The Knicks will have to look internationally to best evaluate the sprawling 2022 NBA Draft class. Here is the down-low on the underrated international prospects.
People have mentioned how the international prospects in the 2022 NBA Draft class do not compare to the high expectations set by modern drafts lined with international superstars filling up the lottery. While it is true that this class is lacking a marquee prospect to be taken in the top 10 such as Luka Doncic or Josh Giddey, it is filled with potential impact role players.
As always, there is the potential for draft-and-stash prospects when we are looking at players overseas in various leagues including the NBL and the Adriatic League, along with major European leagues in Spain, France, and Italy. While the developmental systems overseas always change the way we look at prospects who aren’t given the same roles and opportunities as traditional prospects in college basketball, contextual situations always matter when looking at translation evaluation. It is never more difficult than when these players are going up against grown men from very young ages.
Unlike college prospects who can come out of the woodwork before ever stepping foot on a college court or hot-shot up the draft boards from a small college like Santa Clara, international players are often looked at as more known commodities in the draft world. These are prospects that have been known in the draft community for years playing in different leagues across the globe along with international play to represent their respective home countries in various U18 tournaments and competitions for years.
Likely First-Round Targets
This 6-foot-10 Frenchman will likely be the first international player to hear his name called on draft night. That might come as a bit of a surprise if you were watching the first half of the NBL season. The young barely 19-year-old wing joined the NBL’s Next Stars program hoping to follow the footsteps of recent lottery picks Josh Giddey and LaMelo Ball. There was quite a bit of hype surrounding him coming into the league given his fairly unique combination of size and skills. To say he had an underwhelming start to his professional career in New Zealand is understating it significantly.
In the first month of the NBL season, Dieng shot a resounding 8-for-37 from the field as the Breakers got off to an 0-6 start. This tanked his draft value going into the spring as this highly skilled wing was repeatedly showing almost no contributing factors in his early professional games. While it is not shocking for a young 18-year-old to have a culture shock playing against older and bigger opponents, especially in a very physical league like the NBL, Dieng’s spirals were very extreme.
So, if this is your first exposure to Ousmane Dieng, you are probably wondering why a player that took a month to score 20 points in total even after playing 15-20 minutes a game is now being talked about as a lottery range prospect. However, a miraculous turnaround happened for Dieng in performance, even if it didn’t help with his team’s success. The Breakers were the worst team in the NBL by a wide margin and there was not a lot of help for Dieng from his teammates. He finished his season averaging a modest 8.9 points a game on nearly 40% from the field and an underwhelming 27.1% from beyond the arc on 4.2 attempts a game.
If you are drafting Ousmane Dieng, and especially if you are drafting him in the lottery, it is not due to his per-game averages or even his advanced metric numbers for that matter. The skills specifically that make people lose their minds start with his ball-handling, which at his size, is downright astounding at its best. His fluid nature of ball-handling and athleticism allow him to get past his defenders.
A possession like this one make you lose your mind in terms of size and ball handling skills.
At 6-foot-10 Ousmane Dieng has been impressing folks with what he could end up being in the NBA.
He came back strong in his final four months of play. Turns 19 y/o in 14 days! pic.twitter.com/WB0lPqv7PD
— Ersin Demir (@EDemirNBA) May 7, 2022
You can make a case that Dieng is one of the better ball-handlers in this class and, at 6-foot-10 with a seven-foot wingspan, that certainly has its appeal. It is easy to see why people believe in a jumbo wing with potential playmaking and self-creation chops. However, as with many young players, the shooting needs to improve dramatically to prove to be a worthwhile offensive creator, but the potential is there.
It is easy to fall in love with the ball-handling and the playmaking flashes are abundant even if at times they appear to be pre-ordained reads and fewer in-the-moment decisions. This is not necessarily a flaw, as he still shows great vision and the ability to make appropriate reads and throw very impressive skip passes. While you can make a case that a lot of his passing ability came from being 6’10” and being over to see over smaller defenders, there is still enough positivity to believe in. While it is unlikely he will start in a primary playmaking role, but his ability to make live dribble passes off a drive is enough to convince some that the facilitation ability will translate.
It is hard to believe in Dieng’s potential if you do not think the shooting will improve. While shooting is almost always going to be considered a swing skill for nearly every high upside project draft pick, very few players have less to believe in than the 19-year-old NBL rookie. The young Frenchman had exponential growth in the second half of his season and even with that “hot streak” he shot 27% from deep and only 66% from the free-throw line. These numbers are not going to convince anyone that the shooting will be able to translate to the next level, but for some people, the eye test will be enough to do just that.
22 PTS, 6 REBS and 6 AST on just 12 shots for 18-year-old French wing Ousmane Dieng, highlighted by this smooth pull-up 3. Clear lottery talent given his combo of size, skill and youth. Full scouting report on the 6-10 forward from my trip out to Australia https://t.co/vxjcjYAK2O pic.twitter.com/QZiHin9sit
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) April 10, 2022
Unfortunately for Dieng, a lot of his offensive upside is based on his shooting ability. The self-creation he is shown is fairly reliant on a fairly wonky yet effective-looking stepback and other dribble moves. While he does not have a good shot-making ability, his size and ball-handling allow him to create shots easily as he is extremely fluid with the ball and able to shoot over smaller defenders. Being able to get off a shot is a good thing, but being able to make it is more important and, without that, he will likely not require defensive attention in the NBA.
The term “toolsy” will probably be thrown around with Dieng more than any other player in the lottery. He possesses great lateral quickness and a lengthy wingspan. So he projects to be a versatile defender and shows good recovery and contesting abilities. However, like on the offensive side of the ball, it is a lot of upside flashes and projection.
Ousmane Dieng had some good defense in his last game with 1 block and 3 steals, and overall good on-ball defense shown below. He also had 17 points, so he's slowly turning the corner from his slow start to the season and rebuilding his draft stock pic.twitter.com/ks3duirFI9
— Mavs / Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) March 9, 2022
One of the struggles with the translation to the NBL was playing in a very physical league while he mostly avoids physical contact. This impacts his offensive ability when driving to the basket but also his willingness to engage defensively. His body is not ready at the NBA level with his thin frame and lack of strength. This needs to improve to defend at the NBA level, but his length allows him to contest shots and help defend around the rim.
It remains to be seen if he will be an effective defender as he shows significant lapses on that side of the ball, but like everything with Dieng, with the silver lining, you can see the potential. The defense did get better throughout the year and while the numbers are still not overly impressive, the glimpses showed what he has the potential to be.
Dieng’s hot stretch of games looked magnificent in comparison to the baseline created by his early struggles, but is that a benefit? That is a matter of your perspective, one can assume that Dieng would have the same struggles coming into the NBA that he did with the NBL. Especially when you consider it to be another leap in size and athleticism amongst opponents.
However, the raw tools are there and it is not hard to imagine that at least one team would fall in love with the idea of Dieng. He will certainly be one of the bigger home run swings in this draft and depending on where he is drafted and who takes him, the pendulum will swing. If he is given time to develop and play into the skill set he has already shown flashes of, it is easy to see what he can turn into.
Nikola Jovic is a name that you will hear a lot going into the 2022 NBA Draft, and not just because of the similarity to the reigning back-to-back MVP. Like his fellow Serbian, the playmaking chops are one of the major appeals to the 18-year-old KK Mega Basket wing. However, that is mostly where the resemblance ends as the sharpshooting forward plays vastly different than his near-namesake.
The 19-year-old Serbian Sensation gets high praise for showing guard skill offensively at 6-foot-11 with a seven-foot wingspan. That is plenty to fall in love with when you consider the fact that he shot 40% from deep and was put in a point guard role for much of the season for his team in the Adriatic League.
There are few players in this draft class that will look better as a role player than Jovic, due to his combination of flash passing and pure shooting. That does not necessarily tell the whole story, but it does paint a picture of what is appealing about the Serbian prospect.
When Mega Basket gave Jovic the keys to the car, they were at their most fun, if not their best. That is largely due to the pace and frenetic style of play that he brings to the game. Jovic’s passing really shines when he can get in transition and run. He throws precise outlet passes and accurate lobs. He has shown a knack to fit passes into tight windows as well as pass out of double teams. His passing would be an impressive skill at any size, but given his frame, is an extremely appetizing quality to NBA front offices.
Nikola Jovic's passing at 6'11 is wildly impressive.
Comfortable passing out of traps, threads the needle, finds shooters & cutters, great overall in the P&R, runs point in transition, has a knack for the extra pass, makes lob passes & can pass with accuracy against pressure pic.twitter.com/SsmpCIyA2K
— Mavs / Magic Draft (@MavsDraft) June 4, 2022
While he is a willing passer and often looks to make the extra pass, that can at times get him into trouble. Jovic put up high turnover rates due to forcing passes that were not there and making poor reads leading to wild errors. Those will not show up on his highlight tapes, but they are a concern to how he would compete against more athletic defenses.
Jovic is a strong pick-and-roll ball-handler, which leads to many of his best passes. He is one of the better precision passers in the draft and on set plays and designed actions, is an extremely effective passer. That leads to what his best role will be at the NBA as a secondary playmaker who can be given more deliberate action for passing to take some of the control away from those reads.
Jovic is also one of the better shooters in the class. Given his size along with a quick release, he can get his shot off in almost any situation, which will be especially important early in his career as an off-ball scorer. He shot 40% on nearly four attempts a game, and while he did take a high volume of long twos that look to translate to the three-point line with NBA coaching. Along with the good shooting numbers off of a moderate sample size, you have 75% free-throw shooting and a fairly remarkable touch around the rim.
Really high on Serbian guard Nikola Jovic. At 6’10, the 18 year old has a multi faceted game and, although on a small sample size, is an elite catch-&-shoot shot-maker. Easy to see why his game will translate to the next level. pic.twitter.com/pCIhHQM64T
— Daniel Segal (@dsegal01) April 29, 2021
Not only does the young point-forward show the ability to shoot off the catch, but to believe in Jovic is to believe in the shot creation. There are few prospects in this class that can get into their shots as fluidly and easily as Jovic and given his age, that is a huge positive in how his game will translate. Smooth pull-ups are a large portion of his shot diet, but stepbacks and hesitation dribbles fill up his arsenal.
His size allows him to shoot over defenders and his quick release allows him to get it off, but the dribble moves give him potentially elite shot creation. His ability to create space penetrates multiple levels of offense as he has wonderful offensive footwork in the midrange and post outside of the potentially lethal long-range shooting. He will often go to a turnaround high-arching jumper, which is smooth as silk and hits Dirk-like fadeaways regularly.
The big question mark around Jovic is always going to be his defense, which leaves even the most stout defenders dubious. The harshest critics will not absolutely abysmal reads on the defensive side of the ball leaving him out of position on a regular basis. A willingness to help does not always equate to defensive successes as Jovic has a propensity for helping positionally while not actually impacting the ball handler in any way.
If you are going to make a case for the Mega Basket wing defensively, there would be two arguments that hold water for how he will translate on that side of the ball at the next level. The first is simple: his size. Jovic is nearly seven feet tall with a plus wingspan, on the height and length alone can allow him to fit in defensively. That size makes him more hideable, and while the footwork leaves him lost at times, the athleticism is enough to stay in plays. The lateral quickness is there and he moves well even if he tends to get stuck making him easier to beat off the dribble.
nikola jovic's defense is….a work in progress pic.twitter.com/mCpUFwdwrC
— Ben Pfeifer (@bjpf_) July 31, 2021
The length and the athleticism do give a pretty high baseline for defense even if some think the footwork will make him unplayable at the next level. The hope would be that Jovic is merely playable defensively in the near future, and the shot-blocking continues to improve. The advanced metric block numbers are fairly impressive with 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes, with many examples of successful help defense.
Similar to Dieng, Jovic is far from a sure thing, and the defense is as big of a question mark as any prospect has being considered in the lottery. Even with that potentially fatal flaw, Jovic is still a potential lottery pick even if not consistently mocked in that range, and that is due to the impressive combination of shot creation and playmaking. It is easy to see why teams can fall in love with the passing at that size, especially when you are pairing it with one of the most reliable shooters in the class.
The Rest of the Class
While that might have drawn out some overreaction from the fanatics online, there is a real reason to be excited about Ismael Kamagate. The 21-year-old Frenchman blew up on Draft Twitter after outperforming everybody’s favorite phenom: Victor Wembanyama. By far the safest option of the international draft class, Kamagate will almost definitely serve a role in the NBA.
Kamagate is an older prospect and projects to be an effective backup big man. The Paris Basketball prospect is extremely smart, which leads to really solid footwork in the post on both sides of the ball. He projects to be little more than a drop coverage big, but his lateral quickness should allow him to be fairly switchable. For teams that prioritize shot-blocking and rebounding, he is a solid bet.
Offensively, he has shown flashes of post passing, but the really translatable skills will be the lob finishing and explosion around the rim. The explosiveness will not only be his best trait at the next level but the most likely to make him a fan favorite wherever he goes. There is not just a willingness, but a true eagerness to try to finish over, through, or on any rim protector that gets in his way.
I can't remember the last Euro prospect that would dunk in this situation. Ismael Kamagate, ladies and gents.pic.twitter.com/BlOB6uvuRY
— Dmitry Planidin (@DmitryPlanidin) January 15, 2022
At 6-foot-11 with a very strong physical frame, the baseline is extremely high for what he brings to the table. Whichever team is looking for a solid rotational big piece will clearly find that in Kamagate. Even if he does not project to give much more than that, his I.Q. blended with his athleticism makes him a dependable draft pick in the second round.
If there is an international player that has more hype on Draft Twitter than the consensus big boards, it is Gabriele Procida. There is a reason many amateurs and professional draft scouts alike have fallen in love with the 6-foot-7 Italian swingman. If he hears his name on draft night, you can bet money that all of your cliche white player tropes will be mentioned.
The 20-year-old is a legitimate athlete at any level for a prospect, but an extremely rare level of athleticism for a European prospect and one that comes with elite commentary and team reactions. Not only does Procida exhibit athleticism, but a sense of swagger and confidence that clearly shows he loves that challenge.
Gabriele Procida is the absolute coolest. pic.twitter.com/00VW0Hsy2c
— Maxwell Baumbach (@BaumBoards) March 30, 2022
While there is a fairly small sample size, Procida is a 38% three-point shooter over his last two seasons and has a pure shooting stroke. The 78% free throw shooting is on similarly low attempts does continue to provide confidence in the shooting. He moves well off the ball and is an extremely active cutter; he works super hard to get open. His off-ball movement makes him a really dangerous catch-and-shoot player early in his career, and he has shown flashes of self-creation ability.
He has a nasty stepback in his arsenal and uses it to create mountains of space. I would not expect him to be a primary on-ball scorer at the NBA level, but his game does translate well to the modern NBA given his size and athleticism. He is on an impressive growth trajectory and still has room to develop, especially as an on-ball scorer.
Gabriele Procida has become one of my favorite watches this class. Precise off-ball mover showing his great feel for the game at a pro level. Sits comfortably in my top 20 pic.twitter.com/O4zKrbcSjk
— draft pow (@DraftPow) June 6, 2022
Procida does a lot of little things at a high level that projects well to what you would want from a role player. He shows a high I.Q. on both sides of the ball and works hard. He is a really aggressive rebounder and shows good flashes of being a high-level rebounder for a wing with how hard he works, and intelligent reads on the ball rebounding.
This also speaks to his very active defense, even if not elite. His athleticism and size help him on defense, but it is quickness and athleticism that make him versatile. While Procida was not given a ton of opportunity to play in the Lega Serie A he was always a plus defender that was capable of switching 1-through-3 while on the court, which translates well to what NBA teams will be asking of him at the next level.
Procida is a bit of an upside swing, but unlike some of the other players whose evaluations are mostly projections, the Bologna wing does have skills you should be able to bank on between the shooting and athleticism. It remains to be seen if a team will take a risk on him to be a potential high-level two-way role player in the NBA, but he will be fun to watch no matter where he is next year.
The clearest stash prospect due to some very strange contract situations involving currently being on loan in the Italian league from the Real Madrid developmental system. It seems unlikely that he would be able to come over immediately due to some very large buyout clauses, but a very fun player especially for a team that may be short on roster spots.
Matteo Spagnolo with the go-to move of every middle schooler who accidentally picked up their dribble too early in a game of 21, but in a professional basketball game. pic.twitter.com/RzIjAnLeiy
— Maxwell Baumbach (@BaumBoards) June 3, 2022
The word that is going to be the most often descriptor of the 6-foot-4 19-year-old will be: efficient. He shot an impressive 44/44/88 this year in Italy and while some may not believe in the shot fully off of a very small sample size, he does appear to have put it together from deep. The metrics are extremely impressive and there is good reason to believe in the jump shot, even if he is streaky at times.
He is not the smartest player when looking at the shot selection because he tends to force things that may not be there, but he is extremely creative. He is going to be described as crafty, and for good reason, he is very deceptive with feints and fakes to draw defenders in to create space. The high-end athleticism and handles aren’t there, but he does a lot of little things to deceive defenses, which allows him room to operate as a scorer and passer.
In love with the pick & roll play Matteo Spagnolo brings. Snakes the ball-screen here to force the switch, sees the screener has the space to receive the ball in the paint, & makes a beautiful lob pass. Nice little trickery by making the defense think he was shooting a pull-up. pic.twitter.com/o5e6tvr2kh
— Global Scouting (@GlobalScouting_) January 25, 2022
While Spagnolo does not have elite vision, he has really fun glimpses of passing in an extremely creative way. He is not the most accurate passer, which results in some turnovers, but he has good vision and awareness of cutters and shooters. He hunts for screens more than anyone in this class, and while this partially speaks to his inability to beat defenders off the dribble, his creativity coming around picks is a definite positive.
Spagnolo is a smart bet for a stash player with a good developmental track record in a high-level system in both Italy and Spain. There is enough to believe in for a fun crafty guard prospect, even if he may be the least likely candidate to come over.
Hugo Besson is a 6-foot-4 Frenchman that is on the older side of this international class at 21 years old where he was playing as Ousmane Dieng’s teammate on the New Zealand Breakers. One could argue that Besson had the season in the NBL that Ousmane Dieng was supposed to have, and even if Dieng is still the higher-ranked draft prospect.
Besson is a microwave scorer that plays with an insane amount of confidence and swagger, in that he has not met a shot that he does not like. He can get hot instantaneously and seems to cherish opportunities to put one over on opposing defenders.
I'm looking forward to some more advanced shot making like this from Hugo Besson throughout his NBL season for the New Zealand Breakers.
He's got a beautiful arching shot that he can often pair with a solid handle to create space for himself pic.twitter.com/8dnP5jMAMY
— Stone Hansen (@report_court) October 25, 2021
While Besson only shot 30% from deep this year in the NBL, he did it on over six attempts a game. Again, speaking to the fact that Besson will never be scared to take a shot. He is certainly going to be classified as a shot hunter and that projects to what his role will be in the NBA.
His playmaking is interesting, as he is not the most accurate or best passer, but has some of the best reactive vision in the draft class and is at his best when plays break down. His passing flashes are certainly intriguing but do not project primary playmaking.
Impressively quick C&S 3 from Hugo Besson. Pass was a little high but he doesn't have to bring the ball down in order to get the shot off. pic.twitter.com/WBZzONihvm
— Alex (Draft Film School) (@DraftFilmSchool) December 11, 2021
The shooting and scoring are why Besson is worth drafting. The scoring chops will be the reason he is drafted, and he is a great bet to put on an absolute show in the summer league. The value that you assign to a bench scorer certainly depends on your team and your draft philosophy. No matter how you value that role, it is likely that Besson will fill it well.
This draft class is much-maligned especially given its place between potentially generational draft classes. The international crop is no different, coming off of a run of international lottery picks, and with Victor Wembanyama looming in the future, the expectations were higher than this class could ever meet. Even if it offers no guarantees, it does give you a mix of solid potential role players and high upside swings that are worth keeping an eye on.