The Great Debate: Who’s the best International prospect in this year’s NBA Draft? (Root for Roko)

When ranking “exact sciences,” drafting foreign players falls somewhere between cold fusion and how women think. Teams have been set back years thanks to “sure-thing Serbs” and “can’t-miss Croatians.”

So in a debate such as this, you have to look at past successes and extrapolate those to the current batch of NBA hopefuls.

One player who stands out to me is Roko Ukic (ROW-ko OO-kich), a Croatian point guard who on the surface resembles an anorexic Jason Biggs, but on the court resembles a taller Tony Parker.

Ukic is viewed as a late first-round pick, but that kind of expert opinion means little when you consider Darko Milicic and Nickoloz Tskitishvili were taken in the top five, while Manu Ginobli, Mehmet Okur and Parker were all taken 28th or worse.

The biggest thing I consider when ranking draftees is how they have played in games. Seems obvious enough, but plenty of guys like Darko have been taken at the top, even though they have barely played in a competitive contest.

Not only has the 20-year-old Ukic played in a real league (the highly competitive Adriatic Basketball Association), he has dominated on a team that finished 6-24. His 18.5 points per game and 4.3 assists are nothing to sniff at, and when you consider he managed to shoot 54 percent from the field, you’ve got yourself an offensive talent.

There are more question marks on defense, but the general consensus is still “solid, with room for improvement.” In a camp game last summer, Ukic shut down future lottery pick Sebastian Telfair, allowing the high school All-American to hit a paltry one of 10 shots (although considering Telfair’s shooting percentage in the NBA, that’s hardly a bad night for him).

The one thing going against Ukic is a problem every Euro player has. He appears to have not eaten a meal in his life and only weighs 185 lbs. Not bad for a point guard? Usually, but it’s not good for one who’s 6 feet 5 inches. Yes, he’s really that tall, and with a reputation for liking to get his nose dirty, Ukic will develop quickly into a triple-double threat.

Speaking of being a point guard, that in itself is a good reason to expect big things from Ukic. Since guards are less sought-out than big men, it is far less likely that a little fella will be a bust, since they wouldn’t be here if they couldn’t play. (Have you ever heard a GM say, “You can’t teach small stature”?)

Unlike such risky projects as Raul Lopez, Ukic is ready to come in and play. It’s hard to imagine him achieving the off-the-plane success that Parker enjoyed, but with no club buyout red flags and no injury history, there is no reason to think Ukic couldn’t be a 10 point, 10 assist, 5 rebound player his rookie year.

Sure, you can take a flyer on one of 50 7 footers with 16-syllable names, but if you want a proven player to run your team for 15 years, pick a man named Roko.

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