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The 76ers' Lack of International Flavor

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Bismack Biyombo has been a huge story in the basketball world lately. First, people were drawn to his crazy athletic skills. Wow, look at him get off the floor and block shots. Then they saw his Nike Hoop Summit performance. Wow, he's all over the place. Then they saw that he was playing in ACB in Spain and contributing to his team. Wow, that's impressive.

On the other hand, there are some red flags about Biyombo. First there were the whispers about his age. Is that an 18 or 22 year old? Then there was a fateful workout a few days ago at the Eurocamp in Treviso Italy. Chad Ford reported this: "As one GM summed it up, "Bismack Biyombo played one-against-none today and he lost." Apparently the chair that couldn't handle the talents of Yi Jianlian had stumped Biyombo. Is he even passable on that end of the floor? Luckily for Biyombo, basketball isn't a one on zero sport, but his evaluation is best served for another time and people who are more qualified. Let's just say that I would love to have him in Philly.

From what I have read, Sixers fans are not immune to Biyombo Fever. The scouting report on Biyombo has generally been that at the very least he is probably a defensive anchor in the frontcourt. That seems like something the Sixers could use, and if he falls to the 16th Pick, I would hope he would be playing in Philadelphia next year.  For fans there certainly is excitement in "falling" for any draft prospect, especially with the uncertainty that goes along with drafting a player. In Biyombo's case, a native of Congo who has only played a small amount of basketball in Europe, there is a ton of uncertainty. This is not a guy that people could see play three years at Ohio State or a hotshot high school guard who was one-and-done at UCLA.

When taking the Sixers' recent history into account, the idea of drafting a guy who has played his basketball in Europe is fairly uncharted waters. Truth be told, the Sixers have not really made a concerted effort to draft international players. This is not meant as a criticism because it is foolish to just say, "If they were drafting more from across the globe, then the team would be so much better." That's not necessarily true, and there are just as many Nikoloz Tskitishvili's as Dirk Nowitzki's throughout the last decade's draft history, probably more. The fact that they have drafted basically only players from American colleges is peculiar though. That's something to take into account when your wish list might include selecting Biyombo, Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely, or Donatas Montiejunas.

The Sixers' history of drafting international players is not very impressive as Kate Fagan points out: Marko Milic, Jiri Welsch, Paccelis Morlende, Petteri Koponen, and Kyrlo Fesenko, and Thabo Sefolosha. Taking it further, the team traded all of these players directly on draft night or shortly after, which is startling. It really is possible to argue that they have never drafted a European to develop, which is startling. A few years ago, the team did acquire the rights to Edin Bavic and gave him a shot in Summer League, but if that's your complete track record, there is not much of one at all. This makes me wonder why they haven't really ever targeted a European player in recent years.

Now obviously they aren't completely immune to having international (people who did not play American college basketball) players on the team.  One theory could be that they prefer to wait and see international players develop with other teams in the NBA before they take them. Still, it's hard to really say that they've acquired that many outside of the draft either. The recent guys (Andres Nocioni, Gordan Giricek, Primoz Brezec) have made little to no impact and there probably hasn't been a contributing international rotation player on the 76ers since Toni Kukoc. That's a harsh reality when the world champion Mavericks had players from Germany, France, Serbia, and Guadeloupe making contributions for them in the playoffs, all outside of the American college system (Okay, not Beaubois, but he has some promise).

Another theory is that they were underfunded and/or didn't place enough emphasis around the world. While I have no knowledge of this to be true or not, the Sixers weren't the only team that was behind San Antonio in finding international players. After their success, many teams invested a lot of time and money into European scouting. Look at a team like Portland, who has taken many international players and "stashed" many of them in Europe, which has been a mixed bag. They have gotten solid contributions from Nic Batum and Rudy Fernandez (how solid with him is up for debate), and then there are guys that are still playing in Europe like 1st Round picks Joel Freeland and Koponen. Those guys could turn out to be contributors, but the longer they are over in Europe makes me wonder.

Simply putting money and resources into international scouting doesn't guarantee success by any means, because these players have the same uncertainty American players do, maybe more. From what I have seen, the star international players (Dirk and Pau Gasol) of this era were Top 10 picks. Calling these guys hidden gems is probably a little overboard when they were selected so highly. Two of the best picks were the Spurs' selections of Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili  (28th and 57th overall), but much of the NBA is circumstance. They both were put in an excellent situation to reach their potential.

In understanding the scouting department's thought process, it's first necessary to know who they are. The Sixers have a full-time scout in Europe in the form of Marin Sedlacek, who is originally from Serbia and Montenegro. There is not much on the internet about Sedlacek, but he has very strong ties to the Nike Hoop Summit, where for years he has served as an assistant coach for the world team. That is the same game and same team where Biyombo had his breakout game and a great week personality-wise, establishing himself as a leader and engaging personality. It sure can't hurt that a full-time member of the scouting department saw Biyombo at his best. Ed Stefanski and Courtney Witte both made extended trips into Europe to scout as well. Tony DiLeo and Witte were in Treviso this week. If they aren't paying attention in Europe, they are doing a fairly good job hiding it.

From reading the quotes from Stefanski and Billy King before him, the opportunity to draft an international player hasn't presented itself. That's a good enough answer for now. The team obviously shouldn't take one just for the hell of it. As long as the team does its due diligence overseas, then that's good enough.

In this day and age, it seems as if they are doing a good enough job too. It would be hard to find many things that have advanced over the past 10 years more than international scouting in the NBA.  As Fagan pointed out, there aren't many secrets anymore with the technology and information available. In terms of possibly the top international guys this year, some with hefty buyouts, it is fair to wonder what the Sixers' thought process is.

Biyombo would be a nice pick at 16 if he falls that far. I don't expect that situation to happen, but if it does I expect the Sixers to jump at the chance to select him. That would be an appropriate time to break the trend.

by Rich on Jun 17 2011
Tags: Basketball | International Scouting | Rich | Sixers |