The Washington Wizards had a disastrous 2015-2016 campaign, and do not have a pick in the first round of Thursday’s NBA draft in Brooklyn. To make up for a poor showing this past season, Wizards fans are praying—like literally praying—that the team’s front office will be able to lure basketball demigod and Prince George’s County native Kevin Durant in the offseason.
But what if the 2014 NBA most valuable player decides he doesn’t want to pull a LeBron and take his world-class talents back to his hometown, where he can achieve eternal legend status by single-handedly bringing a championship to D.C.? Could an Israeli basketball star be part of the the Wiz’s backup plan? Possibly! According to Bleacher Report, Shawn Dawson, a 22-year-old, Eilat-born, 6′ 6″, 195-pound swingman for Maccabi Rishon LeZion received an invite to join the Wizards Summer League team next month.
Although Dawson was one of Ligat HaAl’s heroes this past season—he led Rishon to its first national title after stunning powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv in the league semi-finals—he faces long odds in making the NBA. In addition to being a competitive workout for the NBA’s incoming rookies, the Summer League is a kind of invite-only public audition for players who are on the outer edge of signing NBA or NBA Developmental League contracts. It’s a hard road from there to The Association, but not an impossible one.
In order to make the NBA, Dawson will first have to impress the league’s scouts over the course of three summer league games and land either an NBA training camp invite or a contract in the NBA’s Developmental League. You can dominate the D-league and still only glimpse NBA hardwoods in fleeting, 10-day increments, so it’s unlikely Dawson will be on the Wizards bench when they open the season in October. (According to my buddy and unofficial Scroll Wizards summer league historian Mike Bushnell, the last player the Wizards themselves didn’t draft who made the leap from summer league to opening night roster for the team was guard Lester Hudson, although he had played for the Memphis Grizzlies the year before). Even if Dawson lights up the summer league, he still might not choose the D-league or the far end of an NBA bench over the glory of being a beloved player in his home country’s basketball league.
But say Dawson distinguishes himself and somehow does make an NBA roster this fall. As the highlight reel below shows, Dawson is a dazzling swingman, with the agility to breeze by frontcourt defenders and the size, vertical and wingspan to sink corner 3’s over a towering power forward. His handles probably aren’t nearly as good as say, Steph Curry’s, but watch him clown an opposing perimeter defender 35 seconds into the video. Dawson has the same balletic, pixie-like quality as the Warriors guard, at least when he’s facing Israeli competition.
In the U.S., foreign ballers are often pigeonholed as quick-flopping, elbow-throwing, Euro-stepping role players. Dawson’s the exact opposite, and his game is free-flowing and creative in a way that’s almost stereotypically American. That might have something to do with the reality that owning a basketball court is a lot more fun and exciting than setting picks or rotating into open j’s, assuming you’ve got the ability to do both. The American-ness of his game probably also owes to his background: Dawson’s the son of an Israeli woman and Joe Dawson, a U.S.-born University of Southern Mississippi standout who bounced around the world’s various basketball leagues before settling in Israel in 1991, where he’d rack up a respectable 5,700 career points.
The NBA’s full of high-flying swingman, and it’s hard for a player of Dawson’s size and skillset to prove they have a part to play in what’s fast becoming the most exclusive and demanding athletic league on earth. NBA teams only have room for 14 players, and as the old cliche goes, only one of them can touch the basketball at a time. But even if the NBA doesn’t work out, Dawson’s just the latest example of an Israeli player that’s drawn attention from the NBA, a sign of the rising prestige and level of play in Israel’s domestic league.