I spent the last week in October and the first week of November in one of the hotbeds of International Basketball prospects, Paris, France. Over that time I watched live performances of the Under 21 (Espoirs) and pro teams of Blois, Chalons/ Saône, Nanterre, Paris, and Saint Quentin. A special shout out to both Nanterre and Paris who provided great access and atmosphere as I attended their games.
Both club’s fans showed great enthusiasm with chants, drums playing and passionate fans but are very different in style. Nanterre is a club that has a very local community feel to the game which you can sense that when taking in the games. Paris on the other hand you can feel the big ambitions of the club who is partially owned by former Timberwolves GM David Kahn. Moving into a new state of the art building as soon as February (The main court for the Paris Olympics), the production value to the game is similar to an NBA experience. They strategically place the who’s who of basketball in France courtside, and have a large media production presence. It’s clear that their goal is to be a perennial Euroleague participant and a brand name in Europe.
With that being said, here are the top prospects I observed:
Playing at the Pro Level (Betclic):
Ajinca (pictured) has been a steady riser as a prospect after having a great season in Pro B French League and then becoming the most productive player for the silver medalist French team at the U19 World Cup (out performing both top prospects Alexandre Sarr and Zaccharie Risacher). His play has been uneven so far this season for Saint Quentin. In fact, prior to the game I attended versus Nanterre he had games of 3 points (1/5), 2 points (1/2) and 0 points (0/5). He came off the bench against Nanterre subbing in for former Florida State player MJ Walker and immediately showed some aggressiveness that he had lacked in the previous games and ended up taking 10 shots and getting to the line 4 times. The lefty, with a strong frame and a long wingspan, looked ready physically to play at the NBA level and defend positions (2-4). He can guard point guards in a pinch (and is eager to take on defensive assignments, in full court or putting pressure on wings in half court sets. Offensively, he is both strong and has a good vertical, making him difficult to stop on fast break opportunities. He took two mid range jumpers against Nanterre one starting at the wing coming off a high side pick and roll, 2 dribble free throw line jumper, the other from the right corner 3, one dribble left mid range jumper. On both occasions the shot looked good with a strong follow through. His form from the free throw line also looked good and is averaging 91% for the season. Furthermore In the 12 games he has gotten to the foul line, he has put up statistically better performances then in games where he has no free throw attempts. What hasn’t translated from the summer and last season is his 3 point marksmanship. After going 39% for the season, he is only at 32% this season. in the game I watched, he took the majority of his shots from long distance (2/8) and just two shots from inside the key. Against Nanterre, he took a questionable transition three, given his ability to finish off plays and his shooting slump. In addition, some of those other 3s lacked the conviction that he had over the summer. It was always going to be difficulty to continue the momentum he had built up over the last 15 months but NBA teams are going to have to see some improvement statistically from three, because as of now scouts don’t know if last season and summer was an anomaly or a trend (he was a sub 30% 3 point shooter for Pole France). He finished with 13 points and 6 rebounds.
Dominique Diomande 6’7 Wing 2005 Born (Ivory Coast/French) Blois
Diomande has been accumulating positive buzz this season. He has gotten inquiries from Universities (including a Power 5 SEC school) and his espoirs game against Paris was attended by NBA international scouts of the Clippers, Hornets, and Wizards. Unfortunately, after scoring 7 early points, he dislocated his shooting thumb in the second quarter and was unable to continue, or play for the pro team the next evening. After taking 3 weeks off to heal, he should be on track to return sometime in December. Interview with him from Paris Here:
Armel Traore 6’8 Forward 2003 Born (France) Blois
Some of you may be familiar with Traore as he was the starting power forward for the U20 French team that won gold at the European U20 Championships over the summer. A physical specimen, his best position at this level is at power forward, but he can guard both small forwards and centers when required. He has good length and leaping ability but is a little mechanical with the ball in his hands and needs time to gather. Offensively, he has great touch from the line (81%) and is a strong offensive rebounder. He’s tough to defend near the hoop because of his tenacious effort and his physical traits. While a willing long range shooter from the corner he still needs some development in that area as he went 1/4 at the game I watched against Paris and is just 6/28 (21.4%) for the season. Having played with Boulogne Levallois last season (teammate of Victor Wembanyama and Bilal Coulibaly) exposure to NBA scouts is not an issue for Traore.
Brice Dessert 6’11 Center 2003 Born (France) Blois
Dessert, at 6’11, broad shoulders, and a well filled out body, he has the look and build of a strong 3/4 year college center. Playing at the Betclic level for Blois, he started in the game against Paris. Averaging 6.6 points per game in 16 minutes per play, Dessert’s role on the squad is not to be a focal point in the offense but to set screens, grab rebounds and be an intimidator in the post. Given his lack of shooting touch from the free throw line and from the perimeter, he’s considered more of a fringe prospect at this time.
Playing at Both in Beclic & Espoir:
Fischer was part of the U19 World Cup Silver medal team. Playing against the Saint Quentin Espoir team he was outright dominant and intimidated his opponents with his sheer athleticism. Scoring 11 points while playing a total of just 12 minutes, all in the first half. Air Fischer, as written on the back of his warm ups jerseys, had 3 dunks, 1 block shot and altered several more just by the fear of Fischer’s jumping ability. His best display of athleticism was when he cut baseline from the corner and caught a poorly thrown alley oop pass where he had to catch it one handed from behind, causing him to cock it back and still be able to finish the flush. He also went 1/3 from behind the three point line. He sustained a minor injury right before halftime, which prevented him from playing the second half and to suit up for the pro team later that evening. Given the lacking level of competition from the Saint Quentin Espoir team and the limited minutes he was able to play, it’s hard to give him a fair evaluation, other than he absolutely is an NBA level athlete.
Maxim Logue 6’9 PF/C 2005 Born (France) Paris
Logue was a rotational player for the U18 French team who came in 4th place at the European championships over the summer. Logue looks the part of a top prospect: He has broad shoulders, a plus wingspan, good raw jumping ability and has a strong frame. He did not see the floor at the games I attended for the pro team but played extensively for the Paris Espoir squad. He is a very good option for alley oops on pick and dive opportunities and displayed a good mid range jumper on pick and pop opportunities near the free throw line extended. In addition, he has the agility and the experience to allow him to avoid charges on the fast break and in pick and dive situations by utilizing his strong Euro step. Destined to be a role player, given his lack of handles, but he can increase his opportunities as a pro if he can continue to develop his shooting accuracy and range.
* Mohamed Diawara was sick and did not play in any of the 4 (2 Espoirs, 2 Pro) Paris games I attended
Playing Espoirs (The Future):
Akram Naji 6’4 PG/SG 2007 Born (France) Chalons/Saône
I wrote about Naji as one of the top prospects at the U16 European Championships last summer (here). Naji in his first year at the Espoir level, displayed his silky smooth jump shot both in warm ups and during the game. His range and shooting accuracy, which extends way past the NBA 3 point line, is his biggest strong point at this time. He lacks elite athleticism, but is a very cerebral player who understands angles and will make the right passes. He was still trying to find himself defensively, at this level, but given he is usually playing against opponents 2 to three years older than him, as he matures he should be able to dominate at this level. Definitely a prospect to continue to monitor. He is open to continue his development, both at the pro level in France and at the college level in NCAA.
Ilian Moungalla 6’4 PG/SG 2007 Born (France) Paris
Moungalla has good height and strength for a player his age. Against Chalons he displayed a good mid range game and good ability to run an offense. He has a plus wingspan that allows him to be a strong rebounder at this level. Has a strong body that helps him on switches on the defensive side of the ball. One of the younger standouts.
Hugo Nguyen 6’0 PG 2006 Born (France) Paris
Nguyen was one of the players I was most excited to watch play given I had never seen him before and he was getting mentioned often as an upcoming French talent. Nguyen is a flash of instant offense. When he is in the game, he is looking to push the ball up court at all times. He has great speed and handles. He displayed both the ability to make 3 point shots and the ability to self-create by taking opponents off the dribble, stopping on a dime and hitting the mid range shot. A strong lead guard, he can handle the rock well with either hand. He does have physical limits in his potential however. He’s half Vietnamese descent and is very slim and looks unlikely to gain much more weight or height. In addition, despite his quickness, he lacks vertical power and strength. Nonetheless, a prospect to monitor as he reaches the pro level to see how he adapts against bigger and more explosive opponents. On a side note, I was told he has a younger brother who is also a very good prospect to monitor.
Karl Djopmo Komguep 6’6 CG 2006 Born (France) Nanterre
Komguep displayed good size for a guard. A very heady player, he took control and demonstrated the ability to maneuver well in halfcourt sets and in pick and roll play. He displayed a smooth jump shot, where he currently shoots 45% from three on more than 4 attempts per game. He has a wide body for his age, and opponents had difficulty stopping him from getting to his shooting spots.
Noah Badibanga 6’7 PF 2006 Born (France) Chalon/Saône
Badibanga showed potential as an elite athlete with a long wingspan. While he lacks body mass, he his other physical attributes that allow him to play in the post at this level. Defensively, however, he has the ability and lateral quickness to stay in front of any position on the floor. On offense, he is dangerous on fast breaks and must be accounted for on rebounding situations. He will need to improve in the skill area, as he will most likely end up as a small forward at the next level and needs work both in his handles and jump shot.