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Early Impressions of the 2024 International Draft Class
With most of the overseas leagues already underway, we look at the profiles of four of the top international prospects for the next draft.
There are several phases when it comes to how an international NBA Draft class is built.
There are the very early stages where players start to shine in U15-U16 competitions across the world. Then there are the intermediate phases where players, still a few years away from being draft-eligible, stand out in U18 competitions and start to get their first opportunities to play in professional leagues overseas.
The final and most important stage of an international draft class is the one that has just started for the 2024 crop: the pro basketball seasons. This is where virtual unknowns become Top 7 draft picks and where seemingly surefire prospects fall by the wayside.
In this piece, I’ll be going over four of the top international players ahead of the 2024 NBA draft and my impressions of their performances during the early stages of the 2023-24 season.
After strong showings at the FIBA U19 World Cup and at a couple of showcase games in Las Vegas against G League Ignite, Alexandre Sarr will start the draft cycle in the pole position, being the consensus top international player on draft boards and, for some, a viable candidate to be selected first overall.
Sarr combines his elite measurements, standing at 7’1” in shoes with a 7’0.5” wingspan and a 9’2.5” standing reach, with a tremendous level of mobility, coordination, and body control for his size, utilizing said tools to affect the game in the paint on both ends of the floor.
On offense, he’s comfortable catching the ball inside and navigating through crowded spaces, being coordinated with his ball-handling and footwork to find the open space. His touch in tough shots is impressive, as he is consistent at finishing tough layups off-balance. Defensively, he wreaks havoc with his length, collecting rebounds and blocking shots at a good rate.
The most intriguing aspects of his game, however, have to do with his flashes of a perimeter game. While he’s not exactly a self-creator beyond the three-point line, Sarr has enough coordination, body control, and handling ability to put the ball on the floor and attack mismatches.
Similarly, if given enough space and time, he can hit jumpers off the catch from three-point range, making him a threat in pick-and-pop situations. Defensively, he’s not necessarily a one-on-one stopper in the perimeter, but he’s fluid enough to stay low and offer some type of resistance in drives, being able to recover at the rim on a number of times.
There are several downsides to Sarr’s profile. He relies a ton on his tools on defense, as he can reach unnecessarily and get in foul trouble. More concerning, he seems to be a split second too late to rotations too often for someone whose value as an NBA player is tied to his projection as a primary rim protector. His lapses in awareness also affect his ability to rebound the basketball on defense, where he can give up offensive rebounds to opponents.
His lack of strength also limits his ability to both protect the rim full-time and to finish around the basket, as he can get thrown off-balance with relative ease.
The big question with Sarr, as we move through the draft cycle, will be this: is he worth a first overall pick?
Sarr might not ever become an elite self-creator, but he has the touch and the tools to become a solid-to-elite play finisher on multiple levels of the floor and there are very, very few players who combine those offensive skills with the ability to protect the rim on a full-time basis.
If the awareness improves, if the scoring continues to be as efficient, and if the jumper continues to fall, it will be hard not to see him as a strong candidate for the top selection come June 2024.
Nikola Topic’s stock went through a meteoric rise during 2023. He cemented his name as one of the top players in his generation last April, after a 49-point, 12-assist performance at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament. Three months later, he led Serbia to the title in the FIBA U18 European Championship, earning MVP honors in the process.
Now, Topic is playing for Mega’s senior team in the Adriatic League. His transition to the professional level has been seamless, as he’s averaging 26.5 points and 6.0 assists per game over his first two outings while showing the very offensive weapons that made his junior career so successful.
Topic is a powerful downhill threat who relentlessly puts pressure on opposing defenses with his combination of size, speed, and ball-handling ability. He excels both in transition and in the halfcourt, where he’s able to create his own drives with his quick first step and his ability to change directions with the ball in his hands.
His driving ability makes him attract multiple defenders on nearly every drive, opening passing lanes which Topic exploits time and time again with simple drive-and-kick passes. Topic has an unselfish approach, playing with his head up and rarely missing the open man. The more captivating moments are when he’s operating as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, where he’s able to find teammates by both using his size to pass over the top of the defense and by threading the needle, getting the ball to teammates through traffic with accurate and (sometimes) creative deliveries.
There are some concerns with Topic’s profile: his lack of vertical explosiveness makes him live on tough, off-balance finishes at the rim. He also projects as a neutral/passable off-ball defender at best, since he’s not really able to keep up with the quicker, more explosive players in the perimeter.
The big question mark, however, is who is the real Topic when it comes to his jump shot. There are a lot of data points to project him as a shooter, and most of them are contradictory:
Good: He shot 37.9% from three over the 2022-23 season.
Bad: He shot just 2-for-21 during the FIBA U18 European Championship.
Good: He logged over 130 total three-point attempts in games during 2022-23.
Bad: His 3-Point Attempt Rate is low for a guard at just 34.6%.
Good: He shows touch in the paint on floaters and other tough shots, as well as accuracy as a passer, which could translate into good touch from range.
Bad: The mechanics look disjointed and certainly aren’t consistent from shot to shot.
Good: He shows flashes of versatility, converting the occasional pull-up from range.
The good news is that Topic seems to be in the perfect situation to clear any doubts teams might have when it comes to his shooting profile. If the 33 field goals he has attempted over just his first two games are an indicator, then Topic will have the utmost green light at Mega, which is as close to an ideal context as there is to find out who a player can be as a shooter.
At the end of the day, the Topic at hand (sorry) for NBA teams will be to evaluate how valuable his skillset could be with and without the jumper. If the jump shot continues to be a question mark, teams will have to ask themselves how much value they can see in the combination of rim pressure and playmaking for others without the shooting threat.
Even if the jumper doesn’t fall, there are certainly paths to being a valuable NBA player with his combination of skills and size, but proving that he can be a reliable pull-up shooter would certainly open up more avenues to success and should get him closer to a Top 10 selection than the second round where he’s currently projected to go.
If Topic has been the biggest riser, in many ways, Zaccharie Risacher was the faller of the summer. His zero-point, five-turnover performance in a Final loss to Spain punctuated a FIBA U19 World Cup campaign in which the 18-year-old wing certainly didn’t play up to his reputation as one of the top international players in next year’s class, being clearly outplayed by many of his teammates, including Alexandre Sarr and Melvin Ajinca.
As disappointing as his performance might have been at Hungary, Risacher was certainly valuable for France with his combination of size and defensive versatility, which is one of his strengths as a prospect. Risacher’s combination of size, mobility, and anticipation allows him to impact the game as a secondary rim protector—especially in drive coverage, where he’s able to stay in front of opponents and contest shots with his 6’11” wingspan.
Offensively, Risacher has issues with creating drives in the halfcourt due to his lack of burst and limited ability to change speed and directions with the ball in his hands, which makes him reliant on closeouts and transition opportunities to get to the rim. Similarly, he’s a natural shooter off the catch, showing solid mechanics in terms of balance, alignment, and follow-through, but he’s not someone who has a track record of versatile shooting, being mostly confined to spot-up attempts.
While I tend to be more wary about prospects whose potential value derives mostly from their defensive profile but aren’t full-time rim protectors, I do think there’s something interesting in Risacher’s profile as a spot-up shooting wing with great size and mobility.
The task for NBA teams will be to evaluate if Risacher can become elite as an off-ball contributor to develop into an offensive glue guy or if he’s just yet another player with limited self-creation ability who gets called a connector without ever being elite at the “connecting” aspects of basketball.
The most highly touted prospect to come out of Sweden in the last decade, Bobi Klintman spent the previous two seasons in the US, playing his senior year of high school at Sunrise Christian Academy in 2021-22 and his freshman year of college at Wake Forest, before leaving the team to join the NBL as a part of their Next Stars program.
Offensively, Klintman offers a really interesting mix of size and perimeter scoring ability. Standing at 6’10” and having a strong frame for his age, Klintman is able to put the ball on the floor and create his own shot from the perimeter, converting jumpers off the dribble at an impressive rate for his size.
While Klintman is not especially explosive, he can also attack the rim with the ball in his hands, mostly by bringing the ball up in transition and attacking closeouts, both situations in which he utilizes a combination of size and impressive fluidity.
Defensively, despite his size and his reported 7-foot wingspan, Klintman has not shown the defensive production of a primary rim protector, deriving value mostly from his ability to contest jump shots and drive, as well as his defensive rebounding, an area in which he puts his combination of size, length, and strength on display.
An older prospect who will turn 21 by the time of the 2024 NBA Draft, Klintman’s lack of elite burst off the dribble will probably limit his impact as a driver, which makes the jumper the make-or-break aspect of his profile. If we put aside his recent 1-for-7 shooting in a preseason outing against the Washington Wizards and look at the combination of mechanics and solid production as a shooter in (most of) his previous stops, then Klintman should be an interesting bet for teams who value the combination of size and versatile shooting potential.