Draft Notes: FIBA Tournaments as an Indicator of Success

FIBA tournaments have long been a staple for assessing top international prospects in the draft. The most notable player who saw his stock boom after stellar tournament play is Dante Exum at the U19 world championships in 2013. Since then, Exum hasn’t quite lived up to the hype of being selected fifth overall. While he has been a solid player defensively, he hasn’t shown nearly enough progress on the offensive end to be anything more than a rotation player. Another example that comes to mind is Frank Ntilikina, who exploded onto the scene during the U18 European Championships in 2016 by shooting a blazing 58% from 3. Ntilikina went on to get drafted eighth in 2017 and has done little to distinguish himself in what is now considered a loaded draft class. Granted, Exum has had trouble staying healthy and Ntilikina has had to waddle in the clusterfuck that is the Knick’s organization. Both players are still young (24 and 21 respectively) and have plenty of time to develop. 

Yet from a draft perspective, it just feels like the FIBA tournaments simply aren’t great measuring tools for NBA potential. Low level competition over a meager sample size doesn’t convey much reliable information about anything. FIBA competition is a marginal step below power conference competition, much less European or Australian league play. Burning the Iranian U19 team for 20 points, for example, simply does not provide a clear picture of a player’s NBA outlook. Playing higher level competition such as a team USA, Canada, Spain usually provides a slightly clearer picture. Dante Exum struggled against the matchup of Marcus Smart when playing team USA as outlined in this analysis by draft express. This isn’t to say that players who demonstrate success at the FIBA level can never translate to NBA success. I’m sure there are plenty of success stories out there. It just feels like the FIBA tournaments should, at best, be a supplement to other more informative indicators, such as league play or more observable skillsets (it’s kind of like assessing a player solely on physical tools). That is to say — all hype based solely on FIBA play should be taken with a considerable pinch of salt.

Some other notable NBA draft picks off the top of my head who had great FIBA tournament showings include: Dzanan Musa, Sekou Doumbouya, Issuf Sanon, Isaiah Hartenstein (Rui Hachimura and Svi Mykhailiuk were not included because they both had college careers). 

Cover Photo: http://www.fiba.basketball/world/u19/2019

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