LaMelo Ball (01′, 6-7, PG/SG, USA, Illawara)
LaMelo Ball (pictured) is considered an international prospect since he decided to go pro almost 3 years ago in Lithuania, before deciding to play in Australia this season. The talented guard hasn’t played since the 30th of November because of a foot injury (which was called a bone bruise). Actually, he won’t play again this season, since he decided to shut it down and prepare for the NBA Draft. The truth is that Ball got injured just about when the hype around him was peaking. He had 2 triple-doubles in a row before he got hurt, showing scouts exactly what they wanted to see. Ball started slowly, but eventually found his rhythm and was able to demonstrate the things that make him special, such as his great size for a guard, his scoring and passing instincts and his unique creativity. At the same time, the elephant in the room is his inconsistency – one might even call it even erratic – shooting selection that leads to efficiency issues, his approach on defense and his thin frame. And that’s without even mentioning his injury and his family history. With that said, Ball is as talented as any player in this year’s NBA Draft and destined to be a high lottery pick.
There are some who think that he might even be the most talented. His feel for the game is undeniable. Where will this lead him? That’s the big question.
Deni Avdija (01′, 6-9, SG/SF, Israel, Maccabi)
Two years ago Deni Avdija drew Luka Doncic comparisons. His size, feel for the game and ability to create his own shot were the main reasons. Two years later, those comparisons have subsided, but that’s not a bad thing. Players like Luka Doncic don’t come around that often. But that doesn’t mean that Avdija has disappointed. On the contrary, he has created his own hype with his approach. Playing for a EuroLeague powerhouse, the Israeli prospect has managed to find a place in the rotation, gaining good playing time in the Israeli 1st League, while he had the chance to show some things even in EuroLeague. Avdija is probably the best player of his generation in Europe and definitely the most versatile. He can play 2-4 and has even spent some time as the main ball handler in his team. He has elite size for a wing, he can create his own shot, play the Pick and Roll as the ball handler and take advantage of his great court vision thanks to his elite basketball I.Q. More importantly, he is no pushover on defense. He has bulked up and can even guard some power forwards and contest shot around the rim. At the same time though he also has his red flags. He is an average athlete, despite his good shooting mechanics and good percentages he is an inconsistent from the 3-point line, he is shooting an abysmal 56% from the free throw line and is foul prone. Still, with all that said, he is definitely a
Theo Maledon (01′, 6-5, PG, France, ASVEL)
The French prospect has made a lot of scouts look at him thanks to his athletic profile. Having elite size for a point guard, an unusual maturity for a player his age and two-way potential thanks to his combination of sneaky athleticism and basketball I.Q, it just makes sense. The fact that he was a starter in ASVEL – a team with title inspirations in France – since last season only made things better. The truth is that Maledon has an up and down season, with a minor injury being one of the reasons. Playing for the first time in EuroLeague, under a demanding coach in a team full of guards, he occasionally had to take a step back. Even under that circumstances he has been able to show flashes of his game though and that's the reason he is still considered a lottery pick.
Killian Hayes (01′, 6-5, PG/SG, France, Ulm)
Killian Hayes looks the complete opposite of Maledon. He is a new generational guard, who is always in attack mode searching for his shot, without forgetting to feed his teammates, but at the same time his shooting beyond the arc is a work in progress. His decision to go to a foreign country (Germany) at the age of 18 took a lot by surprise, but a few months later it looks like a good call. Playing in a League with a high pace and a lot of American players, the lefty guard has plenty of playing time, he can learn from his mistakes and continue polishing his game, making a case for being a Top-15 pick. If he manages to improve his 3-point shooting, then the sky will be the limit for him.
Leandro Bolmaro (00′, 6-7, PG/SG, Argentina, Barcelona)
The Argentinian prospect was suppose to be a member of Barcelona B, making it difficult for the scouts to evaluate him, just like players like it happened in the past with former Barcelona players such as Mario Hezonja and Rodions Kurucs. A series of injuries in the first team though forced Barcelona to promote Bolmaro in October and for a bried time the Argentintian prospect managed to blow everyone with his game playing mostly as a point guard in one of the best teams in Europe. Bolmaro has the classic Argentinian fearless mentality. He can play every perimeter position, create his own shot and also play a facilitor role, while also can be really creative. And he was able to show all these things for some games both in EuroLeague and Spanish ACB, the two best Leagues outside the NBA. His shooting is his biggest problem for now and the fact that the last couple of weeks has fallen out of the rotation because senior players are coming back don’t work on his favor. But anyone who watched him at the beginning of the season knows that the talent is there.
Abdoulaye N'Doye (’98, 6-7, PG/SG, France, Cholet)
It took almost 2 years for Abdoulaye N'Doye to bring it all together since he blew a lot of scouts away with his combination of size, defensive mentality and two-way potential as a 6-7 point guard. It turns out, all he had to do was to slide over to the shooting guard position, where he has flourished this season. The auto-eligible guard is a good (not great) athlete, with amazing length (7-2 wingspan!), who can make life miserable for opposing guards. At the same time, he has improved on the other end of the floor as a secondary playmaker, while he has also improved as a shooter in Spot Up situations (although the sample is small). N’Doye looked like he had lost his way the last two years, but has emerged this season as a potential mid second rounder.
R.J Hampton (01′, 6-6, PG/SG, USA, NZ Breakers)
Just like LaMelo Ball, R.J Hampton elected to go pro and play in NBL. The difference is that Hampton played on a veteran team, where he didn’t have the freedom that Ball enjoyed. Still, playing against grown men definitely hepled him expand his game in a way that probably wouldn’t be able to do if he had gone to college. Hampton is an electric talent. He is a great athlete, with great size for his position and a body that can fill out. He can run an offense at a solid level, he takes advantage of his athleticism to go all the way to the basket and can shoot off the dribble from mid-range. It’s his two-way potential though that makes him intriguing. With all that said, he has a long ways to go as a shooter in Spot Up and Catch and Shot situations, which is essential in this era for a guard.
Aleksej Pokusevski (01′, 7-0, SF/PF, Serbia, Olympiakos)
The Serbian prospect is probably the most intriguing international prospect of this year’s NBA Draft, assuming that he will actually declare. Born in late December of 2001, Pokusevski is actually 18 years old, which makes him one of the youngest players (if not the youngest player) that could hear his name. The Serbian prospect plays in Olympiakos B Development Team in 2nd Division, where he had some good monets playing mostly as a small forward. Pokusevski looks like a basketball anomaly. Standing at 7 feet with a wing's skillset, high basketball I.Q, above average shooting, great court vision and ability to protect the rim, he has made a lot of scouts… drooling. At the same time, his narrow frame, lack of physicality and dubious perimeter defense can be considered as red flags by some people. If that wasn't enough, Pokusevski missed 3 months of action because of a knee injury which was called a bone bruise. Long story short, Pokusevski’s draft stock is as volatile as any players in this year’s draft, since he could be from a mid to late first rounder, to early second rounder.
Arturs Zagars (00′; 6-3, PG, Latvia, Joventut)
Considered by many as the best point guard of his class, Arturs Zagars has found it difficult to make a strong case this season. Playing for a team full of guards, the Latvian prospect has struggled to find consistent playing time and there is a fear he might not be able to improve. With that said, he is still a player everybody has their eyes on. Zagars is a Pick and Roll maestro. A fearless point guard, who can score off the dribble, pass the ball and at the same time can go all the way to the basket despite his size. He has a lot of fans around the NBA and he could make a case to be an early second rounder.
Paul Eboua (00′, 6-8, PF, Cameroon, Pesaro)
Playing for the first time at a high level in the Italian First division, there are still two things that stand out in Eboua’s case: 1. He is intriguing because of his combination of size and athleticism. 2. He is still raw. Last season Eboua played in Italian Second division with mixed results. One year later he is looking much more comfortable in the First division. He has made progress as a shooter (baby steps, but still something is better than nothing), he is still a very good rebounder (and a relentless one on offensive boards) and has shown flashes as a defender. His feel for the game and skill set though are still a work in progress, which limit his potential. He is mostly a draft and stash, or draft and… G-League prospect for now.
Arturs Kurucs (00′, 6-3, PG/SG, Latvia, VEF Riga)
One of the most interesting prospects of this class, Artuts Kurucs has many weaknesses, but one major strength that forces a lot of scouts watching him: He can score with the best of them. The younger brother of Rodions Kurucs is a scoring machine, with his ability to score off the dribble in pull up situations at such a young age making him intriguing. He is more of a combo guard for now and he will never have the athleticism and length to guard wings – which make it necessary for him to become a point guard – and although he is productive he is playing at an extremely low level of competition in Latvian-Estonian League. But he is definitely a player to keep an eye on.
Giorgos Kalaitzakis (99′, 6-6, PG/SG, Greece, Nevezis)
Giorgos Kalaitzakis is one of the best prospects of his generation in Europe, but he had to turn 21 years old and go on loan from Greek powerhouse, Panathinaikos, to Nevezis to finally get a chance. It turned out that he took the right decision, since in Nevezis he is having a solid season. The level of competition isn’t that high and Kalaitzakis is having some efficiency problems, taking some shots that he shouldn’t take. But at least he is having plenty of playing time and exposure to learn from his mistakes. Kalaitzakis is an all around wing. A gifted scorer, who can score of the dribble and make difficult shots and create opportunities for his teammates, while also can play defense at good level. He is more of a half-court playmaker for now, he needs to improve his 3-point shooting and become more consistent, but the talent is there.
Dalibor Ilic (00′, 6-9, SF/PF, Serbia, Igokea)
Potential. That’s the first thing that someone thinks when he is watching Dalibor Ilic for the first time. The Serbian prospect is a combo forward with an NBA body, with good athleticism and length. After an inconsistent showing in FIBA’s U19 World Championship for a disappointing Serbian team, Ilic returned to his club team where he is having a bigger role. Playing mostly as a power forward, Ilic has his good and bad moments. He definitely is someone to keep an eye on since he fits perfectly in the non positional switch on everything era. But there is a red flag with him for now: His shooting. If he doesn’t improve in that area, it will be difficult for his stock to rise.
Amar Sylla (01′, 6-9, PF, Senegal, Oostende)
The forward from Senegal decided to leave Real Madrid and sign with Oostende in the fast growing Belgium League in an interesting decision. Sylla knew that he could never have a chance to play in a loaded Real Madrid, so he chose playing time over level of competition, hoping that he would have a season that would put him in the first round competion. Somehow, he managed to confuse the scouts even more. Sylla has just too many ups and downs in his game. Playing mostly as a power forward and his
team asking him to stretch the floor, there are times that he looks like a first rounder and other times that he just looks lost. Sylla is long, athletic, very good on the open court and has a high defensive upside. But he is too thin to play as a power forward and lacks the basic fundamentals to play as a small forward. He is the definition of a tweener, which can either be good or bad, depending on how much you like him, but for now this is a bad thing.
Malcolm Cazalon (01′, 6-6, SG, France, Leuven/Mega Bemax)
Cazalon’s decision to leave his team in France (Bourg) and sign with Leuven from Belgium backfired. It was probably the worst case scenario for him, who was hoping to make a strong case for himself in Belgium, but never really managed to find a role. He left his team in December and signed with Mega Bemax, a team built to promote NBA prospects – having done this in the past for players like Nikola Jokic, Ivica Zubac, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Goga Bitadze and Adam Mokoka – but he hasn't played since then. Cazalon is a player with two-way potential. An athletic lefty wing who is already great in transition and can score in many ways and at the same time play solid defense. But his shooting needs a lot of work and the same applies for his motor. He will really need to step up his game in the last 3 months of the season if he wants to declare in this year’s NBA Draft.
Nikita Mikhailovskii (00′; 6-7, SF, Russia, Avtodor)
The Russian prospect drew some real interest last season, having some pretty good games in VTB League, looking like a prospect worth keeping in mind. One year later, Mikhailovskii looks like has hit a wall. Mikhailivskii’s motor comes and goes and that’s probably his biggest problem. Playing for an inconsistent team, the Russian prospect hasn’t really shown anything different from the beginning of the season. He still remains a great shooter, who can also put the ball on the floor and (when he is motivated) can have an all around game and look like an NBA prospect. But he has to prove that he can be consistent and thus far this hasn’t happened.
Henri Drell (00′, 6-9, SF/PF, Estonia, Pesaro)
Another great prospect who chose to switch teams this past summer to find playing time with disheartening results. Henri Drell left his team in Germany (Brose Bamberg) to play in Italian’s 1st League with Pesaro, but he hasn’t really manage to make a case for himself. Playing for the first time at a high level, the Estonian wing has struggled mightily in every aspect of the game, even in scoring, which is suppose to be his calling card. Drell is a gifted scorer, with great size, who has shown flashes of a future NBA player. After the season he is having though it's difficult to see him declaring for this season's NBA Draft.
Louis Olinde (98′, 6-10, SF/PF, Germany, Bamberg)
Louis Olinde is in his draft-eligible year, having the best season of his young career. The truth is though that he still looks like he has long ways to go, despite his improvement in almost every area of his game. The German prospect once again leaves a lot to be desired, having a shaky motor and not fully taking advantage of his great physical tools. Olinde has been on the NBA radar for ages. His versatility on defense, ability to make the simple play and potential as a Spot Up shooter (mostly Standstill) are what makes him a perfect fit for the modern era. He could still get drafted in the second round because of his upside, but for this to happen he has to convince scouts that he has the dawg in him.
Borisa Simanic (98′, 6-11, PF, Serbia, Crvena Zvezda)
An NBA prospect for years, Borisa Simanic is having his last draft eligible year, taking a step back this season. With Crvena Zvezda playing in EuroLeague, Simanic found himself behind many veterans, doing most of his work in Aba League in low competitive games.Simanic was always intriguing. Standing at 6-11, being a fluid athlete and a very good shooter, he had “Stretch-4” written all over him. He could make plays off the dribble, he could switch to guard perimeter players. He can still do a lot of those things. But his limited playing time this season and his inconsistent performances and energy has hurt his stock.