Monday, June 17, 2024

The best international prospects in the NBA draft: Bios, stats and scouting reports for eight players

With the 2024 NBA draft quickly approaching, the players who are projected at the top of the draft are French prospects whom many fans in the United States have likely never seen play live; nor do the fans likely know much about the players’ backgrounds that got them to the precipice of entering the NBA.

Zaccharie Risacher and Alex Sarr, projected as the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in ESPN’s latest mock draft, are two of the many international players who will wait to hear their names called during this year’s two-day event in New York City on June 26-27.

The NBA’s final deadline for early entrants to withdraw their names from the draft pool is June 16, a date that most impacts international players, who aren’t under the same restrictions as college players.

Fourteen international players have been selected first overall in the draft, most recently Victor Wembanyama of France in 2023 to the San Antonio Spurs. Wembanyama was a much-hyped prospect whose profile was more well known than some of the 2024 prospects, so for this year’s draft, let’s take a closer look at some of the top international players, their stats to know, their basketball journeys and a few surprise facts.

Jump to a player
Zaccharie Risacher | Alex Sarr
Tidjane Salaun | Nikola Topic | Bobi Klintman
Pacome Dadiet | Juan Nunez | Nikola Djurisic

Age: 19 | 6-foot-9 3/4, 195 pounds
ESPN rankings — Top 100: No. 1 | Mock draft projection: No. 1

Quick background: Risacher was born in Malaga, Spain, where his father, Stephane, a former Olympian and a hall of famer in France, played in the Euroleague and ACB. Risacher grew up in Lyon, and as a 16-year-old, he became teammates with Victor Wembanyama on Euroleague team ASVEL.

“I got to spend a little bit of time with him,” Wembanyama told Andrew Lopez. “And we were both really young at the time, but back then even sometimes he practiced with us and he was just doing some crazy things in terms of talent. He’s definitely up there in that draft class. I probably don’t know anybody more talented than him in this draft class.”

Starring alongside Alex Sarr on France’s U16, U17 and U19 national teams the past three summers, Risacher took a similar route as Wembanyama in departing ASVEL for a bigger role in the French league when he joined JL Bourg this past fall. That move paid off, as he averaged 11.1 points, 4 rebounds in 23 minutes while shooting 39% for 3 through 62 contests in the EuroCup and Pro A, going 42-20 in that stretch.

Stats that stand out: Besides Wembanyama, no French player since Tony Parker has scored more prolifically than Risacher in their first NBA draft-eligible year.

Bet you didn’t know: Zaccharie’s sister, Ainhoa Risacher, was named MVP of the FIBA U16 Women’s European Championship in 2023, after guiding France to a gold medal.

Scout’s take: Risacher would be a good fit on almost any NBA roster thanks to his combination of size, transition scoring prowess, defensive versatility, feel for the game and ability to shoot off movement, making 39% of his 3-pointers this season. He’s a solid rebounder who was tasked with guarding point guards through power forwards for a Bourg team that had the No. 1-ranked defense in both the French league and EuroCup, where he helped his team make the finals.

Areas for improvement at the next level: Seeing most of his offense spotting up from the corners, in the open court, coming off screens and moving without the ball, Risacher was tasked with very little shot creation as he’s not much of a ball handler in pick-and-roll or isolation situations, something that’s not ideal considering how high he’s projected to be drafted. He also doesn’t have a great deal of length (6-foot-9½ wingspan) relative to his height, and he needs to get stronger. He has shot a career 71% from the free throw line and 35% from beyond the 3-point line in 206 games, so there are questions about how much of a shooter he truly is despite the large sample size of 75 games this past season.

Alex Sarr, PF/C, Perth (Australia)

Age: 19 | 7-foot-1, 224 pounds
ESPN rankings — Top 100: No. 2 | Mock draft projection: No. 2

Quick background: Hailing from Bordeaux in the south of France, Sarr has taken a circuitous route to the draft, spending two years in Spain with Real Madrid, two years in Atlanta with Overtime Elite, and then this past season in the Australian NBL with the Perth Wildcats. Sarr has long been hailed as one of the top international prospects in his age group, ranking among the most productive players at the FIBA U16 European Championship in 2021 and the FIBA U17 World Cup in 2022.

Stats that stand out: His two-game preseason explosion against G League Ignite in September, where he posted 43 points, 17 rebounds, 12 blocks and 4 assists served as a proof of concept for what makes him a contender for the No. 1 pick.

Bet you didn’t know: His brother, Olivier, played college basketball at Wake Forest and Kentucky, and finished this season on a two-way contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Scout’s take: At 19 years old, with a 224-pound frame that has significant room for growth with his broad shoulders and well-proportioned lower-body, Sarr has upside to grow into with the strides he has made over the past few years, and he is especially promising on the defensive end. With a 7-4 wingspan, Sarr’s combination of size, length, mobility, defensive versatility and finishing ability gives him an easy niche he can fill as a vertical spacing big who can protect the rim and slide with guards on the perimeter. The flashes he has shown as a ball handler, passer and perimeter shooter give him real star potential depending on how he develops, especially considering the scarcity of players in this mold who can play either the power forward or center position.

Areas for improvement at the next level: Sarr lacked a degree of assertiveness, physicality and consistency with his feel for the game and overall approach at a young age, which caused skepticism among scouts regarding his likelihood of reaching his full potential, something he did a good job of alleviating this past season in the NBL. It will be important for Sarr to address those concerns as the level of competition rises. His productivity waxed and waned at times this season.

Age: 18 | 6-foot-10, 217 pounds
ESPN rankings — Top 100: No. 10 | Mock draft projection: No. 8

Quick background: Born in Orly, a suburb of Paris, Salaun took a very different route to the draft than his French counterparts did, making his national team debut at 18. He wasn’t considered a top-tier prospect in his home country early on, failing to make it out of training camps with his national team at the U16 and U17 levels and having just a brief experience at famed French sports academy INSEP. He eventually departed for Cholet. Salaun became a full-time member of Cholet’s pro team after he graduated high school last summer, something his parents insisted on for academic purposes.

Stats that stand out: Salaun went from playing 17 total minutes last season for Cholet’s pro team to stepping into a significant role in both the French league and the FIBA Champions League, averaging 9.6 points, 4.0 rebounds in 23 minutes. He was the youngest player in France to see rotation minutes this season in Pro A.

Bet you didn’t know: Tidjane’s sister, Janelle Salaun, is a national team player who helped Villeneuve-d’Ascq make the championship game of the Euroleague this season. Salaun is one of 18 players vying for a spot on France’s Paris Olympic team this summer.

Scout’s take: At 6-10, Salaun hit 82 3-pointers this season in 60 games, showing unlimited confidence and dynamic shot-making prowess. He hit pull-ups, side-step jumpers and step-backs from well beyond the arc. He plays with exceptional intensity, flying all over the court with impressive mobility, and he is difficult to shoot over on the perimeter with his 7-2 wingspan. Turning 19 in August and clearly on a strong development trajectory, Salaun’s physical tools, perimeter shooting and defensive versatility gives him significant upside to grow into long term.

Areas for improvement at the next level: Salaun’s skill level, feel for the game and decision-making are still in progress considering his lack of experience. He’s a crude ball handler and streaky shooter who shows questionable awareness and can be fairly mistake-prone on both ends of the floor. Whichever NBA team drafts him will need to be patient with his development as he had incredible highs and extreme lows this season that are often on course for late bloomers such as him.

Nikola Topic, PG, Red Star Belgrade (Serbia)

Age: 18 | 6-foot-7, 203 pounds
ESPN rankings — Top 100: No. 9 | Mock draft projection: No. 10

Quick background: Growing up in Novi Sad, a suburb of Belgrade, Topic was identified at a fairly young age, being named captain of the Serbian U16 national team that won the FIBA European Challengers. His true breakout came in 2023, in which he had dominant showings in Euroleague’s ANGT and then helped Serbia win the U18 European Championship. He was named MVP.

Stats that stand out: Topic had a phenomenal 3½-month stretch to start the season with Mega MIS that solidified him as a potential top-five pick, averaging 18.6 points and 6.9 assists per game and shooting 65% from 2P% in the Adriatic League. It’s rare to see an 18-year-old guard make that type of impact at this European level, especially with his scoring efficiency inside the paint. Unfortunately, we were not able to see how his game translates to the Euroleague level after his midseason transfer as a pair of knee injuries derailed his season starting in early January, and continued to hamper him into the pre-draft process. And on Wednesday, his agent, Misko Raznatovic, confirmed to ESPN that Topic has a partially torn ACL.

Bet you didn’t know: Nikola’s father, Milenko was a 6-foot-9 Euroleague player who won a silver medal with Yugoslavia at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, as well as gold medals at the FIBA World and European Championships in 1997 and 1998. Milenko played and coached for Crvena Zvezda (Red Star).

Scout’s take: Topic has great size for a point guard with an outstanding combination of ball handling, pace-changing speeds out of hesitation moves, and creativity finding teammates on the move and finishing skillfully around the basket. What he lacks in length and explosiveness, he makes up for with his feel for the game, as his ability to get to spots on the floor and make reads out of pick-and-roll is more advanced than any player in this draft class.

Areas for improvement at the next level: Topic has never been a great shooter, as his 29% 3-point percentage this season was in line with his career average. The fact that he is such an elite free throw shooter (87%) and shows shot-making prowess off the dribble leaves room for optimism. He has struggled at times with rangier defenders on switches, something we weren’t able to learn more about in the Euroleague because of his injuries. Topic’s defense is also a concern, as he has a wingspan (6-5½) shorter than his height and isn’t very agile operating out of a stance, lacking intensity at times on that end of the floor.

Age: 21 | 6-foot-10, 212 pounds
ESPN rankings — Top 100: No. 24 | Mock draft projection: No. 26

Quick background: A native of Malmo, Sweden, Klintman arrived in the U.S. in 2021, enrolling at Sunrise Christian Academy, a prep school in Wichita, Kansas. He spent his freshman year of college at Wake Forest before signing with the Cairns Taipans of the Australian NBL.

Stats that stand out: Klintman has excellent size for the wing at just under 6-10 in shoes and with a standing reach of 8-10½, both of which should allow him to spend time at power forward with relative ease as his 212-pound frame fills out.

Bet you didn’t know: No Swedish player has ever been selected in the NBA draft’s first round.

Scout’s take: Klintman looks the part of an NBA wing physically and then some, showing intriguing versatility with his perimeter shooting, transition-finishing prowess and defensive versatility. Every team is theoretically looking for players in this mold who can stretch the floor, attack closeouts, get out in the open court, and have some playmaking ability getting on the glass and generating turnovers. Klintman has definite upside to tap into, which he showed with the improvement he made from his freshman season at Wake Forest to Cairns as he got off to a somewhat later start than most to playing high-level organized basketball.

Areas for improvement at the next level: Klintman is somewhat of a jack of all trades, master of none, as it’s not entirely clear what he hangs his hat on yet. He’s a streaky shooter who isn’t particularly dynamic with the way he gets his jumper off, and he isn’t much of a ball handler to compensate. He has a tendency to relax or avoid contact at times on both ends of the floor, and there are some question marks about his feel for the game, as he averaged twice as many turnovers as assists this season and was mistake-prone defensively.

Pacome Dadiet, SF, Ratiopharm Ulm (Germany)

Age: 18 | 6-foot-9, 217 pounds
ESPN rankings — Top 100: No. 38 | Mock draft projection: No. 38

Quick background: From the Parisian suburbs, with roots in the Ivory Coast, Dadiet made his professional debut just months after turning 16 years old, seeing minutes for Paris Basket in Pro A France. In the summer of 2022, he left for German team Ratiopharm Ulm, following in the footsteps of former Detroit Pistons player Killian Hayes, but was hampered by injuries and a contract dispute with his former club that prevented him from seeing much action. This season he stepped into a solid 15-minute per-game role as an 18-year-old competing in the EuroCup and German BBL, growing in effectiveness as the season moved on.

Stats that stand out: Dadiet finished the season averaging 9.1 points and 3.6 rebounds in 17 minutes, shooting 84% for 2 and 43% for 3 over his final 10 games. In 59 games, he shot 64% for 2 and 36% for 3.

Bet you didn’t know: Dadiet grew up playing in a small French club called Saint-Charles Charenton alongside fellow 2024 draft prospects Tidjane Salaun, Armel Traore and Mohamed Diawara. The club previously played a role in developing NBA players Evan Fournier and Moussa Diabate, as well as projected 2025 NBA draft pick Nolan Traore.

Scout’s take: Dadiet has excellent size for a wing at 6-foot-9 and good scoring instincts for both finishing around the rim and making shots with his feet set and pulling up off the dribble. He found ways to score relatively prolifically this season going up against a high-level competition with good efficiency, making notable strides as the season moved on. He’s one of the youngest prospects in this draft, turning 19 on July 27.

Areas for improvement at the next level: Dadiet is an average athlete, ball handler and passer, putting pressure on himself to become a high-level shooter to carve out a consistent niche in an NBA rotation. He’s a career 31% 3-point shooter but has converted 79% of his free throw attempts and has shown real progress with his shot-making prowess this season. Dadiet’s defense was the main thing holding him back from playing more minutes for Ulm despite his strong scoring production. He struggles to guard quicker players on an island, gets pushed around by stronger players, and doesn’t have much length or agility to get back into plays when beat. Like many young players, Dadiet’s off-ball defense is poor, getting lost and falling asleep in his stance frequently with average awareness. Dadiet is telling teams he is not interested in being stashed in Europe next season, insisting on being brought to the NBA immediately by the team that drafts him. For that reason, he might elect to withdraw his name at the June 16 international deadline.

Juan Nunez, PG, Ratiopharm Ulm (Germany)

Age: 19 | 6-foot-5, 206 pounds
ESPN rankings — Top 100: No. 37 | Mock draft projection: No. 37

Quick background: Nunez has long been considered among the top international prospects in his age group, being named MVP of the Spanish MiniCopa days after turning 14. He played a key role in Spain knocking off a 15-year-old Wembanyama and France in the FIBA U16 European Championship final, dropping 21 points in the gold medal game despite being the youngest player on either squad. He has represented the Spanish national teams at different levels of competition, including most notably at the senior level in the FIBA World Cup last summer where he started and played a key role. Nunez left Real Madrid shortly after turning 18 and spent the past two seasons in Germany with Ratiopharm Ulm. He won the BBL championship in 2023 and stepped into a starting role this season, increasing his productivity and efficiency in several categories.

Stats that stand out: Nunez ranked as a top-3 passer in the EuroCup this season with 5.7 assists per game, slating second on a per-minute basis.

Bet you didn’t know: Nunez is juggling national team duties with the NBA pre-draft process, as he has already been summoned to join Spain’s training camp in preparation for the Olympic qualifying tournament June 10, something that might ultimately force him to withdraw from the NBA draft. He conducted two pre-draft workouts with the Milwaukee Bucks and Minnesota Timberwolves prior to attending the draft combine in Treviso, Italy, and will head straight to Spain’s training camp from there, where he’ll compete with Ricky Rubio and Lorenzo Brown as the main point guards on Spain’s roster.

Scout’s take: Nunez has good size for a point guard at 6-foot-5 with outstanding ballhandling and playmaking ability. He has an outstanding feel for the game and some of the best vision, creativity and flair for pick-and-roll reads of any player in this class. Nunez made progress as a finisher, defender and decision-maker this season, even if he still has plenty of room to improve in these areas. He boasts a wealth of experience at some of the highest levels of competition you’ll find from a player his age, both in Europe at the FIBA level and with the Spanish national team. Nunez also offers teams flexibility, as he’s one of the few international players who is willing to be stashed in Europe; he’s rumored to be returning to Spain to play in the Euroleague next season, possibly with Barcelona.

Areas for improvement at the next level: Nunez’s jump shot has long been considered his biggest weakness, as he’s a career 27% 3-point shooter and at 60% from the free throw line in 274 games in the DraftExpress database. He has some off-the-dribble shot-making prowess and hit an improved 32% of his attempts on decent volume — but his awkward mechanics and general streakiness put a damper on his long-term outlook here. Nunez doesn’t have great physical tools in terms of his frame, length or explosiveness, which hampers him defensively, an area he hasn’t prioritized from an intensity standpoint prior to this season. His feel for the game shows up in the way he generates steals at an extremely high level, but he’s unlikely to be a major positive on this end of the floor considering his lack of agility operating out of a stance.

Nikola Djurisic, Small Forward, Mega MIS (Serbia)

Age: 20 | 6-foot-8, 209 pounds
ESPN rankings — Top 100: No. 39 | Mock draft projection: No. 39

Quick background: Djurisic was identified as a high-level prospect in Serbia from an early age, being the youngest player invited to the FIBA U16 European Championship team as a 15-year-old and then playing up two years at the FIBA U19 World Cup in 2021 as well. He was a projected first-round pick in the 2023 NBA draft after a strong showing against eventual top-5 picks Amen and Ausar Thompson in an exhibition game versus Overtime Elite in Belgrade, but saw his stock falter amid inconsistent play. Djurisic’s season got off to a somewhat rocky start, but he played outstanding basketball over the final three months, helping Mega MIS go on a prolonged winning streak that ended with a semifinal loss in the Adriatic League playoffs to eventual champions Red Star.

Stats that stand out: Over the final 10 games of the Adriatic League season, Djurisic averaged 21.9 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.5 steals per game, shooting 55% for 2 and 46% for 3. His team went 8-2 in that span.

Bet you didn’t know: Djurisic’s mother, Vesna Čitaković, won a bronze medal in volleyball at the 2006 World Championship in Japan, two years after Djurisic was born, and was the captain of the Serbian national team at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Djurisic played many sports growing up, including karate, tennis, swimming and soccer. Djurisic’s father, Dusko Djurisic, played soccer professionally in Switzerland, France, Israel, Cyprus, Germany and Belgium.

Scout’s take: Djurisic has excellent size for a wing standing over 6-foot-8 in shoes with a strong frame and good physical tools. He was a legitimate shot-creator for Mega MIS, being tasked with significant pick-and-roll and isolation responsibility thanks to his powerful first step and explosiveness finishing above the rim. He has some passing creativity as well.

Areas for improvement at the next level: Despite a red-hot end to the season, Djurisic shot 32% for 3 overall and is a career 29% 3-point shooter in 174 games. His shot selection and decision-making can be questionable at times, as he ranked among the Adriatic League’s leaders in turnovers, and his occasional lack of awareness shows up pretty vividly on the defensive end.

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