2020 NBA Draft: International Stock Watch

The top handful of international prospects in the 2020 NBA Draft offer intriguing skills. There aren’t any surefire megastars or franchise saviors in this year’s crop, yet there are a few worthwhile investments in the lottery range.

Two of the top three international prospects are French, and arguably the best of the bunch is Israeli. One common thread among them? They all have a superb feel for the game and great composure for their age.

It’s time for a midseason update on these overseas standouts and a look at how they fit in today’s NBA. Though this draft isn’t deep with international talent throughout the first round, this trio is strong at the top. Each of them could fill crucial roles in the Association, so let’s dissect their developmental progress, projected NBA roles and draft outlook:

Deni Avdija, Israel F (6’8″, 19 years old)

Draft Range: High-lottery, No. 3-7

NBA Role: Do-it-all secondary scorer and playmaker

While he didn’t stuff the stat sheet during Thursday’s win over Olympiacos, Deni Avdija has been trending upward again in recent weeks. He’s displayed fascinating versatility for both Maccabi Tel Aviv and the Israeli national team.

Avdija has turned into a legitimate three-point weapon lately.

In February alone, he’s enjoyed five games with multiple three-pointers, including a 4-of-5 performance against Hapoel Beer Sheva. It’s encouraging that he’s already sharpening that skill as a 6’8″ teenager because he could quickly become proficient from the NBA arc. In the short term, he’ll be more reliable and fluid as a catch-and-shoot threat than a pull-up shooter.

He showcased his multidimensional value on the international stage during Israel’s rout of Romania on Monday, scoring inside and out while netting 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, along with eight rebounds and two assists.

He doesn’t have amazing handles for separation in half-court scenarios yet, so I’m not sure he’ll be an elite shot-creator in the NBA.

However, I’m confident he could at least be a 1-B scorer and secondary playmaker on a playoff team in his prime. As he irons out his decision-making and curbs the turnovers, he’ll develop into one of the league’s best playmaking forwards. That should be worth more than a glance from teams picking in the top five.

Defending the best weapons in Europe isn’t the same as defending NBA superstars, especially in isolation. However, Avdija has exhibited a lot of positive traits that should translate nicely.

He moves his feet well and is nimble, exerts great energy most of the time and has sound team execution awareness. Those habits will keep him on the NBA floor long enough to let his offense flourish.

Killian Hayes, France G (6’5″, 18 years old)

Draft Range: Mid-lottery, No. 5-10

NBA Role: Primary playmaker, second or third-best scorer

Still just 18 years old, Hayes continues to deliver large doses of the creativity and vision NBA teams want in a point guard.

Scouts are gravitating toward his combination of size and skill. He can hurt opponents in a variety of ways and has the frame to eventually compete against stars at multiple positions.

The French southpaw is still refining his playmaking ball-handling and execution; He doesn’t quite have the command of a prodigy like Luka Doncic did at his age. However, he’s still extremely talented in the pick-and-roll and is quickly becoming a dangerous weapon off the bounce.

Hayes has been lighting up the German League with an unpredictable mix of dimes and buckets, averaging 8.8 assists per 40 minutes for Ulm across all leagues this season—a terrific mark for his age.

Hayes already has a nice feel for drawing defenders, moving them with his eyes and delivering the ball smoothly. He’s at his most dangerous in transition, semi-transition or pick-and-roll.

In this clip, he foils the Braunschweig defense on a couple of levels. First, he veers toward the screen, next rejecting it with a crisp crossover to create some space heading downhill. He seemingly commits hard to the drive, draws a help defender and dumps the ball to the roll man:

Hayes has a pretty high ceiling as a scorer, but there are a couple of key skills he must continue to address.

He needs to bring more consistency as a jump-shooter, both in his shot selection and mechanics. He’s at 32 percent from the three-point line this season, including 4-of-15 in his last four games. Hayes must also gain more confidence and tightness in his right-handed dribble and finishing. Right now, he’s overdependent on his left hand to make all the critical plays throughout games.

THEO MALEDON, FRANCE PG (6’4″, 18 years old)

Draft Range: Mid-to-late first round, No. 12-25

NBA Role: Primary playmaker, third or fourth-option scorer

Maledon has seen more playing time over the past few weeks in France’s LNB Pro A League, and he’s shown an encouraging mix of heady playmaking and scoring. His biggest outing yet was a 20-point, seven-assist outburst in ASVEL’s win over Strasbourg on February 14.

While he doesn’t consistently assert himself as a creator, Maledon has the tools to execute a myriad of plays. He has better patience and awareness than most 18-year-old prospects, he’s a capable jump-shooter and his off-the-dribble scoring is rapidly improving.

Maledon’s big night against ASVEL illustrated that he can be dangerous from all three levels: He can attack the hoop and put his shoulder into opponents when he wants to, and he also has scoring touch on in-between plays. Guards like Maledon with middle-to-lower tier athleticism need to have those floaters and short jumpers in their arsenal to keep defenses honest.

On defense, Maledon offers great size, albeit underwhelming burst and undeveloped mechanical undamentals. Spencer Pearlman of The Stepien explained some of the youngster’s current deficiencies:

(Maledon’s) lateral quickness is not good, but his hip turns are pretty solid…Another issue here is the lack of athleticism, because even if he sees the correct rotation, his lack of vertical pop hurts rim protection. (He) crosses his feet in ISO coverage, is easily pushed off his spot and outmuscled…

Maledon’s ability to mitigate some of these shortcomings could enhance his defensive profile. He’s tall enough to potentially cover both guard spots, and he’s a smart young player who will become comfortable with NBA rotations. So if the footwork and strength are improved, his lack of explosion won’t be as glaring.

Though he’s not a flashy prospect, he could become quite attractive to late-lottery teams. He’s not likely to bust when you consider his size, polish, and smarts.

His ceiling is still respectably high, and draft suitors may view him as a solid starting point guard.