Looking Abroad and Under the Radar

Deni Avdija
Maccabi’s Deni Avdija is one of five of international prospects that could be lottery selections in the 2020 NBA Draft. (Photo courtesy of Turkish Airlines EuroLeague)

With the college basketball season in full swing, what’s happening abroad on the hardwood often gets ignored at this time of the year.  However, it appears that international players/prospects playing abroad will have a major impact on the 2020 NBA Draft.  At the same time, small-college prospects typically do not get much attention at any time, but it’s good to be aware of them before their seasons are over.  I have divided the players below into three groups:  1) prospects playing abroad that appear to be first-round picks, 2) prospects playing abroad that are potential second-round picks, and 3) prospects from small colleges who have a chance to get drafted.  Lastly, since it is not easy to watch most these players in action, I will tell you where you can stream many of their games. 

International First-Round Picks

LaMelo Ball (Illawarra) – The younger brother of Lonzo Ball, LaMelo is in contention to be the top pick in the 2020 NBA Draft – he currently sits at No. 3 on the latest HP Draft Board.  He has possesses excellent dribble, driving, and passing skills, combined with exceptional vision and a high basketball IQ.  On the downside, he is neither a great shooter from deep nor an elite defender.  Ball played abroad this season for the Illawarra Hawks (5-21), the worst team in the Australian NBL.  The 18-year-old point guard lasted just 12 games before suffering a bone bruise on his left foot that was expected to sideline him for about a month.  In those 12 games, he posted some very impressive numbers, averaging 31.2 minutes, 17.0 points, 7.4 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 1.7 steals per game, with shooting splits of .377/.250/.723 and an assist-turnover ratio of 2.70.  In terms of advanced metrics, he had a player efficiency rating (PER) of 16.2 and a net rating of 4.7.  His rebounds, assists, and steals per-game averages currently rank among the top 10 in the NBL, while his field-goal and three-point percentages were far less than ideal. 

Deni Avdija (Maccabi FOX) – The 6-foot-9 forward is an all-around contributor, who can score inside and out, handle, and pass.  He displays excellent court vision, and has impressive mobility and playmaking skills for his size.  The 19-year-old Israeli presents matchup problems due to his versatility and size – he can be effective all over the floor, be it posting up, leading the break, or handling in the pick-and-roll.  The biggest concerns are his inconsistency as a shooter, especially from the foul line, and his heavy reliance on his right hand when driving.  Avdija plays for Maccabi FOX, the top team (16-1) in the Israeli BSL and a playoff contender in EuroLeague (14-8).  He’s played in 37 games so far this season, with roughly two-thirds of his minutes coming in the BSL.  In 17 BSL games, he’s averaged 26 minutes, 11.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and 1.8 combined steals and blocks per game, with shooting splits of .565/.388/.490 and an assist-turnover ratio of 1.46. 

R.J. Hampton (New Zealand) – Hampton took a similar route as Ball, opting for the Australian NBL over college ball, and he also had his season cut short due to injury.  Recently turning 19 years old, Hampton played for a club that has a chance to make the playoffs, the New Zealand Breakers (13-13).  He played in 15 games with the Breakers, averaging 20.6 minutes, 8.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.1 steals per game, with shooting splits of .407/.295/.679 and an assist-turnover ratio of 1.57.  His PER was just 12.7 and his net rating was negative (-8.5).  Given the level of competition and his age, Hampton’s lackluster stats are not a huge concern, and the 6-foot-5 point guard remains a lottery projection due to his overall athleticism, size, playmaking skills, and his ability to score at all three levels.  In the video below, you will see Hampton’s historic NBL matchup vs. Ball. 

Theo Maledon (ASVEL) – An athletic 6-foot-4 point guard with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, Maledon is known for his maturity and work ethic.  He features a quick first step, a smooth jumper, and the ability to make floaters with consistency.  He doesn’t appear to have a natural feel as a playmaker, and he might be best suited to be a shooting guard in the NBA.  Last year as a 17-year-old in the French Jeep Elite League, he was named an All-Star and won the Rising Star award.  This season, however, he struggled out of the gate for several reasons, including an increase in competition, as his team, ASVEL, moved up from EuroCup to EuroLeague.  Additionally, the youngster suffered a shoulder injury that prevented him from playing for more than month.  In his first 28 games of this season, Maledon scored more than 11 points just once, but he now appears to be rounding into form, scoring 12 or more in four of his last five, including 19 vs. Panathinaikos, one of the better teams in EuroLeague.  So far this season, he’s played nearly the same number of minutes in EuroLeague and Jeep Elite (a total of 33 games), averaging 17.3 minutes, 7.0 points, 2.7 assists, 1.9 rebounds, and 0.6 steals per game, with shooting splits of .438/.321/.761, an assist-turnover ratio of 1.55, and a PER of 12.6. 

Killian Hayes (Ratiopharm Ulm) – The 6-foot-5 lefty point guard has good size and crafty ball skills.  He is proficient at shooting off the bounce, making floaters in the lane, and dishing out assists.  The main concerns at this point are Hayes’ lack of elite athleticism and a weak right hand.  Last season as a 17-year-old, he struggled in French Jeep Elite League, but a year later, he is starting to blossom in the German BBL and EuroCup while playing for Ratiopharm Ulm (9-7), a middle-of-the-pack team in the BBL.  Starting in all 29 of Ulm’s games this season, Hayes has averaged 23.7 minutes, 10.4 points, 5.1 assists, 2.8 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per contest, with shooting splits of .491/.333/.882, an assist-turnover ratio of 1.64, and a PER of 16.4. 

Where to watch:  all five of these highly ranked prospects can be seen on FloHoops, which offers live streaming and replays of all Australian NBL, EuroCup, EuroLeague, and German BBL games for one low price. 

Potential International Second-Round Picks

Amar Sylla (Oostende) – Long and athletic, the 6-foot-9 power forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan is often compared to the Toronto’s Pascal Siakam.  The raw Sylla has a very long way to go to truly be compared to the Raptors’ star, however.  The 18-year-old displays great potential on defense due to his mobility and length, but his offensive game is a work in progress.  Playing 25 games so far this season for Oostende in both the Belgian BSL and the Basketball Champions League (BCL), Sylla has produced very modest stats, including shooting splits of .391/.210/.565. 

Leandro Bolmaro (FC Barcelona) – The 6-foot-7 combo guard is a solid athlete, versatile, and shows a good feel for the game.  Bolmaro was promoted to Barcelona’s senior team this year, but struggled to get minutes, sitting on the bench for nearly a month between December and January.  He has since moved down to Barcelona’s LEB Silver team, Spain’s third division, and is averaging 15.2 points per game with modest shooting splits (.426/.281/.692). 

Abdoulaye N’doye (Cholet) – I recently discussed N’Doye’s success this season in the Midseason Stock Watch.  The 6-foot-7 combo guard is not the most explosive player, but as you can see in the video below, he (#11) plays with nice pace and fluidity. 

Borisa Simanic (KK Crvena Zvezda) – Simanic is a tall (7-feet) and thin (220 pounds) stretch four/five, who has the mobility to score on rolls to the basket and in transition.  He is a poor rebounder for his size, but a respectable rim protector.  The 21-year-old Serbian is producing solid numbers for Crvena Zvezda this season.  Playing in both the Adriatic League and EuroLeague, Simanic has been very efficient as a shooter (.536/.483/.765), though his overall numbers are modest due to limited playing time (14 per game). 

Yam Madar (Hapoel Tel Aviv) – A quick and shifty 6-foot-3 point guard, Madar is a dynamic scorer and playmaker, with excellent ball skills.  The 18-year-old is also a scrappy defender.  The youngster’s numbers have increased across the board in his second season in the Israeli BSL, including a PER of 13.0, and he may not be finished moving up our draft board.  Along those same lines, Madar may opt to wait another year before entering the draft, hoping to move into first-round range.

Paul Eboua (VL Pesaro) – The 6-foot-8 forward (with a 7-foot-3 wingspan) is an all-around contributor, who has the potential to be a three-level scorer.  Playing for VL Pesaro in the top Italian league (Lega A), the 19-year-old is producing solid overall numbers, including a PER of 15.1.  Eboua got off to a slow start this season after being sidelined for about one month after suffering a knee sprain in a car accident, but he has come on strong of late, scoring in double figures in three of his last four games. 

Carlos Alocen (Tecnyconta Zaragoza) – The 19-year-old is a 6-foot-5 point guard, who plays regular minutes in both the Spanish ACB and the Champions League.  Alocen is known for his basketball IQ, nifty passing, a smooth shooting stroke, and deep range.  This season, he has struggled from the outside, after hitting 40 percent of his 3-point attempts last year in the ACB, but he has upped his assist-turnover ratio to 1.70 this season.

Aleksej Pokusevski (Olympiacos B) – The skinny 7-foot center (205 pounds) is definitely not ready for the NBA, but Pokusevski is a draft-and-stash candidate due to his unusual dribbling and shooting skills for his size.  The 18-year-old Serbian was off to a wonderful start this season with Olympiacos in the Greek second division, but he has been sidelined since November 30 due to injury. 

Marko Simonovic (KK Mega Bemax) – The 6-foot-11 center has been playing excellent basketball for Mega Bemax this season, leading the team in rebounding with 7.9 boards per game, averaging 16.5 points per contest, and ranking 11th in the Adriatic League with a PER of 21.4.  The 20-year-old is also making 31 percent of his 3-point attempts, which is a big improvement over last season.  Even so, a lack of athleticism remains a concern. 

Where to watch:  the games of many of these second-round prospects are difficult to find in the United States.  You can watch Simanic’s and Bolmaro’s EuroLeague games at FloHoops.  Some of Simanic’s and Simonovic’s games can be found on the Adriatic League’s YouTube channel.  The same goes for Sylla and Alocen, who can be watched on the Basketball Champions League’s YouTube channel. 

Top Small College Prospects

Jay Scrubb (John A. Logan) – Among this group, Scrubb is the most likely to be drafted, assuming that he doesn’t remain in college.  Featuring great athleticism and nice shooting stroke, the 6-foot-6, 220-pound wing is the top-ranked JUCO player in the country.  The 19-year-old is currently playing at John A. Logan, and has committed to play for Louisville next year, though Scrubb also has the option of turning pro instead of joining the Cardinals.  Last season at Logan, the lefty averaged 20.2 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game, while making 46.4 percent of his 3-point attempts. 

Grant Riller (Charleston) – Riller has been a top-level performer for the Cougars for two straight seasons.  The 22-year-old combo guard currently ranks in the top 10 of Division I for scoring (22.3 PPG), PER (32.7), and win shares (4.9).  He’s also averaging 5.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.  Riller’s strength is his ability to break down defenders with his dribble and score off the bounce, either driving to the rim or pulling up.  In terms of points per possession, he currently ranks at the 86th and 87th percentiles, respectively, for jump shots off the dribble and scoring around the rim.  Of course, he plays in the Colonial Athletic Conference (CAA), which doesn’t play the highest quality of basketball, but Riller proved this season that he can be effective against the big boys, averaging 20.5 points vs. Providence, Oklahoma State, VCU, and Wake Forest.

Anthony Lamb (Vermont) – The reigning American East Conference Player of the Year, Lamb has seen his overall productivity drop in his senior season.  The 22-year-old was among the top ten in the nation with a PER of 32.0 last season, and that number has dipped to 24.3 this season.  Even so, he is still highly productive, and his 30-point performance vs. Virginia’s stingy defense proved that he can score vs. high-level competition.  A 6-foot-6 forward, Lamb is a tweener.  He rebounds and can score inside and out, and is likely best suited to be a stretch four; however, he lacks ideal height for the position.  At the same time, he doesn’t appear to have the foot speed to be a small forward at the NBA level.  In the end, his overall productivity at Vermont and his basketball smarts will certainly earn him a look from NBA teams, though playing abroad might be his ultimate destination. 

Terry Taylor (Austin Peay) – Thanks to Ja Morant, Taylor’s impressive sophomore season went virtually unnoticed outside of the Ohio Valley Conference.  He’s producing even better numbers this season, ranking among the top ten in Division I for scoring (22.1 PPG), PER (31.9), and win shares (5.0), and also ranking at the 97th percentile for points per possession.  Like Lamb, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Taylor is a tweener – he plays like a four but has the height of a wing.  The good news is that he’s only 20 years old and has another season left to work on his perimeter offense and defense. 

Jalen Pickett (Siena) – The reigning Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year and an All-MAAC selection, Pickett tested the NBA waters last spring.  After not testing well athletically and getting feedback from NBA executives, he decided to return to Siena for his sophomore season.  The 6-foot-4 point guard had a rocky start to this season, being punished twice for violating team rules.  To date, his numbers this season are similar to last, though he has definitely improved his efficiency, shooting 45.7 percent from the field, making 37.4 percent of his threes, and posting an assist-turnover ratio of 3.12.  In his lone game against high-level competition this season, he fared well, scoring 18 points vs. Xavier on 7-of-12 shooting. 

Nathan Knight (William & Mary) – The 6-foot-10, 245-pound center/power forward is in the running to be the CAA Player of the Year, along with Riller.  Knight ranks among the top 20 in the nation for scoring (20.3 PPG), rebounding (10.6 RPG), PER (35.0), and win shares (4.8), and he has impressive shooting splits (.534/.320/.789).  One of his best performances this season, 30 points and eight boards, came vs. Oklahoma.  The 22-year-old senior is developing a soft touch from midrange and beyond, and he can put the ball on the floor for more than just one dribble.  Continuing to develop as an outside shooter and a perimeter defender will determine just how far he will go as a pro. 

Where to watch:  You can watch Riller’s and Knight’s games on FloHoops, while Lamb’s, Taylor’s, and Pickett’s games can be seen on ESPN+. 

Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements:  Stats used in our reports mainly come from Synergy Sports Technology and RealGM.com, and occasionally from Sports-Reference.com.  Other outside sources are noted with links to the source. 

About R. C. Harris 62 Articles
Richard has worked as a sports writer/editor/analyst since 1998. He is the former CEO of FantasyFootballExperts.com and a former member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). He has contributed to various magazines, radio shows, and a number of other sites, including ESPN.com, SI.com, and USAToday.com. Follow on Twitter @HoopsProspects.