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High-Upside Bets in the International 2024 NBA Draft Class
We look at three lesser-known international prospects who are making an impression with their combination of elite size and perimeter skills.
In a recent episode of The Old Man and the Three, JJ Redick mentioned that the word “Unicorn” has seemingly faded from the basketball lexicon. Google Trends agrees with him, as it shows that the term “Unicorn” hit its peak in April 2017 and its relevance has been steadily declining for the past three years.
However, just by watching a couple of seconds of Victor Wembnanyama’s NBA preseason highlights, it’s clear that the concept of a player who offers a unique level of versatility with their combination of size and perimeter self-creation ability is not only very much alive but also extremely valuable on the basketball court.
In this piece, I’ll cover three international players ahead of the 2024 NBA Draft who, despite having different profiles, all possess a unique combination of size and perimeter skillset.
(Partially) On the Radar: Tidjane Salaun
Unlike the majority of European NBA prospects who break out at an early age in youth tournaments across the continent, Tidjane Salaun was one of the best-kept secrets in French youth basketball for many years. In the 2022-23 season, however, Salaun had an outstanding campaign as one of the best players in both the French Espoirs U21 league and especially the Adidas Next Generation Tournament, where he averaged 20.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game while shooting 41.2% from three-point range.
Standing at 6’9” with a 7’1” wingspan, Salaun combines his elite measurements for a forward with his versatile shooting ability. The 18-year-old forward is a confident shotmaker who can convert both catch-and-shoot and off-the-dribble jumpers from way beyond the FIBA three-point line.
One of the aspects that allows Salaun to create his own jumper is his fluid ball-handling ability for his size. The French forward utilizes a number of creative dribble moves to generate space against opponents on the perimeter while also being quick and fluid enough to beat his man and find and get to his spots for pull-up jumpers.
With his combination of size and ball-handling ability, Salaun is also a threat to get to the rim. He is especially prolific when attacking closeouts or leading the break in transition, being a tough cover for opposing defenders with his ability to change directions with the ball in his hands.
Defensively, Salaun is at his best and most impactful when he utilizes his length to contest shots, play the passing lanes, and secure rebounds. The challenge for him will be to find a role as an on-ball defender. Despite his optimal physical tools, Salaun hasn’t shown the level of production to depend on him as a rim protector, as he blocked just 0.6 shots per 36 minutes through the first ten games of the current season. On the perimeter, he shows flashes of covering wings and forwards, but his high center of gravity, as well as his tendency to reach for steals, can leave him out of position and vulnerable to getting attacked by quicker opponents.
Salaun, who is currently shooting 35.9% from the field and 28.6% from three-point range in the 2023-24 season, will need to find a way to score efficiently in his first full year at the professional level. If he does, it’s hard to see many teams passing on his combination of positional size and multi-level shotmaking once the 2024 NBA Draft rolls around.
Otherwise, the lack of production as a defender and as a playmaker for others might make teams perceive him less as an actually draftable 2024 prospect and more as an intriguing project for 2025 onwards if he eventually puts it all together.
Just Under the Radar: Ousmane N’Diaye
Ousmane N’Diaye made his debut in the Spanish ACB for Palencia this year, after spending the past three seasons in different lower levels of competition across Europe. He consistently stood out with his elite physical profile, being listed at 6’11”, with a reported 7’2” wingspan, and his flashes of perimeter skillset.
N’Diaye has a tremendous ability to space the floor. He is a willing shooter who is a consistent threat in spot-up and pick-and-pop jumpers thanks to his compact, repeatable mechanics and his touch from beyond the arc. While he’s not yet fully unleashed as a self-creator in the perimeter, N’Diaye also shows willingness to attempt more difficult shots, being able to convert jumpers off-balance, against defensive pressure and at times after putting the ball on the floor, creating space with dribble moves or getting to his spots for pull-up jumpers.
N’Diaye can also get to the rim with his fluid and creative ball-handling ability. He’s able to keep a low dribble point and get by slower opponents on the perimeter with his combination of quickness and fluidity. The finishing in the paint, on the other hand, whether on drives or in interior scoring situations, hasn’t materialized yet, and he can struggle to score around the basket, especially against size and length from opponents.
N’Diaye had been more of a perimeter-oriented player up until this 2023-24 season, where he started mixing in moments of more traditional big men skills. While N’Diaye’s shot attempts still come mostly from beyond the three-point line, he’s playing more as a screen-setter and offensive rebounder on offense, which he didn’t do at previous stints. In these situations, N’Diaye is able to create space for pick-and-roll ball-handlers with his screens and to generate extra possessions for his team with his offensive rebounding.
What hasn’t materialized yet with N’Diaye is the defense. N’Diaye does have elite tools, he’s able to contest shots in the perimeter, and he has been a prolific rebounder until this point in his career. Much like Salaun, though, his optimal on-ball role on defense is yet to be determined. He’s far from a defensive stopper in the perimeter, as he is not always able to get low, in a stance, to contain penetration and stay in front of drivers. His rim protection also comes mostly in flashes. Despite having the right measurements, N’Diaye lacks both the strength and the defensive instincts to be a full-time rim protector.
N’Diaye has been able to show his biggest selling points as a prospect (the ability to shoot off-the-catch, rebound, and selectively put the ball on the floor) so far in the early Spanish ACB season, while also adding the ability to set screens to his game. He might not develop into a full-time rim protector, but there’s definitely an intriguing aspect to a player who possesses his size and shooting ability when he has been able to adapt well to the ACB level of competition and contribute to his team at just 19 years of age.
Definitely Under the Radar: Ruben Prey
Ruben Prey is the lesser-known name in this piece, but he has been a consistent standout across tournaments in Europe over the past few seasons, both for his club, the Spanish junior-level powerhouse Joventut, and for the Portuguese youth national teams.
Part of Prey’s selling point as a potential NBA prospect is his ability to space the floor. Compared to both Salaun and N’Diaye, he’s more one-dimensional in this area, however, despite off-the-dribble attempts being mostly outside of his comfort zone and him shooting a slow two-motion shot, Prey is a capable and mostly reliable shooter off-the-catch in spot-up and pick-and-pop situations.
Despite struggling to get by defenders off the dribble due to lacking an elite level of quickness to turn the corner, Prey also shows flashes of driving, possessing the ability to attack closeouts and bringing the ball up in transition with his combination of body control, footwork, and handling ability in space.
What Prey gives up in terms of perimeter self-creation, he makes up for it with his presence around the basket. On the offensive end of the floor, he’s a polished interior scorer who utilizes his combination of size, footwork, and touch to establish deep position in the paint. He can find the open space and finish tough shots with a versatile arsenal of finishes.
Defensively, Prey has been a prolific rebounder and shot blocker who plays with a tremendous level of energy around the paint. Prey utilizes his length to create defensive events around the basket and when he’s away from the basket, he shows flashes of brilliance covering drives, staying in front of opponents, and contesting their shots at the rim.
If the term “tweener” is dead when it comes to (negatively) describing a player’s defensive fit, it’s very much alive when it comes to analyzing a combination of skills and tools on an NBA floor.
Despite having great size at 6’9” with a 7’2” wingspan, Prey simply doesn’t possess the elite vertical leaping ability nor the strength to be a full-time rim protector and interior finisher, even struggling at ties with finishes that require a level of touch against contact.
Even if Prey possesses an elite level of skill as an interior defender and scorer, in order to translate those skills for the NBA, he might require an (also) elite level of size and explosiveness that he doesn’t possess. And the skills for which Prey does possess elite tools, such as shooting and driving, are both in too early of a developmental stage to really consider them as surefire NBA weapons.
Prey is just 18 years old, and those perimeter skills could very well develop into consistent offensive threats down the line. For now, though, Prey looks more like a prospect to track down for the next two NBA drafts than someone who is certain to hear his name called once June of 2024 rolls around.