Column: Numbers on rise; international players making it past draft

Anybody who saw last Thursday’s NBA Draft certainly should have noticed one thing beside the fact that none of the Illini who entered got drafted: There were a lot of players whose names are just about impossible to pronounce.

To more accurately state it, 14 of the 60 picks were spent on players who were not born in either the U.S. or Canada. While that’s quite comparable to the percentage of international players in the NBA today, that’s far more players than we’re used to seeing go in the draft.

I can’t really help but wonder, are these players that good? Before Pau Gasol and Dirk Nowitzki had recently won championships, the general feeling about these types of players was that they were talented but “soft,” and the more physical American players could dominate them. That seems to have changed with general managers across the country. But I can’t help but think when you draft a guy named Chukwudiebere Maduabum you’re either trying to find the diamond in the rough, or there’s another reason for picking him.

Then I thought there must be some sort of monetary reason for drafting these guys. With a lockout looming for next season, which is very likely to happen, drafting a foreign player makes more sense. When a team holds the rights to a player playing in Europe, they don’t have to pay him, so if he turns out to become a great player when the NBA does have games again, nobody else can touch him.

In many cases, like that of Jonas Valanciunas, a player cannot leave his European team for at least a year because he is still under contract. NBA teams can only contribute $500,000 to buy out the contract, so if a player still has a couple million more left on it, he has to pay for it himself. With uncertainty brewing next season with the lockout, this certainly allows more time for the player to both develop his skills and shed a year of his contract.

But what if the emergence of so many foreign players being drafted is actually a reflection of how America is developing its players? There always seem to be cases where the players who felt they were entitled to be in the league very soon faded away if they even made it to the NBA at all. There are parents, coaches, friends and media telling kids today that they’re bound to play professional basketball. If players decide to skip workouts and don’t do what teams ask of them, they don’t deserve a spot in the league. Now there are always exceptions to the rule, but the stories of players feeling entitled are just becoming way too common.

In that case, teams should give international players a shot. They’re probably much easier to handle because they’ve done and continue to do whatever it takes to play on basketball’s biggest stage. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the number continue to rise from 14 so long as scouting continues to improve in South America and Africa and can somehow tap into China. But Americans can see that number drop if they take this draft as a lesson that making it into the league is never a sure thing.

Greg is a senior in Media. Follow him on Twitter @thegregzeck.