The makeup of NBA rosters is becoming more and more global with every season. Yet, 2023 could see the most star-studded influx of international players in recent memory. Leading the way is Victor Wembanyama. I made the case for Wembanyama as the best prospect in the world back in November and he has only improved and impressed since. At that time, he had recently made his professional debut as a COVID replacement. In the six months since, he has become a starter for Nanterre’s professional team after playing very well in the chances he was given in LNB, as well as the U21 Espoirs league and NM1, France’s third senior division.
Victor Wembanyama thread because there are enough clips to post from today’s game. pic.twitter.com/qXIf8LbAfe— Drew Mastin (@andrewmastin) May 4, 2021
Victor Wembanyama is a generational prospect.— Drew Mastin (@andrewmastin) March 27, 2021
Feel like this is a scheduled weekly tweet at this point but every week he shows something new. He’s also getting stronger, actually initiating contact at times instead of going away from it. I really don’t know what his ceiling is. pic.twitter.com/PEhKwMktzZ
I am even more certain of my assertion that Wembanyama is the best prospect in the world than I was six months ago. However, there is so much more to the 2004-born international generation than one player, despite the pandemic limiting our chances to see them. The first large-scale showcase for a typical generation is the FIBA U16 tournaments. Unfortunately, those tournaments had to be canceled in 2020 which would have been the 2004 generation’s chance. Many leagues throughout the world, especially at sub-professional levels, were forced to cancel or pause their 2020-2021 seasons. Top prospects typically don’t move to full-time professional basketball until two seasons before their draft year so many were unable to play games at all for long stretches of this past year. It remains to be seen how those stoppages affect their chances of starting next season on the senior squad.
In addition to 2004’s top end talent, there is also potential foreign starpower already in North America. Bobi Klintman, Yohan Traore, Adem Bona, and Thierno Sylla are all elite 2003 prospects who plan to graduate and enter college with the class of 2022, which would make them initially draft-eligible in 2023 with more potentially joining them in the next few months. Between these international prospects who will enter from college and the 2001 to 2003-born players that will opt to enter in 2023, there will surely be plenty of depth to this draft as there tends to be with international prospects in recent years. But the stars are what make a group memorable. Despite the obstacles that they’ve faced in their early careers, I think enough prospects born in 2004 have showcased star potential to believe that this international draft class has a chance to go down as the best ever. I’ve ranked the players who could be included in that group.
This is probably not how I would rank these prospects if I had to put together a big board. Typical prospect rankings consider things like a player’s current ability and their most likely future outcome to some varying degree. Instead of considering those factors, I’m ranking prospects by highest realistic ceiling. I’m looking for the guys who make you say, “if he figures it out, it’s going to be scary.” The players who have the tools to become lottery picks if they’re put in the best developmental situations, both on a macro and micro level, in the next two years or so. Many of these prospects fall under the “low floor, high ceiling” label. Inevitably, some of them will never get anywhere near that high ceiling. But those that do will join Wembanyama at the top of this high-profile group of 2004-born international prospects in the 2023 NBA Draft.
Ignacio and I talked more about why I ranked prospects in this order, Wembanyama’s growth, *how* historic of a prospect he could be, and many of the other players below in the most recent episode of the ID Prospects Podcast:
I’ve had some pretty hot takes about Nikola Đurišić recently. It’s hard to not get excited about a prospect who is so physically gifted and plays a guard role at 6’8”. Even as a 16 and 17-year old, Đurišić’s athletic gifts and physicality shined through in the Serbian men’s league.
The power he dunks the ball with and his finishing through defenders, even against opponents who are significantly older than him, are very rare for a young prospect. The athletic gifts that allow him to attack the rim as physically as he does are very hard to find and a big reason why I am a big believer in his future because they show up in other important areas of his game. Đurišić’s physicality, deceleration, and ability to generate downforce appear to be elite. Players like James Harden and Luka Dončić are in the top tier of those categories. Of course, there are some non-superstars in that group as well but prospects who have those traits are usually worth betting on.
Away from the basket, Đurišić’s shot looks really good and he is elite at creating shots off the dribble thanks to his ball handling and many of those same outlier physical tools. The shot creation is what really sets him apart from most prospects as a scorer. Đurišić can stop, create separation, and get off a shot quickly with ease and balance. However, his percentages still need to catch up. This is a common problem for players his age and something that isn’t too worrying yet given his free throw numbers and shooting form. NBA teams will have to see those natural shooting improvements to use a lottery pick on Đurišić in 2023.
One area where he’s improved a lot in the last year is playmaking. Đurišić is now much more comfortable managing an offense and running pick and roll. His vision and willingness to pass is impressive and he’s getting better about moving the ball when he draws help, something that’s happening at higher levels more often. If he continues to progress as a ball handler, Đurišić can contribute as a secondary playmaker who can lead the fastbreak, score at the rim, and close possessions with his off the dribble shot creation. That’s a very valuable archetype to have, especially with positional size and the ability to guard 1-3 or potentially even 1-4.
Đurišić is high on this list because he has the physical tools and numerous realistically attainable areas for growth in the short term that make him a high ceiling prospect at this point in the pre-draft process. He will likely play for KK Mega Soccerbet next year in the ABA, a team that has produced numerous NBA draft picks and a league that will give him better competition and a bigger spotlight.
Nathan Missia-Dio has taken huge leaps since an unremarkable U16 B tournament in 2019. His measurables (reportedly 6’ 8” with a 7’ 7” wingspan) are extraordinary and he’s already starting to fill out his body, but it’s the role he can play at that size that really stands out. Missia-Dio makes great reads as a passer and can handle the ball reliably enough that he is already able to play as an on-ball playmaker in certain situations. But there are also flashes of brilliance as a ball handler that could become much more than that by 2023.
Missia-Dio still tends to back out and try to blow by the defense. He would be much tougher to stop with improved decision-making and quick reactions to start attacking immediately on the catch. This should come with time and reps but how quickly he starts to do that is important. When he begins to attack quicker, he will have to start making new, quicker reads. The sooner he starts attacking defenders immediately — without time to fully assess the defense — the sooner he will learn to make the reads that stem from these situations. The defense will have to react quicker as well and won’t be able to set up help in anticipation of his drives, so improving in this area will certainly be a net positive. However, if he’s still working through these growing pains in the 2022-2023 season, it would certainly hurt his draft stock.
Missia-Dio’s shooting is a fairly new development; he shot just below 30% from three in the 2020-2021 season. Despite the percentages, his form is very fundamental and consistent, a rarity for a 16-year old with his length. His free throw percentages are the biggest concern, at just below 50%. His shot is still far from a finished product but the percentages at the line display the issues he has with touch that may hold him back as a shooter long term.
Missia-Dio has become a much better defender this season. He is extremely versatile, with the size, mobility, and strength to guard any position on the floor. He’s made huge progress off the ball with his timing and anticipation where any improvement is amplified by his insane length. He has the potential to be a very good defender going forward but he has to improve his footwork on the ball and keep developing as a rim protector to become an even more well-rounded defender which would be a huge selling point in the future.
Missia-Dio tends to get stuck playing around the high post early in closer games in Espoirs – France’s top youth league. He gets most of his reps on the ball once games are already decided. He’s very raw and has the potential to be an excellent playmaking wing but it will be tough for him to get the reps with the ball in his hands playing next season. For a team at Limoges’ level, Missia-Dio’s game is not nearly refined enough to do much more than play a prespecified, low-usage role with very little autonomy. He may be better off spending a little more time with the Espoirs team in order to build on the shooting and on-ball flashes we’ve seen this season. A year ago, playing youth basketball in your age-17 season would basically disqualify a prospect from entering the draft in their first year eligible. Giannis was a rare exception in this regard. But that was before Aleksej Pokuševski came along. Poku played for Olympiacos’ U18 team in his age-17 season before playing 11 games with their B team in the Greek second division last year. After being selected 17th by the Oklahoma City Thunder, he had a very, very rough start to his rookie season. After returning from the G-League bubble, he still wasn’t a positive NBA player but he did have some excellent games and more frequently demonstrated his potential to be a very impactful player in the medium to long term future. Despite his lack of positive impact, Pokuševski has risen from #14 before the draft to #6 in the latest 2021 version of CJ Marchesani’s 2020 NBA Draft Class Consensus Prospect Value, in which CJ asks a group of scouts to rank prospects leading into the draft, as well as periodically after the draft. Betting on one of the youngest prospects in the draft (Missia-Dio won’t turn 19 until November 2023) with elite positional size, flashes of brilliance on the ball, and documented periods of rapid growth is one of the best risks you can take in the draft, especially in a year with a full G-League season.
Another “low floor/extremely high ceiling” prospect is Ousmane N’Diaye. There’s a ton of intrigue around N’Diaye, in part because we’ve rarely been able to see him, especially since the outbreak of COVID-19. He’s been practicing with Telekom Baskets Bonn in the German BBL but has yet to make an appearance for them. He played a couple of games at the start of the season with Dragons Rhöndorf in Germany’s top non-professional division, before Germany canceled all amateur sports. N’Diaye’s biggest showcase so far was at the Szent Istvan Cup in January 2020 when he was still 15 years old. His performance in Hungary was more than enough for him to be on NBA radars.
N’Diaye is 6’ 10” with long arms and elite movement for a player his size. He’s extremely nimble and can change direction and navigate through traffic like a guard. He is both excellent at creating space to shoot and excellent at knocking down threes from very long range. What he hasn’t yet shown is the ability to do is make the shots that he creates for himself. But his exceptional shooting on spot-up looks is very encouraging and connecting those two abilities would be a massive development.
N’Diaye’s primary offensive contributions will likely come off the ball, as a spot-up shooter, cutter, and offensive rebounder. He can add plenty of value here, his catch and shoot threes are very consistent, and he plays with energy and intelligence off the ball. A 6’ 10” player who can keep defenders honest and force 4s and 5s to defend the perimeter is always going to be an asset. But that’s not enough to be a star, that comes from his potential with the ball in his hands. While N’Diaye is an extremely impressive ball handler for his size and age, he has some issues with ball control that raise questions about his scalability there. Far too often, N’Diaye is either upright where his dribble is slow and his high center of gravity causes him to get knocked off of spots with ease or he’s hinged forward with his knees bent to allow him to reach low for the ball which significantly slows him down, especially when changing direction. It’s hard to tell if that is a biomechanical, technique, or confidence issue due to lack of film and the possibility it’s a combination of the three. At his size, the margin for error is very small when handling the ball and it gets even smaller as he sees improved defenders. As a result, I don’t see N’Diaye getting nearly as many on-ball reps as he seems to want until he can become a more dynamic ball handler. If he does, N’Diaye’s name could come off the board very early in 2023.
Part of the reason N’Diaye is so reliant on his ball handling is that he lacks the lower body strength to play like a typical big man. He rarely looks to score in the post when he does receive it there and he isn’t usually used as a screener. His size and vision make him a very effective post passer when he draws help, and he has the footwork and mobility to be excellent in the short roll, and the athleticism and finishing to be great on deeper rolls as well. However, he seems to be overwhelmed playing pick and roll at the moment. This is an area where he is going to have to become at least competent as a way to find easier buckets and fit in a modern offense. Lower body strength would go a long way here. Guards tagging or rotating should not be enough to impede his path to the basket.
Defensively, N’Diaye has the size, length, and quickness to be elite. He seems to have a decent understanding of rotations, but his identification is a bit slow. He can move his feet well enough to guard guards and it seems to be where he is most comfortable. N’Diaye should continue to grow physically and be more formidable around the block and mid post. But the hole in his defensive résumé is shot blocking. N’Diaye is able to affect shots at the rim with his standing reach and tower over his man to dissuade a lot of easy looks but he’s yet to show the ability to play above the rim on defense. His lack of contests can be attributed to his slow rotation reactions but his inability to block shots he is in position to contest is confounding given his athletic makeup. Nearly all of his blocks come against his own man and/or when the ball is still in the shooter’s hands. N’Diaye theoretically has all the tools to be an effective rim protector at a high level but he has yet to display anything close to that. A big part of N’Diaye’s ceiling comes from becoming an effective defender. He’ll have to focus on that side of the ball in the next couple years and at least display some potential outside of just raw tools.
Ousmane Ndiaye (’04) started his first game in the German fourth division today, and while he couldn’t get the three-pointer to fall, he still showed flashes of his talent.— 7 Foot Schnitzel (@7_Ft_Schnitzel) October 11, 2020
Interestingly enough, he was tasked with guarding the ball-handler a lot in the second half. pic.twitter.com/BWGBRwGxZH
Kymany Houinsou quietly had one of the best developmental years of any prospect in 2020-2021. He was already solidly in the NBA conversation coming into the year, but he made significant improvements in a variety of key areas throughout the season. His stats really took a jump from last season and the first half of this season to the last half of this season. It was enough for him to earn a spot on ASVEL’s pro roster, where he’ll finish out the year and likely spend the next two years before the draft.
The shooting percentages are the first thing that jumps out just because he was so poor from three and the free throw line through the beginning of this season. He seemed to change his shot over the summer and there was some lag in it actually translating to better percentages as he got more reps with his new-look release. It seemed to start to click at some point around December and he’s been excellent ever since. In an even smaller sample size than above, Houinsou has shot 14/34 (40%) from three and 20/26 (76.9%) on free throws in the last 11 games, 9 in Espoirs plus his first two pro appearances.
The recent shooting stretch is very encouraging for Houinsou’s future, it’s a development that had to happen for him to reach his ceiling. I think many expected it to happen at some point based on his age and shooting volume but the fact that he improved so suddenly and so drastically is enormous for him and his chances to get on the floor and develop with ASVEL in Pro A and Euroleague. There are still some bad misses from time to time and the footwork on spot-ups is a little worrying, but he is getting much more consistent with his feet and going to a pre-hop in his shot prep when necessary which seems to be paying dividends.
Houinsou’s two-point percentages have also taken a significant leap, which matches the eye test. His biggest improvement attacking the rim has been his decisionmaking. He only goes to post ups when he has a clear mismatch now instead of seeking them out like he did before. This is partly due to the fact that his improved lower body strength means there are more appealing options when getting to the paint. This was still a big issue even as recently as ANGT Valencia in December. Houinsou flashed some really intriguing touch and finishing, displaying his rim scoring potential. However, the finishes looked better than they should have because of how tough he made them by positioning himself poorly in his approach to the basket. Houinsou drove into the lane like there was an offensive 0.3 seconds rule that no one else knew about.
He’s gotten stronger in recent months and more importantly, confident in his strength. Now that he’s not as rushed, he’s far more in control and his touch and explosive athleticism are really on display. Houinsou can hold off the defense which allows him to pick the right finishes and give himself a more advantageous position to finish them from. He still has struggles with ball control and relying too much on underhand finishes from further out but overall, Houinsou is certainly on track to be a very good, or even elite, driver and finisher at the rim. As he starts to put more sustained pressure on the rim, he can become a great drive and kick passer. He hasn’t quite learned to take his time enough to keep defenders engaged and make reads to the perimeter but it should be a natural evolution that he’s well equiped for as the game slows down even more for him.
While Houinsou’s assist numbers have certainly spiked, I wouldn’t say I’ve seen as much improvement as the assist numbers alone may lead to believe. The biggest difference between this year and last is his halfcourt touches. Houinsou is a vital part of any offensive set that ASVEL Espoirs runs. He’s the primary PnR handler, and is tasked with getting ASVEL in and out of actions and moving the ball around the perimeter. As a result, he frequently touched the ball three or more times in one possession this year which is where a lot of the assist increase comes from. He still doesn’t make many passes on the move or off a live dribble, except directly to his right. That’s not to say that Houinsou isn’t a very good playmaker and especially not to say that it wasn’t the right decision to involve him more. It will be huge for his development that he was able to run as much offense as he did this season before moving up to the pro team. Chances to do so may be limited in the next two years so the fact that he was able to get so many on-ball reps was perhaps a purposeful tactic, and a lesson ASVEL learned from Théo Maledon’s robotic tendencies derived from a lack of creative opportunities in his earlier years.
One area where Houinsou will have to adapt very quickly next season is his ballscreen defense. His center of gravity stays too high to take the contact of a screen and still get back to his man. His footwork needs to get quicker and more refined; he tries to cover too much ground with too few steps and ends up getting burned by simple change of direction moves if he does catch up. Houinsou is big enough to guard 1-3 and guarded forwards more often in the past so he should be able to get away with switching some. However he ends up doing it, he has to find some way to passably guard ball screens to have a chance to get the minutes he needs to maximize his next two years developmentally. If he’s able to stay on the court and be productive in those minutes at the Pro A and Euroleague level for two consecutive seasons, it will be hard for Houinsou to drop out of the first round.
Ilija Milijašević is one of the most incredible scorers his age in the world. This season, he played 360 minutes at the U17 level and 348 minutes at the U19 level in Serbia. In U17, he shot a three every 2.7 minutes. He shot one every 3.4 minutes in U19. In both leagues, he shot 35.3% from deep. Those numbers are even more impressive, considering he was shooting tough off the dribble shots as well as pull-ups from well beyond the three-point line.
Milijašević is a tough finisher around the rim and uses his scoring gravity effectively as a passer. He can create any shot for himself and his scoring ability alone could make him a 2023 draft prospect. However, it’s his playmaking that he will have to continue to improve to get into the top-20 range. He has great vision when he does pass the ball but he doesn’t get as many assists as you’d like for a point guard prospect of his caliber at lower levels. This is mostly because he’s so good at scoring the ball in any situation that even when he draws help and/or has open teammates anywhere on the court that he could typically hit for a pass, the team’s best option is still him creating his own shot. The upside of this is that Milijašević has learned how to create his own shot in any situation and make tough, circus shots at times. At the U19 level, he is still a scorer first, but he has to share the ball more and explore other options when coming off a screen besides creating a shot for himself. There’s a tough balance between playing up too often and too soon (as I frequently referenced when discussing Théo Maledon last year) and never being challenged by playing up at all. It’s hard to imagine any prospect finding that balance better than Milijašević did in the 2020-2021 season. He split most of his time between U17, U19, and started playing Serbian First League in March. Next season, he will be too old to play U17 but he will likely play a bigger role at the professional level but he could also get reps in U19. Playing against competition his age allows him to discover new ways to score to take chances. Playing up forces him to share the ball and learn to play without making mistakes.
Ilija Milijašević, #8 in the 2004 @idprospects rankings, was incredible in U17 KLS yesterday. He played all 45 mins of the OT win and finished with 45 points, 9 assists, 6 steals. Almost unfair that he still plays U17, possibly the best youth scorer in the world at the moment. pic.twitter.com/vnvgrrHtUg— Drew Mastin (@andrewmastin) April 22, 2021
Milijašević doesn’t have the same ceiling in terms of physical tools as most of the guys on this list. That’s not to say he isn’t physically gifted; he’s a good athlete with great body control around the rim and a lightning quick first step. He’s certainly tall enough to play PG and he has a plus wingspan. However, he is already a high-level scorer, becoming an NBA level scorer is far less hypothetical for him than many of the others. Combined with his ideal development path so far – and likely in the next two years – there’s certainly reason to believe Milijašević could become a first round prospect by 2023.
Ilija Milijašević makes tough shots more often than nearly any prospect his age but he took it to another level yesterday, scoring 34 on 8/15 3-point shooting in Dynamic’s 78-70 win over Crvena Zvezda. He’s much improved since 2019 U16s, I expect him to shine at U18s this summer. pic.twitter.com/mFnPVJL679— Drew Mastin (@andrewmastin) January 25, 2021
For those who don’t pay as much attention to international prospects 2+ years out from the draft, this may be the first time you’ve heard of Juan Núñez. I would love to start out by telling you how fun he is and showing you some of his craziest passes. However, I can already imagine the DMs I’ll get after ranking him this low and I want to get out ahead of that. A reminder that this is a ranking of ceilings. If we were ranking players most likely to be a top 5 international player in this class, Núñez is probably second to Wembanyama. But I have some concerns when it comes to Núñez taking the jump from good to great, or great to elite.
Many of the elite passers at the PG position in the NBA fall into one of a few categories: elite positional size (Simmons, LaMelo, Luka), elite 3-point shooting (Trae, Dame, Harden), or elite athleticism (Russ, Ja, Simmons again). The biggest exception is Chris Paul who is maybe the best player in NBA history at playing pick and roll and scoring from the mid-range. Núñez fits none of those categories. His most similar archetypes, the great passers who don’t fit into one of the aforementioned categories, are in the next tier of playmakers: the Ricky Rubio, TJ McConnell, Tyus Jones types. They are all really good players and Núñez could eventually be the best in this group but the ceiling on a playmaker who isn’t in one of the three aforementioned categories isn’t as high as some of the other players we’re talking about.
Núñez has decent size for a PG and he’s a great athlete, though far from elite by NBA standards. The only category he has a real shot at working himself into – and the one I would argue he *has* to work himself into – is the elite shooting category. While he has shown some flashes of being able to make shots, he is far from consistent; he shot 18/99 (18.2%) in 2020-2021. Núñez has trouble with balance and tends to swing his lead foot in front of him and lean back when shooting and his inside-out wrist action puts a side-to-side spin on the ball that results in some really poor misses. He has done a solid job of creating his own shots when needed but his size and slow release will limit how many of these looks he’s able to generate going forward. At the moment, defenders have to give him space if they hope to contain his drives as help is limited due to Real Madrid’s dominance. As defenders and defenses get bigger and better, he’ll have to find new ways to create shots.
JUAN NUNEZ HAS SCORED TWO THREES IN A ROW!!! pic.twitter.com/IAU1XIZBZT— Pietro Cristofori (@PCristofori03) March 20, 2021
If Núñez can become just anything close to a decent spot-up shooter, he should still be an extremely valuable offensive player. He is an elite passer and comfortably ranks in the top tier of playmaking prospects of the last decade. Núñez thinks the game at a level that is very rarely seen for a player his age. The natural comparison is Luka Dončić but as far as just reading the game, I’d give Núñez the edge at the same age. He is always that many steps ahead of the defense. He can pass his teammates open when there is seemingly nowhere for him to go with the ball. Núñez is elite at manipulating the defense with his eyes and ball fakes to create openings. There are times when he gets too flashy just for the sake of being flashy, but still converts these wild passes more often than not.
Núñez is a strong athlete who can get to the rim and finish with efficiency, though he would much rather pass it away than finish in traffic. I am very interested in seeing Núñez at the pro level with Real Madrid, which hopefully happens next season. He seems to have a mode (which we saw at times in the closer games against Žalgiris and Stella at ANGT Istanbul and will hopefully see again in June’s ANGT final vs. Đurišić and Mega) where he is focused on doing whatever he can to help the team win and he’s very effective in doing so. However, we’ve seen him just trying to make the most fun play, instead of the right play, on many occasions. It’s hard to blame him when he can get anything he wants, and his team is winning by 20 at halftime. That mindset switch is sometimes not as easy as it seems like it would be. If Núñez is able to come into the senior team of Real Madrid and make an immediate winning impact, he is likely a surefire 2023 draft selection due to his special playmaking ability.
Tyrese Proctor is an elite shotmaker for his age. He uses his impressive quickness to get open but his core stability, which allows him to quickly rise and fire after creating that space, is what’s more impressive. Everything about his shot is balanced, to the rim, and repeatable. His quickness and core also allow him to get to the rim and finish tough looks. Proctor mainly relies on start-stop athleticism to create advantages but his handle is solid and could progress to elite by his draft year. There is plenty of reason to buy his scoring ability at all levels in the long and short term.
When a defender does seem to be able to contain him, he can be protective and passive. As a result, he’s not really able to create out of a disadvantage situation yet. This may come as he takes that next step with his handle but also just with time and experience. Improving confidence and security when under pressure will also open up his ability to initiate offense, create more shots for teammates, and generally run the point at a high level. Proctor is already effective initiating offense and playmaking, though he’s still more of a reactive than proactive passer. Longterm, becoming a better playmaker allows Proctor to fit closest to what his ideal long term role is: a combo guard who can play point for stretches, go-to PnR handler (in termination/penetration situations more than continuation/initiation) and late shot clock shotmaker with excellent off-ball movement that allows him to play off the primary initiator and passers at other positions. NBA stars like Donovan Mitchell and Devin Booker are currently players in a similar mold. Whether or not Proctor can reach that level remains to be seen. It’s far from a sure thing with any player this age, but Proctor certainly has the tools to be special.
Sidy Cissoko is a great athlete who can play PG with ease at 6’ 6” with a 7’ wingspan. He’s very raw, even as guys on this list go, and it would take a lot for him to put everything together by the 2023 draft. There is plenty of reason to buy his scoring ability long term despite his inconsistency at the moment. He has elite, light footwork and explosive athleticism. The shot is coming along well and Cissoko’s ability to run pick and roll, find teammates, and control the pace of the game is special for a prospect at his age and size. He is currently playing in Liga EBA, Spain’s 4th division, but he’ll likely see more reps at the pro level in the next year or two.
Sidy Cissoko (2004, France) has great positional size and length. Playmaking wing does an excellent job driving downhill and building momentum in 2nd+3rd steps, and finishing at high speeds. Shot is coming along nicely too. pic.twitter.com/BPVdEYHlqj— Drew Mastin (@andrewmastin) November 21, 2020
A prospect at his size who projects to a lead guard role is very rare and there could be a team who is willing to let him figure things out at the NBA level. One high-end outcome, if he takes this path, would almost be like the guard version of James Wiseman, the #2 overall pick in 2020, a very raw prospect with elite positional size and many developmental areas that need to be worked through. While I do think the “bigs take longer” idea has merit, it’s typically much easier for bigs with elite physical tools to contribute something at the NBA level as they develop. Wiseman was able to be a big body at the rim, set screens, and mostly stay out of the way otherwise. Cissoko, on the other hand, would need as many on-ball reps as possible and it would be a bigger burden on the team as a whole. For that reason, if we’re just talking 2023 draft ceilings, I think a more realistic route for Cissoko would be moving off the ball. Even if he’s a 2-guard or a full-time wing, Cissoko has elite size and tools that are worth tracking for the 2023 draft and beyond. His measurements match up with RJ Barrett – he’s actually slightly longer – and he has some of the early signs of a similar skillset. Cissoko would still need to make a huge leap or two as a scorer and athlete to be in Barrett’s range as a prospect but he has time, and the baseline abilities, to do it. Guard prospects at that size, with athleticism, scoring, and playmaking flashes are very rare and valuable. It’s why Barrett still went third after a relatively disappointing season at Duke. While there is a very wide range for the kind of player that Cissoko becomes, there is no denying that he has the makeup to be special. It will be interesting to see how he starts to put it together.
Eli John N’Diaye
Eli John N’Diaye was one of the best players at any of the ANGT Qualifiers with a dominating tournament in Istanbul in March. He’s very comfortable taking spot-up looks from 3 and mid-range and very strong around the rim with a decent arsenal of post moves. While I’m very high on N’Diaye’s ability to pass and handle the ball for his size, he doesn’t have the foot speed and quickness with the ball to play the 3, and he doesn’t quite have the size and rim protection to play a lot at the 5. He projects as a 4, with occasional minutes as a smallball 5, who can do a little bit of everything. John Collins is a decent comparison in terms of role and an optimistic outcome for how N’Diaye could eventually fit on an NBA roster. The question, especially when discussing his ceiling, is what can he do to become something more. The most recent comparison in the vicinity of N’Diaye’s general archetype to the leap that’s needed is something like Julius Randle this season. But that’s something that N’Diaye, like Randle, can think about after he’s comfortable as a do-everything 4 at the NBA or EuroLeague level. For now, his focus should be finding minutes in a stacked Real Madrid club that already has 2003-born prospect Tristan Vukčević ahead of him at the position, although the departure of Usman Garuba should clear some minutes. If he can prove that he can do what he does at lower levels — make open shots, finish at the rim, defend forwards, and rebound — at the ACB and EuroLeague level, he is certainly worth taking a shot on in the 2023 draft. If he can do it as a 17 and 18-year old for Real Madrid, there shouldn’t be much question that he’ll also be able to do it at the NBA level.
Moustapha Diakhaté is one of the best young defensive prospects in the world. At 6’ 9” with great length and mobility, there aren’t many more versatile defenders out there. He can lock down guards on the perimeter and is an elite rim protector on and off the ball. On the other end, Diakhaté is showing early signs of catch and shoot potential, and maybe even some movement shooting. He’s shown some potential making reads with the ball in his hands but mostly just from stationary situations so far. He typically plays the 5 on offense but Diakhaté is an elite athlete with a very high motor who runs the rim hard despite being slightly undersized.
He should find a way into the NBA Draft conversation, but it may be tough for him to do so by 2023 given the improvements he needs to make as far as working within a scheme on the defensive end. A defender with his physical tools is only as valuable as their understanding of team defense. Usman Garuba and Yannick Nzosa have mastered this and it’s a big reason why they’re both first round prospects out of Spain, in 2021 and 2022 respectively. But Diakhaté is lagging behind both players in terms of reps at the professional level. Unless Baskonia has plans to start integrating him at the beginning of next season, which doesn’t seem likely given that Cissoko and 2003-born big man El-Hadji Ngom are also in line to start getting senior level minutes, it’s hard to project Diakhaté as a 2023 draft prospect despite his high potential and longterm projection.
Of the many talented prospects from Baskonia junior team, Serigne Diakhaté is the one I feel could have the highest ceiling: long and mobile athlete at 6’9″ who also shows floor-spacing potential. Definitely someone who will continue to rise in the 2004 class. pic.twitter.com/B2Y8z8Ytd1— Ignacio Rissotto (@eyreball) February 16, 2021
Paulius Murauskas is a post-reliant 4 or an undersized 5 who may have trouble breaking through given his physical limitations in terms of quickness and vertical ability. I have worries about his projection as a guy who used overpowering strength for a lot of his success at lower levels, an advantage that is seemingly already starting to disappear and will likely continue to do so at higher levels. Murauskas can handle the ball and make plays off the dribble but he has struggled to do so at the LKL level so far as professional defenses aren’t nearly as phased by a 6′ 9″ ball handler. His smooth movement and knack for scoring are really intriguing and make him someone certainly worth keeping an eye on, especially as he appears on track to play a full-time role for Žalgiris in the LKL and Euroleague.
2023 Draft prospect Paulius Murauskas (2004) had 15 points in Žalgiris II’s win yesterday.— Drew Mastin (@andrewmastin) November 30, 2020
Shot and movement look good but he’ll never be quick enough for the perimeter full-time. Has to improve rebounding and play inside on both ends. Some of that should come with age/strength. pic.twitter.com/3FKKZhrzel
Ege Demir is a tall and strong big man with very impressive movement ability for his size. He’s an excellent scorer at the rim, finishing with aggression and solid touch. He’s a great shot blocker with excellent timing around the rim. Demir also has the ability to switch onto guards and hold his own on the perimeter. He’s more than competent putting the ball on the floor and attacking the basket and starting to expand his range out to 15 feet. Demir is likely still going to be restricted to playing the 5 but his physicality, motor, and scoring ability can set him apart from a more archetypal “true big”.
Marouf Moumine was one of the most intriguing prospects at the Jr. NBA Championships as a 14 year old. He played very smart basketball, showed a high level of skill for his age, and had a great body. He made great decisions with the ball, looked like he was starting to grow in confidence as a shooter, and played with very high motor and energy. Unfortunately, we have seen very little of him in the nearly two years since. There are so many changes from ages 14 to 16 so it’s really hard to get a feel for where he is in his development at the moment but what we saw two years ago was very encouraging.
Yaak Yaak is an extremely gifted athlete who looks to be making the most of his time at NBA Global Academy. This past year, he added a ton of muscle to his already long and impressive frame. There’s no doubt he’s going to have an NBA body as he basically does already at just 16 years old. Yaak is a very impressive rim protector with ridiculous timing and anticipation combined with his huge standing reach and vertical. He blocks and affects an insane amount of jumpshots thanks to his length and his incredible motor. The strength he’s added in recent months was on display at Australia’s U20 Championships as he was much tougher on the boards and in the post, even against significantly older competition.
At the moment, Yaak is not much of a contributor on the offensive end. His best skill is stationary passing which is only as good of a skill as the help you draw and he won’t draw much. He’s mostly a catch and finisher around the rim with great positioning and feel for where to be on the floor but below average touch. When he does shoot, it’s usually in the 10-15 foot range and not very efficient, to say the least. Despite all of these question marks, I’m very high on Yaak’s potential. Betting against players at NBA Academy rarely goes well; especially a player with the measurables that Yaak has, who plays so hard and, based on the improvements to his body, works even harder off the court.
Berke Büyüktuncel is a great playmaker at 6’ 8” with good length. He’ll play off the ball more often as he begins to play at the professional level, but his shot seems like it should translate very well to higher levels. His release is lightning quick and he’s comfortable shooting over a closeout, especially given his size and length. If Büyüktuncel can improve to a passable level defensively, and continue to up his shooting percentages, he is certainly a candidate for the 2023 draft.