January 20, 2018

Ever since the wild success experienced by Dirk Nowitzki, every fan of every NBA team has been searching for the next great international player. The Knicks appear to have found one in Kristaps Porzingis, who was covered in the very first Rookie Report.  And, while many of the other top international draft picks of the 2015 draft have been disappointing to this point, the 2015-16 International Rookie class, even minus Porzingis, looks to have a great deal of potential.

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Emmanuel Mudiay

Emmanuel Mudiay, Denver Nuggets
(Photo: John Geliebter – USA TODAY Sports)

Emmanuel Mudiay has been one of those disappointing top picks, but a large part of that is the lack of alternatives in shot creation on the Denver Nuggets.

To no one’s surprise, Mudiay has struggled shooting the ball so far in his rookie year.  Mudiay’s poor shooting was a known weakness going into the draft.  However, the degree to which Mudiay has struggled shooting the ball has to be shocking, even to his biggest critics.  Through 24 games, Mudiay has put up putrid efficiency numbers: producing a 34.3 eFG% and 38 TS%.

But, a huge contributing factor to Mudiay’s poor shooting numbers is the role he is forced to play for the Nuggets.  When Mudiay is on the floor, he is surrounded by several guys who often struggle to create their own shot, let alone create for others.  The ones who can, Danilo Gallinari and Will Barton, don’t often look to create for others.  Only 32.5 percent of Mudiay’s two point field goals being assisted.  For reference, Steph Curry, arguably the top shot creator in the league, has been assisted on 36.6 percent of his two point field goals.  Even really good shot creators would see a significant decline in shooting efficiency when forced to create for themselves as much as Mudiay.

Despite his shooting troubles, Mudiay has shown off the explosiveness and athleticism that led to him being a top pick in last year’s draft.  If Denver can surround him with another guy who can create for others and he works hard to improve his shooting, the rest of Mudiay’s game makes him an exciting prospect for the Nuggets.

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Nikola Jokic

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
(Photo: Isaiah J. Downing – USA TODAY Sports)

While Mudiay has struggled so far this year, his Nuggets rookie counterpart, Nikola Jokic, has exceeded expectations.

Jokic has been especially impressive on the offensive end of the floor, posting a 20.6 PER and 60.4 TS%.  While Jokic does not stand out in any one particular area offensively, his versatility has proven to be very successful.  Jokic has been above-average in terms of efficiency in both pick and roll plays as the roll man (.99 points per possession) and post-up plays (.89 points per possession).  He has had success both outside and inside the paint, shooting 44.4 percent from 10-16 feet and 62.7 percent inside 3 feet.  When he’s not shooting, Jokic has shown to be a very good passing big man, posting a 14.2 percent assist rate so far, according to Basketball-Reference.  Jokic’s versatile and efficient offensive game has provided much needed help to the Nuggets, as Mudiay gets accustomed to the speed of the NBA game.

While Jokic’s offensive versatility has impressed this year, he has struggled a bit on the other end of the floor.  Opponents have shot 52 percent at the rim against Jokic, according to NBA.com. Jokic has particularly struggled in post-up situations, giving up .92 points per possession, which ranks in the 39th percentile according to NBA.com. Part of the reason for Jokic’s struggles defensively is having to play the vast majority of his minutes next to Darrell Arthur and Kenneth Faried.  The return of Jusuf Nurkic changes that dramatically.  Nurkic proved to be a good defender last year, and should make Jokic’s job defensively much easier.  If and when his defense improves, his offensive versatility and efficiency will make him a very important part of the Nuggets’ future.

Boban Marjanovic

Boban Marjanovic, Spurs
(Photo: Soobum Im – USA TODAY Sports)

As they always seem to do, the Spurs have found yet another good piece in Boban Marjanovic.  Marjanovic has been perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the rookie class so far this year.  He has not played the most minutes of all the rookies, but he has certainly maximized his opportunities better than anyone.

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Marjanovic is 27-years-old, so his room for growth is much more limited than the rest of the rookie class.  Fortunately for Marjanovic and the Spurs, he has been downright dominant when he’s seen the floor.  He has played only 171 minutes this year, so there’s a bit of a small sample size issue in his statistics, but his numbers are extraordinarily impressive nonetheless.

Marjanovic has produced a PER of 31.6, a number that, while not sustainable over a long sample size, is impressive in nearly any sample size.  His gaudy PER is the result of his insane efficiency on very high usage, 66.3 TS% and 27.5 Usage Percentage respectively.  When Marjanovic isn’t making 61.8 percent of his field goal attempts, he’s shooting nearly 10 free throws per 36 minutes and knocking them down at a 71.7 percent clip.

Marjanovic is enormous, listed by the Spurs as 7-foot-3 and weighing 290 pounds.  And he knows how to use size to finish effortlessly around the rim.

In addition to his prolific post game, Marjanovic has shown the occasional ability to space the floor.

Offensively, Marjanovic can do a little bit of everything, and generally does it all well.  Defensively, he has limited opponents to just 42.9 percent shooting at the rim.  Of course, defending opponents well at the rim is only truly valuable if you are able to contest a lot of shots, and Marjanovic checks that box as well.  According to Nylon Calculus’ rim protection data, Marjanovic has produced a contest percentage of 46.2 percent, the fifth best rate of anyone playing 8+ minutes per game.

With Tim Duncan bound to retire in the near future, the Spurs will soon be looking for his replacement.  And it appears they may have found that this year in the form of Boban Marjanovic.

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Mario Hezonja

Mario Hezonja, Orlando Magic
(Photo: Anthony Gruppuso – USA TODAY Sports)

Coming from FC Barcelona, Mario Hezonja was one of the more promising prospects of last year’s draft.  One of the most intriguing parts of Hezonja’s game was his shooting, both his accuracy at a high volume for FC Barcelona, and his range.  And Hezonja has not disappointed in that regard.

Hezonja is shooting 41.1 percent on three-point attempts this year on a healthy 4.3 attempts per 36 minutes.  He is a legitimate sharp shooter, which provides incredible value for a player with legitimate small forward size at 6-foot-8.  While Hezonja’s shooting accuracy on good volume has been impressive, his ability to create his own looks that that stands out.

Hezonja has been assisted on only 78.3 percent of his three-point field goals according to Basketball-Reference.com.  Tobias Harris, his teammate, has been assisted on 91.2 percent of his three-point field goals this year.  Chandler Parsons, another reasonable small forward comparison, has been assisted on 87.5 percent of his three-point field goals this year.

Defensively, Hezonja is a work in progress, as is the case for most international rookies.  But, he has the athleticism and length to become a reliable perimeter defender.  And he has shown flashes.  In 40 possessions, Hezonja has held pick and roll ball handlers to .8 points per possession, good enough for 49th percentile according to NBA.com.  While the sample size is limited, Hezonja does show a good understanding of a play that is critical to defend in the modern NBA.

Hezonja’s defensive ability may be a bit of a question mark at this early point in his career, but his ability to create his own shot from behind the arc and shoot at a very efficient level, despite inconsistent playing time, should provide much optimism for Magic fans.

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Matthew Way

Matthew Way is an eternally optimistic Detroit Pistons fan who loves basketball at every level. When not watching the NBA, he spends time worshiping John Beilein's motion offense.

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