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Scouting Spain: Which International bigs could the Celtics have interest in drafting?

Danny Ainge has been scouting some talented big men in Spain.

Mike Stobe

Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics are in the middle of a Euro trip, where they are scouting some of the top International prospects. With two 2014 first round picks and a bundle of assets, the Celtics are in a perfect position to move within the draft and select almost any player they want.

That's why they're spending so much time overseas scouting what could be the strongest International class in NBA draft history. Even though Australia's Dante Exum, Croatia's Dario Saric, and Bosnia's Jusuf Nurkic are the top prizes, there are plenty of other prospects to keep a close eye on.

Last week I discussed the prospects Danny Ainge was watching at the Adriatic League Final Four, but he also spent time in Spain scouting potential rim protectors in the ACB League, including power forward Kristaps Porzingis and center Walter Tavares. Let's take a look at five International bigs the Boston Celtics could have interest in drafting:

Kristaps Porzingis Latvia 19 PF/C 7-0 215 First Round

One of the dark horses in the 2014 draft is Kristaps Porzingis, a 7-foot big man from Latvia. At only 19-years-old, Porzingis is averaging 6.1 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks in only 14-minutes per game while playing for Cajasol in Spain's ACB League. These are quite impressive numbers for such a young player, especially because he's doing it in arguably the second-best league in the world.

At first glance, you'll notice that Porzingis is tall and scrawny, with close to no muscle on his body, but this isn't a concern. In fact, his body is similar to Joakim Noah, another player who was rail thin as a teenager. With a comparable wide frame, Porzingis has the room to add muscle just like Noah did throughout his maturation process.


Because of his skinny build, Porzingis isn't yet able to take advantage of all of his natural gifts and learned attributes. At only 215-pounds, he gets pushed around when fighting for rebounds; but he consistently tries to box out, though the results aren't there just yet.

Kristaps Porzingis also has a long wingspan, measuring somewhere over 7-feet. With lengthy arms and quick feet, he's able to protect the rim at a high level. Porzingis has a 102.5 defensive rating, an impressive feat for a 19-year-old, especially since Cajasol has an average 106 defensive rating as a team. He's also blocking 2.9 shots per 40 minutes, which is third most in the league.

On the offensive end, Porzingis currently amasses most of his points from the perimeter, with an average 33.3 field goal percentage on 39 three-point attempts. But with a smooth and technically sound form, Porzingis' percentages should increase in the coming years.

As Porzingis adds muscle, his versatility will continue to progress. With a long wingspan and an impressive vertical, the product of Latvia already has his fair share of loud dunks in transition and from cuts to the rim. In addition, Porzingis regularly hustles up the court and does a fantastic job of filling the proper passing lanes, which has led to many of his transition baskets.

The Boston Celtics already have multiple stretch bigs on their roster, but Kristaps Porzingis could be more than that if he reaches his upside -- and they clearly have interest, since Danny Ainge was at his game on April 26th. Once Porzingis is ready to come to the NBA, he can be featured as a modern stretch forward and the rim protection could come after a few more years of development.

Walter Tavares Cape Verde 22 C 7-2 260 Pick #25 to 45

Danny Ainge was in Spain last weekend along with representatives from nine other NBA franchises to scout Walter Tavares, a raw 7-foot-2 center from Cape Verde. Tavares is a bit of a late bloomer since he has been playing organized basketball for only three full years, so as you would expect, he fouls too much and he's lacking in the cerebral area of the game.

But Tavares is drawing the attention of so many scouts because of his ideal body. Tavares has a gargantuan 7-foot-8 wingspan, which immediately makes scouts foam at the mouth, and he's a strong 260-pounds with fairly quick feet.

Yet, it's not just his grandiose body -- don't worry, I'm not that superficial -- because his numbers are also worthy of a double take. With a terrific 96.3 defensive rating, a 20.1 total rebound percentage, and an ACB-leading 7.96 block percentage, Tavares is also producing on the court. Synergy Sports statistics also look fantastic for Tavares, as he is allowing only 0.675 PPP on post-ups, 0.824 PPP on pick-and-rolls, and 0.5 PPP on isolations.

When scouting Walter Tavares last year, I thought he'd be an extremely limited offensive player, but there is hope for him since he has improved his free throws to a respectable 76.6 percent. There are no guarantees that he translates that into a mid-range jump shot, but at least the production is there from the line.

Regardless, it's important to look at a big man's proficiency in the pick-and-roll, even if they have limited opportunities. There, it's easy to like what Tavares has accomplished. He slips nearly all of his screens (probably instructed to by coaches), but he rolls hard to rim and finishes well, with a quality 1.238 PPP.

Though Tavares isn't an overly athletic center (like DeAndre Jordan, for example), his long wingspan and aggression allows him to dunk most of his attempts near the rim. If Tavares is producing defensively, he'll at least need to be a threat to score as the freight train rolling down the middle of the paint.

It's difficult to accurately project the ceiling of raw big men, especially when they're already 22-years-old, but there is no reason for a team not to take a chance on a potential rim protecting center after the top 25 picks or so. That might explain why representatives from the Bobcats (#24 pick), Rockets (#25), Heat (#26), Suns (#27), Clippers (#28), Spurs (#30), Bucks (#31), Hawks (#43), Lakers, and Celtics, were most recently scouting him.

Rasmus Larsen Denmark 19 PF 6-11 210 Second Round

If there's one traditional European big man in this year's draft, it's Rasmus Larsen. On offense, the 7-footer spends most of his time hovering around the perimeter and he rarely battles on the post or inside for rebounds, and despite having tremendous athleticism, he doesn't play intense defense. This is the "soft mindset" that many North American fans of basketball have long criticized, but you really can't blame Larsen for focusing on some of his strengths as a player.

Rasmus Larsen is actually a very talented scorer, with a skillset similar to many wings. Larsen has fantastic technique from three-point range, though he is shooting a subpar 31 percent this season. With a smooth, quick release, Larsen could someday dial it in as a consistent threat from behind the arc.

But the native of Denmark can also put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. He often utilizes pump fakes when spotting up before weaving his way into the paint. There, he does a good job of using either his right or left hand to finish the play, a skill not usually seen in young players.

This versatility will help Larsen translate his game to the NBA, but there are still concerns about his toughness and mentality. Over the course of the last three years, Jon Givony of Draft Express has outlined the questions surrounding Larsen's make-up, and not much has changed when watching the film from this season.

Larsen certainly has the body and athleticism required to be an effective defender, but he allows deep positioning on the low post, avoids box outs, and he displays poor effort when fighting through screens. These struggles don't appear to be due to a lack of in-game awareness, but instead it's because of his unwillingness to play aggressively.

Despite his warts, Rasmus Larsen could interest the Boston Celtics or another NBA team because of his versatility on the offensive end of the floor. And, at 7-feet with an 86-inch wingspan, it doesn't hurt to blow a second rounder on a player who could someday flip the switch and turn into an effective two-way big man.

Moussa Diagne Senegal 20 C 6-11 220 Pick #40 to Undrafted

Most second round picks are chosen due to their upside or specialty in one or two specific areas of the game. For Moussa Diagne, a raw 6-foot-11 big man from Senegal, it's defense and rebounding. Diagne plays 14.2 minutes per game for Fuenlabrada and is making his mark as a rebounding machine.

Diagne combines athleticism and a reported 88-inch wingspan to rip down 31.2 percent of defensive rebounds while he's on the floor, which is second in the ACB. Averaging 13 rebounds per 40 minutes, Diagne consistently looks to box out before doing a good job of grabbing rebounds at the apex.

However, the native of Senegal has struggled defensively, allowing 1.037 PPP. Even though he constantly stays in his stance and appears mentally engaged, his lack of experience often puts him in unfortunate situations, especially in the pick-and-roll.

Diagne displays a lack of awareness by regularly getting caught in no man's land, which opens up perimeter attempts, or gives the ball-handler enough space to penetrate the lane. However, Diagne closes out strong to contest perimeter jumpers and battles hard when defending on the post.

If the Celtics select the 20-year-old Moussa Diagne, he probably won't make an impact in the NBA for a number of years, if ever. However, athletic bigs with a willingness to defend are always worthy of a draft-and-stash if they're available in the late second round.

Ondrej Balvin Czech Republic 21 C 7-2 260 Pick #50 to Undrafted

When the Celtics were scouting Cajasol, it wouldn't be surprising if they were also keeping tabs on Kristaps Porzingis' teammate, Ondrej Balvin. At 7-foot-2 and 260-pounds, Balvin has ideal size for the center position. However, there are legitimate concerns about his lateral quickness and verticality.

Offensively, Balvin clearly predetermines which post move he will attempt even before receiving the ball. This gets him into trouble, since he lacks the ability to counter with secondary moves. But this is not to say that he is ineffective, as he scores a respectable 0.867 points per post-up possession, according to Synergy Sports. With soft touch around the rim, Balvin could be a fifth option on the floor as a complimentary player.

Balvin carves up space as a rim protector, but he isn't very athletic, so he rarely blocks shots, averaging only 1.1 per 40 minutes. He also lacks speed, so he's slow to close out on the perimeter despite showing a good motor in an attempt to compensate for his natural abilities.

Though Ondrej Balvin's lack of skill will likely limit him to a European career, he does have potential as a terrific rebounder. This season, he has used his wide, strong frame to box out his way to 11.7 rebounds per 40 minutes, the eighth-best mark in the ACB.

If the Celtics are looking to take a flyer on a big man, like they did last year with Colton Iverson as the 53rd pick, Ondrej Balvin could be a solid option for them. But since Balvin compares similarly to Iverson, it's probably redundant to have two similar players on the payroll.

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