By Cory Bernstein
Why we want him: Although I love basketball, I’m not TiVoing (it’s a problem that this is a verb) any 3rd Division Spanish League games this season. But, I do know that the 18 year old Brazilian center Lucas Nogueira dominated the league this season, with a display of blocks and dunks that would make Blake Griffin jealous. He’s an absolute monster at 6’10 (without shoes) and 7’6 wingspan.
These obscure leagues are not normally the best judge for talent, but the FIBA Americas championship is where he shined. His home country of Brazil came in second place, but Nogueira stole the show. Averaging a ridiculous 5.4 blocks per game, to go along with 15.6 points, and ten rebounds, leading the tournament. Against the USA, who had stars like LeBryan Nash, Austin Rivers, and Kyrie Irving, he exploded for 22 points, 14 rebounds, and 3 blocks. He was being guarded Patric Young, a top 10 recruit in 2010 who played 18 minutes per game for Florida last year. Lucas would be a nice change of pace from Brook Lopez if he were to come off the bench, as his game is more based around ridiculous athleticism that lets him play great defense. It’s clear after watching any one of his impressive Youtube highlight reels that he has all the potential in the world. There is a chance that he can become an elite NBA center or power forward with time and the right coaching.
Why we don’t: He’s so raw they could serve him at most sushi restaurants. One could compare him to Hasheem Thabeet, Hassan Whiteside, or Solomon Alabi, as they were all seven footers who dominated the defensive side of the ball in college. However, they all share the same flaw that they could do nothing on offense besides dunking over guys much shorter than them in college. I am worried that the same can be said about Nogueira. He really has no mid-range or post game, and just uses his height and Tayshaun Prince-esque wing span to score points. It’s clear that he’s going to need a few years overseas to polish up on this offensive game. After winning 24 games last season and needing to woo their star point guard into signing a contract, the Nets need a player who can produce now. It seems to be evident that Nogueira would be better suited playing in Spain for a little while so he could be an impact player down the road. Here’s the list of international big men, meaning they played strictly overseas before the NBA, picked in the top 40 from 2004 to 2009.
2004: Rafael Araujo (8th pick) Andris Biedrins (11th pick) Pavel Podkolzin (21st pick) Anderson Varejao (31st pick) Peter John Ramos (33rd pick) Albert Miralles (40th pick)
2005: Fran Vazquez (11th pick) Yaroslav Korlev (12th pick) Johan Petro (27th pick) Ian Mahinmi (28th pick) Ronny Turiaf (37th pick)
2006: Andrea Bargnani (1st pick), Mouahmed Sene (10th pick), Oleksiy Pecherov (13th pick), Kosta Perovic (38th pick)
2007: Yi Jianlian (6th pick), Tiago Splitter (28th pick), Kyrylo Fesenko (38th pick), Stanko Barac (39th pick)
2008: Alexis Ajinca (20th pick), Serge Ibaka (24th pick), Nikola Pekovic (31st pick), Omer Asik (36th pick)
2009: Jonas Jerebko (36th pick)
Of 24 international bigs picked, Biedrins, Varejao, Turiaf, Bargnani, and Ibaka are the only ones who have achieved any success in the NBA so far. Although Tiago Splitter, Omer Asik, and Yi could become good players, the odds are one will be impact players in the league. Jonas Jerbko is a personal favorite of mine, but the jury is still out on whether he is good or not. The point is that there has been no history of international big men, particularly raw ones like Nogueira, succeeding in the NBA. The Nets have a 20% chance of picking the next Serge Ibaka, and an 80% chance of taking the next Mouahmed Sene. That is a huge risk.
Final Verdict: I hope the best for Lucas Niogueira, but do expect the worse. The fact is that raw international centers who have no offensive game at all hardly ever succeed in the NBA. I do think on the right team, such as the Spurs, he could do well, but the Nets do not fit his interesting skill set. The Nets need guys who can get on the floor next November and be effective players. Nogueira certainly has a chance to be better than a Chris Singleton or Tyler Honeycutt, but also has the chance to bomb in the NBA. My guess and hope is the Nets stay away from this Brazilian animal, because there is simply too much risk involved for a team that needs results, not projects.
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