We Need to Talk About Hansen Yang and Eli John N'Diaye
Yang and N'Diaye have both been junior-level standouts and productive players at the pro level. So...where's the hype?
If you’ve ever compiled a big board or published any sort of list, you’ve asked yourself this question before: Why is it that the first comment under any sort of list is always about why a certain player hasn’t made the list?
Don’t get me wrong: I love that. It helps me to be on the lookout for players that I might’ve lost track of and definitely deserve a watch.
This year, as usual, there are multiple players who, despite having productive seasons overseas, haven’t really been considered as prospects by draft media: Johann Grunloh, Juan Francisco Fernandez, Musa Sagnia, Ege Demir, Tomislav Buljan and Andrej Jelavic just to name a few. In this piece, however, I’ll be going over the two names that have generated the most comments about their lack of draft buzz.
Yang made a strong impression at the FIBA U19 World Cup last summer, where he displayed an impressive combination of defensive potential, interior scoring, and passing vision. Yang averaged 12.6 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 4.7 assists, and he led the tournament with 5.0 blocks per game. Yang, currently in the middle of his first season for Qingdao in the Chinese CBA, seems to have carried over his productivity to the new level of competition.
Yang stands out with his combination of massive 7’1” size and coordination, moving with tremendous fluidity and grace for his position. His movement skills allow him to find the open spaces in the paint, compensating to some degree for his lack of elite strength.
Offensively, Yang shows an impressive level of footwork, fluidity, and touch around the basket, which allows him to finish difficult plays at the rim. His understanding of finishing angles is outstanding and allows him to convert shots despite not being able to always impose himself physically inside. He can also create and finish plays from beyond the restricted area, showing good touch in hook shots and other difficult shots.
This ability, however, can be a bit of a gift and a curse, as his tendency to utilize finesse instead of force can make him over-reliant on tough, contested shots inside. Yang can struggle to explode vertically and finish through opponents, showing a tendency to shy away from contact. This is notable on both tape and in the stat sheet: according to Synergy, he attempted only four dunks at the FIBA U19 World Cup, and only 14.5% of his attempts at the rim have been dunks during the 2023-24 season for Qingdao.
When it comes to his passing out of the post, the other offensive area in which he shined at the U19 World Cup, Yang has been slightly less effective at the CBA level than he was at the junior levels, but he certainly has the vision and plays the right way out of the post, always looking for teammates open in the perimeter and setting them up for open spot-up attempts.
Defensively, Yang leads the CBA in blocks, and his size secures a high floor for him as an interior defender. He can affect the game by simply standing around the basket, contesting shots, and rebounding the basketball. However, there are certain aspects that, even considering his size, are concerning when it comes to his projection as an NBA rim protector: he tends to be late to contest shots that require him to rotate and, just like it happens with his finishing, it takes him a while to load up, which limits his ability to react and effectively block shots inside.
When asked to cover drives, he’s really not a factor at this point, not being able to slide laterally to stay in front of opponents.
Despite my not being enchanted with his current profile as an NBA prospect, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of him becoming a serious NBA prospect during the next few years. He’s just 18 years old and he possesses outlier size, tremendous touch around the basket, and impressive passing vision. His profile might not be the answer at the center position for every NBA team, but there are certainly a number of teams that could value his unique combination of size, post-passing, and interior scoring.
Eli John N’Diaye
Despite being one of the most decorated players at the junior levels in Europe between 2019 and 2022 and a consistent interior scorer for Real Madrid at multiple Adidas Next Generation Tournaments, Eli John N’Diaye might just be the least hyped prospect that the Spanish basketball powerhouse has produced in at least half a decade.
Players like Luka Doncic, Usman Garuba, Mateo Spagnolo, Tristan Vukcevic, Alexandre Sarr, Izan Almansa, and Juan Nuñez were either drafted or are projected to be selected in this year’s draft. While junior-level standouts like Amar Sylla and Carlos Alocen would eventually go undrafted, unlike N’Diaye, at least they had some level of hype during their draft cycles.
Standing at 6’8” with a 7’1” wingspan, N’Diaye stands out on tape with his agility for his size. His speed to run the floor and agility as a leaper make him a consistent rim target for Madrid, both in transition and in the halfcourt. Despite not having elite size for the role, N’Diaye has been a factor as a roll man, coming off screens with a good combination of speed, body control, and power, which allows him to establish deep position and be an easy lob target. N’Diaye does great work off the ball to find the open spaces both as a cutter and offensive rebounder, putting himself in a position to catch entry passes and offensive boards.
N’Diaye can also create shots for himself in the paint with his combination of footwork and ball-handling ability. While he can struggle against centers at the ACB level due to his lack of elite size, Real Madrid tends to play N’Diaye at the 4, which allows him to be matched up against smaller defenders, providing mismatches in the post that N’Diaye exploits consistently.
The aspect in which N’Diaye has made progress recently has been the shooting, as both his percentages and the volume of attempts from three-point range have improved in his 2023-24 season. N’Diaye has taken over half of his field goal attempts from beyond the arc and has converted on 31.3% of them. Off the catch, it takes him some time to release his shot, but he aligns really well and has a consistent, repeatable motion. He has mixed those off-the-catch attempts with sporadic yet impressive attempts off the dribble, especially in the midrange.
The limitation when it comes to his NBA projection is, in my opinion, that N’Diaye is an awkward defensive fit. He has never had the production of a primary rim protector at the junior level, and that trend has been maintained in his transition to the pros.
While he can contribute with his length around the basket, being able to contest post ups and rotating from the corner to protect the rim on a secondary level when there’s dribble penetration, N’Diaye gets bodied consistently by opposing bigs in the paint. On the perimeter, he’s not the most mobile athlete when it comes to lateral movement and ability to change directions, which makes it hard for him to stay in front of opponents.
With N’Diaye not being able to play center at the NBA level due to his lack of elite size and production as a rim protector, it’s likely that he would end up as a four, a position that in today’s NBA is responsible for a tremendous number of tasks. The combination of off-ball shooting and interior scoring is a good start, but it’s hard to envision N’Diaye staying on an NBA floor unless he either finds a defensive role in which he can be a positive contributor or becomes truly elite as a shooter and interior scorer.