Early Check-In on International NBA Draft Prospects
Yannick Nzosa, Tristan Vukcevic, Ismael Kamagate, Mario Nakic, Gui Santos, Ibou Dianko Badji, Carlos Alocen, Lefteris Mantzoukas, and Khalifa Diop.
With college basketball returning today, I’ve been spending as much time as possible cramming in international games. Once college and international play are happening simultaneously, it can be overwhelming for NERDS such as myself who try to stay on top of the draft. Though it is still early in the season, I wanted to put out my thoughts on a few of the top international prospects in the 2022 draft cycle. I previously went in-depth on the prospects in the ABA League, so please check out that column HERE if you are looking for my thoughts on those players. Let’s get into it!
As always, thank you for reading! If you enjoy this piece, please consider subscribing (it’s free!), following @BaumBoards on twitter (also free!), and spreading the word (you’re never going to believe this, but that’s free too)! If you REALLY enjoy it, you can send me a few dollars on Venmo, @MaxwellBaumbach! My wife and I just had our first daughter, so financial incentives would be a great way to keep me motivated if you want more posts like this one!
Yannick Nzosa, 6-11, Unicaja Malaga.
For a brief moment in time, “Yannick Nzosa could sneak into the number one pick conversation” was a take that started making the rounds. The temperature of the Nzosa discourse has cooled considerably, but I still think he’s worth getting excited about. Nzosa is frighteningly fast baseline-to-baseline for his size, running more like a forward than a center. He’s twitchy, and with his long arms, he’s capable of morphing into a gigantic mountain when he goes vertical. He’s a rather raw player, but I get the sense that he’s smart and will eventually become rather savvy. Nzosa has a good sense for who is open and makes respectable passing decisions, especially for someone with little basketball experience. He functions as a lob threat and has soft touch around the rim. I love his motor; Nzosa is active on both sides of the ball and is always working hard. Right now, most of his issues are tied to a lack of bulk and inexperience. Offensively, he doesn’t seem to know where to go on the court when he isn’t directly involved in a screening action. Defensively, he’ll occasionally get lost in the pick and roll, though his recovery skills will eventually be outstanding once he’s more seasoned. When screening, he’s excellent at slipping, but he does it too often and defenses pick up on it. Additionally, Nzosa rarely lays it in on a pick and seems fearful of contact due to his thin frame. I’m not worried about his body too much, because he’s 17 as of this writing and will surely cultivate mass over time, but I wish he showed more willingness as a screener. Nzosa’s game definitely has a few warts, but I love to buy in on players who came to the game later in life, especially when they have outrageous physical tools. Between that and his motor, I’m comfortable buying Yannick Nzosa stock. Still, he’s had a hard time earning minutes, and he’s more of a developmental project. His ceiling is exciting, especially if you project his touch around the basket as translating into eventual shooting range, but the floor isn’t bad either. Though thin, Nzosa is still a reliable decision maker with amazing speed at 6’11” who can finish. You could do far worse with a big man prospect than that.
Tristan Vukcevic, 6-10, Real Madrid.
Vukcevic hasn’t seen the floor much in EuroLeague play, which makes him a tougher evaluation at this stage. Still, his skill set is wildly intriguing. Vukcevic is an exceptional shooter for 6’10”, hitting 40% of his threes across multiple leagues so far this season as an 18 year old. He’s smooth getting into his shot off the catch, making him a ready-made pick and pop threat. He’ll take advantage of a mismatch when it’s presented to him and pound smaller defenders. Vukcevic has displayed nice passing skills, which could be a big swing skill in terms of his trajectory as an offensive threat. I don’t anticipate that he’ll ever be the focal point of an NBA offense, but big men who can pass operate as better safety valves in the pick and roll, and can allow your team to use a more diverse array of offensive sets, especially when they can stretch the floor. His rebounding instincts are solid, but I’d like to see better technique from him in that aspect of the game. Because he’s slower off the ground, he’ll need to excel at carving out space on the glass. Defensively, he’s a smart game-processor who interrupts passing lanes and will dig into the handles of sloppy ball-handlers. He has a harder time going one-on-one against quicker players when put on an island. Much of his draft stock will be dependent on getting more time on the floor. The idea of Vukcevic as a stretch big man who won’t be a disaster on defense is tantalizing, as those are hard to come by. Still, we are only getting small peaks into his game, which may hide some of his flaws.
Ismael Kamagate, 6-11, Paris Basketball.
“Ismael Kamagate” is a name I’ve started to see a lot more of as of late, so I did what any respectable Draft Sicko would do: I checked out some LNB Pro A action, which you can watch for free on their website if you have a Gmail or Facebook account. The first thing that stuck out to me is how well Kamagate moves, and how much he loves to do it. He’s constantly flying all over the place on offense setting screens for his teammates. He’s really quick off the floor for lobs. Kamagate isn’t intimidated when he’s switched onto smaller defenders defensively. Physically, he’s more sturdy than most his age, but when you see him next to teammate Kyle O’Quinn, it becomes apparent that he still needs to progress a bit on that front. At times he’ll struggle to maintain post position on either end against bigger players, but he does the correct fundamental practices during those moments. His touch on free throws inspires confidence in his shooting, but right now he appears afraid to take jumpers and will pass up open ones in the shallow mid-range. Kamagate’s hands are good, and he’s strong with the ball. There are still occasional lapses on the defensive end, as he’ll completely lose track of the rest of the play at times after he comes to offer help. If his production holds (9.71 PPG on 61.5% from the field, 2 blocks per game), he’ll make a solid late-first, early-second round pick because he can finish, block shots, and he plays hard, plus there may be shooting upside further down the road.
Mario Nakic, 6-8, MoraBanc Andorra.
Mario Nakic has an interesting offensive game and great size at 6’8”. Nakic handles physicality well when he drives and can finish through contact. Though he doesn’t have a great first step, he’s smart with the ball, using hesitation and head-fakes to get to his spots. His court vision while attacking is top notch; he doesn’t get locked in, and he’ll find teammates who become open after their defender leaves to help. Nakic’s decision making and ability to make smart, quick passes allows him to lead the break and push the ball in transition. His general activity level is high, and he’ll get rebounds through hustle plays or by burning players who get lazy with positioning. On the defensive side, he moves alright laterally, but will occasionally lack discipline. There will be sloppy close outs or fouls because he got beat off the dribble from time to time. He lacks vertical lift and is primarily a below-the-rim player. Over the past two seasons, he was a monster from deep, going 46.2% and 51.4% from three across multiple leagues, though on low volume. This year, he’s struggled to find his stroke and is at 20%. Where his three point shot settles will be a major factor in determining his NBA prospects, but if he can start to hit from deep again, his offensive package is enticing enough to warrant a look, even if his athleticism is suboptimal.
Gui Santos, 6-6, Minas.
Gui Santos fits the “dribble-pass-shoot” mold. He moves well off the ball and has flashed three point shooting from deep behind the NBB line, inspiring confidence in his NBA range. He’s sputtered a bit out of the gates for Minas this year, but exploded for 21 points against Mogi das Cruzes and looked the part of an NBA prospect. Santos is quick to make decisions with the ball and isn’t going to bring the offense to a halt. His first step is solid. A sneaky skill is his ability as a screener; Santos fully embraces the physicality of the act, and that combined with his range as a shooter make him a potential pick-and-pop weapon. Santos has also gotten to the charity stripe frequently this season due to that same willingness to deal with contact. He can be frustrating as a defender, getting caught on screens or playing too upright when guarding the ball. A lack of bounce will also limit him as a finisher. Still, a 6’6” wing with ball skills, shooting, and physical determination make him a player to keep an eye on as the year progresses.
Ibou Dianko Badji, 7-1, Forca Lleida CE.
I was interested in Ibou Dianko Badji during the last draft cycle, and I remain interested in him now, though I have a few more concerns after seeing him in a bigger role. On the plus side, Badji has an excellent physical profile for his age. His length allows him to get into everything, and he’s constantly gobbling up rebounds that would be unreachable for most players. The most amusing part of Badji’s games is his lightning fast hand speed. On Twitter (@BaumBoards), I joked that his blocks are like Randy Orton’s RKO, in that they can come from out of nowhere when you least expect it. Badji has solid finishing ability. My worries with Badji have to do with his offensive processing; he severely lacks passing and playmaking instincts. There were multiple plays I came across in two games from this season where he got stuck in the post or mid range and then forced an unspeakably bad shot instead of dishing it out to a teammate. In one instance, he was literally falling down and still threw it up. Badji’s motor can waiver, and he can be slow to get up and down the floor. His rim protection skills are up to snuff, but his closeouts are worrisome, as he’ll either come in lackadaisically or with way too much speed and then lose his balance. The basics are there for Badji, it’s just about refining his decision making and exerting continuous effort.
Carlos Alocen, 6-5, Real Madrid.
Carlos Alocen plays a beautiful offensive game, and it speaks volume about him that a Real Madrid squad with so many respectable playmaking guards gives him both playing time and real responsibility. Alocen is crafty with expert control of the ball while dribbling. He’s a quick offensive player who can transition nicely into his shot off the bounce. His passing vision is wonderful for his size, and he has the ability to deliver the ball to teammates effectively. I’ve seen a few evaluators that I have a great amount of respect offer extensive praise for his defense, but I don’t quite see it yet. He’s smart and uses his intellect well, but I don’t love him laterally. He struggles side-to-side, and I could see him becoming a target of NBA offenses. Alocen lacks vertical pop and has a hard time around the rim. My biggest concern is his outside shot; he was 28.5% from three two years ago, and 28.1% last year. He’s at 39.1% this year, but I’m still not sold given the small sample size. If the shot can keep falling at that clip, Alocen will be receive opportunities given the depth of his offensive game, but without the shot, it’s hard for me to envision him as an NBA player.
Lefteris Mantzoukas, 6-9, Panathinaikos.
Lefteris Mantzoukas has been riding under the radar for the most part, but I am thoroughly intrigued by him. First off, he’ll only be 18 on draft night, making him one of the younger players in this class. Mantzoukas does an admirable job of playing defense, and he does so in the EuroLeague, which is beyond impressive for someone his age. He is disciplined when closing out, has good balance, and stays in control of his body. When you watch him off the ball, you’ll notice that he does a tremendous job of staying connected to his man when he’s forced to run around screens. Offensively, he’s a sweet shooter (33% from three this year, 44% last year) who knows when to cut. His instincts as a rebounder are solid, but he does need to get stronger and he doesn’t have much in the way of jumping ability. Bigger post players give him headaches, and he has a tougher time against perimeter players who can counter with back and forth movements. I’d also like to see more confidence from him when he has the ball, as his handle is serviceable for a player his size and he has shown that he can shoot. Mantzoukas may not have a seamless NBA transition without athletic improvements given that the stretch-four archetype has become hypercompetitive and he doesn’t have the size to play the five, but his defensive acumen paired with his shooting give him a real chance.
Khalifa Diop, 6-11, Gran Canaria.
Khalifa Diop is another big with impressive mobility for his size. He’s strong, and he’s able to convert around the cup with consistency. I’m a little lower on him than other big man prospects at this point because of some defensive consistency woes. Diop doesn’t feel fully aware of the floor on that side of the ball, and his coordination will betray him at times. He’ll fly toward an opposing player and be unable to put on the brakes, raising red flags about his ability to handle changes in direction. Lastly, Diop has also struggled as a free throw shooter throughout his career, so he may be limited in terms of what he can do offensively.
As always, thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this piece, please consider subscribing (it’s free!), following @BaumBoards on twitter (also free!), and spreading the word (you’re never going to believe this, but that’s free too)! If you REALLY enjoyed it, you can send me a few dollars on Venmo, @MaxwellBaumbach! My wife and I just had our first daughter, so financial incentives would be a great way to keep me motivated if you want more posts like this one!