An NBA executive once asked then-Charlotte Hornets coach Allan Bristow what he’d want in return for the 34th pick.
“How about No. 35?’’ Bristow joked in reply.
Bristow isn’t the only NBA decision-maker who’s trivialized second-round picks. The Charlotte Bobcats have exercised seven second-round picks, and all they have to show for that is small forward Derrick Brown, who was cut, then re-signed one season later.
But there are bargains to be had outside the first round (picks 31 through 60). Twelve of the Observer’s NBA top 100 were either chosen outside the top 30 picks or in one case undrafted. Five of those 12 fall into a specific category: International big men. Their names? Memphis’ Marc Gasol, Minnesota’s Nikola Pekovic, Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova, Phoenix’s Marcin Gortat and Houston’s Luis Scola.
A coincidence? No, says Ryan Blake, the league’s senior director of scouting operations.
“There are a lot of good, but unproven, players over there,’’ Blake said. “It’s pretty low risk to draft one and wait on him.’’
This is partially about the difference in draft rules between U.S. and international players, and the development system in Europe.
U.S. players must be at least one year removed from high school age to enter the draft. That doesn’t apply to international players, who often enter their names earlier and thus are less thoroughly scouted by the NBA.
Most of those players are already under contract to European pro teams. That inspired a “draft-and-stash’’ strategy over the last decade, where NBA teams select these players not intending to employ them immediately.
Scola played five years in Spain after being originally drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 2002. Gortat played two years in Germany after being chosen by the Phoenix Suns. Gasol spent a year in Spain after being chosen by the Los Angeles Lakers.
“For teams with multiple picks and already a full roster, it works,’’ Blake said. “You let the international team develop him and you retain his rights.
“This has become very trendy over the years because you add assets without locking into guaranteed money.’’
There are pitfalls to this strategy, Blake cautions: Both in preparing for drafts and then monitoring players’ progress, geography – being thousands of miles removed from the players – becomes a major obstacle.
Because these players are far from finished projects and contractually bound to other teams, they tend to be viewed as much commodity as prospect. The teams that drafted Gasol, Scola and Gortat each traded his rights before that player ever entered the NBA.
Is this a strategy the Bobcats’ should adopt? Possibly, general manager Rich Cho said, but with caution.
“There’s a lot of value to holding draft rights to foreign players and that’s something we don’t have right now,’’ said Cho, whose team holds the second and 31st picks in the June 28 draft.
“But for every (Manu) Ginobili and Marc Gasol, there are 20 (international players) who don’t pan out. There are guys who might be superstars on their teams, but they come over here and don’t make it.’’