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Adam Wolf, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
The globalization of basketball for the better part of two decades has undeniably changed the NBA landscape, with all 30 teams heightening their investments in international scouting and mining the world for undiscovered prospects.
The international influence arguably reached its zenith last season; a record 15 foreign-born players were selected in the first round of the draft, players like Nikola Jokic, Kristaps Porzingis and Rudy Gobert emerged as cornerstone pieces for their teams and the greatest international player of all time, Dirk Nowitzki, became the sixth player in NBA history to score 30,000 career points.
While the 2017 crop of imports isn’t held in as high esteem as last year’s and most likely lacks a single player that will ever enter the Jokic/Porzingis/Gobert realm, there’s still a number of players capable of making an impact for their teams this season or beyond. In an effort to simplify how each newcomer fits in, I’ve organized these prospects into four tiers:
Building Blocks: Players who should be key rotation pieces in 2017-18 and major pillars of their respective team’s long-term plans.
Rotation Players: Players who should hold down or challenge for rotation spots in 2017-18, but not necessarily beyond.
Developmental Prospects: Players who aren’t expected to challenge for rotation spots in 2017-18, but could contribute in future seasons.
Roster Filler: Players who won’t challenge for rotation spots in 2017-18 and don’t hold much long-term value to their respective teams.
Frank Ntilikina, G, New York Knicks: Ntilikina’s size and nearly seven-foot wingspan alone will give him a solid chance at developing into at least an above-average defender, and his advanced court vision and ball handling should help him hold his own on the other end of the floor, too. In order to translate his considerable talent into lasting fantasy value, however, Ntilikina will first need to add weight and show some improvement as a scorer and perimeter shooter.
It’s unlikely that the 19-year-old Ntilikina will be able to meet both of those goals right away as he makes a major jump in terms of competition, and the Knicks are seemingly cognizant of that. Veteran Ramon Sessions was signed in July to provide a placeholder at point guard until Ntilikina is deemed ready to run the show, likely at some point later in 2017-18.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, G, Sacramento Kings: The 25-year-old has spent the last three seasons with Fenerbahce of Turkey, leading the club to its first EuroLeague championship in 2016-17 after averaging 14.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.6 assists in 27.9 minutes per game while hitting 50 percent of his attempts from the field and 43 percent of his attempts from 3-point range.
Though he’ll face still competition for minutes on the wing with Buddy Hield, George Hill and Garrett Temple all in the fold, Bogdanovic’s size (6-foot-6, 205 pounds) and ability to handle the ball won’t result in the Kings pigeonholing him as a spot-up shooter. Like most rookies, Bogdanovic will likely face some difficulties on the defensive end in his transition to the NBA, but his combination of excellent long-range shooting and playmaking skills may prove too alluring for coach Dave Joerger to bury him on the bench.
Milos Teodosic, G, Los Angeles Clippers: The 30-year-old point guard, a former MVP and three-time first-teamer in the EuroLeague with Russian powerhouse CSKA Moscow, is renowned for his court vision and outside shooting.
It’s expected that he’ll enter training camp as the top backup to projected starting point guard Patrick Beverley, but thanks to his strong perimeter shooting, Teodosic should be a usable option for coach Doc Rivers alongside Beverley or Austin Rivers at either backcourt spot. Teodosic will probably take on more of a pass-first role than he enjoyed with CSKA Moscow due to the superior talent surrounding him in Los Angeles, but the prospect of healthy minutes either as a starter or member of the second unit could allow him to provide enough production in the points, assists and three-pointers categories to make for a decent late-round target in deeper fantasy leagues.
Guerschon Yabusele, F/C, Boston Celtics: Listed at 6-foot-8 and 270 pounds, Yabusele lacks the lengthy, lithe frame of the prototypical NBA frontcourt player, but he makes up for it by being incredibly mobile for a player with his body composition.
Yabusele should receive a fair shot at claiming a reserve role in the frontcourt during training camp, likely competing with free-agent pickup Aron Baynes and No. 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum for a spot on the second unit. It’s not expected that Yabusele’s standing as a bench player for an Eastern Conference power will yield enough minutes for him to bring value in single-season fantasy leagues, but he’ll at least be an interesting player to monitor in dynasty settings.
Terrance Ferguson, G/F, Oklahoma City Thunder: Widely regarded as a five-star prospect after completing high school in 2016, Ferguson backed out of a commitment to Arizona to turn professional, spending last season with the Adelaide 36ers of the Australian National Basketball League. The 19-year-old unsurprisingly had a difficult time finding significant playing time while competing against players several years older than him, averaging a meager 4.6 points and 1.2 rebounds in just 15.2 minutes per game.
A rebuilding franchise might be willing to live with Ferguson’s mistakes and find a way to consistently hand him light minutes off the bench as a rookie, but the Thunder, who selected him with the 21st overall pick in June, are in win-now mode and likely aren’t banking on him earning a rotation spot in 2017-18. As a result, look for Ferguson to see extensive time with the Thunder’s G League affiliate, the Oklahoma City Blue, in his inaugural NBA campaign.
Furkan Korkmaz, G/F, Philadelphia 76ers: The last of the 76ers’ three first-round draft picks in 2016, Korkmaz elected to remain abroad and spend the 2016-17 campaign in his native Turkey with Anadolu Efes. Though outside shooting has been a weakness for the 76ers throughout their multi-year rebuild, it’s not expected that Korkmaz will be called upon to provide much assistance on that front upon his arrival to the NBA. Along with boasting two similarly youthful, but more NBA-ready options at shooting guard in Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Markelle Fultz, the 76ers signed an established marksman in J.J. Redick this summer, essentially eliminating any need for the team to count on Korkmaz to contribute as a rookie. Instead, Korkmaz is expected to split time between the NBA team and the G League’s Delaware 87ers, with most of the minutes he plays this season likely to come with the latter squad.
Ante Zizic, C, Cleveland Cavaliers: The 6-foot-11 center was largely viewed as a throw-in for the Cavaliers in the August blockbuster that sent Kyrie Irving back to the Celtics, but there’s some reason to be bullish about him emerging as a rotation piece for Cleveland down the line. The 20-year-old has drawn rave reviews for his intensity in attacking the glass and willingness to run the floor, which could make him a nightly double-double threat if he’s handed starter-level minutes once he reaches maturity. Unfortunately, Zizic’s lack of a perimeter game makes him a bit of a relic from a bygone era, as teams are increasingly prioritizing floor spacing from their centers on the offensive end. That may end up confining Zizic to a backup role over the long haul, but he’ll do well just to crack the rotation at any point in his first NBA season.
Zhou Qi, C/PF, Houston Rockets: While Zhou’s age — he’s listed as a 21-year-old — remains under some scrutiny, there’s no disputing that he was the top big man in Chinese Basketball Association last season, with some talent evaluators going as far as labeling him the best homegrown player from the country since Yao Ming. Even so, on a talented Rockets team, the Chinese import won’t be counted on as a rookie. Instead, look for Zhou to gain familiarity with the NBA game by playing heavy minutes with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the G League, with occasional cameos with the Rockets sprinkled in.
Cedi Osman, F/G, Cleveland Cavaliers: Osman signed with the Cavaliers this summer after spending four seasons with EuroLeague squad Anadolu Efes of his native Turkey. While he’s not quite at the end of his developmental curve as a 22-year-old, Osman doesn’t profile as much more than a rotational player at his peak. With LeBron James and Jae Crowder set to fill nearly all the minutes at small forward for the Cavaliers this season, most of Osman’s run will likely come in garbage time.
Daniel Theis, F/C, Boston Celtics: The German big man has been on NBA radars for several years, and he inked a two-year contract with the Celtics this summer, but he won’t be guaranteed a roster spot during the upcoming campaign and will likely struggle to find minutes at power forward or center if he does crack the 15-man roster. Should he defy the odds and earn a consistent spot in the Celtics’ rotation, Theis would likely provide most of his impact as a shot blocker, rebounder and outside shooter.