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Draft targets: the international draft-and-stash pool

Without a ton of room on the roster, the C’s could be poised to make another long-term investment overseas

NBA: Playoffs-Brooklyn Nets at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday night, the Boston Celtics will enter the draft with the 53rd overall selection. The first-round pick that originally belonged to the C’s was shipped to the San Antonio Spurs in the Derrick White trade back in February. Coming off an NBA Finals run, there’s little to no expectation that the prospect Brad Stevens drafts with that 53rd selection can come in and help their roster right away. This is less about drafting for need than it is for talent.

The spots on the back-end of the roster become more complicated if Yam Madar (2020 second-round pick) or Juhann Begarin (2021 second-round pick) attempt to come to Beantown. Without a ton of space on the roster to begin with, adding a new body into the mix at 53rd could create a logjam in terms of G-League developmental reps, spots still open for veteran signees and other young fliers they want to take on the undrafted free agent market.

Think about the draft-and-stash pool as being a way to defer this pick without risking it going away with no value. The Celtics could draft a player at #53, give him a two-way contract, and then wind up waiving him by the end of next season. The draft-and-stash route gives them much more time, has less downside in the short-term, and meshes nicely with the potential timelines of Madar and Begarin.

Most casual NBA fans are really unfamiliar with international prospects, as they are out of sight, out of mind and the game is a very different one overseas. We’ll attempt to bridge that gap with a look into a few of the international prospects most likely to be around at #53.

Karlo Matkovic, Mega

At 6’10” and 231 pounds, Karlo Matkovic is a big body on the interior. He’s athletic for his size, with a ton of bounce both as a catch-and-finish big and someone who can take one or two dribbles to get to the hoop. He’s really underrated as a short roll passer (something Daniel Theis and Al Horford are good at) and pieced together some fantastic defensive possessions for the Euroleague champions this year.

Matkovic’s athleticism makes him a really good lob threat that can be a long-term backup to a guy like Robert Williams. He’s solid in almost every aspect of his game, but his vertical pop was on full display and got people talking about him after his pro day at the NBA Draft Combine:

Matkovic was wavering as to whether he should stay in the draft, and ultimately decided to stick around. He’s one international guy we can see going off the board a little before Boston’s selection, but if he is still available, he’s a great long-term investment at the big man position.

Yannick Nzosa, Unicaja

Nzosa started this draft cycle with some incredibly high praise. NBA Draft insider Chad Ford claimed Nzosa had a chance to go as high as number one overall. The raw tools athletically, combined with some solid defensive instincts, made him believable as a lottery talent (although Ford’s ranking was always a little too rich for our blood).

A disappointing season with injuries and really poor offensive play dropped Nzosa from there entirely. In the second round, when teams are betting on upside anyway, he makes some sense as a long-term flier. Let him stay in Spain and keep developing, see what type of offensive game he can harness, and potentially he can come over to the NBA in a few years and be a giant rim protector with elite mobility.

Ibou Badji, Barcelona

Yes, this international draft class has a great deal of big men targets. While the likes of Ismael Kamagate and Khalifa Diop are potentially top-50 guys, Barcelona big Ibou Badji doesn’t get the same amount of buzz. He’s a terrific athlete and lob threat cut from the same athletic cloth as Robert Williams. Still somewhat unrefined defensively and needing more reps, Badji has been playing with one of Europe’s best developmental clubs and getting pro-caliber training.

At one point in time, Badji was a priority early second-round target for us. His lack of feel and basketball IQ have dropped him down a little bit, but you cannot teach 7’1” and a 7’6” wingspan. He’s a bit of a high-risk, high-reward prospect for an international guy.

Ziga Samar, Fuenlabrada

I know, I know... can we get somebody who isn’t a big man here?

Say hello to 21-year-old Serbian point guard Ziga Samar. He’s an outstanding passer and would fit the mold of what many Celtics fans are clamoring for: a pass-first facilitator. He’s potentially the best high-volume passer in this draft class and did so much out of ball screens in the Spanish league.

Samar is a bit older, so the window for holding off on him coming to the States may be smaller. If you ask us, he’s a bit of an upgrade over Yam Madar offensively and would add a really unique flavor to this Celtics offense. How he fits next to Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, or in a switching scheme remains a question mark, but as a talent grab, he’s very intriguing.

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