Delfino, Vujanic ready for the NBA

By Chad Ford
NBA Insider
Send an Email to Chad Ford Tuesday, May 4
Updated: May 4
11:37 AM ET

TEL AVIV, Israel -- Did Carlos Delfino's stellar 27-point performance in the Euroleague Final Four semifinals come a day late and a few million dollars short? Or did NBA scouts completely miss the boat on Delfino last year, when he entered the 2003 NBA Draft and fell into the Pistons lap at No. 25 last summer?

That's the question everyone was wrestling with after Delfino blew up on the biggest stage in Europe on Thursday. The buzz surrounding Delfino was electric.

Carlos Delfino was a steal for the Pistons late in the first round.
His outside shooting, ability to take his man off the dribble, tenacious rebounding and that NBA-ready body had NBA scouts all mumbling the same thing after Skipper Bologna advanced to the finals on Delfino's back -- how did we miss on this kid?

"He would be a lottery pick this year, no question," one NBA executive told Insider after watching Delfino's performance. "You see guys play like that with all of the tools and you say to yourself ... how did we miss a kid like this."

The answer isn't a complicated one. Delfino, a native of Argentina who has spent the past two seasons playing for Euroleague power Skipper, was on the radar screens of most veteran international scouts. However, a serious ankle injury suffered in January of 2003 kept him out of action for most of the spring -- the time most NBA GMs and directors of player personnel make their annual pilgrimage overseas.

While the reports on Delfino were glowing, few had really seen him enough in person to commit to him in the first round. Enter the Pistons. Unlike many NBA organizations, the Pistons' presence in Europe, through top international scout Tony Ronzone, is constant. Ronzone had been watching Delfino, both in Italy and Argentina, for more than a year before the injury. Detroit had enough information to make an educated choice and decided to run with it.

While other teams were noncommittal about Delfino's draft status, Ronzone met with Delfino's agent, SFX's David Bauman, at the Chicago pre-draft camp and convinced Bauman to keep Delfino in the draft. Just before the draft, the Pistons flew Delfino in for a secret workout with Joe Dumars, John Hammond and Larry Brown. They all were blown away.

NBA Insider Chad Ford traveled to Tel Aviv, Israel, this week to take in the Euroleague Final Four.
# The Passion of the Maccabi, Part 1
# The Passion of the Maccabi, Part 2
# Scouting the Final Four, Day 1
# Scouting the Final Four, Day 2
Would he last until the 25th pick? The Pistons flirted with the idea of trading up to make sure they'd get him, but as they played out their different mock-draft scenarios, they came to a pretty reassuring conclusion. There wasn't a team in front of them that knew Delfino well enough to take him that high. Delfino fell into their lap at No. 25, and the Pistons walked away with a player who should have been a late-lottery to mid-first-round pick.

The Pistons got a steal, but did Delfino get robbed? He would've made much more money had he waited until this year to declare for the draft.

"Absolutely not," Bauman told Insider. "Draft position is just one factor. The other factor is fit. Delfino was a great fit for Detroit. He's tough, a great shooter and he plays a position that they needed help at. We just both felt like the Pistons offered him a great opportunity to have a successful NBA career. That's worth a lot."

The other factor that worked in both sides' favor was Delfino's buyout. Last year it was on the high side, and there was no guarantee Skipper would let him out of his contract. That worked for the Pistons, who already had a full roster and another rookie, Darko Milicic, they didn't really have room for.

Instead of wasting away on the bench, Delfino spent the year starting in the backcourt with another top NBA prospect, Milos Vujanic, drafted by the Knicks in the second round in 2002 and traded to the Suns last winter in the Stephon Marbury deal.

While Darko is getting garbage minutes at the end of games, Delfino's confidence is soaring after playing a key role on the biggest stage outside of the NBA. He's happy with his decision.

"I'm happy with how things worked out," Delfino told Insider in Tel Aviv. "Winning is important to me, and I get the opportunity to join one of the best teams in the NBA. This is the dream of every player."

Delfino's only concerns right now? Playing time. He has watched how Darko and Mehmet Okur have struggled to get playing time under Brown. He doesn't want to go from starting for one of the best teams in Europe to playing garbage time.

"I want to play," Delfino said. "I don't know if I'm ready for the NBA. Only the Pistons know that. I want to hear that from them before I make my decision. But yes, my choice would be to play in Detroit next season."

The Pistons want him. After Delfino's stellar performance in the semifinals, the Pistons pieced together highlights and showed them on the Jumbotron at the Palace of Auburn Hills during Game 5. The Pistons' crowd roared in approval.

While other teams are scrambling right now, trying to figure out who they're drafting, the Pistons already have their lottery pick squared away. Joe Dumars strikes again.

Coming to America
While the top international rookies taken in the 2003 NBA draft haven't had stellar rookie seasons, the players who stayed in Europe and waited another year or two before joining the NBA have been big success stories. Manu Ginobili was runner-up for rookie of the year. Andrei Kirilenko has turned into the most complete player in the NBA. Okur stands to make big money as a free agent this summer. What do they all have in common? They were late first-round or second-round steals who spent another year or two in Europe seasoning their game before coming to America.

Who will be making the trip this summer? Insider breaks it down.

Carlos Delfino, SG/SF, Detroit Pistons -- Delfino was drafted by Detroit with the 25th pick in the 2003 draft. Because of contract issues he stayed in Italy playing for Skipper Bologna this year and averaged 12.3 ppg and 6 rpg in the Euroleague this year. Delfino's best performance of the year came in the semi-finals of the Euroleague Final Four when he scored 27 points (including 5-for-7 from three) against Siena. However, he struggled with Maccabi's match-up zone in the Finals and was held to six points on 2-for-10 shooting. Still, the Pistons see a player who could come in and contribute off the bench for them next year. And, he still has plenty of time to progress. He doesn't turn 22 until August. Delfino has a $900,000 NBA buyout next season and it looks like he's going to exercise it.

Milos Vujanic could be playing point guard for the Suns next year.
Milos Vujanic, PG/SG, Phoenix Suns: The Knicks drafted Vujanic in the second round of the 2002 NBA draft and traded him to the Suns as part of the Stephon Marbury deal. Widely considered one of the top guards in Europe, the 6-foot-3 Vujanic spent his first year out of Serbia playing for Skipper Bologna, where he led the team in scoring (16.3 ppg) and shot 48 percent from the field and 39 percent from 3. Vujanic has an uncanny ability to split his defenders and get to the basket. He's a big-time scorer who can blow up for 30 on any given night.

But is he really a point guard? Some scouts who've watched him this year are worried. He has spent less time passing the ball this season, and it led to some frustration on Skipper. That's not going to work in the NBA. If Vujanic doesn't pass to a talented core of Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Joe Johnson, he'll be shown the same door Marbury was.

Because Vujanic is a second-round pick, the Suns must negotiate with him for a contract. He's making great money in Europe and has a sizable buyout this season. That means the Suns are going to have to spend some of the precious cap room to sign him. We may not know for sure whether he's coming to the league until August, when the Suns wrap up their free-agent business and see how much cash they have left.

Nenad Kristic
Nenad Kristic, C, New Jersey Nets: The Nets drafted the 6-foot-11 center, sight unseen, with the 24th pick in the 2002 draft. He's a favorite of Vlade Divac's, who tried to sneak him into the draft as a favor to the Kings. The Nets caught wind and drafted him, stunning just about everyone. Krstic, who turns 21 this summer, went on to have a stellar season in 2002-03 for Partizan in Serbia, averaging 15 points and 6.2 rebounds.

An early injury kept him out much of the 2003-04 season, but he came on strong late, averaging 13.4 ppg. He averaged just 2.8 rpg over the season, though, which is a bit of a concern for someone his size. Kristic has a great mid-range jumper, is a good athlete and passer and an excellent free-throw shooter. He's an above-average scorer at his position, but he'll have to add some toughness and rebounding in the NBA. His agent, David Bauman, already has worked out a buyout with Partizan. Kristic will play for the Nets next season and could be their long-term answer in the middle.

David Andersen is an Aussie who could play for the Hawks.
David Andersen, PF/C, Atlanta Hawks: The native of Australia was drafted in the second round in 2002. He had a career game in the semifinals of the Euroleague Final Four for Siena, scoring 17 points on 8-for-15 shooting and hitting a number of big shots down the stretch. However, he played sparingly for Siena this season, averaging just 9 ppg and 4.6 rpg in 20 mpg.

I talked to Anderson at the Final Four, and he said he plans play for the Hawks in the summer league this year. Atlanta has a lot of roster spots open and probably should give Andersen a look. He's not going to be a star in the NBA, the way the first three could be, but he could be a nice role player. He's active, can score around the basket and is pretty athletic.

Luis Scola, PF, San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs, who already have the most international team in the league, drafted the 6-foot-8 Argentinian in the second round in 2002 and expect Scola to join them this summer. He is a low-post bruiser with the strength to bang in the paint and the athleticism to play in the NBA. Scola has great hands in the post and a pretty refined back-to-the-basket game. He's also a great passer out of the post and can run the floor. He's a little undersized for his position in the pros, but the Spurs aren't worried about it. He averaged 15.2 ppg and 6 rpg for Tau Ceramica this season.

Nenzad Sinanovic, C, Portland Trail Blazers: A sleeper. The Blazers drafted this unknown kid from Bosnia late in the second round last year. His agent, Bill Duffy, had put him in the draft hoping he would go undrafted, become a free agent and be able to cash in big in a few years. He's 7-foot-3, athletic, runs the floor and has a nice touch, but he's still a couple of years away from playing in the NBA. He needs to get much stronger and continue to learn how to play the game, but he's a legit prospect who could help the Blazers down the road.

Others to watch for: Szymon Szewczyk, PF, Poland (Bucks), Juan Carlos Navarro, SG, Spain (Wizards); Malick Badiane, PF, Senegal (Rockets); Fredrico Kammerichs, F, Argentina (Blazers); Sofoklis Schortsanitis, PF, Greece (Clippers); Paccelis Morlende, PG, France (Warriors).

International Free Agents

Several undrafted international players also might make the leap to the NBA this season. Insider breaks down five guys who could compete with NBA free agents for some spots on NBA rosters this summer

Andres Nocioni, G/F, Tau Cermaic -- Nocioni, a native of Argentina, is widely considered the best NBA prospect not currently in the NBA. The 25-year-old, 6-foot-6 swingman is a strong, athletic, aggressive player who has shined on the Argentina national team and in Europe. He's averaging 13.7 ppg and 5.7 rpg in 25 mpg for Tau. Nocioni's a solid perimeter shooter with NBA 3 point range, but he shines posting guys up and playing the mid-range game. Teams have wanted him for some time, but a big buyout with Tau has prohibited him from making the leap. To get him this year, a team will have to give up a large chunk of its mid-level exception. He's worth it.

Arvydas Macijauskas, G, Tau Ceramica -- Macijauskas burst onto the scene last summer in Sweden, where he was named the MVP of the European Championships. Widely considered the best young shooter in Europe, the 23-year-old Lithuanian has had a big year at Tau, averaging 19.4 ppg and shooting an amazing 90.9 percent from the free-throw line. When he's on . . . he's amazing. The biggest question about Macijauskas is position. At 6-foot-3, he's not a not a true point guard and may have trouble making the transition in the pros. Still, several teams are very interested and he could make some money this summer.

Fabrico Oberto, C, Parmesa Valencia -- Oberto is the best veteran big man in Europe and was stellar against the U.S. in the World Championship in 2002. He's a smart, do-it-all big man who reminds some of Vlade Divac. The native of Argentina is 30 years old and has struggled to get out of his contract the past few seasons. This could be his year. Several veteran teams in need of a big man who can play right away could use him. He averaged 13.3 ppg and 5.6 rpg in the Euroleague this year.

Sarunas Jasikevicius, PG, Maccabi Tel Aviv -- Another native of Lithuania, Jasikevicius is a 3 point specialist who shot a scintillating 44 percent from behind the arc this season. He's a passionate, fiery floor leader who has the toughness, grit and outside shot to succeed in the league in a reserve role. He averaged 15.9 ppg and 4.7 apg in Euroleague play this season -- great numbers for the team he was playing on. I don't think he's a starting point guard in the NBA, but he could be a very nice backup for someone.

Ognjen Askrabic, F, FMP Zeleznik -- Askrabic is the best scorer, rebounder and assist man in the Adriatic league, and several NBA teams have flirted with bringing him over the past two summers. The issue for Askrabic is position. He's a do-it-all type of player, but some scouts don't believe he's quick enough to guard NBA threes or strong or big enough to guard NBA fours. I've seen him play in Serbia and think he's got a real shot at being a nice NBA player, but so far teams have balked at his asking price.

Others to watch: Demos Dikoudis, PF, AEK (Greece); Walter Hermann, PF, Argentina; Nikola Vujcic, PF/C, Croatia