Yoan Makoundou is a 6’9” 210 lb power forward who was born in Melun, a small city of 40.000 inhabitants in the Ile de France, 40 kilometers away from Paris on August 9th, 2000.
Makoundou is the latest product of Cholet Basket, a team with good status in France (2009-10 LNB ProA champions). In the last few years the club has invested a lot on their youngsters, winning back-to-back Espoirs Championships in 2018 and 2019, and finishing at the top of the standings when the 2020 edition of the French league for U21 players was stopped due to Covid-19 Pandemic. He was the star of those Espoirs squads, even when playing against older guys (1998 and 1999 born).
Makoundou’s path hasn’t been the one you expect from a potential second round pick in a Draft: he started to get some consideration on a national scale when as a 17 years old, when he debuted in Espoirs and showed his athleticism and rawness. Ever since he has been on the rise. First playing restricted minutes in the FIBA U19 World Cup for France, alongside his club teammate Karlton Dimanche and projected 2021 Draft pick Joel Ayayi, and then the debut in the French first division in a win against JL Bourg on November 9th, 2019. He scored his first points in Pro A a few weeks later against Chalon and throughout the season he was the star of the Espoirs team who probably would have finished first thanks to a disruptive 25-0 record before the forced stop.
In this 2020-21 season, after signing his first pro contract, a three-year deal on July 10th, 2020 (smart move by Cholet) he had a breakout year where he significantly increased his stats both in Pro A and in BCL: in the latter he also won the Best Young Player Award.
|17-18 Espoirs||18-19 Espoirs||FIBA U19 WC 2019||19-20 Espoirs||19-20 LNB Pro A||20-21 LNB Pro A||20-21 BCL|
|RPG||1.9 (0.9 ORB)||5.9 (2.2 ORB)||2.4 (1.3 ORB)||5.7 (2.1 ORB)||0.6 (0.4 ORB)||3.9 (1.4 ORB)||5.2 (1.4 ORB)|
|3FG%||0.0 (0.1 3FGA)||28.7 (1.2 3FGA)||0.0 (0.0 3FGA)||32.7 (2.0 3FGA)||0.0 (0.0 3FGA)||11.9 (0.7 3FGA)||50.0 (1.2 3FGA)|
|FT%||27.2 (0.9 FTA)||69.2 (3.2 FTA)||50.0 (1.1 FTA)||60.9 (4.4 FTA)||25.0 (0.8 FTA)||68.6 (1.9 FTA)||50.0 (2.0 FTA)|
|FG%||44.8 (2.4 FGA)||50.6 (7.2 FGA)||57.1 (3.0 FGA)||57.5 (10.6 FGA)||25.0 (0.8 FGA)||60.9 (4.6 FGA)||66.7 (6.6 FGA)|
Yoan Makoundou is one of the most athletically gifted players of the next Draft class: when he exploits all his physical power, he is disruptive and very difficult to stop. His leap is very strong, especially off two feet, although he has to control the exuberance he puts on the floor. Most of the times when he takes off, he finishes with the head over the rim, and if you watch a Yoan’s game, it’s very common to see him fly from one end to another of the floor while he tries to jump and dunk every ball that comes to his hands. He has to polish his game under this aspect (and on a lot of other ones to be honest) and likely he will be obligated to do so in the league. But, at that point, will he be good enough to maintain his unpredictability even if he will be forced to make safer reads and make less experiments? Will he be able to rely consistently on other skills that he will add through his path in the NBA?
One of the things I like the most about his game is his presence on the offensive glass. In Cholet’s system, Yoan plays all his minutes as a power forward, but he isn’t a floor spacer yet considering his lack of efficiency and volume of shots taken behind the arc (0.7 3 point attempts in BCL and 1.2 in Pro A this season), but he makes up for it with his activity in the paint. It’s impressive the reactivity that he shows to arrive first on the ball after this one touches the rim. But in all of this, there’s a key part which is technique: he looks for the contact with his opponent, then lifts with perfect timing and coordinates with awesome footwork, ready to jump and grab the board at the highest possible point, maybe converting it into a putback dunk or an extra possession. In an NBA where the spacing is more and more used every single season, having a player who is able to guarantee almost a couple of offensive boards per game (1.4 in BCL and Pro A this season) is good. I think that in this regard he can increase his productivity.
The youngster is also an elite lob target: throughout the season, Cholet’s coach, Erman Kunter, ran a lot of actions where Yoan had to exploit an off-ball screen, cut to the basket and capitalize the advantage with a strong leap (18/23 in this season on alley-oops).
Athleticism is the key of his game, and a consistent part of this is given by his power in the lower body. To write this article I went through some games Yoan played back in 2018 with the French U18 national team, and it’s impressive how his quadriceps developed in these years. Now when you watch his legs you can notice a muscle part (and his calves are now solid, while before they were weak), but two years ago you couldn’t. Although he still has to grow a lot muscularly to withstand the physicality of th highest basketball level in the world. This is very promising when you look at his physical development.
In terms of his body, the hips are the most critical part in terms of mobility. In 2021 basketball, a 6’9” guy with Yoan’s characteristics has to be a versatile player on both ends of the floor, able to switch on three positions, attack the rim linearly, exit efficiently on the closeouts… and good hip mobility is essential here: Yoan has to work a lot on these parts of his game. His long legs don’t help him here: he has a really high center of gravity and so he is slow when he turns his hips. The footwork is nice, he has quick hands, but he has to speed up his hips.
For example, this is a clip I made from a game a couple of weeks ago. This is good defense overall by Cholet, although Yoan is out of position and his man is wide open on the three point line. He tries to recover, raises his right hand to contest the shot, and his body is all turned left, but also his last step is too heavy, so he isn’t reactive. His opponent decides to attack the basket with the left hand and now Yoan is out of the game: he turns his hips too much and slowly, and he gives a lane to his man.
One of the most stunning things about his physical archetype is the combination of length and athleticism which is simply absurd: you can notice this especially when he contests a shot. He takes big steps and then at full speed he unleashes all his power and leaps, reaching incredible heights and obscuring his opponents’ vision of the rim. But there’s also the other side of the coin: he jumps on the pump fakes.
This is probably my Makoundou’s favourite action: in here you can see all his room for improvement and potential on the defensive end. Here he helps his teammate who has been beaten by his man (#11). #11 is going full speed to the basket and Yoan wants to block his shot (as usual) and is ready to jump as you can clearly see from the movements of his arms, as if he wants to gain momentum. And for one millisecond the French talent jumps, but in a very short time he is able to turn and makes an excellent pop. Yeah, he was posterized, but look how high he gets on that second jump: Yoan is a great secondary rim protector, and here he showed it once more.
The Melun-born prospect is a passer who can make basic reads, though not an at elite level. He is able to feed his teammates with good timing while they’re cutting to the basket, and he is a nice advantage keeper: he recognizes the extra passes and rarely forces a shot. I don’t see much margin in this regard. Obviously this is not the fundamental he has to work on the most, and it won’t be demanded by any team he is gonna play in future. As I said before, he is more of a team-thinking player when it comes to making decisions on the perimeter, but it has to be said that this is probably caused by his lack of confidence taking three-pointers, as sometimes he gives up some wide open looks.
In this season Yoan has taken 22 shots behind the arc in 30 games played: this means that on average he shoots less than a three pointer per game (0,73 3 point attempt per game) – and of those 22 shots, 14 were taken from the right wing and he also shoots 36% from there. Awesome.
To make some significant steps forward, he has to increase those attempts, and then think to improve his overall percentage (22% in this season in BCL and Pro A).
His mechanics aren’t so bad as the stats would suggest: his set point is high thanks to his long arms, it seems he has nice wrist flexibility from tapes, even though it’s always better to watch prospects live on-site to be 100% sure of mechanical details like these.
The main problem about his mechanics is his lower body: when the ball reaches his set point and it’s ready to be released, Yoan moves his legs (in a lot of different ways: he goes forward, he moves left, sometimes one leg goes forward and one backwards) and turns his hips, significantly affecting the release. He has to be more solid here, improving the core strength will help for sure. I don’t think he will ever become a 37%/38% shooter from the NBA range, but he could reach the 30% for sure if he will be able to adjust his lower body moves, then we can think about the rest.
Off-ball motions are very important in basketball, because they make the team productivity and efficiency grow in an exponential way. Makoundou has to work in this respect. He shows flashes of good BBIQ moving in the right way at the right time, but it’s still way too inconsistent in doing so. It happens that Makoundou cuts to the basket while a teammate is attacking the rim. But his upside is really high in these terms: this season he went 35/49 (71%) when cutting to the basket. This means that the potential is right there. Yoan is very good at hiding on the baseline, receiving the ball and going up to score two points.
Honestly, I think that his perimetral dimension is a problem for his game and that if he won’t improve it in short term it will damage his career projection. I mean, Makoundou scores most of his points: running on fast breaks, dunking on transition, leaping for an alley-oop, cutting in the paint from the weak side, and that’s it. As I told before his strong point is athleticism and flexibility, and almost all his skills come from his modern and amazing physical archetype, but if he wants to take a step forward he has to become a perimetral threat. I’m not saying he has to build from scratch an off the dribble shot and become a three level scorer, but you understand.
During the season he showed flashes of a nice first step (he attacks the rim only when his defender tries to reach the ball with no success), but the main problems are his low quality dribble, his difficulty to make his body smaller (and here hip mobility is the key: low level hip mobility = low level drives. But I’m confident he will improve here and afterwards I’ll explain why) while driving and his body control while heading to the rim. And these three problems are one the consequence of the other. The 21 year old prospect when playing ISO went 1/5 in this season. His face-up game has to improve massively.
Also, his touch around the rim isn’t very good, and this is a problem when he plays through contact and he doesn’t have such momentum to finish powerfully and so he has to use his fingertips sensibility.
The French talent has a lot of room of improvement on pick and roll situations (obviously he is the roller). I think that some things have to be fixed here, and the first one is timing. I’ve told you before about his timing which is good when he plays off-ball situations, and also in this play it’s nice in my opinion (in the last few weeks I’ve seen improvements in this regard), but it could certainly be better considering his athletic tools. And for the same reason I think that if he could improve a lot in this area, his future teams will significantly benefit of his gravity as a roller. He would be a factor with his explosiveness and lob target ability.
The second point is finishing through contact: as I told before, his core strength and feel for the basket aren’t good enough to be considered a threat.
Like on the offensive end, on the defensive one Makoundou is still very raw. The potential is there to watch, but it has to be refined. Honestly, in the best case scenario I see him as a high level defender in his prime, because he has the athletic and physical tools to be an elite defender. Still in this case he could become a 3 and D player with powerful finisher skills at the rim. As I said before, the road is very long.
One of the points to work on is without any doubt the defense on Pick and Roll. In this situation, the Frenchman always defends the screener (unless there has been a switch previously).There are a lot of things to adjust here in my opinion: first of all the lateral quickness when he ‘shows’ on the pick and roll; especially in the last couple of games he has made a lot this kind of play, and very often he could be able only to cover little spaces sliding, and consequently giving a lane to the handler.
The second point is traceable to his momentarily low level hip mobility. If Yoan is good enough to stay in front of the handler after the switch, now he has to play a 1v1 on an island with him. And he isn’t good enough on this end of the floor yet to play constantly this kind of situation, so if the handler suddenly changes direction or speed, Makoundou is likely beaten. He has a lot of room of improvement here in my opinion, because during the season he showed flashes of good Pick and Roll defense with good timing; his length helps him a lot here, because he is able to contest 3 point shots or layups if beaten off the dribble.
The reason why I see Makoundou as a very good NBA level defensive player is in this action: the way he gets happy feet when he is on an island is extremely promising, because if he could do this type of defense consistently, then he would be an amazing prospect in this regard. Look at his hip mobility and upper-lower body coordination here. Impressive. And he was guarding Dee Bost.
So we have seen that Yoan has plenty of potential on this end of the floor, especially when he is guarding smaller and faster players than him.
I’ve written previously in this article about Yoan’s disruptiveness as a secondary rim protector and shot blocker, and for this reason I’m very high on his off ball and help defense. Reading this report you learnt that the French prospect development is a work in progress, and the same goes for the off-ball defense aspect. He alternates good reads to some unexplainable distractions. It’s very common to see him out of position or miscommunicate with teammates during rotations on the perimeter and in the area, and he can’t afford this.
Overall, I think a lot of people underestimate Makoundou’s potential and NBA projection. Honestly I’ve barely seen him on recent Mock Drafts and this is quite difficult to explain given his physical tools and potential. He could be a solid pick for a lot of franchises who will operate in the 50-60th pick area. Although, if selected, I think he is gonna spend some time in the G-League during his first season to polish his game as they have done two former Cholet big men: Clint Capela and Rudy Gobert.
The fact that Cholet in the last years raised professionally two players that now have a high level status in the NBA says a lot about the quality of the project and during this season the work they’ve done with Makoundou has been very good.
In the last months, the power forward played before by the side of Terell Parks and then by the one of Aaron Jones, and Erman Kunter has done a great job dividing the minutes between the key players and the rotation ones, giving to Yoan the opportunity to grow and play at the LNB and BCL level. Also, growing in a mid-level European team like Cholet, Makoundou hasn’t a lot of pressure and can focus on developing his game day after day. Patience and persistence are the keys to reach his full potential.