This year’s International Draft Class is shaping up to be one of the all time greats with the obvious huge catch at the top as well as a number of other intriguing talents. Here is a look at this year’s group and how they have fared through the first few months of the season.
Victor Wembanyama (7-2, PF, 2004, Metropolitans 92)
It’s difficult to find words to describe what Victor Wembanyama is doing this season. With every basketball fan watching him all the time, the French prospect has managed to thrive under this massive pressure, having the most dominant season by an international teenager prospect since Luka Doncic and Alperen Sengun, but he is even more impressive. Wembanyama’s decision to sign for Metropolitans 92, a team built in a way to highlight his talent, was brilliant. Playing once a week in the French League – probably the closest League to NBA style – Wembanyama has been dominant. Playing as a power forward, the French prodigy has brought havoc to opponents. Wembanyama is moving like a wing on the offensive end, while he terrors opponents on the defensive end with his length and athleticism. What’s more impressive though is that he is doing all these things while knowing that everyone is watching – via NBA TV – looking unaffected by all this hype. It’s more than obvious that if he stays healthy and continues improving his skills the future is bright for him.
Rayan Rupert (6-7, SG, 2004, New Zealand Breakers)
The 6’7 French prospect started the preseason well for the New Zealand Breakers of the NBL and created a buzz among NBA Scouts. Unfortunately, he had not played since November 5th due to a broken right wrist. The cast was taken off in late December and he made his debut on January 3rd scoring 14 points in 18 minutes. In the 3 games since his return he is 5-for-9 from three while averaging 10 points per game in roughly 15.5 minutes per game.
Rupert decided to follow in the the footsteps of players like LaMelo Ball, Ousmane Dieng and Hugo Besson, signing with a team in NBL with hopes that he would be able to better showcase his talent. The NBL is a tough League and going there straight from French’s 3rd division has proven to be a challenge for the talented guard. With that said, Rupert has shown some of his potential, especially on the defensive end, where he can be a beast. He is a big wing, with crazy length (measured with an almost 7-3 feet wingspan), great hands and a good level of athleticism. Playing for a loaded team, he has been able to earn playing time thanks to his defensive instincts. At the same time, he still scores most of his points in transition and needs to work on his Jump Shot and decision making. Being a versatile defender always enhances a player’s career, but Rupert’s ceiling will be determined by his evolution on the offensive end.
Nikola Djurisic (6-8, G/F, 2004, Mega Soccerbet)
One of the players that everyone is keeping an eye on, the Serbian prospect is having a good season in the ABA League, especially considering that he is a teenager playing on the perimeter in a competitive environment, despite some ups and downs.
Djurisic is an all around wing with great size. He is at his best when he has the ball in his hands, having the ability to play the Pick and Roll as the ball handler (he runs almost 10 PnR per game this season, in an obvious attempt from his team to showcase his strengths), where he either can try to score, or create for his teammates, while he is also a foul magnet. His size and above average athleticism is useful on the defensive end also.
At the same time though, he is still an inconsistent shooter, both from the free throw line and the 3-point line and has problems against athletic wings. As is the case for a lot of players of this year’s international class, shooting is something that will factor into his ceiling.
Berke Buyuktuncel (6-9, F, 2004, Tofas Bursa)
The Turkish prospect had a few scouts notice him in the summer of 2021, but it was this past summer that more people started to take him seriously, since he led Turkey to the silver medal in FIBA’s U18 European Championship, earning first team honors. Even better, he is part of the rotation for his team in the competitive Turkish League, holding his ground, despite the – reasonable for his age – ups and downs.
Buyuktuncel is a versatile lefty combo forward. He is long and likes to Post Up, punishing miss-matches. He moves well without the ball and is a very good offensive rebounder. But it’s his potential as a shooter that makes him really intriguing. He is an inconsistent shooter for now and has to bulk up his body so that he will be able to hide his athletic limitations, but if he manages to improve his shooting then his stock will rise considerably.
Nikos Rogkavopoulos (6-8, G/F, 2001, Denizli Belediye)
After years of shortcomings, the Greek prospect finally found the right situation for him. It turned out that he just had to leave his country so that he could be away from all the pressure that was upon him to become the next big thing in Greece.
Rogkavopoulos is the most productive player of his class (2001), having great games in the competitive Turkish League. The auto-eligible guard/forward has flourished in Denizli, playing mostly off the ball, which allows him to be himself. Rogkavopoulos is a good shooter, with one of the most smooth shooting mechanics of his generation, with range that goes all the way up to NBA 3-point line, while at the same time is great at moving without the ball, being in constant movement, cutting to the basket.
His ups and downs – even in the same game – were always a major problem for Rogkavopoulos, who was seeking for a team that would give him the chance to have a consistent role, something that happened this season. Once considered one of the best European players of his generation, it remains to be seen whether this season’s outburst will be enough for him to get drafted in the second round.
Bilal Coulibaly: The 6’7 wing was the show out international player during the Summer “Brony James European tour”. His wingspan, athleticism,and shooting range makes him an intriguing prospect. Seldom used with the A team of the Metropolitains, he has leveraged his experience practicing under the tutelage of France national team coach Vincent Collet to being the second leading scorer in the U21 French league at 19.9 ppg. Born in 2004, Coulibaly is a possible early draft entrant for this season but given his current playing time situation is more likely to be a candidate for the 2024 draft.
Thierry Darlan: After impressing NBA personnel and being MVP at Basketball Without Borders Africa over the summer (recap here). Darlan built some more momentum at the Tarkanian Classic, playing for the NBA Academy Africa team, where more NBA personnel watched him live. Born in 2004, the 6’7 wing with a 7 foot 2 wingspan is draft eligible for this season but is still in an early developmental stage and is more likely to head to college, with both Santa Clara and Arizona showing interest or with the G League Ignite.
Tom Digbeu: After two disappointing seasons overseas, first in Lithuania, and then in Australia, Digbeu, auto eligible for the 2023 NBA Draft, returned to his native France playing in LNB Pro B for AS Alsace. The 6’5 wing by all accounts has had an impressive season so far: averaging 20.4 ppg and 4.7 rebounds, while shooting 52.6% from the field. Whether that enough to re-establish his status as an NBA prospect after the two past seasons and fizzling out of the G-League after one game this season is yet to be determined, but he has unquestionably played well in his first 7 games in France. Born in Barcelona, Digbeu recently declared, going forward, he would play as a Spanish International.
Hugo Gonzalez: The 2006 Born Spanish talent scored his first point for Real Madrid in the ACB league this season. In the Junior circuit he was just voted the MVP of the Hospitalet tournament held on Dec 16-18. Continues to be considered one of the top 2006 born international prospects. He will be playing at the ANGT in Munich on the weekend of 1.20.23.
Nadir Hifi: A relatively unknown prior to this season, the 2002 born point guard is having the second best season of all draft eligible players in the French league. Hifi ,who was voted Betclite player of the month in December, is averaging 15.6 points and 7.5 assists in his first 16 games of the season with good shooting splits. On the other hand he is diminutive in size, he will need to continue to demonstrate defensive tenacity and good shooting splits. He is eligible to play internationally both for either France or Algeria having played as a youth for Algeria. He is auto eligible for the 2024 NBA Draft.
Zaccharie Risacher: Risacher, a top international prospect for the 2024 NBA Draft class, had his top Euroleague performance on January 11, 2023 against Barcelona. Playing a career high minutes (21) and points (7) in Euroleague play. Displaying his smooth jumper and some fight on the defensive end.
Elhadji Dame Sarr: The 2006 born player continues to develop into one of the top international players in his class. With real potential as a future 3 and D player. He displayed his long range marksmanship and was voted in the top 5 at the Hospitalet tournament held Dec 16-18.
Musa Sagnia: Born in 2003, the 6’8 Gambian has benefited with real playing time by playing for Manresa, one of the weaker teams in the ACB. While he lacks good handles, he has shown good awareness and the ability to shoot the 3.
Alex Toohey: Like Darlan, Toohey, 6’8 Forward via Australia, was impressive at the Tarkanian Classic. The Gonzaga commit is another player to monitor for the 2024 NBA Draft.
Juan Nunez (6-4, G, 2004, Ratiopharm Ulm)
The Spanish guard made a bold decision in the offseason when he decided to leave Real Madrid and move to Ulm, a team that has earned the reputation as a club willing to give plenty of playing time and opportunities to young players (Just remember Killian Hayes). It was a good decision.
The lefty guard is having a solid season in the competitive German League, where he has to face experienced American guards every game, showing signs of a good playmaker. Nunez is a typical Spanish guard: He has nice size, he is really quick, has a great first step, ans with very good basketball I.Q and ability to create for his teammates thanks to his court vision. He has great Pick and Roll tools, while he is a good on ball defender. Shooting was – and still is – his major flaw, which limits him to some degree. While occasionally he can be a little wild on the offensive end, turning the ball over, the talent is there.
James Nnaji (6-10, C, 2004, Barcelona)
With many on and offs in Barcelona’s rotation, it has been tricky for scouts to evaluate the Nigerian prospect, who has been under the microscope for almost two years now. Barcelona is known for playing hide and seek with scouts when it comes to NBA prospects (Mario Hezonja, Rodions Kurucs are prime examples of that, while this was also the case to some degree with Leandro Bolmaro), but the truth is that Nnaji has taken playing time – even in… small doses – making the best of his opportunity.
Nnaji is a beast. He has had an NBA body since he was 16 years old and an amazing physical profile. His defensive potential as a mobile big with the ability to switch on the perimeter is what separates him from others, while on the offensive end has shown some promise in Pick and Roll situations as the roller. The downside is that he is still raw. He is pretty limited offensively, although his footwork looks improved when Posting Up. Playing for one of the best teams in Europe makes it difficult for him to show other aspects of his game, since he has to stay focused on his role. Still, the upside is just too intriguing to ignore.
Ousmane Ndiaye (6-11, F/C, 2004, Baskonia)
The Senegalese prospect decided to leave his German club and sign with Baskonia, playing for the club’s second team in Spanish 3rd League. It’s been kind of a roller coaster season for him, but that was to be expected. A look at Ndiaye is more than enough for someone to understand why there is hype around him. He is long, athletic and has smooth shooting mechanics, with potential for him to become a stretch big in the future. He is still raw though. His feel for the game is debatable. He shoots a hair below 50% at the rim at Spanish’s 3rd League despite his physical tools. His Catch and Drive game comes and goes. There are times when everything clicks and he looks like an NBA prospect. Then, there are times when something just looks off. Still, it’s true that he has made strides in his development. and It’s just his first year of eligibility. He is far from a finished product, but has a lot of potential.
Malcolm Cazalon (6-6, G/F, 2001, Mega Soccerbet)
It’s now or never for the French prospect. And he sure has acknowledged that. Being in his last year of eligibility, Cazalon is having a solid season in the – traditionally full of NBA prospects – ABA League, reminding the scouts of both his positives and negatives.
Cazalon was always someone to have an eye on, being part of an interesting French generation along with Killian Hayes and Theo Maledon. Everyone loved his physical tools and ability to run in transition like a deer, finishing plays with power and finesse. It was his ups and downs and shooting stroke that made people reluctant. He sure has improved regarding his inconsistency. But 3-point shooting is still a major issue for him even in FIBA’s 3-point line. Cazalon is a scorer and a great athlete who excels on the open floor, who at the same time has improved as a secondary playmaker and has the physical tools to become a good defender. But his below average shooting is hurting his stock.
Tristan Vukcevic (6-11, F/C, 2003, Partizan)
Hot and cold. That’s the type of season Tristan Vukcevic is having in Partizan this season, where he has a lot of veterans in front of him. The Serbian prospect rarely plays in EuroLeague, but that changes when his team is playing in the ABA League, where he has done most of his damage, having some good showings.
7-footers – or near 7-footers – with 3-point range are still not easy to find and Vukcevic has that working for him, along with his basketball I.Q, feel for the game and potential to play either front court position. He is not overly athletic and perimeter defense could be an issue for him. Mostly though what everyone wants to see is him having lots of playing time, so that he can further evolve.
Matthew Strazel (6-0, G ,2002, Monaco)
The French prospect decided to transfer to Monaco this season, where he plays behind 3 players with NBA experience (Mike James, Ellie Okobo and Jordan Loyd). This is definitely a challenge for him, since he has most of his playing time in the French League, playing sparingly in EuroLeague.
Strazel is an interesting player. Undersized but with a great body and an explosive first step. He started as a combo guard but he is now a point guard, who can play the Pick and Roll and – if he has the green light – will shoot from everywhere on the floor. Size and the fact that some scouts considered him a combo guard made things difficult for him, but he might have more fans among scouts than some people realize.
Keye Van Der Vuurst De Vries (6-4, PG, 2001, Oostende)
One of the best passers of his generation in Europe, the Dutch point guard is having a good season, showcasing his playmaking ability. Being in the last year of his eligibility, getting drafted might seem a little optimistic, but you never know when it comes to point guards with his size and style of play.
Van Der Vuurst De Vries is a Pick and Roll maestro. A Bigman teammate’s dream, he likes to feed the rolling man, while also he has no problem finding a player on the perimeter. Scoring is the last thing is his mind and shooting… comes and goes, while he is also inconsistent on the defensive end. But he just has some interesting tools.
Roko Prkacin (6-9, F, 2002, Girona)
Once considered one of the best players of his generation – and some people thought he might even be THE best player of his class – the Croatian forward has seen his stock crumbling for a variety of reasons. From injuries, to bad fit with his teams and mostly the fact that what everyone’s fears seems to be the reality for him: He might have hit a plateau physically when he was still a teenager and his game hasn’t translated the same way at the senior level.
After years of trying to become a combo forward, Prkacin is now considered a power forward. Some of his traits are still there: His strong body, his basketball I.Q, the way he moves without the ball, his fearless approach to the game. But from a bad, reluctant, 3-point shooter, he has become a non shooter, not even attempting 3s any more. He is a good athlete, but not good enough to guard athletic power forwards or wings. Since he has an additional year of eligibility, he might want to change some things and try again next year.
Mario Nakic (6-9, F, 2001, Igokea)
Another auto-eligible wing who was considered to be special but realized that things were different at the senior level. The truth is that Mario Nakic actually started the season great with Igokea in ABA League, but then he had a major injury in his knee at the worst possible time.
Mario Nakic is a naturally talented wing with great size. A good shooter and an acceptable passer, with some good moments on defense, and he looked ready to have a breakout season before his injury.
Reynan dos Santos (6-3, G, 2004, Franca Basquete Sao Paulo)
The Brazilian guard burst on the scene this summer, when he had a great tournament in the FIBA Americas U18 with his national team and has been on the NBA radar since then. The truth is though that it has been difficult for him to improve his stock further this season. Being part of the best team in Brazil, a team full of veterans, makes it hard for the teenager guard to have major playing time, while he also is forced to play off the ball, when he is at his best with the ball in his hands.
With that said, Dos Santos is still an intriguing prospect. A flamboyant lefty combo guard, who loves to drive to the basket and finish plays either with power or finesse, while he has potential as a defender. For him to play at the next level he has to improve his shooting and decision making, and it wouldn’t hurt him to become more of a point guard. But the talent is there.
Lefteris Mantzoukas (6-9, PF, 2003, Panathinaikos)
It’s been almost 5 years since the Greek prospect was introduced to the basketball world. A lot has happened since then. He bulked up considerably, he moved to Greek powerhouse, Panathinaikos, and he is now considered a power forward and not a combo forward. But his stock has fallen again.
Mantzoukas plays more this season – mostly in the Greek League. His range has improved and is mostly a Spot Up/Catch and Drive forward, with some good moments on defense. But time is catching up with him. At some point he must have his breakout season. It’s not too late for him, but the clock is ticking.
Michael Caicedo: Has been on the draft radar for a while. The 6’6 guard was always going to have a difficult time getting consistent playing time for FC Barcelona but only playing 4 minutes per game in 7 games it’s hard to be able to learn through his mistakes.
Pacome Dadiet: Where is Dadiet? The disappearing act of one of the top 2005 prospects of France is problematic after showing real potential around this time last year. He has not played this year over a transfer dispute between his former club Paris and his current club Ulm. Missing this year of development on the court is not a good look for either clubs and the hope is that this dispute will be resolved sooner rather than later. (Editor’s note: On Friday, January 13th, it was announced that the two clubs had partially resolved their dispute and that Dadiet would be allowed to play in the 3rd division in German league and at the ANGT Munich while they resolve the remaining issues)
Ariel Hukporti: Hukporti has been a familiar name on many people’s draft boards the last season or two. The German center tore his achilles playing for Melbourne in the NBL back in September and will not be playing basketball in the 2022-23 season.
Armel Traore: Showed his athleticism early in the season for the Metropolitains, showing some intrigue at 6’8 as a potential 3 and D candidate. Unfortunately tore his meniscus and is said to be out for another two months making it very unlikely he will be able to pique enough interest for the 2023 NBA Draft.
Agustin Ubal: After playing well against team USA for the Uruguayan men’s national team, in late August,(where he scored 10 points) there was some hope for this upcoming season. Unfortunately at Bilbao, just as when he was with Barcelona, he is unable to earn the playing time necessary to create any buzz as a prospect. The 6’6 wing is averaging a miniscule 3.4 minutes per game.
**Eric Guilleminault contributed to this report