No, there won’t be a “Luka Doncic” or something close in the European contingent of the 2019 NBA Draft.
That doesn’t mean the potential overseas harvest isn’t satisfying, though.
These five European prospects stand out among the rest due to their potential, talent and/or already proving themselves at a highly competitive scene. Two of them are “locks” for the first round while the rest are expected to most likely be second-round selections.
Goga Bitadze (Georgia)
“Not a rookie,” people tend to say about Luka Doncic (and are totally right). The same should more or less apply for Goga Bitadze.
While the Georgian center won’t be having three seasons of EuroLeague action on his back once selected in the 2019 Draft, he will still carry a healthy dose of experience in the world’s next-best league.
Bitadze has been making headlines ever since he signed with Buducnost, moving up to a bigger stage than the ABA League. He’s since won against the best EuroLeague has to offer, showing his worth versus experienced bigs and getting tested in a highly competitive atmosphere.
Bitadze stands from the rest of his class and his EuroLeague performances have elevated him to top-15 status. Traditional 7-footers such as him, with such a diverse set of skills, aren’t easily found anymore.
He executes pick n’ roll action deftly, finishes plays quickly at the low post and can be more “brainy” than “brawny” when the situation requires. He has a long way to go until getting characterized as a “stretch big” but the 13 of 31 3-pointers he’s made this season in ABA League are a favorable omen.
Bitadze’s defensive performances hinge on a combination of good positioning, anticipation and overall solid reading of the game. While we’ve seen him hold the ground after switching on faster, shorter opponents in Europe, this won’t be easy in the NBA. He’ll have to continue working on his quickness and athleticism—his biggest area of need.
Sekou Doumbouya (France)
Offensive potential, sheer physicality and athleticism placed Sekou Doumbouya as the highest-projected European player in most 2019 NBA Mock Drafts.
He has lost some ground since the beginning of the season, especially after a thumb injury kept him sidelined for over a month. Still, the French forward is regarded as a mid-tier first-round pick, albeit not currently the top among overseas players.
Although Doumbouya’s upside is enough to justify an early selection, it’s all about projecting how far he can go in the NBA versus how he’s been performing thus far in Europe. He has shown a knack for tenaciously attacking the rim—often with no disregard for who’s in front of him—and electric bravado. The latter can be a two-way dagger, and he has to improve managing his enthusiasm.
With his Limoges side was eliminated in EuroCup, Doumbouya will continue the season in the French Pro A League—one of the not-so-strong European domestic leagues. Yet, their playoffs might provide him opportunities to re-establish his case as a possible lottery pick.
Yovel Zoosman (Israel)
Like Bitadze, Yovel Zoosman’s game is marinated in a highly competitive level of basketball. And we are talking about significant minutes, not “garbage time.” Zoosman is now battle-hardened against NBA-caliber players, former NBAers and seasoned EuroLeague veterans.
The results often are admirable on both ends.
Some examples include guarding former Grizzlies playmaker Nick Calathes or former Spurs and Raptors guard Nando De Colo—two All-EuroLeague quality players that could easily be on NBA rosters right now.
Moreover, Zoosman is currently playing near “do-or-die” games every week in EuroLeague. His Maccabi Tel Aviv is making a push for the playoffs, and all matches are “must win” for the Israeli side.
Thus, Zoosman is already learning to operate under a considerable amount of pressure that even NCAA players don’t taste in March Madness or otherwise.
His shooting needs more consistency (30.6 percent on 49 attempts in the Israeli League and 39.1 percent on 23 attempts in EuroLeague), but he fits the mold of a “3 and D” prototype. Zoosman has also shown the ability to defend positions from “1” to “4”, but his court vision is especially striking for his age. Despite being a pure swingman, he could also operate as a playmaker and a facilitator.
Deividas Syrvidis (Lithuania)
At just 18 years of age, Deividas Syrvidis has become a steady rotation player for one of the top Lithuanian clubs: Rytas Vilnius. What’s more, he’s registering a considerable number of minutes in EuroCup (the second-tier continental competition), averaging 12:30.
Toronto Raptors GM Masaj Urji already scouted him in a EuroCup game between Vilnius and German side Alba Berlin.
Syrvidis’ main expertise is shooting: He’s a natural sniper, who can execute from a spot position or coming off the screens. In the EuroCup regular season, he shot 43.3 percent from deep on 23 attempts. He also has shown an awareness of where his teammates are and the perception to take advantage.
His shooting has seen a bit of a decline in recent Lithuanian League games, but he might raise his Draft stock further if he escapes that slump. The upcoming EuroCup playoffs will provide him a chance to return to form on a big stage.
Luka Samanic (Croatia)
Luka Samanic has been considered the “next big thing” in Europe since he was 15 years old. Now 19, he’s projected as a complete, all-around, versatile forward, (albeit with some nagging inconsistency yet).
There have been games when he has even shown leadership skills, excelling at the responsibilities that come with the part. He’s had others in which he was invisible on the court.
One of the most notable aspects is how well Samanic handles his size to his advantage. This combination of length and talent, as well as the attractive prospect of how those two can blend together, should make him an appealing case for NBA teams. But it’s highly likely that Samanic will get stashed next season in order to polish his game, mature the way he operates and establish a more consistent product.
Still, it’s worth taking into account that he averaged 19.4 minutes this season in FIBA’s Basketball Champions League and he’s notching 15.4 minutes thus far in ABA League. Keep an eye on this one.
Photo courtesy of EuroLeague/EuroCup Basketball/FIBA
When the Greek national team won the EuroBasket 1987, its accomplishment gave birth to a “basketball renaissance” in the country that also bred a generation of young people who simply couldn’t help but feel a special connection with the sport. One of those kids was yours truly, and this relationship went from “devouring” every piece of basketball information provided by magazines and anxiously waiting for NBA coverage on television, to experiencing hoops from a journalist’s point of view. Now the action for me happens on all things European basketball, especially EuroLeague. Yes, that’s where Luka Doncic was bouncing a ball, apparently behind closed doors, before coming to the NBA.