Why you shouldn't get excited over your NBA team's international draft pick

Fourteen of the 30 first-round picks in this year's NBA Draft were international-born. How many will actually play in the NBA?

Dragan Bender saw his name light up the Barclay's Center on Thursday night when the Phoenix Suns selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. He isn't the first unknown international prospect to go this high in the draft, and the way the league is evolving, he certainly won't be the last. A year earlier it was Latvia's Kristaps Porzingis who made Knicks fans crazy when he went fourth overall. He quickly flipped them a 180, and his phenomenal rookie year had fans deeming him "Porzingod" by the end of the season. 

The European big man has always been a trend, but a new fad with international players is appearing in the NBA, and it could be damaging of every aspect of the development of the players within the league. 

Many international players selected in the last four drafts before this year remain with their international professional teams despite their rights being obtained by an NBA franchise. This has become a draft technique called "draft-and-stashing."

The players this technique is used for fall into two categories: players who are in a contract with another team, and players who simply aren't ready to compete in the NBA yet.

This allows teams to develop players essentially for free, as owning rights does not lead to a guaranteed deal. So teams can have multiple prospects overseas playing and developing for free, while saving cap space for the present season. An apparent win-win, but it has yet to play out to its purpose. 

Ugly Numbers

From the 2012 NBA Draft to the 2015 NBA Draft, there were 49 international players selected. Seventeen of them signed deals immediately after the draft, and 14 of those 17 are on an NBA roster today. These are guys like Porzingis, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Dennis Schroder, who had the talent to compete right away in the NBA. 

The remaining 32 all endured the draft-and-stash technique, and the numbers are not pretty.

All but seven of the draft-and-stash players have yet to sign a deal with their respective NBA teams. Two of those will sign deals for next season, and one is still questionable. 

This would be understandable given the fact that they are meant to be prospects and can come to the NBA when they are ready (or when their contract allows them to). The only problem with that logic is that the timer on these prospects is actually shorter than the international players that sign immediately after the yard drafted.

Of the 23 players whose NBA futures are undetermined, the average age of these prospects is 22.96 years old, compared to the post-draft signees already in the NBA where the average age is 21.7.

So that raises the question of the real value of these prospects. If teams are drafting these players solely based on potential, and their developmental periods cause them to reach 22-26 years of age overseas, teams are essentially drafting college seniors. Which today has become a rarity and is actually avoided. 

Going back to the numbers, this means only seven players found their way to the NBA after a season or two overseas. Only four of them are on an NBA roster today, and they all were drafted in the second round. The three that aren't on a roster are all from the 2012 draft class. 

To summarize, only four draft-and-stash prospects have been a success out of the thirty total. Now the question becomes, is that success rate really worth the investment?

Looking at the 26 draft-and-stash attempts from the second round, having only five of them find themselves on an NBA roster for every season they have been in the league comes out to a 19.2 percent success rate. Success meaning that they have been on an NBA roster at all. 

Compare that to every second-round draft pick who played in college in that four-year span. Eighty-eight college players were picked in the second round between 2012 and 2015. Forty-six percent of them have been on a roster for every year they have been in the league.

Planned failure?

So what does this suggest? Many things.

It could mean that drafts are becoming weaker and weaker in the eye of team management. There are becoming less college guys that are worth taking a shot on, and saving cap space is more valuable than taking a second-round pick and signing him right away, even though the numbers say otherwise. 

It could mean that teams don't actually care about the second round of the draft, and that throwing these picks towards prospects that might never make it to the NBA is a way to save money as well as keeping their picks from being used by other teams. 

It could also mean absolutely nothing, and this draft-and-stash experiment is just in its early stages of failure. 

But what this absolutely means, is that draft-and-stashing is not worth the pick if you are genuinely trying to rebuild through the draft. Sure, Dario Saric and Bogdan Bogdanovic may prove to be vital assets to their respective teams once they decide to come to the United States. But if this tactic is solely meant for players to reach their ceilings while having zero interaction with elite competition, consider it a waste. 


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