Thursday November 15th, 2007

NBA scouts are anticipating a pool of foreign talent similar to last year, when five international players were drafted in the first round (though only one, Yi Jianlian of China, went in the lottery).

"It's like a pond that's been fished out,'' an NBA team executive said of the draftable talent overseas. "Most of the good ones have come over already, or [NBA] teams own their rights [from previous drafts].''

The absence of ready-made talent internationally means that NBA teams will have to work harder to find future stars. But scouts may be more skeptical than they used to be. The international prospects are just as young as their rivals in the NCAA, which gives an edge to the American players.

"You say you're going to take a guy on his potential,'' the executive said. "Because we're now getting to see American kids after one full year in college, that's going to make people a little more uneasy about going for the unknown player internationally.''

Though scouts and GMs are just beginning to make their trips overseas, there is already a consensus that most of the international talent for the 2008 draft is in Europe and that two players in particular are at the top of the pack. Here are a half-dozen names, starting with those top two, to keep in mind as draft speculation boils toward its annual spring frenzy:

He inherited competitive fire from his father, who was a defensive specialist for Milan, but Gallinari, 19, is a superior shooter with range out to the three-point line.

"He's probably the best all-around guy in the draft,'' one league executive said. "He has physical ability, talent and size, but the question is which NBA position he can play. I'm thinking he'll be a small forward.''

"He's a huge talent, a big kid who shoots threes -- but he can't stay healthy,'' said another executive, noting that Gallinari has missed time with leg and shoulder injuries in the last six months. "If he's healthy, he could sneak into the first five or six spots in the draft.''

After starring at the Nike Hoop Summit in April, Batum considered entering the draft but remained in Europe to improve his shooting.

"He's a fairly good ball-handler and passer at his size, and an above-average NBA athlete,'' a scout said.

"I was intrigued by him last year. He definitely had a lot of lift and he was a pretty active guy,'' a team executive said. "But there are a million of those guys in America too. Guys who have their way athletically in Europe don't have the same advantage when they get here. To come over here, you have to have two or three NBA skills: You have to be able to make plays and be a facilitator, and you have be able to shoot or rebound the ball, which allows you to get in the mix a bit easier.''

Batum, 18, must develop his accuracy from the perimeter.

"He's been improving his consistency,'' another exec said. "I can tell he's working on it. His shooting is the big question because he has the ability, the agility and everything else.''

"He has good size, good hands and some technique,'' an executive said of the 20-year-old. "He's getting stronger and showing more personality in his game. The question with him is how strong he can get physically.''

Tomic is on the thin side, not unlike former Nets center Mile Ilic.

"He's already playing significant minutes as a teenager [he's 19], and you can see his personality on the court,'' an executive said. "He's not afraid to shoot, though he's not a pure shooter. He's very athletic, a shot-blocker and he's aggressive.''

The 21-year-old floor leader was "one of the reasons why Slovenia had a good EuroBasket,'' said an executive, referring to Slovenia's seventh-place showing in the European championships last summer. "He can see the floor, penetrate the lane and dunk on people. He's skinny and he can run, but he's not a natural shooter -- he needs to be more confident with his shot.''

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