The Great Debate: Who’s the best International prospect in this year’s NBA Draft? (Martynas fever)

It’s difficult to name anybody “top foreigner” in a draft that seems to offer few sure-fire stars of any nationality. This is particularly so, since I’ve never seen a single potential import play a single second. Given that, you might guess that the rest of this argument will be one big ignorant presumption based on the handful of sources I was able to find that didn’t require a credit-card purchase. And you’d be right.

I can’t personally attest to Spanish shooting guard Rudy Fernandez’s mettle or Croatian point guard Roko Leni Ukic’s ability to adjust to the on-ball duties in the NBA. Most of the foreigners slated for the first round barely managed a handful of points per game in their respective leagues, and I don’t even know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

When all else fails, Ty Webb’s classic response to Judge Smails applies to the NBA draft: “You don’t keep score? How do you measure yourself against other basketball players?”

By height, of course.

Height doesn’t change across continents. Scouts love to draw comparisons and many have touted Andrew Bogut as a potential Arvydas Sabonis simply because he’s a skilled white, foreign center. It’s an ill-suited and ill-timed comparison considering that this might be the year of Martynas Andriuskevicius.

Sabonis is a European ber-legend who spent most of his best years playing for club teams overseas and demolishing his diminutive opponents with power, grace, and a catalogue of post moves that would make Tim Duncan look like Erick Dampier.

He led the Soviet Union to the 1988 gold medal and won European player of the year honors four times. Even Frenchmen used to say, “Eh, I suppose the big-headed man is not so terrible, after all.” And they hadn’t said that about anybody since Hitler invaded Paris.

Anyway, scouts think that the athletically limited Bogut projects as an NBA Sabonis, not the mobile Real Madrid version who had yet to suffer numerous knee and Achilles tendon injuries.

Europeans will tell you that Lithuanian power forward Martynas Andriuskevicius (phonetically, “Nasty Nas and Sid Vicious”) is a much more suitable comparison to the agile Sabonis of old. A mobile offensive threat from all areas on the court at 7 feet 3 inches, his upside is such that he might land fourth in the upcoming draft-at least if he stays in this time.

The 19-year-old would have likely been the No. 7 pick for the Phoenix Suns in the 2004 draft, but his hopes of landing in the top five were clearly not going to be fulfilled and he opted to stay in Europe and work on his game. There is a slim chance that he won’t be satisfied with projections again, since there are still questions about his ongoing development.

Raw and rail-thin (230 lbs.), Andriuskevicius needs to develop strength while seeing significant minutes, something that Darko Milicic proved tough to manage in the NBA.

If he’s selected this year, his team might opt to let him play under his current contract at Sabonis’ first club, Zalgiris.

Sabonis has served as mentor and tutor to Andriuskevicius at Zalgiris over the past few years, and scouts drool over the influence he’s had having on his students’ skills. He can already shoot from any range, run the floor, and isn’t afraid to mix it up despite his frame. Many note that he needs to improve his back-to-the-basket game, but that’s something Sabonis can surely help him with.

The former Trail Blazer wants his protg to wait another year and avoid NBA anonymity while further developing until he is ready to bang with the bigs immediately. “If they have a chance to progress in Europe, it’s better to do so because if you are good, the NBA will still call you,” said Sabonis earlier this month.

Martynas Andriuskevicius may not be a sure thing, but from what I gather, he’s still plenty good this year. Teams might not want to wait until next year, when he can only have gotten better.

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