Even if there is plenty of confusion surrounding the 2020 NBA draft, there is no shortage of high-level prospects coming down the pipeline across the world.
Over the course of a three-week scouting trip in Europe, I evaluated a number of future NBA players, but none of them is more intriguing than 16-year-old Victor Wembanyama -- the top prospect in all of Europe, regardless of age.
Even with 6-foot-9 phenom Emoni Bates dominating youth basketball in the U.S., Wembanyama might be the best long-term prospect in the world. He is undeniably a strong candidate to hear his name called No. 1 overall when the 2023 draft rolls around.
Here's the latest on Wembanyama from the Adidas Next Generation Tournament (ANGT) in Lithuania -- an under-18 competition featuring eight different European clubs -- plus more scouting notes on long-term draft prospects.
Victor Wembanyama: Europe's top prospect
Wembanyama wowed NBA scouts at ANGT, finishing the tourney with averages of 15.8 points, 12.0 rebounds, 6.0 blocks and 2.8 steals in just 28.1 minutes over the course of four games for Nanterre. The flashes he showed in key areas are unlike any player I've ever evaluated at that age. In his first interview with an American media outlet, Wembanyama said that he now stands over 7-foot-2 and weighs around 198 pounds, with a 7-foot-8 wingspan.
Of course, the prototypical NBA center is shrinking as the league gets smaller. But Wembanyama is different.
Despite his huge feet and thin frame, he moves like a wing. Not only does he put a lid on the rim like Rudy Gobert, he also shows the floor-spacing potential of a young Kristaps Porzingis, with a far better handle and passing feel. Wembanyama will push off the break into pull-up jumpers or throw long outlets or behind the back passes to open teammates.
"That comes from the fact that I've always been balling since I was young," Wembanyama said. "Even when I was not in a club yet, when I was 5 or 6 years old, I always had a ball."
Wembanyama knocked down spot-up and off-screen 3s, step-back jumpers, deep-corner turnarounds from the mid post and pull-ups unlike any other 7-foot-2 player in the world. Once he is surrounded by more talent, his passing vision should stand out even more. On top of that, he has a great approach to the game. He encourages his teammates, dives on the floor for loose balls and calls out defensive coverages.
There are a few minor drawbacks. He can improve as a defensive rebounder and become a more consistent 3-point shooter. He settles for jumpers a bit. And you never want to place too grand of expectations on a 16-year-old, especially one who will have to prove his body can hold up at the highest level. But he's checking all the boxes so far.
Had Wembanyama grown up in the United States, he would likely be a household name already; but he has been able to develop at his own pace in Europe. Last summer, the goal was the U16 European Championship. Wembanyama led the tournament in player efficiency rating (PER), rebound percentage and blocks per 40 minutes (9.0). This season, the goal was becoming a productive player for the under-21 Espoirs club. Wembanyama is averaging more than 20 points and 6.6 blocks per 40 minutes and posting a 25.8 PER through 13 games.
This summer, he'll star for France at the under-17 World Championships in Bulgaria. Then maybe next year he'll start to see more time with Nanterre's first team in France Pro A. France isn't known for its coaching or development system, so it'll be interesting to see how Wembanyama develops, especially physically.
"I'm not focusing on [studying] one player; I'm trying to take things from every good player," Wembanyama said. "I don't want to become a player who looks like another. I want everyone to refer to me like, 'I want to become like him.'"
Scouting top 2021 draft prospects
While 2020 is shaping up to be a fairly deep international class, 2021 isn't far behind, as we currently have four European-based prospects projected in the top 25 picks. We were able to get eyes on all four during our scouting trip:
Usman Garuba | 6-foot-8 | PF/C | Real Madrid
2021 rank: No. 7
Garuba started and logged 18 minutes of ACB action against fellow EuroLeague club Vitoria. A longtime FIBA star thanks to his early-blooming status, motor and instincts, Garuba more than held his own against one of the top power forwards in Tornike Shengelia.
He pushed Shengelia off his spots in the post. Garuba deflected entry passes and proved his defensive value against a player with NBA talent. Garuba also ran the floor hard, sprinted into screens, crashed the offensive glass and even hit a pull-up jumper after attacking a closeout.
Real Madrid is built like an NBA team, and watching Garuba fit in alongside Sergio Llull, Facundo Campazzo, Edy Tavare, and Gabriel Deck showed his potential as an energy defender at the next level. Some scouts question whether or not Garuba can ever be more than a role player. The answer to that question will largely depend on how Garuba evolves as a perimeter shooter given his flat trajectory and rigid mechanics. He turns down open corner 3s regularly, and he hasn't quite been able to tap into the flashes of passing he showed at the FIBA youth levels.
But the fact that he has played more than 400 EuroLeague and ACB minutes for a club as prestigious as Real Madrid speaks to his maturity, high floor and ability to contribute right away.
Juhann Begarin | 6-4 | SG | Paris Basket
Rank: No. 15
We were only able to catch one practice for Paris Basket, and Begarin was still shaking off the rust from an injury.
But we'll have a more detailed evaluation of the long-armed, three-level scorer after seeing him at Basketball Without Borders in Chicago over All-Star Weekend.
Ibou Badji | 7-0 | C | Barcelona
Rank: No. 22
With an outstanding 230-pound frame and a ridiculous 7-foot-9 wingspan, Badji is exactly what NBA teams are looking for in a center prospect from a physical standpoint. He is light on his feet, coordinated and explosive in space. But he is very much a work in progress in several key areas, and he's likely to remain a bit of a wild card as the 2021 draft nears.
Starting ANGT Kaunas off with Nanterre vs Venezia. First look at French phenom Victor Wembanyama this season. So incredibly skilled and fluid for a player his size. Maybe the best prospect in Europe regardless of age. pic.twitter.com/cth1wGaAeG— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) February 7, 2020
On one hand, he fits the Clint Capela/Jarrett Allen/Jaxson Hayes prototype as a run-and-jump center who can space the floor vertically, protect the rim and attack the offensive glass. Badji has far superior tools to even those bigs, comparing closest to a 20-year-old Mo Bamba physically, with a way better body and more bounce at the same stage.
Like Bamba, however, Badji has similar inconsistencies with his motor, often struggling to put together multiple effort plays. Badji doesn't always sprint the floor, and he really struggles to read the ball off the rim on the defensive glass. Improving his understanding of how to guard pick-and-roll, how to use verticality at the rim and how to defend one-on-one without fouling should all be priorities.
On the offensive end, he's also a blank slate, still gaining experience playing out of dribble handoffs or short rolls. He isn't much of a threat to generate his own offense from the perimeter or the interior, even if he is capable of dropping in right-handed jump hooks. With that said, Badji is an elite lob-catcher, a part of his game that hasn't been tapped into nearly enough with Barcelona. He also shows glimpses as a defensive anchor, getting to seemingly impossible balls and pinning shots against the glass with two hands. He leads all of LEB Silver in blocks per 40 minutes with 4.74.
If Badji can buy into playing with consistent energy all the time, he's an easy first-round pick, with lottery potential.
Roko Prkacin | 6-9 | PF | Cibona Zagreb
Rank: No. 23
I caught the projected first-round pick in Adriatic League action against Borisa Simanic and Red Star in Serbia, and it was useful to see the 17-year-old Croatian forward in pro competition. He more than held his own physically thanks to his size, strong frame and 7-foot wingspan. While he wasn't overly involved in the offense, he showed off his defensive instincts and physicality, taking hits from Red Star giant Michael Ojo as he barreled down the lane.
Among his age group, Prkacin is a mismatch forward who checks a lot of different boxes on both ends of the floor. He can push in transition, play out of the post, facilitate on the move and make plays defensively because of his length and instincts.
Whether Prkacin can live up to his first-round potential will largely depend on his progression as a shooter. A jump-reliant 3-point shooter with a lot of inconsistency in his follow-through, Prkacin is just 23-for-92 from deep this season and 65.6% from the free throw line. If he is able to at least become respectable in catch-and-shoot situations, that'll allow him to start picking apart scrambling defenses with his handle and feel, making him a plug-and-play NBA 4 with the versatility teams covet.
Long-term prospects to watch
Khalifa Diop (Gran Canaria): The 18-year-old Diop grabbed 11 rebounds in just 21 minutes against Barcelona B thanks to his energy, mobility and strong frame at 6-11, 245 pounds. Diop is still working to develop an elite NBA skill on both ends, but he's highly active and could emerge as a potential second-rounder next season if he's able to carve out a role with Gran Canaria at the ACB level.
Ariel Hukporti (Ludwigsburg): The German center was off to a strong start at ANGT Munich before going down with a foot injury against Real Madrid. At around 7-0 with a strong frame, solid mobility and flashes of shooting and ball-handling potential, the Ludwigsburg product could be a 2021 draft candidate should he buy into playing with consistent energy and physicality.
Abramo Canka (Stella Azzurra): One of ANGT Munich's most pleasant surprises, Canka is a legitimate NBA prospect as a 6-6 playmaker who competes with incredible energy on the defensive end. He is an explosive athlete who gets into the body of opposing guards while putting pressure on the rim as a downhill slasher. He's also capable of facilitating off the dribble with either hand. He appears to have extended his range some and could develop into a sleeper for the 2021 draft.
Azuolas Tubelis (Rytas): The MVP of ANGT Kaunas, Tubelis continued the momentum from his productive season in Lithuania's second division with Rytas, where he's averaging 17.0 pounds and 6.5 rebounds in just 28.2 minutes. While he doesn't have the most modern NBA fit as a 6-9 big man who doesn't shoot the 3, Tubelis can at least get out and push in the open court, attack off the dribble, play above the rim, score inside and create for his teammates. How he develops as a defender and perimeter shooter will go a long way in determining his NBA future.
Adria Domenech (Joventut): The lanky, 6-10 big man turned in an impressive ANGT Kaunas, averaging 19.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.8 steals and 2.0 blocks in just 26.5 minutes over the course of four games. While he's physically underdeveloped at this stage, he's long, fluid and skilled with the ability to eventually develop into a stretch-4 who can shoot it with range and put the ball on the floor. While it may take him some time to be a productive ACB player given his body, Domenech is a name to watch.