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NBA draft international scouting notebook: Lottery picks, more intel

Deni Avdija is a top-10 prospect in ESPN's 2020 NBA draft rankings. Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports
4:44 AM MT
Jonathan Givony
ESPN
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What's the latest on the top international prospects in the 2020 NBA draft class?

ESPN draft analyst Jonathan Givony recently spent 10 days in Europe evaluating many of the most intriguing players teams are scouting for this season, as well as some notable young prospects for future drafts.

Here are the highlights of what he learned on his 14-game, nine-country trip across the Atlantic Ocean, including intel on projected lottery picks Deni Avdija and Killian Hayes, potential sleepers and more of the draft's risers and fallers abroad.

Spain
The prestigious L'Hospitalet tournament in Barcelona brought together eight junior teams featuring several prospects for the 2021 and 2022 drafts in a one-day, six-game stop.

The NBA Global Academy team went 5-0 with the deepest, most talented roster in the tournament. We've been following the NBA academy venture closely the past three years, and it's impressive to see how quickly it has been able to recruit and develop talent. Several players put themselves on the draft radar for scouts.

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Tournament MVP Josh Giddey, a 6-foot-8 guard who operated as the academy's playmaker while often guarding 4s in small-ball lineups, showed his versatility with an impressive line of 19 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists per 40 minutes. Without great length, size or explosiveness, Giddey relies on feel, creativity and swagger to separate himself. You'll often see him throw an outlet pass the length of the floor with his off-hand off a live dribble and then make an impeccable read operating out of pick-and roll. His lack of traditional athleticism, streaky jumper, upright defensive stance and at-times inability to beat longer players off the dribble mean he'll likely have to win scouts over with productivity at higher levels. But he's improving rapidly, even if it might take him a few years to maximize his draft stock.

A smooth, 6-foot-5 off-guard with a strong frame, good athleticism and versatility, Mojave King proved to be the tournament's best perimeter shooter, knocking down 14 of his 29 3-point attempts in just more than 100 minutes of action. King historically has been happy to defer to others, but his ability to score in the open floor, hit clean jumpers, get teammates involved and make the right play is interesting, considering his youth and physical tools. The next step in his development will be for him to play with more aggressiveness on both ends of the floor and become a more dynamic ball handler.

Other notable players: Canadian wing Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Danish wing Gustav Knudsen, Serbian wings Nikola Radovanovic, Stefan Todorovic and Luka Tarlac, Uruguayan guard Agustin Ubal, Dutch wing Yannick Kraag, Senegalese wing Pape Sow and Spanish wing Miguel Allen Montesdeoca

Italy
Next, I caught 19-year old Cameroonian power forward Paul Eboua, who recently moved into the starting lineup in Italy's first division with some productive games. He has improved significantly after looking lost in the lowly second division last season, putting up maybe the best game of his career with a 20-point, 9-rebound, 3-steal outing in 36 minutes this month.

At 6-foot-8 with a chiseled frame, 7-foot-3 wingspan and explosive athleticism, Eboua has always had phenomenal physical tools. But now he's knocking down 3-pointers, attacking closeouts, operating as a lob threat and making basic passes. The game still moves too quickly for him at times on both ends, his hands aren't reliable enough, and he isn't always able to take advantage of his athleticism. Still, he didn't play basketball until age 14, and he has made impressive strides over the past year, despite not being in an ideal development situation.

Eboua is a legitimate second-round prospect who might be a good fit for a G League affiliate or stash in Europe for another year or two.

Israel
Several scouts were in attendance to watch 19-year-old Yam Madar and Hapoel Tel Aviv face Maccabi Ashdod. Madar is having an excellent season in the first division, and he put up an efficient 9 points, 4 assists, 2 steals and 2 rebounds in 19 minutes with defensive energy in a victory.

A late-bloomer physically, Madar has good size, length and athleticism for a PG, but it will likely take several years for his frail frame to fill out before he's ready for the NBA. Nonetheless, he left a strong impression with his feel for the game, competitiveness, budding shooting ability and intangibles. Several executives said they hope he gets an invite to the Nike Hoop Summit in April.

Madar's quick feet and hands made it difficult for the opposing team to get into its sets, and he was subbed into the game late to get defensive stops. He has work to do tightening his ball-handling skills and gaining consistency on offense in the half court, but he is an excellent development situation. He looks like a safe bet to reach his full potential.

Belgium
Despite being only 18 in his first season at the professional level with Oostende, Amar Sylla is playing a significant role in both the first division and the FIBA Champions League, starting every game at power forward and seeing 23 MPG. Those outsized demands seem to be taking a toll on the thin and inexperienced Senegalese big man, as he has hit a bit of a wall after several impressive showings in November and December. He fouled out in just 10 minutes in the game I watched, marking the first time he had done so this season.

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Sylla still managed to show what makes him an intriguing long-term prospect. He's arguably the most athletic big man in the 2020 draft class, blessed with incredible quickness and explosiveness. He has a chance to be a total game-changer on the defensive end, with his deep stance and ability to cover ground seamlessly while making plays above the rim. Offense can be an adventure for him, though, as his skill-level needs considerable work. His feel for the game is not particularly high, and he doesn't always play to his strengths. His 3-point shot has fallen in some games in which he has also been able to offer a presence as a rim-runner and offensive rebounder, but he has also had plenty of ugly performances. The coaching staff in Oostende is working to get Sylla to sprint the floor every time down the court, with mixed results.

Scouts didn't sound particularly discouraged, given that they have long viewed Sylla as a long-term project. He's the second-youngest prospect in ESPN's top 100 draft rankings. A patient team with a strong development infrastructure might be happy to let him develop in the G League until he's ready to contribute in the NBA. He's also being mentioned as a potential candidate for April's Nike Hoop Summit.

Hungary
Next up: Carlos Alocen playing in a Champions League game against Falco. Alocen and his team, Zaragoza, are having a dream season in the Spanish ACB, currently in third place in arguably the strongest league in Europe. Alocen had a quiet game by his standards, but he played an important role late in his team's road win in a hostile environment.

At 6-foot-5, the 19-year-old brings excellent height for a point guard, even if he has a narrow frame, short wingspan and average athleticism. His strengths include tremendous basketball IQ, confidence and swagger. He passes with both hands, has tremendous vision in pick-and-rolls and shows terrific creativity with bounce passes. Scouts will want to see him improve his perimeter shot and overall half-court scoring, as he's shooting 28% from beyond the arc and 63% from the foul line. There's technically nothing wrong with his stroke, which instills some confidence that he'll figure out this part of his game in time. That's imperative for his NBA chances, as he struggles at times to finish in the paint and doesn't project as a plus defender.

Alocen isn't oozing with upside, but the fact that he's having such a productive season at his age on a winning team gives him a high floor and a solid chance to be selected (if he stays in the draft).

Germany
Deni Avdija played only 12 minutes against Alba Berlin in a Euroleague game for Maccabi Tel Aviv, but he showed all of his talent and then some, throwing in a pair of 3-pointers, leaking out for a transition finish, blocking two shots emphatically, making the extra pass in the half-court and displaying his defensive versatility. Early foul trouble and a bloody nose cut his night short, but it's easy to see that Avdija is hitting his stride and on an upward trajectory, something he backed up in his next game with a career high 22 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in the Israeli league.

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Avdija has made real strides from a physical standpoint. He improved his body and athleticism so that he isn't overmatched at the highest levels of competition as a 6-foot-9 guard. He's playing almost strictly on the perimeter this season, seeing only a handful of minutes at the small-ball 4 position that -- as he continues to add bulk to his frame -- will likely be attractive to whatever NBA team drafts him. Defensively, Avdija has made a major upgrade to his intensity and consistency.

He is being asked to play a confined role offensively for a talented Maccabi squad in the midst of an outstanding season, rarely being utilized in situations where his ball-handling, court vision and creativity would shine. However, he drops enough glimpses of versatility, skill and feel to remind scouts of what makes him special, and he has shown as much in other settings.

Avdija's recent play and modern NBA fit -- combined with the struggles of the American prospects rated in front of him -- make him a player teams drafting early in the lottery will want to look at closely. He has hovered in the Nos. 5-6 range of our rankings all season and could get looks a little earlier than that, depending on how the lottery shakes out.

France
Potential lottery pick Theo Maledon is in the midst of an up-and-down season with Euroleague club ASVEL. NBA teams have been frustrated by Maledon's difficult situation from a minutes and opportunity standpoint on one of the slowest and most conservative teams in the league, so it was interesting to see Maledon have one of his most aggressive games of the season, scoring 13 points in 14 minutes while getting to the free throw line a season-high seven times. Scouts historically have criticized Maledon for passivity, making this performance encouraging, though Maledon's coach kept his minutes down.

One reason for Maledon's struggle to carve out a more prominent role is his regression as a shooter, with his percentages dropping from an excellent 38% from beyond the arc and 85% from the free throw line last season to 30% and 67% this season, respectively. Before the game, Maledon went through a long warm-up complete with floaters and a mix of jumpers, and he shot the ball extremely well. His mechanics look clean, and he has been aggressive and confident this season taking open shots. He shows some comfort shooting off a screen and flashes of being able to make step-backs.

On a team that wants to grind out the shot clock, it's understandable that Maledon has seen his production drop off. Considering that he isn't blessed with elite athleticism and has taken a step back this season as a playmaker, it's safe to say that NBA teams will want to see a lot more out of him on both ends before once again projecting him as a lottery pick, like they did before the season.

In Cholet, 6-foot-7 guard Abdoulaye N'Doye has blossomed into a highly versatile player in his draft-eligible season. N'Doye's club started the game down 12-0, at which point his coach, Erman Kunter, made the unconventional decision to bench his starting point guard, Michael Stockton, and put the ball in his young player's hands. That resulted in a simply outstanding first half in which N'Doye scored eight points and dished out six assists, not leaving the court for a second, something I had never seen at this level in my 17 years of international scouting.

After nearly being relegated last season, Cholet is in the midst of an outstanding season, thanks in large part to the integral role N'Doye plays in their switching defensive scheme. With his 7-foot-2 wingspan, N'Doye is tasked with defending opposing point guards, but he will frequently and successfully switch onto bigs in pick-and-roll. N'Doye plays with impressive maturity for his age (21), posting a 65% true shooting percentage and 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He lacks a degree of aggressiveness and could stand to ramp up his intensity a notch, but it was impressive to see his contributions in his team's eventual blowout win.

With physical measurements comparable to those of Robert Covington, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jerami Grant at the same age, N'Doye looks like a prototype NBA wing, provided he continues to improve his perimeter shooting. Surprisingly, N'Doye hasn't garnered significant attention from NBA teams thus far, as it seems most scouts have moved on to younger prospects after he took longer than expected to blossom. With 16 games plus a likely playoffs appearance left, expect that to change considering how productive he has been. The prospect of him being a first-round pick is certainly in the cards if he finishes the season well.

Germany
Killian Hayes is having an outstanding season in Germany. He appears to be in the best development situation of any of the potential lottery picks in Europe, as the Ulm organization is doing everything it can to help him reach his goal of playing in the NBA.

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According to several Ulm stakeholders, the team is investing $25 million to build an academy that they hope will become one of the premier destinations for elite youth prospects from Germany and abroad. They want Hayes to be the flag bearer for why future NBA players should sign in Ulm over other traditional hotspots. When Ulm started the season 2-11, with Hayes turning the ball over 57 times in his first 292 minutes, the team refused to pull him from the starting lineup. They've been rewarded for that with a much better version of Hayes the past two months, which has coincided with a 6-2 record in the German league -- and a huge increase in NBA decision-makers at each game.

Hayes struggled a bit in the game I attended, failing to make any real impact until the contest was well out of hand. He showed many of the flaws that scouts were already concerned about, regarding his average athleticism, struggles operating with his off-hand, inconsistent 3-point shooting, lack of midrange game and porous defense.

The appeal around Hayes revolves heavily around his excellent combination of size, length and strength for a PG, along with his playmaking ability. He's extremely shifty with the ball, using his strong frame, long strides, agility and polished footwork to get to his spots on the floor and throw in soft floaters off the glass. He sees the court well and gets his teammates involved, tossing an excellent 8.6 assists per 40 minutes. He has been shooting the ball very well off the dribble this season, despite a low release. When his motor is running hot, he can be a force putting pressure on the ball, getting in passing lanes and using his strong tools to crash the glass, though he isn't consistent in this area.

Hayes has clearly hit a great groove the past six-to-eight weeks. The caveat has been that he has mostly struggled against better competition, playing in a league that is fairly watered down after the top handful of teams and lacking athleticism comparable to that of NBA players. Pushing Hayes to his weaker right hand, trapping him in ball screens and forcing him to make decisions against length have made him uncomfortable, so we'll have to see if he's able to maintain his efficiency and productivity as the season moves on.

For now, Hayes has reestablished himself as a potential lottery pick, though the glut of point guards in this draft indicates that there is still a lot left to play for heading into June.

lag∞n, Thursday, 16 January 2020 18:23 (six months ago) link


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