With the NBA draft quickly approaching, Giannis Adetokunbo has been building up some hype as he finds himself predicted as a late lottery to late first-round pick in most mock drafts. (Colleague Joe Kotoch has him at No. 17 to the Hawks in Mock Draft 5.0.1) Since becoming a hot name, many high level decision makers have made the long trip to Greece to get a look at the mystery man who just recently turned 19. While he may be picking up a nice buzz, with some salivating over his potential, it is ludicrous that he is even considered to be a prospect for the NBA draft, let alone a realistic possibility to be a lottery selection.
At 6’9”, Adetokunbo has excellent size and length for his position. He plays with a lot of fluidity, and for someone with a relative lack of experience, he seems very smooth and comfortable on the floor. He has great handles for a guy his size, and has solid court vision. Since he plays in a very low level league, in which he is athletically above the majority of the competition, he is able to make some spectacular plays.
While Adetokunbo has a nice frame and foundation to build upon, nothing about his skill set suggests he is an NBA caliber player. He is a sub-par outside shooter, has no jump shot off the dribble and overall struggles with decision-making. For a player who is supposed to be a point forward, it is concerning that in the 2nd division in Greece, he gets more turnovers than assists. Defensively, he has been solid and often makes spectacular plays, but he has never had to defend someone that will sniff the NBA, let alone play at a high level in Europe.
This past year, Adetokunbo made the big jump from youth basketball to the 2nd division in Greece, a league that more closely resembles a weak conference in NCAA D2 than the first division in Greece, Spain, VTB, or even the Big East or ACC. Having just recently gotten his Greek passport, he will be making his debut on the U20 national team this summer, where has been so-so in the pre-tournament exhibition games.
If a player is a legitimate NBA prospect, they should be dominating the European championships, not struggling to fit in.
If Adetokunbo can develop high level skills, he has the frame and foundation to be a big time player, but how realistic is it that he will get to that level? When Dirk Nowitzki, Andrei Kirelenko and Pau Gasol were entering the NBA radar, they already were MVP level players in their domestic league and on their national teams. Even though they needed some time to develop into All-Stars, they had shown consistent flashes of All-Star performances at a high level before they entered the draft.
Adetokunbo more closely resembles Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Zarko Cabarkapa, players who had nice frames and good size for wings, that teams imagined could be great if they made jumps in their skills. Obviously, it is possible for a player to improve, and to reach new heights, but there needs to be a certain level of foundation before it’s possible to tell if a player can play at the highest level. How can it be justified that a guy like Adetokunbo would be in the conversation to be a lottery pick, but a guy like Solomon Hill, who has very high level skills all around, is trying to fight his way into the first round?
Frankly, I wouldn’t even consider bringing Adetokunbo as a foreigner in the first division in Israel, where I am an assistant coach for Maccabi Rishon.
Last season, at his position, we brought Julian Wright, a former lottery pick who played his way back into the NBA conversation this past season. To bring a 19 year old with no experience, no defined skill and no true position, when there are hundreds of other superior players out there on the market would be absolutely foolish. That is without mentioning that in Rishon, we have two young players, Or Solomon and Shawn Dawson, who likely will outperform Adetokunbo in the U20 European Championship.
While it is very possible that whatever team selects Adetokunbo will stash him in Europe to develop, he may struggle to get playing time with Zaragosa in the ACB, where he has already signed a contract.
While the NBA draft may be more about a player’s potential than about his current ability, there needs to be a certain minimum standard for teams to consider drafting a player. It may be fun to fantasize about what a player can be if he fulfills his basketball destiny, but if it is unrealistic, then the team will be left with nothing but a wasted draft pick, and regrets over what could have been.
AJ Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a basketball blog, http://mindlessdribble.net, and is pursuing a professional basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel. Follow him on Twitter.