurs sign him to what looks like an insanely generous contract when he hits free agency. We’ll all laugh at the Spurs for overvaluing a player who just spent three years getting dunked on by the entire NBA. Then they’ll turn him into a serviceable big man who starts for their 2020 title team alongside a 44-year-old Tim Duncan, because they are the Spurs.
FRASCHILLA’D MOMENT: “What’s amazing about Nurkic is that he actually grew up playing handball and was a world-class player. He told me the first time he came to America was to take part in Jake Plummer’s handball camp, but he didn’t find out until it was too late that Plummer’s handball is not the same as European-style team handball. He quit after one day of camp, then spent the rest of his time in the States watching movies in his hotel room. One of those movies was Charlie St. Cloud with Zac Efron. Efron, of course, is famous for playing basketball star Troy Bolton in High School Musical. You have to think that’s how Nurkic fell in love with basketball, right?”
Kristaps Porzingis (Latvia)
(WARNING: The song on this mixtape has really strong NSFW language, so if you are reading this in a public place, mute the video. Actually, you should do that even if you aren’t in public. We’re watching YouTube basketball mixtapes, after all. There’s zero chance you’ll like the music in any of these videos.)
It took less than two seconds of highlights for me to like Porzingis more than Nurkic. By the end of the mixtape, I was debating whether I like him more than Saric. Without knowing exactly how big Porzingis is, he looks like he’s a taller-but-not-as-strong Saric — minus the sweet celebrations. Porzingis still has some flair, though. Just look at him try to dunk on the world and do chin-ups on the rim every time he delivers a two-handed flush. Best of all, as much as I liked Saric’s mull-hawk, Porzingis’s look reminds me of Guile from Street Fighter. This is why I am demanding that the local broadcasters of whatever team drafts him turn “SONIC BOOM!” into the catchphrase for every Porzingis dunk.
And you can bet your ass there will be plenty of Porzingis dunks. The big takeaway from this mixtape is that Porzingis attacks the rim fearlessly. Just wait until he hits puberty and puts on some muscle. He’s going to be a 15-time champion of the dunk contest and send at least one center (probably Roy Hibbert) into early retirement after humiliating him with a face-melting dunk.
Saric still has the edge as my new favorite player because he plays with the swagger turned up to 11 and I can’t wait to watch America hate him. But based on the YouTube mixtape test, I think it’s safe to say that Porzingis will be the biggest foreign star in this draft.
VERDICT: First-ballot Hall of Famer.
FRASCHILLA’D MOMENT: “Guys this is a great pickup. I was at the 1994 Junior Goodwill Games in Los Angeles, where I saw Gunnar Stahl’s triple-deke get stonewalled by Julie ‘The Cat’ Gaffney to give Gordon Bombay and Team USA the gold. Now, Porzingis wasn’t yet born, so he wasn’t at those games, but you know who was? A young man by the name of Charlie Conway. Some of our younger viewers might not remember, but Conway courageously gave up his spot on the team so star player Adam Banks could return from a wrist injury. You don’t see leadership like that very often these days, guys.”
Clint Capela (Switzerland)
Let’s see if Capela’s mixtape can shed some light on why he’s the only international draft prospect besides Exum whose name I knew before last week.
YES. Yes it can. I get the feeling that the sequence that starts at 2:00 is Capela’s game in a nutshell: He uses his long arms to get a steal, then he methodically and awkwardly races up the court, and just when you think he’s going to dribble off his foot, he jumps out of the gym and craps all over the face of the defender who tries to block his shot. That sequence is why we’re going to hear the word “raw” a million times when Capela gets drafted. On one hand, he possesses long arms and ridiculous athleticism. On the other hand, the only jump shot we saw him attempt came against no defense, and for all we know he air-balled it.
Was it just me or did Capela’s body look different in every clip? One moment he looks like a bruising power forward, and then 10 seconds later he looks skinnier than Kevin Durant. Are the skinny clips a few years old and the muscular ones more recent? Does his size fluctuate? Is that even the same guy? Maybe scouting players based on three-minute highlight reels isn’t the best way to go about it.
Whatever the case, Capela is clearly a superb athlete who might sneak into the first round thanks to his physical attributes. I have no idea how skilled he is and, weirdly, no idea what his body actually looks like, but I’m thinking he’ll have a solid NBA career. I mean, his mixtape DID make me cover my mouth twice, and I said “Holy balls!” once. That means something.
VERDICT: Role player who puts up good numbers and becomes famous for dunking on people, but who never makes an All-Star team. So basically DeAndre Jordan.
FRASCHILLA’D MOMENT: “Here’s a cool little nugget about Capela, guys: I was hiking in the Alps one day and got a little light-headed, so I checked myself into a local hospital. They actually put me in the same room as Capela’s mom, who I got to know pretty well because she went into labor right after the doctor left the room, and I had to deliver the child! As you might have guessed, that child’s name was Clint. Capela’s father entered the room right as I was cutting the umbilical cord, and I asked if they decided to name him after Clint Eastwood, and I’ll never forget what he told me: ‘No.’”