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2021 draft profiles: international first-rounders

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Beneath a top tier of domestic prospects are a few overseas names with intrigue and standout skills

Real Madrid v Valencia - ACB Semi Finals Photo by Sonia Canada/Getty Images

Draft season is upon us, ladies and gentlemen. It’s that time where hot takes, exhaustive rankings, unfounded rumors and jumping to conclusions off little information is the daily routine.

For Boston Celtics fans, it also marks the first NBA Draft in 18 years where Danny Ainge isn’t seated at the head of the table. Brad Stevens slides down a few seats, tasked now with constructing a roster built to win around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Stevens knows the cupboard isn’t bare and there’s a clear playoff team here, which is why he moved out of the first round to offload Kemba Walker and make aggressive moves this summer.

That doesn’t mean the Celtics will stay out of the first round, though. Other moves or deals could be on the horizon. Which players stand out as potential fits to trade back in for? What positions do they need? Between now and the NBA Draft on July 29th, we’ll bring you answers to all those questions. We recently set the table for this discussion by previewing some of the Celtics’ most glaring needs this summer.

Whether the Celts trade back into the first round remains to be seen, but if they do, they do so targeting one specific individual. Because of that, we’ll continue to preview these position groups and first-round talents to familiarize ourselves with those trade-up possibilities.

The big four international guys (Usman Garuba, Josh Giddey, Roko Prkacin and Alperen Sengun) would all be interesting fits in Boston. From defensive-minded whiz kids to high-IQ passers, ambiguous wing scorers to classical post-up threats, there’s a little bit of everything within this four-man group. While Sengun and Garuba seem less than likely picks now that the Celtics are overstocked with bigs, there are some names to really get to know here in Boston.

Usman Garuba - 6’8” forward, Real Madrid (Spain)

There’s a real segment of NBA Draft Twitter (myself included) who think Usman Garuba belongs in the tier just outside of the top-five and should be a top-ten lock. That’s been a bit of a polarizing take, as there are many who see the lack of offensive upside and move Garuba down closer to the 20’s.

At the end of the day, there’s no denying the impact he’s having. Garuba is starting on a top team in the world’s second-best league at 19 years old, anchoring their defense with instinctual movements and intelligent rotations that shouldn’t be coming from a teenager. He’s the closest embodiment to Draymond Green that we’ve seen.

Starting with the positive, Garuba’s defense is bordering on elite at a young age. He shuts down wings and bigs alike, switching onto the perimeter or anchoring a team as the rim protector. His 7’2” wingspan allows him to block jump shooters and recover against drivers. It’s hard to describe the great rotations and winning plays he makes in just one paragraph. He simply makes things happen on defense.

Flip around to the other side of the floor and Garuba looks like a completely different person. While fluid, athletic and violent on defense, he plays incredibly stiff and uncertain on the other end. A solid finisher and really good short roll passer, Garuba struggles to dribble the basketball and looks like he’s stuck inside a phone booth when trying to shoot it. He’s made over 30% for his career, and if he’s passable as a corner spot-up threat, he’ll have a long NBA career.

There’s certainly risk associated with drafting a guy who only averages 8.7 points per 36 minutes and might never positively impact offensive spacing. With his defensive IQ and energy, I’d think Usman is worth the risk. He’d be an energetic small-ball 5 who brings the C’s defense to a whole new level and a great compliment to Robert Williams.

Josh Giddey - 6’8” point guard, Adelaide 36ers (Australia)

Josh Giddey is the most hyped international prospect right now, with his range hovering in the 6-14 range. A well-built 6’8” point guard, Giddey posted numerous triple-doubles in the Australian NBL this year, the same league that produced LaMelo Ball in 2020. Giddey’s basketball IQ, passing acumen and ability to see over the top of defenses make him a unique playmaker.

In Boston, the thought of adding a switchable wing defender who can run the pick-and-roll for others certainly has appeal.

Giddey is a gifted finisher around the basket and plays with his own pace. His ability to use either hand is highly valued. The areas that Giddey currently struggles with are his pull-up jumper and overall shooting form. He’s very stiff, launching a set shot that doesn’t require a lot of lift. I’ve long thought that set shooters struggle to be consistent pull-up scorers, and pick-and-roll guards who don’t force defenses to guard them above the 3-point line become easy to defend in the playoffs.

At Giddey’s size, age and with his advanced feel, there are enough positive indicators to take the gamble on regardless. Giddey has three triple-doubles since April 26th; that level of production from a teenager in a professional league has to mean something.

Roko Prkacin - 6’8” wing, Cibona (Croatia)

Of the four international guys on this list, Roko Prkacin is the one with the least amount of lottery hype. That may mean he’s a reach in the first round if other players are still available, or it means he’s the perfect target for the Celtics to target for early in the second round. A long 6’8” wing, Prkacin has shown flashes of efficient offensive production in several categories. He’s that typical big wing who can take smaller guys in the post. He shoots it well on catch-and-shoot looks and is a tremendous finisher at the hoop.

While Prkacin makes a lot of his looks from deep, he could stand to tighten his form. There’s defensive upside, but adding a little more strength and lateral quickness are necessary for postseason assignments at his position. He fits the bill of a modern wing who plays both the 3 and the 4, and I love that he can score it in a multitude of ways.

The downside to Prkacin, specifically for the Celtics, is that he doesn’t have one definitive skill to hang his hat on as a role player. It will take a few years for Roko to turn into an offensive hub in the pros; he isn’t doing it as a top option now in an upper-mid-tier European program. If he comes off the bench and plays a role right away, I’m not sure what he does at an excellent mark to earn minutes. This could be a draft-and-stash candidate or a nice trade chip to use in a deal for a veteran.

Alperen Sengun - 6’10” post, Besiktas (Turkey)

As we mentioned earlier with Giddey and Garuba, there’s no way to deny teenagers who produce in a professional league. While those two have done so in meaningful ways, nobody has fully dominated their league like Alperen Sengun, who was named MVP of the Turkish League at 18 years old. He’ll turn 19 just before Draft Night, but put up numbers for a teenager in Europe rivaled only by reigning MVP Nikola Jokic.

Sengun averaged 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.7 blocks while playing less than 30 minutes a night. Playing against former NBAers like Amile Jefferson, Kyle Wiltjer and Grant Jerrett on a nightly basis, Sengun was nothing short of dominant.

The idea of taking a 6’10” center in the lottery is one many will sour over. Add to it that Sengun is best with his back to the basket and judgments are made pretty quickly about what role he plays in the NBA.

I’m here to tell you that Sengun is much more than just a strong-bodied interior scorer. He’s an exquisite passer and has legitimate shooting promise. He’s really mobile for a big man, running the floor and taking other bigs off the bounce. His strength will allow him to guard the 5, and he should be a tough cover on the other end for any size of big man.

Frankly, I’d be surprised if Sengun makes it out of the top ten. He’s trending upward after his dominant season, and there are several teams in the 7-12 range who are in dire need for a long-term starting center. As those teams jockey for position for Sengun and try to leapfrog each other, there may be an opportunity for the C’s to get involved in a trade that nets them an extra asset.