This year’s NBA draft fared well for foreign prospects. Of the first 30 players taken in the draft, eight came from outside the U.S. At the top of that list was Croatia’s Dragan Bender, an unknown quantity heading into the draft who was picked up by the Phoenix Suns with the fourth pick. At the age of 18, Bender clocks in at 7-foot-1 and 225 pounds, offering mobility and strength in the post and surprisingly agile shooting guard skills for a player of his size. His stats aren’t necessarily the most impressive, but the Suns will give him the time to grow against the level of competition the NBA can offer.
Bender wasn’t the only non-American to go early. With the tenth pick, Milwaukee took Thon Maker, a Sudanese refugee who lived most of his life in Australia and played for one year in Canada before entering the draft. Sacramento took Georgios Papagiannis of Greece with the thirteenth pick, Denver took Juan Hernangomez of Spain with the fifteenth and Boston swooped Guerschon Yabusele of France with the sixteenth. Croatian center Ante Zizic went 23rd to Boston, followed by France’s Timothy Luwawu, who went 24th to Philadelphia. Finally, Philadelphia took Turkey’s forward Furkan Korkmaz with the 26th pick.
What else did these players have in common? They mainly filled the need for big men. Out of the eight, only Luwawu will line up on the outside of the arc as a shooting guard. The rest of the foreign players drafted were posts and power forwards, often clocking it at 7-foot.
And those weren’t the only players with homes in other countries to find a place in the first round. American college players like Buddy Hield, who went sixth to New Orleans and was born in the Bahamas, were proud to represent their home countries as they were selected. A total of 13 players in that first round came from outside the U.S. — eight directly from their country, and five from American colleges. All that’s left is for fans to see if this foreign-born talent will pan out, just like the rest of their companions in this year’s draft.