By Artau Pascual

We are a few days away from the NBA Draft. This year’s class is full of European players who have been making an impact all year in their competitions. Zacharie Risacher and Alexandre Sarr, two French players who have gone all the way up since the U19 World Cup, are expected to be in the first spots on the list, and they will be followed by some other high-level French prospects as well as some other highly touted names raised in other European countries. Many of these guys should be able to make it to the league and, once there, find their place and path to success. It’s a good moment to see what an Only-European Big Board would look like.

Tidjane Salaun (Cholet, PF, 6'10, 2005, France)

Standing at 6’10 and being considered a late-bloomer -he just made his first appearance with the French NT last Summer at the U18-, Salaun is one of the most physically gifted players in the class. At the same time, he’s also probably one of the players whose distance between the floor and the ceiling is more evident.

Evaluating Salaun is a funny exercise. On the one hand, a thing that stands out about his game is how much pride he takes when he’s on the court. This element has boosted his contribution all year long and is one of his main strengths. On the other hand, while it’s easy to see how he can contribute by being a high-level off-ball operator, he’s still in the early stages of his skill and processing development, as we’ve seen during the season. A point of concern with Tidjane Salaun is that, even if it’s clear what type of player he will have to be, so are his flaws: his shooting mechanics are shaky, his shooting perception is often erratic and his overactivity without the ball sometimes can limit the team offense. However, at the end of the day, his willingness to have an impact, physicality and low-usage demands have cleared the path for him to play a valuable role in a competitive team. 

Salaun is expected to be a PF whose assignment on both ends of the court will mostly be filling the gaps. Stretching the floor not only by shooting but also by putting rim pressure without the ball in his hands -challenging the offensive glass and cutting-on the offensive end and being a versatile and as smart as possible team defender on the other half of the court. Salaun will need to adjust to a faster game and will have to improve his awareness, execution, and timing. Simplifying the game will not be an issue for him. If he does so, he meets all the requirements to benefit a lot of sharing court with elite ball-handlers and high-level anchors, something most of the NBA teams have. Doing all this in the best league in the world requires a high level of self-knowledge and control.

Zacharie Risacher (JL Bourg, SF/PF, 6'10, 2005, France)

Zacharie Risacher projects as the player with the safest floor in the upcoming NBA Draft. The JL Bourg product has been a regular contributor for a high-level Eurocup team for most of the season and, what has been the best for him, he has been able to be a net positive element for his team when the shot has clicked and when it has not. Risacher’s on-ball upside might be limited, but his maturity, ability to stick to an assignment and understanding of who he is and what he does make him a valuable player whose low-hanging fruit is appealing and tangible.

Risacher projects as a high-level spot-up shooter with a strong ability to understand where his space is. JL Bourg has used him frequently as a movement threat and has tried to create advantages for him through movement sett, but the most translatable part of his game seems to be what he can do in spot-up. His shot is reliable and, despite not being the most skilled and unpredictable driver we can find, he knows how to create and exploit simple advantages without slowing the game down. Risacher will knock down shots, keep the ball alive, and benefit from wider spaces and talent around him. He’s not an initiator, and he’s also not a creative, free-spirit type of player who will deliver in a primary role. On the defensive end, Risacher is also an intelligent player who can provide some immediate strengths. Most likely he won’t be used as much as an on-ball defender in the NBA because the ball-handler quality will take a big jump, but he has already demonstrated that as an off-the-ball guy his rotations will be on point, and he will do his best to anticipate and create events. If he’s able to work on his body and gain more volume and strength, we will be talking about a fairly good team defender who will bring to the table helpside value.

Risacher exemplifies perfectly some common traits of the upper side of this NBA Draft. The problem will not be the player, but the expectations built around him. Risacher is not the type of player who will want the smoke of on-ball repetitions and act as an offensive hub, but this doesn’t mean at all that his competitive impact is reduced.

Alexandre Sarr (Perth Wildcats, PF/C, 7'1, 2005, France)

Sarr has a fascinating case around him. The Perth Wildcats product has worked on his game outside the European spotlight for many years, and his body and physical attributes suit what most of the NBA teams look for in frontcourt players nowadays. Sarr is quick, light, mobile, and vertical, and he has also demonstrated some glimpses of what he has in his bag taking advantage of the mentioned physical qualities.

On the defensive end, Sarr projects as a player who meets the requirements to make an impact guarding in space. His level at turning hips is off the charts, and he also slides well laterally and uses his length to make things happen. He is also, by far, the best weakside rim protector in the 2024 Draft class, with a fairly great talent for blocking shots in non-contact situations. Sarr would benefit from playing with a rim protector by his side because an area in which he needs to develop is the one where fives are asked the most: communicating with his teammates, understanding what the defense wants to do when he’s face up and using the physicality to stay with demanding matchups.

On the offensive end, Alexandre Sarr is also an appealing prospect. He loves putting the ball on the floor, and he’s still taking time to figure out what he can do and what will have a positive impact. He can put the ball on the floor, he’s not afraid of expanding his shooting range, and he likes self-creating his looks. However, Sarr doesn’t look like the type of frontcourt player who could sustainably contribute to the offense by taking creative duties. It will be better to use his willingness to put the ball on the floor by creating closeouts for him or involving him in DHO schemes, and it will make more sense to create catch-and-shoot and pick&pop outside shots for him instead of allowing him to have a mixed diet with off the dribble volume. Sarr’s profile is appealing on both ends of the floor, but what will make a difference for him will be finding an efficient spot in the appropriate environment.
Matas Buzelis (G-League Ignite, SF/PF, 6'10, 2004, Lithuania)

As a part of the Ignite Team, Matas Buzelis has gone through many ups and downs during the 2023-24 season. The lack of an experienced, high-floor playmaker, as well as playing alongside a player with Ron Holland’s package, are important factors in evaluating how it all has gone for the Lithuanian Forward. Buzelis has established himself as a wing with some self-creation upside, especially in the mid-range and paint area, and has been able to build some offensive game around a tight handle, a fine cadence with the ball in his hands and a fairly good footwork.

Matas Buzelis will need to work on his shot. His spot-up numbers from the three-point line aren’t great, but also the feeling with his shot is that he will have to work on some stiffness issues to smooth it up and translate it to the NBA. Matas has been better at shooting the ball off the dribble in terms of transference, strength, and balance than he has been with his feet set. When he gets to the rim, Buzelis has an OK touch and a high release point that makes him difficult to block. He isn’t afraid of initiating contact and can finish with either hand in various ways.

A fine selling point for Matas as a prospect is currently the defense. His body has gotten better this season, and he possesses the defensive fundamentals to make an impact as a forward on this end. He will struggle against explosive and shifty initiators because his hip mobility is still in the making, but he makes fair use of his chest and length to contain drivers in his matchups. Buzelis has also shown some cool shot-blocking glimpses, both from the weakside and mirroring the attacker, and he also feels comfortable switching in pick&roll.
KyShawn George (Miami, SF/SG, 6'8, 2003, Switzerland)

KyShawn George is a late-bloomer with a great background story and an easy-to-identify key skill. The Swiss wing has been a major standout for the Miami team and has established himself as a clear-cut NBA prospect. KySahwn George can shoot the flat out at many levels, and has an outstanding game perception well aligned with what can make boost a shooter's status -relocation skills, squaring up off screens and hand off, some passing juice depending on how the defender guards him off movement–. At this point, the biggest question marks with him are if he’s going to be able to develop his body and skillset to create some offense from a standstill and if his development allows him to be a better driver and finisher in the paint. We need to find out at how many levels he will be able to score.

Pacome Dadiet (Ratiopharm Ulm, SF, 6'9, 2005, France)

Dadiet played his first season at the professional level during the 2023-24. The Ratiopharm Ulm product went through injuries and multiple external elements during the last years, so it’s been encouraging watching him play non-stop for 8 months.

Dadiet is one of the most special players in this NBA Draft class. He possesses some unique qualities that are strong indicators of how good of a scorer he can be: he gets to the mid-range spot every time he wants, he can self-create looks off the dribble going either direction with a nearly unblockable shot, he has the type of physicality and craftiness to finish in the paint, and he doesn’t hesitate at shooting the ball from outside. He’s a the best three-level shot creator in Europe in this year class. On the other hand, he has also shown some off-the-ball versatility by adjusting and being fairly consistent in spot-up, he has established himself as a willing cutter -timing needs to improve-, he challenges the offensive board relentlessly, he fills the lane in transition, and he can eventually act as a slide and slip screener. The point is that, at this stage, he still hasn’t been able to display all of his skillset consistently. 

Dadiet isn’t an elite athlete in terms of explosiveness for the NBA level, the handles are not good enough to make it up for the lack of burst at the highest level, and he doesn’t have that type of differential leap or strength. However, the mix of all these mentioned skills can turn him into a remarkable offensive NBA player who can take small advantage of each one. Dadiet is still figuring out what he can do at competitive stages, and for most of the 2023-24 season, he adjusted to a different role. However, the talent is undeniably there, and he provides some not-so-frequent qualities for European wings. If he finds the balance and consistency in his offensive repertoire and keeps working on his awareness and engagement on the defensive end, he will likely be a long-term NBA player.

Juan Nuñez (Ratiopharm Ulm, PG, 6'4, 2004, Spain)

If we just focus on the player and the ball, Juan Nuñez is the most talented player on the list and one of the most unpredictable in the entire class picture. The 19-year-old Ratiopharm Ulm PG projects as the most skilled playmaker in this year's generation and, even with all the question marks related to physicality, defense, and shooting that have surrounded his case for a while, his game has already made it clear: overlooking his strengths is not a good deal.

Once Juan Nuñez puts a foot in the league, he will automatically be an excellent advantage creator for his team. Juan meets all the requirements to be the real deal as a passer: he has the size, the ability to manipulate angles, the touch and variety to react against every coverage and the talent to involve as many teammates as possible in every action. He possesses the entire bag of passing fundamentals, plus he always plays heads up. Unleashing the scoring dimension, as well as the mid-range (so he has been doing lately), will boost even more his capabilities. In the NBA pace, with the type of talent and spaces the league has, he will just create a ton of open shots and easy points either breaking the defense in transition or initiating in the halfcourt.

Juan Nuñez is a special player who needs to face challenges and motivation to give his best level. The NBA, for a player like him, is basically this: a constant challenge. In his case, given which type of strengths and flaws he has, it will be especially important to being picked in the appropriate spot, rather than climbing in the rankings.

Nikola Topic (Crvena Zvezda, PG, 6'6, 2005, Serbia)

The Serbian PG fits the mold of the plus-sized playmaking guard teams have been seeking in the last NBA Drafts. Topic is a high-usage, primary pick&roll initiator who has been able to get to the rim using his strength and size all over the last year. These strengths have allowed him to be an offensive hub for every team he has been playing for.

Topic’s game is more about size, strength, and poise than conventional athleticism. He understands which are his attributes and uses them to fuel his offensive game. The key elements to understand how good of a ball handler he will be at the NBA level are mostly related to how unpredictable he will be, how well his driving ability will translate and how much his shooting, especially off the dribble, will improve. Topic doesn’t have the genius passer upside Nuñez has, but he has been consistently capable of making the right read and setting his teammates at a fairly good level. At the same time, he will also need to develop some off-the-ball habits and activities for when he’s sharing court and duties with other initiators.

On the defensive end, more of the same: Topic’s body has a place in the NBA, but it will take some time for him to adjust to the on-ball defense against NBA-caliber guards, as well as he will also need to adjust to the principles of off the ball defense and increase his effort and engagement. 

Tristan Da Silva (Colorado, SF/PF, 6'9, 2001, Germany)

The Colorado forward is one of the clearest all-around, jack of all trades of the 2024 NBA Draft. Da Silva, 23, comes off a successful season in which he demonstrated how his main strengths as a basketball player -offensive productivity in alongside other ball handlers, positional matchup creation, shooting accuracy and game perception- could translate to the highest level. Da Silva is nearer to being a finished product than many other players in the Draft, but this might be enough for teams who look for a high-floor, potentially immediate contributor to include right away in their rotation.

Tristan is OK in many areas. He can shoot, he’s able to get to the rim off movement and finish with extensions, he can lead the break fluidly, and he’s also a man who can produce off cross screens and cuts. This type of offensive versatility and value in multiple sets is useful for coaches, who will find in him someone suitable for different schemes. On the defensive end, Da Silva has been able to have a positive impact in College basketball playing alongside a massive big and excellent defensive wing, but we will need to find out how he translates as a team defender in a league packed with talent and wider spaces.

Adem Bona (UCLA, C, 6'9, 2004, Turkey)

Adem Bona’s repertoire has no secret: he runs up and down with relentless motor. His game is mostly about intensity. On the defensive end, he works to make things happen and repeats efforts on an impressive basis. Adem provides rim protection even when he’s out of position and rarely gives up if he has the chance to go for a block or a steal. At the same time, he has also been a solid switchy-big at the College level. Such willingness to provide value on the defensive end uses to guarantee playing time. At this point, the biggest concern with Adem is if he’s going to be able to slow down his revolutions and avoid being foul-trouble-prone at the next level, given how it can punish his team.

On the offensive end, Adem Bona will be a scheme-dependent player. A lob-catching threat who will almost exclusively operate as a roller, a baseline cutter and a fastbreak threat. Adem will most likely need to develop some high-post counters such as memorizing certain passes or establishing his mid-range shot, and he will also need to work on his short roll awareness to extend some simple-read value. These three areas for improvement -including the self-control previously mentioned - will be key to determining his ceiling and how his postseason role could look.
Melvin Ajinça (Saint-Quentin, SF, 6'8, 2004, France)

Melvin Ajinça has been able to build on the status he gained last Summer during the whole season. Ajinça has been a positive defender for Saint-Quentin and a huge reason why the team has been competitive and balanced. The 2004-born Wing likes doing the dirty job and puts effort and pride into his game. He can defend the closeout, does OK guarding ball-handlers in tight spaces, and plays with motor and energy on the open floor. On the offensive end, Ajinça projects as a player with strong off the ball habits and activity. His shooting consistency is still in the making, even though it’s undeniable he’s taken a leap since last season. 

Lucas Dufeal (Vichy-Clermont, PF, 6'8, 2003, France) 

Lucas Dufeal is one of the most under-the-radar names in Europe. After playing the entire season at LNB Pro B, he decided to keep his name in the NBA Draft. Dufeal, an insane athlete with NBA traits, is insanely raw on both ends of the floor and relies mostly on his athleticism and nose to make an impact on both ends of the floor. He makes things happen from the weakside, runs the floor, goes for offensive boards and projects as an active off-ball cutter whose speed at filling the blank space provides easy solutions to his team. 

Dufeal is raw. He needs to work on his shot and game perception in general, and most of his impact will happen on the defensive end, even though he still struggles when skilled players slow down the pace and reduce the number of mistakes. His weakside contribution is potentially a difference-maker for his case, as he can collect a massive haul of deflections because of his measurements and motor. He’s a 2003-born player who, because of several circumstances, finds himself in an earlier stage of his development curve than most of his generation partners. He’s a work in progress and will be so for some time, but it might be worth taking a swing at him.

Pelle Larsson (Arizona, SG, 6'6, 2001, Sweden)

Pelle Larsson is a good basketball player. His athleticism doesn’t jump off the page and his positional size and ability don’t jump off the page, but he’s just capable of doing the right read in the majority of situations and doesn’t need a high amount of on-the-ball duties. He feels well contributing in a secondary/tertiary on-ball role and, despite not being the type of player willing to get a huge number of shots, he can carry his duties with efficiency and assertiveness. Larsson could have a shot as a rotation guy who will not harm the scheme and could fit easily in different basketball styles. He fits the mold of a player who, being selected in the last spots of the Draft or entering the league as a two-way, could find a short path to crack into a rotation and have a winning impact.

Ajay Mitchell (UCSB, PG, 6'4, 2002, Belgium)

Ajay Mitchell has been as dominant as it gets as a guard at the mid-major level. He has the burst and driving ability to put rim pressure at his will, and he’s also a fairly good passer who dominates the mid-range area. His layup package is OK, he can create looks for himself off the dribble inside the three-point line at a good efficiency level, and he gets his teammates involved as a playmaker. This season, even if UCSB sometimes struggled to space the floor for him, he found ways to create looks and improve his teammates' lives regularly.

The key skill for Ajay Mitchell will be developing his outside shot. We already know he can unleash the other dimensions of his game, but he would use a reliable jumper, and he also would benefit from increasing his off-the-ball habits, given it’s difficult to make a living in the NBA by being just a primary ball-handler. The defensive on-ball impact will undeniably be there, and he will have the chance to produce through pick&roll in a certain role as he has been doing all over his College career, but what will mark his ceiling will be how he circles his game.
Bobi Klintman (Cairns Taipans, PF, 6'10, 2003, Sweden)

Bobi Klintman’s size and image are appealing to any NBA team willing to get a player who can fill multiple frontcourt roles and stand at the physical NBA level. Bobi Klintman has been viewed for a long time as a player who can provide versatility both at the forward spot and contribute at the margins of the game. The point with him is, at this point, how he sees himself and how the basketball landscape sees him: this season, in the NBL, he has handled some on-ball repetitions that don’t look completely translatable to the NBA, even though he’s a player who will be able to take advantage of closeouts and drive in a straight line. Klintman’s challenge to make it to the league as a rotation player will be keeping things easy and developing a reliable spot-up shot that establishes him as a solid floor-spacer.

Armel Traore (ADA Blois, PF, 6'9, 2003, France)

Traore, 7’3 wingspan, who was a teammate for Victor Wembanyama last season, has made a case for himself as an intriguing bet because of his body and defensive contribution at the French league over the last couple seasons. He doesn’t bring to the table any type of value with the ball in his hands on the offensive end, but if he’s able to establish himself as a solid shooter with his feet set, he could end up being a useful forward with a 3&D contribution. 

Nikola Djurisic (Mega MIS, SF, 6'8, 2004, Serbia)

Nikola Djurisic has cracked in the NBA Draft conversation after a strong stint to finish the season. Djurisic is a playmaking wing who demands a huge amount of on-ball duties and produces through pick&roll situations, either to score or to get his teammates involved. He has done some shooting strides that improve his case as of late, but it’s still difficult to imagine what he can do when he doesn’t have the ball in his hands, which should be a common situation if he gets there. The mentioned point and the defense, where he would struggle both from an athletic and a physical standpoint, are his main question marks NBA-wise.

Quinten Post (Boston College, C, 7'1, 2000, Netherlands)

Quinten Post has been the main focus for Boston College in the last two years. They built the team around his pace on the offensive end, and it paid dividends since Quinten has been able to develop his strengths and use them at will. Quinten isn’t an NBA athlete, and he still needs to figure out how to play through contact on the defensive end -as well as he will have to improve his lack of mobility-, but he already projects as a player who can smartly stretch the floor not only by shooting and improve his team offensive motion.

Jesse Edwards (West Virginia, C, 7'1, 2000, Netherlands)

Jesse Edwards has been one of the most physically dominating players in College basketball over the last seasons, and his size and body are ready to make an impact at the highest level. While it’s unclear if he will have what it takes to provide some added value, it’s obvious that he has a really high floor in his basics and he will be able to contribute in both restricted areas. 

Mantas Rubstavicius (New Zealand Breakers, SG, 6'6, 2002, Lithuania)

Even though he had just a secondary role in the NBL this season as an offensive element, Rubstavicius keeps the status of a lefty swingman with some self-creation upside and an appealing mix of size and skill. Rubstavicius will be a good shooter, and he can create driving lanes for himself through poise and talent. To translate this skillset to the NBA level, he will need to work on his ability to change pace and direction to be unpredictable. If he does so and keeps developing as a player who can make things happen off second side actions, he could actually have an NBA window in front of him.

Quinn Ellis (Trento, PG, 6'4, 2003, Great Britain)

The Trento lefty guard has a cool mix of skill and good positional size that allow him to be a solid ball handler for the European level. He’s still working on his off the dribble shot, and currently his ability to slow down the pace and his wide repertoire of finishes, alongside the touch in the paint, boost his scoring. 

Tristan Enaruna (Cleveland State, PF, 6'9, 2001, Netherlands)

Tristan Enaruna comes off a dominating season at the Horizon League. He has been able to make a decisive impact both at the 4 and 5 spots because of his ability to generate offense putting the ball on the floor and attacking slower players, his shooting strides and a good enough fluidity and coordination on the drive. It’s easy to see why the Dutch forward has been a standout all over the year, and why he has made a case for him to stay at the NBA Draft. His swing skill will be consistency at outside shot, as well as trusting his athleticism and mobility will be enough to stay in the Association.