Ed Stefanski will be on the road next month, scouting out dimly lit gyms in Europe. Along with the Nets' international scout Rob Meurs--the man who recommended the Spurs take Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker--the Nets' GM will be analyzing which prospects could fit the Nets' roster. This year's European stock has some good big men and a few guards. The Nets have quietly become one of the NBA's most international teams. Over the past four years, only the Spurs and the Nets have used at least one of their draft picks on an international player.
Stefanski will focus on the most productive tournaments in Europe: the Italian and Spanish league "cup" competitions, both of which take place February 16 through 19 in the countries' capital cities.
Here are thumbnail sketches of top prospects:
6' 11" 19 Italian
The gold standard...an athletic player capable of dunking on you or going deep for a three. Some see the next Dirk Nowitzki. So good, Larry Bird made a special trip to Bologna to take a look. Defense an issue. Could be the overall No. 1 pick.
6' 11" 21 Brazilian
The opposite of Bargnani, a great defender without much offense. His Spanish team probably the best any prospect plays on. Some disappointed with his development this year. Athletic shot-blocker and energy player. Plays both C and PF. Can leap out of the building. Buyout could be VERY steep since there is no buyout clause in his contract and it would have to be negotiated. Buyout aside, could go top 5.
6' 8" 20 Croatia
The shootist. The latest in a long line of great Croatian shooters, Tomas is seen as the future of Croatian basketball, along with Raptor draft choice Roko-Leni Ukic, and 7'-2" Ante Tomic. Swingman or shooting guard in the NBA. A good all-around offensive talent. Again, defense is an issue. May go top 10.
6' 6" 20 Spain
One of two great young Spanish guard prospects, Fernandez is the shooting guard, Sergio Rodriguez the point guard. Tough mentally if not physically. A smart player more than an athletic one. Defense and buyout questionable.
6' 10" 20 Bosnia
Has all the tools--athleticism, toughness and an uncanny ability to shoot from anywhere on the court. The issue has been his attitude. An NBA team would be taking a risk with him. Think Radmanovic. Represented by Marc Cornstein, who also reps Krstic, Planinic and Ilic as well as several others on this list.
6' 6" 19 Italy
Long, athletic and deadly, he plays with a flair from coast-to-coast. He can run like the wind. Still rail thin, but his development is accelerating. Looks a bit like Zoran Planinic in more ways than one. Watched him in U-20 championships in Spain in summer of 2004. Can play a little point too. A player to watch as the year rolls on.
6'6" 21 Switzerland
A driven, athletic swingman who has played in the Swiss, French and now Italian leagues. Somewhat smaller, but reportedly more athletic version of Boris Diaw. His mother is a Swiss painter, his father a South African musician.
6' 11" 21 Belarus
An athlete, a leader and a shooter, but not a good defender or ball-handler. Tough like most Russian kids, but not at the same level as others of the same age. Second rounder.
7' 2" 20 Serbia-Montenegro
One of Nenad Krstic's back-ups at Partizan, Perovic is not as athletic, not as good an outside shooter, but still a bruiser and still 7'-2". Good around the rim. Nets saw a lot of him watching Krstic develop. Could sneak into the first round. Dropped out of the draft the last two years. Buyout?
6' 6" 22 Russia
Russia's top young combo guard, the product of a Russian father and a South African mother.[Remember, Steve Nash was born in South Africa.] Athletic and strong, but uncertain if he can handle the NBA game. Could be a second rounder.
7' 0" 21 Russia/Canada
Two years ago, no player was the subject of as much hype as Chiriaev. An all-Canada high school selection, he disappointed in his big opportunity, an all-star game, souring many NBA scouts. Went back to Russia to salvage his reputation and by most accounts, he has. Good shooter and ball-handler. Second rounder who could sneak into first.
6' 11" 20 Serbia
The Nets liked him when they worked him out last June, then he dropped out of the draft. A power forward rather than a center, he is well built and shoots well. Nets liked his all-around game. Represented by Cornstein. Could be a surprise pick.
7' 1" 19 Macedonia
Been on the NBA radar since he was 16. Ilic's new teammate on FMP Zeleznik. Despite his height, not a center...and may not be a power forward either. A pure shooter. Played with Krstic on Partizan. Also represented by Cornstein.
6' 6" 20 Israel
An athletic swingman who can play a couple of positions well, he left his Israeli championship team to get more playing time in the Adriatic League. Wants to be first Israeli in NBA.
Beyond the obvious choices, there are a few others who might want catch Stefanski's eye...younger players who could be top picks down the road.
7' 2" 18 Croatia
Can't declare, but is the subject of a lot of interest. Played well recently vs. Ilic. When he is eligible, he will be a high pick. A true center.
6' 3" 19 Spain
Another teenager who may not declare, but the best young point guard in Europe, period. His development has not been as fast as some have expected, but he does one thing well: win. A whippet--and a leader--on the court.
6' 5" 19 Serbia
Been playing with Partizan since he was 15. Like Rodriguez, a young player whose development has slowed. Still, he has all the tools but is woefully thin.
7' 2" 20 Bosnia
Christian Drejer's teammate on Virtus Bologna, he sees little action. Still a long way from being a force and may be playing in Europe for a long time.