As the NBA becomes more conscious of salary cap and luxury tax implications and looks to get better value from the rotation players they bring off the bench, we are beginning to see a growing trend of exploring the overseas markets for more mature and polished help from established players that put up excellent numbers in the various international leagues.
Nowhere was the groundwork for this trend more evident than in this past draft, where we saw a team like Phoenix sell off their first round pick rather than commit guaranteed money to a player they did not think could crack their deep rotation and warrant a roster spot. This was all the more obvious with the way the 2nd round was conducted, with no less than 9 trades and 10 international players picked.
When considering the option of signing an overseas free agent, it is worthwhile to split this category into two. On one hand we find plenty of intriguing European talent in the mold of Andres Nocioni, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Arvydas Macijuaskas, Fabricio Oberto and Jose Calderon, formerly undrafted players with impressive international resumes that were viewed as difference makers by the teams that signed them and spawned an increasing demand for similar caliber players from the NBA.
On the other are ex-American NCAA stars who were not good enough to make it and/or stick in the NBA immediately out of college and have polished their game in Europe to the point that theyve become viable free agent targets this summer. Charlie Bell might be the best example from last year, a player who dominated the ACB Spanish league and finally achieved his dream of making and sticking in the NBA with an excellent season for the Milwaukee Bucks. Bell took a huge paycut and only cost the Bucks the minimum, but with the departure of TJ Ford looks poised to have an even better season this year and reach heights that European teams cannot match with the elusive second contract.
This is a dimension that must be talked about when discussing signing veteran players from Europe. Almost all of the players are stars in their own right already overseas, and enjoy the type of salaries and recognition that go along with it. If this was strictly a look at the talent overseas rather than taking into consideration the likelihood of actually being able to bring it over, there would be even more players (such as David Hawkins, Lynn Greer and Mire Chatman) to talk about. The issue here is that these players either make or are on the verge landing contracts in excess of a million dollars, which when factoring in the tax structures of contracts in the NBA and overseas (gross versus net) is worth over double what the same contract figure would be from the NBA, with much more job security and playing time guaranteed to them. In addition, European teams often provide their (best) players with top-notch apartments, cars, meals, plane tickets, phones with unlimited calls, and much more.
European teams have become so competitive with the conditions they can offer Americans and Internationals alike, that the players often cannot feasibly afford to give up 7 figure contracts in return for a minimum, often non-guaranteed contract from the NBA.
A more detailed analysis of these underlying factors can be studied in our article written last year entitled Tables Turning on NBAs Relationship With Europe, which was written with an eye on International draft picks such as Fran Vazquez and Roko-Leni Ukic, but is just as relevant when discussing overseas free agents.
Here we will analyze the top 10 overseas free agent prospects on the market and discuss the likelihood of being able to sign then.
Update from European Market:
Raptors land Anthony Parker
One player that Maccabi Tel Aviv will not be losing is their starting center Nikola Vujcic. Media reports in the States have linked him to the San Antonio in the past few days, but what they are unaware of is the fact that Vujcic resigned with Maccabi this summer and has no out clause for the NBA. Its widely accepted that his body is regardless not in optimal physical condition to play an 82-game season, which is why he was left off these overseas free agent reports.
Gelebale signing imminent
Sacramento, Indiana Closing in on Deal?
The Sacramento Kings and Indiana Pacers are in advanced discussions revolving a trade that would send Bonzi Wells to the Pacers to replace the firepower lost from Peja Stojakovics departure to New Orleans. The reported trade would send Jeff Foster and one of our overseas targets from last year, Sarunas Jasikevicius, to Sacramento in a sign and trade for Bonzi Wells.
Hermann works out for Orlando
Sources in Europe informed DraftExpress that as opposed to reports in the Spanish media, Walter Hermann has still not officially been offered a contract by the Charlotte Bobcats. Hermann was in the States this past week and conducted a workout with the Orlando Magic. He was featured in part one of our overseas free agents article.
Scoonie Penn to Olympiakos?
The buzz in Vegas following our initial top overseas free agent article was that Scoonie Penn is very close to landing a monumental deal with Euroleague squad Olympiakos. The powerhouse Greek club recently hired former Maccabi Tel Aviv head coach Pini Gershon (for 900,000 Euros per season) and is looking to make a huge splash on the European market. Penn has reportedly agreed to a deal with the Reds for 2 years and 2 million dollars net, which more than triples his salary from last year with Cibona Zagreb.
Yarone Arbel of Salnews.com also reports that whisperings out of Europe have Arvdas Macijuaksas rumored to be linked with Gershons Olympiakos squad, possibly for as much as 5 years and 11 million Euros, once his buyout with the New Orleans Hornets is complete.
Diawara Signing with Denver?
The Candidates (Part Two)
6-11, Center, Estudiantes (USA), Age: 26
Coming out of the University of South Florida, where he showed terrific progress during his four-year stint, McDonald was named to the Third Team All-Conference USA as a senior, after averaging 15.9 points and 8.1 rebounds. Following his senior year he dominated the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, averaging 19.3 points (2nd in tourney) and 11.7 rebounds (3rd in tourney) while shooting 56.8% from the field.
His door to Europe was, like for many others, the French League, a friendly place for American rookies in Europe that, at the same time, enjoys nice level and exposure. After one year in Chalon, he moved to the strongest domestic competition in Europe, the ACB League.
He spent one season in Gran Canaria, a well-known team for its excellent scouting (the last example, Joel Freeland), and played last season in Estudiantes, one of the historic powerhouses in Spain, although not as much this campaign. He averaged 17.4 points and 5.6 rebounds there. Last summer he joined the Boston Celtics summer league squad, but left midway through after barely seeing the floor and being offered a very nice amount of money from Estudiantes to sign immediately.
A very nice offensive player, Will McDonald certainly has resources to score around the basket. Featuring nice size (he measured 6-9 ½ without shoes at the Chicago pre-draft camp) and terrific length (7-3 ½), he has the size and frame to play the center position in the NBA. Hes a decently athletic and very strong player who knows how to use his body in the paint. Besides, he moves really well without the ball, finding spaces and passing lines.
The first sample, the pick and roll play. McDonald perfectly rolls after setting the pick, looking for the proximities of the rim. He can explode going up for the dunk, look for a layup with both hands, or settle for a jumper in the mid range area. Indeed, hes a fairly reliable static shooter out to 15 feet.
This season, McDonald enjoyed the partnership of Sergio Rodríguez, a terrific player in the pick and roll, and also benefited from an offensive system that actively looked for these situations. The result was fantastic production in terms of points for McDonald, to the tune of over 17 per game, good for 4th in the Spanish ACB league ahead of Luis Scola.
Still, he can also look for his points in the low post. He doesnt enjoy fancy moves, but he uses his body to gain position and delivers effective reverse and spin moves, using the glass if he has the chance.
An excellent offensive rebounder, McDonald is really active attacking the offensive glass, using his strength and showing aggressiveness, nice mobility and a nose to come up with the ball.
McDonald is first and foremost not terribly athletic. He has almost pure paint skills, which he might suffer to translate against bigger competition, although his strength makes up for it up to a certain degree. He could certainly improve his shooting and expand his post game with better footwork and more moves.
He looks like a below average passer, although its mostly a matter of not trying. McDonald is first a scorer; whenever he receives the ball he looks for the basket. Its probably not a matter of not understanding the game, but of instincts playing it.
Not a great defender, McDonald lacks some intimidation and his lateral quickness is average for a big man. He suffers against bigger players, but also when hes taken to the perimeter. Still his body should allow him to get the job done near the basket on a regular basis. Despite his nice effort on the offensive end, hes just an average defensive rebounder. He should work harder boxing out his rivals.
Off the court issues prevented McDonald from ever really getting a shot at the NBA initially. He was charged with a misdemeanor his senior year of college on domestic battery charges.
Why sign him?
For any team needing a complimentary big guy to get some scoring inside off the bench, McDonald might be a nice option. Hes probably ready to step onto a NBA court given his strength, useful skill set, and experience in high international competition. Hes still relatively young at 26, and might become a solid player for years to come. The problem is that another excellent season in Spain like he just had will push him dangerously close to becoming a 7-figure player in Europe, which will be incredibly hard to leave on the table for a minimum contract in the NBA. If a team likes him, they will have to pay him and its tough to see him garnering anywhere near the type of money he will command in Europe. McDonald has reportedly resigned with Estudiantes for another season.
7-2, Center, Climamio Bologna (Croatia), Age: 26
As his rookie contract expired, Bagaric had offer for the minimum from the Toronto Raptors, but chose to return to Europe instead and improve his game. After spending one season in Greece at Olympiacos, Bagaric moved to Italy to play under guidance of his countryman Jasmin Repesa.
Bagaric has been the starting Center of Climamio Bologna for the past two seasons, but his numbers dont jump at you, since his coach Repesa distributes minutes equally amongst 9 or 10 players every game. Its a situation that is somewhat similar to what Hubie Brown did with the Memphis Grizzlies a couple of years back.
Dalibor played in 19 Euroleague games this past season averaging 9.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 0.7 blocks in 18.6 minutes per game on 60% shooting from field and 67% from the charity stripe.
Bagaric is an interesting prospect mainly because of his physical attributes. Standing 7-2 with a strong body and long arms, he has more then enough tools for the Center position in the NBA. Considering his size, his level of athleticism is average, showing decent mobility, but not being explosive in any way.
His length and wide body are great assets on defense, as he is able to alter shots by just putting his arms in the air and being a very tough opponent on man to man defense. Unlike when he was with the Bulls, Bagaric is now more of a hustle player that is willing to sacrifice his body and will not hesitate to dish out hard fouls if the situation calls for it. He is a very good rebounder, since besides the obvious, he also positions himself well under the rim and boxes out his opponent on a regular basis. As already said, he is a tough man-to-man defender, and while he doesnt have great footspeed at all, Bagaric has very good balance and knows where to put his body to make opponents work hard for the basket.
On the offensive side of the ball, Dalibor is mostly a finisher. He has a decent jumper with range out to the 18ft, but doesnt have any reliable go-to-moves to establish himself as a focal part of the offense on a Euroleague team like Climamio. In the low post, Bagaric again mostly relies on his body, as he is bigger then most of his opponents and just tries to back them down - with mixed results. He has a good looking hook shot, but doesnt use it as often as he should. He is very reactive around the basket when he gets the ball from teammates and goes straight up in the air for a powerful dunk. Bagaric is an above average passer for a Center, which is especially evident when he plays with his back to the basket, often finding the open man on the perimeter and making deft passes to his frontcourt partner under the rim.
Dalibor is a hustler, the type of player that will always give 100% no matter what. He has become a fan-favorite in Bologna, because of his attitude and willingness to dive for loose balls, while also showing emotion on the court.
Considering his physical attributes, he should be one of the best Centers in Europe, but that hasnt happened so far. Bagaric is a very inconsistent player who looks great during some stretches of the game, but then will look almost completely useless for many others. Along with his inexperience at a high level of play, one of the biggest reasons why Bagaric didnt succeed on his first NBA try is his footwork in the paint, which was really lackluster back then. Now it is improved some, but is still not NBA caliber. Dalibor has issues switching on defensively rotations, not to mention his perimeter defense which is almost non-existent. As already said, he is not an explosive athlete, doesnt have great leaping ability and isnt really the shot-blocker that you would expect from someone over 7-feet tall.
Dalibor can be very foul-prone, because he tends to be overly aggressive on occasion and uses his hands too much when he cant follow the opponent with his feet. Besides the fact that he warmed the Bulls bench for 3 years, the reason for his slow progression is his basketball IQ, which isnt very high to say the least. He does not the posses skill-set you would expect from your typical European big man. His shot is very solid when speaking about accuracy, but it takes him quite some time to release it, as his mechanics are not very pretty. He doesnt have the greatest hands in the world, not showing a soft touch around the rim or ability to catch tough passes. In the low post his array of skills isnt very large; he can perform some simple moves, but his footwork limits his effectiveness.
While he is very good natured off the court, Bagaric shows bad temper on it, often arguing with referees and losing his focus because of their calls very easily. He really hurt his teams in some games, due to his uncontrolled behavior.
Why sign him?
Bagaric is not starting material, but could very well provide enough things to fill a backup role for an NBA team at a fairly cheap price. His slow feet can be compensated with his enormous size, which along with good rebounding skills and ability to knock down open looks from 15-18 feet made him desirable for some NBA franchises last summer already.
Bagaric reportedly had offers from the Los Angeles Lakers and Seattle Supersonics last year, but decided to turn them down to remain in Italy. Now that his contract with Climamio Bologna has expired, Bagaric appears to be willing to again try to make it in the NBA. Part of the reason that he changed his opinion about leaving for the States again must be playing time, since Bagaric most certainly expected that he would play more then 19 minutes per game this season. His value on the European market isnt as big as the case of new Toronto signee Jorge Garbajosa for example, so even a minimum offer could be attractive enough for him. Keep in mind that since he has three years of NBA experience under his belt, the minimum salary for him is $798,000, which is at least somewhat competitive for what he can make in Europe. There is always the upside of playing well and cashing in on a nice 2nd contract, which would be considerable if you look at what serviceable 7-footers in the NBA usually make. His agent David Bauman told DraftExpress that Bagaric is fielding offers from NBA teams at the moment and is very much interested in returning to the States. According to him, money will not be a major factor in his decision.
6-1, PG/SG, Barcelona (USA), Age: 31
Williams established himself in the NBA over a six-year tenure (playing for six different teams), only interrupted by a brief experience in the Turkish league. His best campaign was the 2002/03 season, when he played 78 games and averaged 8 points and 3.4 assists.
Back in Europe in the 2004/05 season, he fell for the riches of the Russian league, signing with Unics Kazan. He oddly received a passport from the Republic of Georgia, which made him a very valuable in Europe and then moved to Winterthur F.C.Barcelona, one of the traditional European powerhouses, last summer. In the ACB League, he averaged 12.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and a whooping 5.2 assists in less than 30 minutes per game, although losing in the semifinals cant be anything than a disappointment for this team. In the Euroleague he delivered similar stats with 12.5 points, 2.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists, helping his team reach the Final Four.
Its also interesting to note that Williams acquired the Georgian citizenship because of his teammate in Orlando Magic Zaza Pachulia, so he could join (and help) the Georgian National Team. Despite his participation, Georgia couldnt manage to qualify for the 2005 Eurobasket, despite seeing 20 points and 7.4 assists from Williams.
A clear-cut American-style point guard, Williams is extremely hard to stop whenever he tries to step into the lane. Enjoying terrific handles, his excellent quickness and strength do the rest to allow him to get by most of his defenders. You can see there the heritage of his pretty big NBA experience in how bulked he is.
Despite not being a pure point, Williams is a very nice passer. Playing the pick and roll or dishing while penetrating, he shows decent court vision and some ability to find the open man.
More of a scorer than a passer, Williams gets his points either slashing or shooting the ball. His jumper is pretty reliable and shows nice range. He has consistently shot over 40% from behind the arc since coming to Europe. His jumper is not very easy to contest, because he delivers it with ease off the dribble, and is highly unpredictable.
Williams enjoys the physical attributes to be a nice defender (quickness, strength and enough size for a PG), and indeed hes a decent one. Besides, he helps his teams by going after defensive rebounds.
Like we see so often these days, particularly from New York City point guards, Shammond Williams is another scoring guard in the body of a point guard. This gets severely exposed in his decision making skills, which is very inconsistent. Despite having improved through the season in F.C.Barcelona, and beyond the impressive assist numbers he achieved this season in the ACB league, Williams never managed to settle down as a reliable playmaker, basically rushing things in the offense, taking ill-advised shots, and forgetting that he should be the man who has the game under control. All in all, hes not a floor general, abusing of his off-the-dribble skills, and severely lacking a high basketball IQ.
Theres not much more to say about his flaws, although considering hes a point guard, its a pretty big knock on his game. In the line with his playmaking style, he could certainly benefit from better shot selection, as well as an extra degree of intensity on defense.
At the age of 31 hes already a veteran, but considering his NBA experience he dont need any time to adapt, as he looks physically at full strength.
Why sign him?
Williams playmaking style probably fits better in the NBA than in Europe. Hes a proven player with some serious experience in the NBA, and it appears that his European tenure may have helped him to mature a little bit and become a better player. Physically, he can keep up against virtually any competition, and he will make his open shots and can pass the rock. Given the lack of point guards that the league suffers from, particularly on the free agent market, he can be a relatively valuable one in the market.
Los Angeles Lakers are reportedly close to sign him a deal. Its a nice situation for him, and he might even have the chance to crack into the starting five, given how the Lakers have struggled at that position the last season. Playing in Phil Jackson and Tex Winters triangle offense, his lack of pure playmaking skills becomes less of an issue.
6-11, Center, Dynamo Moscow (Greece), Age: 26
Now a commodity for the fans of International basketball, Papadopoulos surprisingly became a factor already in the 2002 Euroleague Final at age 21, when he came off the bench to score 12 decisive points in a dramatic Panathinaikos win over hosts and favorites Kinder Bologna, the same year he went undrafted and a year before returning to the low-budget, overachieving team of Iraklis. A strong year in the 2003-04 season (15.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.0 apg) proved he was the best center available from the Greek A1 Championship was rewarded with a transfer to ULEB Cup favorites Dynamo Moscow.
Papadopoulos became the recognizable go-to player for the Greek National team in the home-organized Olympics in 2004. Leading his team in points and rebounds (12.4 ppg, 5.9 rpg), he was one of tournament's best big men, after dominating Andrew Bogut in the opening game versus Australia (21 points, 9 boards) and presenting a strong game against Tim Duncan (14 points, 7 rebounds ). Despite never reaching superstar potential in Dynamo Moscow, his offensive effectiveness and stability helped him become one of the best European centers during the past two seasons, averaging 12.9 ppg and 6.7 rpg in his last year, while having to overcome double-doubles from almost every team he faced. His unstable performances in the Eurobasket in Belgrade and the ability of opposing defenses to contain him seriously hurt his stats (9.7 ppg, 3.6 rpg), but Greece still went all the way to win the European Championship and thus his status in the International market didnt take a serious blow.
Papadopoulos presents a strong body with many fluid post moves that are tough to stop, especially with one on one defenses. A fine ball handler for his size and a better than average passer, he helps his teams ball distribution and, thus, the team is hardly hurt when he is double teamed. When he is, he can successfully find the open man, and when he isnt, the successful game that he has with his back to the basket help him approach the rim smoothly and either score with a unique hook or use the well-worked spin move to free up his shot. When he is 10 feet or closer to the basket, he carves out space well and is a load to contain. Being only 26 years old, he is yet to reach his peak as a player and should still have quite a few good years left in the tank.
Even though he is a very effective offensive player, Papadopoulos game lacks some fundamentals, mainly because his defense will never reach a high level. Not necessarily an explosive player, Papadopoulos lack of a decent leaping ability has seriously hurt his rebounding averages over the years. His positioning on offense might be good, but for an NBA center, a top priority is defensive rebounding and Papadopoulos was never great at that. In a similar taste, his slow movements, average defensive timing and limited lateral quickness are the main reasons for him rarely blocking shots, even though he has the strength to do so.
In the offensive end, he may be productive, but, unlike most big men in Europe, his game is hardly complete, as he seriously lacks a steady mid-range shot and the only reason he is ever outside the post is his nice ball handling and creativity. There are question marks about his internal drive and basketball IQ at times, as Papadopoulos should certainly be a more dominant player than he currently is in Europe.
Why Sign Him?
Papadopoulos game flaws might be obvious, but he still remains one of the top centers in European basketball. His game improvement in the crucial rounds of ULEB Cup helped Dynamo Moscow take the crown this year, while his ability to continuously create double-teams has followed him throughout his career and has helped him to be the centerpiece of almost any team he has played to.
However, this might never be enough to secure him a decent NBA career. While the lack of offensively touted big men has made it easier for European players to find a place in the NBA, Papadopoulos lack of athleticism and defensive liability might be a drawback for any team that decides to get him in the near future.
Having just resigned with Dynamo, Papadopoulos playing time might be seriously affected next season, as a new law forces all teams in the Russian Superleague to use a minimum of two Russian players at all times in local games.
The Top Overseas Free Agents on the 2006 Market (Part One)