Over the last two decades, the talent pool for basketball has rapidly expanded worldwide, and teams are constantly scouring the globe to find the next hidden gem.
Just who are these newest international men of mystery, and what can they bring to their respective squads? Here is a look at the top European players who are set to make their NBA debuts this season.
1. Luigi Datome, Forward, Detroit Pistons (Italy)
This sweet shooting forward should be a valuable addition to a revamped Pistons squad. A gritty forward, who plays with a lot of toughness and leadership, Datome very much fits into the stereotypical mold of a Detroit Piston, with his aggressive approach to the game. After dominating the Italian league this past season, and putting on a fantastic show at Eurobasket, Datome will be making his NBA debut at the age of 25, just entering the prime of his career. He may not become a superstar, but he is ready to make a major contribution right away, and he can be the glue guy that brings the Pistons closer to immediate relevance.
2. Nick Calathes, Guard, Memphis Grizzlies (Greece)
A University of Florida product, Calathes made his way to Europe after being a 2nd round draft choice, due to his Greek roots. After learning from legendary coach Zeljko Obradovic in Panathinaikos, and playing next to a master point guard like Dimitris Diamantitis (the best pure PG in Europe), Calathes went on to become the Eurocup MVP with Lokomotiv Kuban in Russia, as the team won the Eurocup championship. A money time player who is dominant in the pick-and-roll, Calathes will be another option to create offense for the Grizzlies, and should fit in very well on a team hoping to be in contention this season.
We played against his brother, Pat, last season in Israel (Maccabi Haifa), a 6’10” forward with guard like skills, who I am convinced can hang in the league as well. Pat will be continuing his career overseas this year with BC Astana in Kazakhstan, but don’t be surprised if there is another sibling combo in the NBA in the near future.
3. Pero Antic, Power Forward, Atlanta Hawks (FYR Macedonia/Bulgaria)
Fresh off back-to-back Euroleague titles, Antic comes to the NBA as a 31-year old rookie. Not many rookies can bring 12 years of pro experience and multiple high level championship rings to the table, and this should thrust Antic into a significant role right off the bat. A very physical player who can stretch the floor, Antic should thrive playing alongside a dominant inside presence like Al Horford.
The Knicks last year had success bringing in Pablo Prigioni, another old “rookie” who played some important minutes down the stretch. With the Hawks undergoing major changes, Antic’s competitive spirit and winning mentality should be a major presence inside the locker room, and will be imperative for Atlanta to remain a playoff team.
4. Sergey Karasev, Small Forward, Cleveland Cavaliers (Russia)
Most NBA rookies, especially those coming from abroad, have an adjustment period in the NBA. However, none will be as unique as that of Karasev. Not only does Karasev have to adjust to a new country, new team and new system, he needs to learn to play for a coach who is not his father, after playing under his father, Vasily, both in Triumph (his Russian club) and on the Russian national team.
What should help Karasev is his unbreakable confidence and his devotion to improving as a player. Last year in Russia, he played alongside Tasmin Mitchell, who currently plays for us in Maccabi Rishon, so I had plenty of opportunities to watch Karasev play, and boy can this kid light it up offensively. He has the potential to be a top 50 NBA player, and playing with a guy like Kyrie Irving, who knows how to get his wings easy shots, will only increase his upside. He may be up and down this year, but he can be a major weapon for Cleveland down the road.
5. Dennis Schroeder, Guard, Atlanta Hawks (Germany)
An explosive athlete, Schroeder will be one of the more exciting rookies to watch. He should be able to contribute off the bench immediately, thanks to his excellent feel for the game, and his ability to “make two plays”, and he could see time at both guard positions. He may not be ready to play a lead role on a good team, and he will likely find himself fighting off Shelvin Mack for minutes throughout the season, but he definitely has something to offer for the time being.
Down the road, Schroeder has the upside to be one of the best players of the 2013 draft, if he expands his knowledge and understanding of the game. For now, he can fill a similar role for Atlanta that Devin Harris filled in Dallas when he first came into the league back in 2004.