There’s a lot of talent to be found all around the world, and more front offices are searching through Europe, Asia, South America, etc. to find the next great import. This season, 108 players from 38 countries were on an NBA roster for opening night, which includes reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Even though the league is postponing the draft lottery and the combine for now, we do know the names of the 205 players that will enter their names into the draft pool early. Of those 205 prospects, 42 qualify as international early entrants.
So let’s look at some of the players who are currently flying under the radar. These may be unfamiliar names, but they could become key pieces in the future. (NOTE: A few were born in the United States but opted to play internationally for a season.)
Aleksej Pokusevski, F/C (Olympiacos B)
Of all the prospects in this article, Aleksej Pokusevski is the one that came the closest to being included in my earlier piece that covered the elite overseas prospects.
There aren’t many holes in his game. He’s a seven-footer who can dribble, pass and shoot the ball. That makes him the type of prospect that general managers will salivate over during the rise of positionless basketball:
Pokusevski didn’t see a lot of time with Olympiacos’ main team. Instead, he spent most of last season playing in the Greek second division.
He had modest numbers (10.8 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 3.1 apg and 1.8 bpg in 23 minutes) despite possessing a rail-thin physique. That lack of mass will certainly be a concern as he attempts to match up with the size, strength and athleticism of NBA athletes.
But Pokusevski turned heads at the FIBA U18 European Championships in the Summer of 2019. Not only did he show off an array of offensive abilities but he also led the entire tournament with four blocks per game. He finished in top-10 in rebounds, steals and assists as well.
Pokusevski is also the youngest player in the draft and won’t turn 19 until December 26. However, his size and length as a teenager make him worth watching.
It’s unclear if he’ll be able to contribute right away, however. He made his EuroLeague debut in March of 2019 as a 17-year-old but has seen limited minutes since.
If he gets taken by a team willing to develop his body, he could end up looking like the steal of the draft in a few years. Ever since the Golden State Warriors took the NBA by storm with their dynastic five-year run, a player’s skill has trumped most other concerns.
And there are few players of any nationality who have as much skill as the Serbian teenager.
R.J. Hampton, G (New Zealand Breakers)
LaMelo Ball headlined the 2019-20 National Basketball League (NBL), but it was R.J. Hampton who was the first American to choose the professional path with the Australian league. The latter announced May 28 that he would bypass college and turn pro overseas instead.
Another difference was that Hampton’s team, the New Zealand Breakers, was one of the NBL’s best. Hampton was still a regular in the team’s rotation, though he didn’t have as much freedom and control over his team as Ball did with the Illawarra Hawks.
Hampton went down with an injured hip in December but returned in early January before opting to return home in February to prepare for the 2020 NBA Draft.
Hampton played his role well during his NBL stint, averaging 8.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg and 2.4 apg in 15 games while shooting 40.7 percent from the field. However, after being pegged as one of the top prospects in his entire recruiting class, his inability to star in Australia made his stock dip some.
But look at the tape, and you still see a player with the tools to be effective in the NBA.
Attending a school like Kansas—once considered the frontrunner for Hampton—might’ve been better for his ultimate draft position, but being able to operate and practice with other professionals could help Hampton as he transitions alongside the best in the world. He has the size to play off the ball and was often his team’s primary creator during his high school and AAU days.
He almost always had the ball in his hands.
The 6’5″ Texas native will look to remind a lot of people why he was perceived as one of the best players in the 2019 graduating class. He was a contributor for a team that finished above .500, and he’ll likely find himself in a comparable situation if taken between the late lottery and the late 20s.
Leandro Bolmaro, G (F.C. Barcelona)
Leandro Bolmaro is a 6’7″ Argentine playmaker who has has a very similar approach as his nation’s most-famous basketball player, Manu Ginobili.
Bolmaro became a professional at the age of 16 with Estudiantes de Bahía Blanca—members of the top basketball league in his home country.
Though his name hasn’t often been mentioned with his peers, he was previously chosen to play in the 2018 Nike Hoop Summit (where the World team won 89-73). That team also featured current NBA players R.J. Barrett, Ignas Brazdeikis and Jaylen Hoard. Bomaroe scored six points in just 10 minutes of action, making both of his three-point attempts.
Since 2018, Bolmaro has been a member of esteemed European club, F.C. Barcelona. He only played with the reserve team during his first season, but he put together a solid year with 10.4 ppg, 3.1 rpg, and 2.7 apg.
This season, he split time between the reserve and main team, seeing playing time in Liga ACB and the EuroLeague (where he spent 13 of his 22 games played).
Bolmaro’s passing skills really stand out. His size allows him to see over the defense as well as make assists from heights and angles that the average ball-handler could not. He has every type of pass in his repertoire—no-looks, behind-the-back, off the dribble, one-handed, etc.—and he has the basketball IQ that knows when to use each one.
If Bolmaro had elected to skip the 2020 NBA Draft, it is likely that he would have been considered a first-round lock in 2021. It is likely that a team in the back half of the first round selects him now, knowing that they don’t often have a shot at taking someone as talented with this kind of upside.
Abdoulaye N’Doye, G (Cholet Basket)
I began this list with the youngest international prospect and end it with one of the oldest.
Abdoulaye N’Doye just turned 22 in March and has been playing professionally with Cholet Basket in France since 2016. The 2020 NBA Draft represents his last year of draft eligibility. (He would only be eligible to join the NBA as a free agent if not selected.)
N’Doye had previously entered his name in 2019, worked out for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and participated in a pro day workout with an agency.
Cholet is one of the more prestigious clubs in France: They count Rodrique Beaubois, Nando de Colo, Mickaël Gelabale, Rudy Gobert and Kevin Seraphin among their alumni. Projected 2020 lottery pick Killian Hayes also spent some time there before moving to Germany this year.
In his absence, N’Doye made the most of his chance as was one of the team’s key players (30 mpg), putting his all-around game on display. It helps to be 6’7″ with a 7’2″ wingspan, and N’Doye averaged 10 ppg, 4.2 rpg, and 4 apg.
He also possesses a nice touch on his perimeter shot. In his last two seasons with Cholet, he’s hit 44.1 and 38.5 percent on three-pointers, as well as an even 40 percent from deep with the U20 French National Team at the U20 World Cup last summer.
N’Doye additionally fits in as a playmaker and creator, having shared ballhandling duties with John Stockton’s son, Michael. Clips show that N’Doye is comfortable working with the ball in his hands: He’ll string together dribble combinations that not many other players his size routinely use. He could stand to tighten it up some, but the confidence in his dribbling ability is clear:
Best case scenario? N’Doye has a similar development to Oklahoma City guard, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
Worst case scenario is that he is simply a lengthy guard/wing hybrid who has the size and athleticism to make things difficult for opposing players. (Think in the same vein as another Thunder player, Andre Roberson, or his predecessor, Thabo Sefolosha.)
N’Doye’s age works against him as teams often lean younger in the draft.
But as a potential second-round pick? N’Doye is worth the risk and has what it takes to make a splash.