After their Liga ACB triumph in Valencia in June of last year, Baskonia had to rebuild the roster, due to the departures of some key players in Dusko Ivanovic’s rotations; just to name a few of them: Tornike Shengelia joined CSKA Moscow, Shavon Shields went to Milan and Jayson Granger joined Alba Berlin.
Due to a number of different factors, including the COVID-19 pandemic, Tonye Jekiri from ASVEL has been the only summer new arrival in Vitoria-Gasteiz for the current season. So, the rest of the team has been made up with some guys coming from the Cantera returning from loans around Europe. In Baskonia’s current roster, 1/3 of the players (4) played in their youth teams, and they are: Ilimane Diop, Sander Reiste, Arturs Kurucs and Tadas Sedekerskis.
These guys are showing that they can compete at the ACB (the domestic league with the highest quality in Europe) and the Euroleague level. Sedekerskis is averaging some good numbers both in ACB and in EL (3.3 points and 3 rebounds in 15 minutes in the Euroleague) and Ilimane Diop, after Fall’s injury and Eric’s bad performances, was a key player in the Valencia Bubble last June.
This means that Baskonia has a very efficient youth system, which in the short term can give young players opportunities to play at the highest level in the entire continent. The basque scouting team does a really nice job all over the world. Just think that the current Liga EBA’s team features three players from Senegal (Serigne Diakhaté, Pape Ablaye Sow, and El Hadji Ngom), one from France (Sidy Cissoko), one from Iceland (Robert Birmingham) and one from Slovenia (Sergej Macura).
The work that Baskonia scouts do in Senegal is impressive: as said before, Diakhaté, Ngom (who transferred from Torrelodones) and Sow come from there, besides Ilimane Diop. But not only Senegal, also the Baltic countries have been a mine of prospects in the last years (Reiste, Kurucs and Sedekerskis).
At the end of the day, Baskonia has one of the most underrated youth systems in the entire Europe and the major part of these talents play in their Liga EBA team. So, today I want to analyze who I think are the most projectable talents of this squad: Serigne Diakhaté and Pape Ablaye Sow. Enjoy.
Serigne Moustapha Diakhaté
Physical: Diakhaté has one of the most intriguing frames of the 2004 generation. He is a power forward standing at 6’9” and I think that he’s not done growing in terms of height. Physically he is still pretty raw as the majority of big men at this young age. Diakhaté has an elite vertical pop – especially when he jumps off two feet or with the left foot – and he shows it on the both ends of the floor. In addition to this he has a fantastic second jump, which increases his threat in the offensive semicircle. The upper body has to improve: his arms are thin, especially by his forearms, but the width of his shoulders is encouraging in this regard. His calves and quadriceps are slim, but I’m not worried about this. The hip mobility is great, this is key on defense (pick-and-roll, lateral mobility), but also very important on offense (shooting mechanics, transition from lower to upper body and momentum). Thanks to his long legs he covers the floor very quickly: on transitions and fast breaks he is a killer, and usually finishes with the head above the rim.
Offense: Diakhaté at the end of his development is gonna be a “modern big man” capable of doing plenty of things on the perimeter, and I’m pretty sure about this because of his huge room of improvement. But at the moment, he lacks a level of versatility on this end of the floor. His offensive production is mostly based on the work in the paint, but as said before, I think this is gonna change through his career, and the main reason is the sporadic flashes of perimeter skills (drive off the dribble, stepbacks and hesitations), he shows throughout his games; this is huge for a 6’9″ 16 year old big-men.
Diakhaté uses his excellent footwork to create advantages in post ups. He explores these kinds of situations after a roll or in transition: he has very quick feet (in a couple of situations he showed an excellent work with the pivot foot), which combined with soft touch around the basket make him a total threat around the rim. His verticality is key here and he becomes difficult to stop with his combination of length and leaping ability. With that being said, Diakhaté struggles when he finds a stronger player than him: as said before, he is still raw physically and this hurts his interior game. Sometimes he gets blocked or loses his body control. Developing his left hand and using it more to finish on the interior is something that I would like to see from him, even though he displays some very interesting skills in this regard.
Shooting efficiency is certainly one of the biggest improvement areas in his game: this season he is shooting with the 51% from the field (23/45) and this stat is good, but most of this shots come from the paint, instead his mid-range and 3 point efficiency has to grow if he wants to make a qualitative leap (2/6 from behind the arc in 10 games, low volume of shots). His shooting signs are interesting: the lower body is coordinated to the upper one, and his hips move well. But now, the problem it’s his release which is kind of fragmented: he brings the ball next to his head and changes momentum. I think that his shot will become better with his physical growth: his lack of body strength hurts too much here. There’s definitely floor-spacer potential with him, and speaking of floor-spacing I’d say he shows some interesting stationary passing flashes, although he lacks of technique in this regard and often his passes don’t find his teammates’ hands.
Defense: This is the part I enjoy the most of his game. Thanks to his combination of length, lateral mobility and body coordination, Diakhaté is an excellent perimeter defender who can switch on almost all the roles on the floor. Although, when makes a close-out, he has to take smaller steps going towards his opponent and don’t jump on opponents’ fakes. He’s a factor in the paint, keeping an excellent defensive stance both on-ball and off-ball displaying his defense BBIQ on interior rotations, and it is for this reason that he is an excellent rim-protector, being able to help from the weak side with energy.
Diakhaté is one of the best rebounders in his generation thanks to his timing and vertical leap. What’s impressive about this part of his game, is the outstanding sense of the rebound he has; despite not being the most powerful player on the court, most of the times the ball ends up being in his hands, both long rebounds and contested rebounds deep in the paint. It’s very rare to find a player with these characteristics at 16 years old. As said before, his job on the perimeter is excellent, and so is the Pick-and-Roll defense. In this situation, Serigne adapts to the opponent he has to guard and drops or hedges with fantastic timing and footwork, waving his arms while he returns on his man. With any doubt he is Top-5 in his generation for PnR defense. His work as an off-ball defender is also remarkable, as he’s always active making stunts and using his wingspan to influence the decisions of the opposing offense.
But extending this look to the entire defensive system, his versatility, length, stance and footwork make Diakhaté one the most intriguing prospects on this end.
Pape Ablaye Sow
Physical: In my opinion Pape Sow has the most intriguing frame among Baskonia prospects, and without any doubt he is the one with the highest ceiling in this regard. He was measured at 6’8″ tall with a 7’2″ wingspan back in 2019 at the Basketball Without Borders, both measurements that are more than optimal for a 17 years old small forward.
His body is still at an initial stage of development: he has narrow shoulders (which worries me) and biceps, and lacks enough mass to withstand physicality of any level of competition higher than Liga EBA at the moment. This is concerning because he has the positional size to play at the NBA level, but if he’s not able to add some weight, his measurables alone won’t be enough. The same goes for the lower body, despite having great flexibility, his quadriceps and calves (at least seen from the screen) are really slim.
Beyond his measurables and strength, Pape is an explosive wing who plays with a high pace. Either in transition/fast breaks and against half-court defense he displays his hip mobility: the fact he pushes very quickly the ball while his legs aren’t totally bent, means that an important boost comes from this part of the body. Despite having long legs (which many times implies a lack of balance), Sow shows a nice balance, especially on the defensive end where he is totally in control of his body. At the end of the day, the challenge through his career is gonna be not losing verticality and quickness while adding weight all over the body. Not an easy one.
Offense: Pape Sow has a really high ceiling on this end of the floor. I mean, he can do a little bit of everything despite lacking an area where he is truly elite at the moment. Sow loves to play in transition/fast-breaks, where he covers the floor with an incredible speed for a 6’8″ player thanks to his long legs. In these scenarios he can play both as a ball-handler or as a finisher, usually finishing with highlight-worthy dunks. One thing I really like about his explosiveness is that after he jumps he is able to keep the control of his body and change hands in the air thanks to his impressive hang-time. In this regard, as can be imagined, lack of upper body strength hurts him a lot.
But Sow isn’t just a transition player and when it comes to interior offense, he has shown signs of improvement over the last couple of months, especially when it comes to his improved touch around the basket. Up until the past Christmas break he visibly struggled in this fundamental area, but now the things seem to be getting better in this regard. But still I’m not into it. On the offensive glass he is a serious threat, thanks to verticality and sense of the rebound; he collects 2.1 Offensive rebounds per game in Liga EBA.
If his mechanics around the basket aren’t convincing, the same thing can’t be said about the perimetral shot ones. His release point is pretty high (but could be higher considering the wingspan) and the shooting-movement is fluid until it comes to the upper body (and here is the same Diakhaté’s problem). The shoulders have to compensate for the lack of upper body power, and when the shot is released it’s usual that Pape’s arms will go forward and not upwards. As I said for Diakhaté probably this problem will be solved once he will add mass on his torso. In this season he is shooting with the 27.8% from deep (10/36 in 9 games) and the major part of these come from a spot-up shot, but sometimes he takes very bad shots, such as step-back pull-up three pointers with 15 seconds left on the shot-clock.
Sow is definitely turnover prone (3.0 TOs per game in Liga EBA and a dramatical 5.4 per game at the FIBA U18 African Championship) and the major part of these are caused by his dribbling skills. I am a fan of his crossover move on the perimeter (which is awesome), where he displays all his hip mobility besides a stunning change of speed and direction, but when he goes in the paint he uncovers the ball and he is the victim of opponents’ stunts and weak side helps. In this situation his dribble is way too high and he doesn’t have the body control required to attack the rim with that lack of weight. His slashing abilities are already evident (he can drive with either hand) and the final step needs to be adding some quality to his dribble. If he’s able to do so, his stock as a point forward will grow exorbitantly.
And now comes the part that I think I enjoy the most of his offense: his off-ball motions. Sow shows a great ability to read the defense and has a great timing to cut into the area, where he is an absolute threat (poster alert) thanks to his quickness and explosiveness. It doesn’t make any difference whether he cuts from the weak side or the ball side (he can also cut from a stagger situations, as he did in his latest game), and I really like this because it means there’s BBIQ and craftiness to play the point forward role in the near future.
Defense: Pape Sow is a versatile wing who can guard multiple positions while ensuring a high quality defensive work. His combination of defensive BBIQ, length and quickness is just amazing. Despite being 6’8″ Sow has impressive lateral mobility, which allows him to put pressure on the opponents in the half-court while they’re trying to start the offensive action. Thanks to his change of speed and direction ability, when he sees the opponent ball-handler in a difficult situation he is able to trap him and steal the ball afterwards (1.1 steals per game).
I really like his defensive instincts and his rotations on the perimeter. As I said before, Sow has a high BBIQ and generally has a good positioning on this end of the floor. He shows good flashes on off-ball defense, being able to tag either ball-handler or the roll-man after a PnR and then recovering to his man.
He has nice instincts for rebounding, where he shows good grab-and-go ability; despite being one of the lightest players on the floor he is able to grab 5.6 rebounds per game, an area where his length and vertical leap help him enormously. With that being said, his lack of strength hurts his defensive game a lot: when he guards the handler on a PnR, sometimes he is able to go over the screen thanks to his quick footwork, but other times he goes under it. As the other problems that are due to his physical issues, this one will probably be solved should he get stronger in the future.