“Situational Analysis” is a series of articles that seeks to examine the circumstances that most often influence an NBA prospect’s success. Each player will be scored on a scale from 1-10 in four different categories: NBA-specific skill(s), fatal flaw(s), collegiate/overseas/pre-NBA environment, and ideal NBA ecosystem.

Alexandre Sarr is a 19-year-old center/forward from Bordeaux, France, who averaged 17.2 minutes, 9.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game for the Perth Wildcats in Australia’s NBL. He is expected to be selected among the top-three picks in this year’s draft. NBADraft.net currently has him projected at No. 2.

NBA-Specific Skills

The NBA has transformed more over the last 10 years than it has at any other 10-year period in its history. The geometry of the game began with squares and rectangles before Tex Winter introduced triangles. The space between the five players on the court was clearly defined until Steph Curry and Damian Lillard stretched that space well beyond previously established boundaries. To counteract that space, teams needed to find defensive players who could negate that space through before-unthinkable combinations of length, athleticism, and instinct.

At his best, Alex Sarr is everywhere at once.

At 7-1 with a 7-5 wingspan, Sarr enters the NBA as a legitimate shotblocking threat on day one. He’s lean, but he’s much stronger than he looks. Only the beefiest post brutes in the NBA (think Jokic, Embiid, Valanciunas, etc.) will provide any kind of significant strength mismatch. In today’s pace-and-space NBA, Sarr, even at 220 pounds, will hold up fine against most centers. But it’s his weakside help defense and his ability to switch on the perimeter that will make him a valuable commodity.

Sarr’s defensive upside is close to that of Jonathan Isaac in Orlando, who, when healthy, turns the Magic into a full-scale defensive wrecking machine. Sarr is the rare kind of player who is as comfortable protecting the rim as he is swallowing up ball handlers on the perimeter. Much like Mitchell Robinson, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Sarr rack up blocked shots on opponents’ 3-point attempts.

Sarr also shows terrific rebounding instincts on both ends and excellent hands. He isn’t a “create his own shot” type of offensive threat (and likely never will be), but he provides a vertical spacing threat as a dive man on the pick and roll and runs like a gazelle in transition. The offensive game is still a work in progress, but he shows flashes – the occasional coast-to-coast one-man transition attack off a rebound, the surprisingly slick dribble drive, the emerging perimeter shot, the respectable stroke from the free throw line.

Sarr has all the tools. He just needs time to find the right toolbox to fit them all into. His ready-made defensive skillset should allow him to see enough minutes in actual NBA action to let him work on the rest of his offensive game.

On a scale from 1-10, Sarr’s defensive upside is an 8.5.

Fatal Flaws

Even though it is a down year for the NBA draft, a team picking in the top-three would still prefer to bring in a more polished player.

The offensive skillset is much more hypothetical at this point. It’s a lot of “maybes” without one surefire “definitely.” He might turn himself into a good shooter someday, but the release is still a bit slow, and the results are hit and miss. He might learn to navigate the delicate dance of an NBA pick and roll, but he is still very much locked into that straight-line, dive-to-the-hoop mindset.

Of greater concern, however, is whether Sarr ever turns his prodigious defensive talent into actionable, first-team All-Defense type impact. The league’s best defensive players are 1) extremely competitive, and 2) extremely communicative. Defensive anchors don’t simply clean up messes with weakside shotblocks. They call out coverages, shift matchups on the fly, and talk constantly. Sarr is not a chatty player at this stage of his development. Entire quarters can drift by without realizing Sarr is out there. Granted, he is young and very raw – it takes a unique kind of personality to chirp at teammates who are much older than you. But Sarr’s entire career will be determined by how competitive he becomes.

In a typical draft, Sarr would likely find himself in that 7-11 range, free of the expectations of a top-3 pick. He would be allowed to develop at his own pace. Fair or unfair, that will not be the case this year. He will have to hit the ground running, both physically and temperamentally.

On a scale from 1 (not a concern) to 10 (serious hindrance), Sarr’s combination of rawness and timidty rates at an 8.5.

Pre-NBA Setting

Sarr has the benefit of coming to the NBA from a basketball-first family. His father, Massar, played professionally for several years, and has helped put his children on a path to succeed in this sport. His older brother, Olivier, stood out on several French youth squads and currently holds a two-way contract for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Alex played for Real Madrid’s youth squad for a couple years before moving to America to play in Overtime Elite in Atlanta. Basketball has been a paying vocation for Alex for quite some time. The rigors of NBA life will seem at least somewhat familiar to him already.

His professional career continued last year with a solid campaign for the Perth Wildcats, where his per-minute averages show tremendous promise for what he can accomplish during his rookie contract. Alex has also enjoyed strong runs for both the Spanish and Hungarian FIBA youth teams. He has seen a wide variety of coaches and situations in his young basketball life, and it’s hard to imagine that any NBA situation will catch him by surprise. He’s only 19, but he’s had more professional basketball experiences than most comparable prospects.

On a scale from 1-10, Sarr’s pre-NBA career rates at an 8.

Ideal NBA Ecosystem

The Atlanta Hawks shocked draft watchers by leaping into the top spot of this year’s draft with a 3% chance. They have a borderline playoff team with a lot of questions this offseason, but few of them seem to involve the center spot. Unless this franchise decides to move on from Clint Capela, Onyeka Okongwu, or both (they should hang onto Okongwu), it’s hard to envision this team using the top overall pick on a raw big man that doesn’t address the team’s immediate need at the wing.

Where does that leave Sarr?

The obvious landing spot for Sarr is in Washington for a Wizards squad in need of, well, everything. Sarr won’t turn them into a playoff team overnight, but he would immediately step onto the floor as one of the team’s best defensive players. After trading Daniel Gafford to Dallas at the deadline last season, the Wizards’ front line is awfully thin. Sarr would challenge Marvin Bagley and Richaun Holmes for minutes and help bring a shotblocking/switchability dimension this squad sorely lacks. Plus, he would have fellow countryman Bilal Coulibaly in the locker room. It might not be best for Sarr to enter this perpetually chaotic Wizards situation, but Washington desperately needs the best version of what Sarr brings to the table.

I also like Sarr’s fit in Houston. Defensive-minded head coach Ime Udoka would get the most out of his significant physical tools and he wouldn’t have the pressure to produce right away, as the Rockets are knocking on the door of a potential playoff berth next year. I love the idea of Sarr learning the ropes of NBA defense from having to guard Alperin Sengun in practice every day.

Wherever Sarr ends up, he needs to find himself on a team that allows him to learn on the job. If he doesn’t develop a consistent role with clear expectations and his minutes get jerked around, it’s easy to envision a scenario where Sarr loses confidence.

On a scale from 1-10, Sarr’s situational dependence is an 8.5. He has upside to spare, but he needs the right guidance and the proper runway for it to develop.


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