When it comes to draft night, the mysterious aura that international prospects carry from their home country to the NBA represents a different type of hope when compared to your typically familiar collegiate athlete. Depending on how you look at them, either the risk outweighs the reward, or the reward outweighs the risk. For every Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, or Ricky Rubio, a dozen Nikoloz Tskitishvili's crop up throughout the first round. But the simple existence of Gasol and Nowitzki plants an ever-optimistic thought in the minds of fans everywhere: despite foreign players bringing a heightened sense of unpredictability regarding their future alongside their name, gold can be struck.
This year, only one international player is projected to be taken in the first round: Evan Fournier, a 19-year-old native of France who began his professional career three years ago. When he was 18-years-old, Fournier became the youngest player in the history of France's Ligue Nationale de Basketball (LNB, the country's top basketball league) to score at least 20 points in a game—leaping past Tony Parker, Mickael Pietrus, Nicolas Batum, Boris Diaw, and Rodrigue Beaubois in the record books. Right now, he's reportedly dominating the 2012 Adidas Eurocamp
However, this is in no way should be taken as a proclamation of guaranteed greatness. Much has been made of Fournier's lack of athleticism translating to the NBA, and the dangers that could ensue when his frail 6'7", 206 pound body collides with the brute strength of the NBA's meanest men. But nobody disputes his ability to shoot the ball. And in the end, it's a skill that could allow him some space to eventually become a pretty special player.
Due to his young age and international background, whoever chooses to select Fournier could opt to place him in France for another year or two, keeping his contract off the salary cap, and bringing him over as a more polished player in the future. Instead of trading the pick as a way to save money, selecting Fournier brings financial flexibility. In his latest mock draft, ESPN.com’s Chad Ford has Fournier going to the Grizzlies at No. 25 and DraftExpress.com has him being selected by the Thunder at No. 28. Both are teams that have a lot of money tied up in current cornerstones, making both of them logical destinations.
Last season, Fournier averaged 14 PPG on just over 11 shots in his 30 appearances playing for France's Poitiers, and in this year's Euro U20 tournament, those numbers went up to 16.9 PPG. The player Fournier will be most compared to in the weeks ahead is Trail Blazers restricted free agent Nicolas Batum, a small forward who shares the same birthplace and body type. Batum is only 23-years-old, but he's shown flashes of brilliant athleticism in his short career, making general managers across the league wonder if offering him a long-term contract might be a wise investment. This could be Fournier in a few years: an unfamiliar name on the night he's drafted, but a player who could gain more and more popularity once people see what he's capable of doing.