After the most compelling NBA season in recent memory unfortunately the drought begins. Never before has the NBA been so accessible and enjoyable to the Australian basketball fan. Between One HD, ESPN and NBA League Pass, every game has been readily available in HD. Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. A normal offseason is bad enough, five NBA free months spent looking forward to opening day. But this is much worse than that. With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement due to expire June 30th, and the NBA claiming to be losing 300 million dollars a year, a lockout seems a mere formality. Even the most optimistic pundits predict that the 2011/12 season will not begin until January 2012 at the earliest. This leaves us with one thing to look forward to - the 2011 NBA Draft. The class of 2011 is shaping to be one of the weakest ever in terms of top tier, All-Star level talent. Kyrie Irving and Derrick Williams are widely tipped to go with the first and second picks to Cleveland and Minnesota respectively. Both project to be solid NBA players, but there’s not much expectation of anything more than that. As ESPN’s Draft Analyst Chad Ford put it, “It’s one of those drafts. No one’s claiming these guys are going to be the next Blake Griffins [or the] next Derrick Rose. These are all risky picks”. With a shortage of NCAA talent available, the spotlight turns to the international contingent. Four international players are projected to taken in the lottery phase of this draft. Perhaps the most intriguing is Bismack Biyombo. Hailing for Congo, Biyombo is 6’9” with an amazing 7’6” wingspan. At just 18 years of age, Biyomba has the physique of a 25 year old. He has been playing at the pro level in Spain and, despite underwhelming numbers (6.8 PPG, 1.3 BPG), rose to prominence during the Nike Hoop Summit with the first triple-double ever recorded in the competition. In terms of comparison, Detroit Piston Ben Wallace and Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka come to mind. [caption id="attachment_1213" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Big-man Jonas Valanciunas has the potential to be a top-5 pick in tomorrow's Draft."][/caption] Another intriguing big man is Enes Kanter, a center that has long been considered a top five pick in this draft. The 6’11” 19-year-old from Turkey is highly regarded for his toughness in the paint and boasts a well-rounded game that includes enough range for him to be considered a legitimate three point threat. His passing ability, for a big man, is also outstanding. Kanter has spent the past 12 months lying idly after an NCAA ruling made him ineligible to play at Kentucky due to problems regarding his amateur status following a brief pro career in Turkey. In part due to the perceived weakness of this year’s class, this has done little to damage his projected draft position. Continuing the trend of international big men is Lithuania’s Jonas Valanciunas. The same age as Kanter, Valanciunas is a genuine seven footer with an impressive 7’4” wingspan that promises to make him an imposing shot blocker and rebounder once he develops NBA level strength. His offensive game is still raw, but expect whoever takes him to treat him as more of a long term prospect than instant help. The nature of this year’s draft adds to the possibility of him being enticing to the GM looking for the home-run rather than the sure thing with less overall potential long term. Now comes Jan Vesely. Despite being widely considered as a top 10 pick had he declared for the NBA Draft last year, Vesely decided to return to the Serbia where he played an additional year with Partizan [caption id="attachment_1214" align="alignright" width="187" caption="Each year, big international prospects face the inevitable comparisons to Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki. Can any of this year's crop reach his greatness?"][/caption] Belgrade. At 6’11” and hailing from the Czech Republic, the 21-year-old had an underwhelming season statistically (9.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG in Euroleague play), but managed to step up and play some of his best basketball in key moments as Partizan took out the Serbian League. His prospects have hurt to some degree by his somewhat failed return to Serbia but his raw athleticism and NBA ready body see him set to have an immediate impact in the NBA. In terms of comparison, think Andrei Kirilenko, providing (of course) that he matches his potential. Other than these four propects who are equal parts boom and bust prospects at NBA level, some interest has been raised about Lithuanian big man Donatas Motiejunas and Latvian small forward Davis Bertans, a 6’10” sharpshooter that played all his basketball as a guard before a major growth spurt turned him into a forward. So despite the apparent low key nature of this draft, the anticipation and excitement is still there. You might need to look a little deeper this year, but as we all know, anything can happen. Scouting is still very much a hit-and-miss practice. The reigning Finals MVP Dirk Nowitzki, for instance, was taken ninth overall, behind ‘superstars’ Larry Hughes and Michael Olowokandi. Kwame Brown, the man considered one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history, was taken first overall ahead of two-time NBA Champion Pau Gasol and Joe Johnson. The negativity about this draft may well be warranted, but for now it’s only speculation. Rather than condemn this draft class to careers of mediocrity, let’s give them a chance to prove their worth. Let’s enjoy the last date on the NBA calendar before the real doom and gloom of the NBA lockout kicks in.