France’s Ousmane Dieng moved to Australia for a season to hone his skills. Nikola Jovic remains at home in Serbia.
Both are expected to eventually make it to the NBA, though, as they were among the most promising international players in Thursday night’s draft.
Both are versatile wings at 6-foot-10 who have just turned 19 after finishing their first professional seasons.
Dieng played for the New Zealand Breakers in the Australian National Basketball League as part of his Next Stars program, which has become a hot spot for NBA prospects. Jović was selected as the top prospect in the ABA after his first full season at Belgrade club Mega, which produced defending NBA MVP Nikola Jokić.
Here are some of the top international players in the draft:
Strengths: Versatile scorer with court vision and playmaking. This season he is averaging 11.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists while shooting 36.5 percent from 3-point range.
Jovic told The Associated Press that he played for the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs — both teams have three first-round picks as of Monday — Denver Nuggets (No. 21 and No. 30) , the Chicago Bulls (No. 18), the Minnesota Timberwolves (No. 19) and the Milwaukee Bucks (No. 24). He also worked out with the Miami Heat with the No. 27 pick and the champion Golden State Warriors (No. 28).
“I have a really good basketball IQ, I’m really good at shooting, and I’m good at passing. Those are things that I immediately translate to the NBA,” Jovic said.
Concern: Jović’s first step was not explosive. Coming into the season at 200 pounds, there were concerns about his strength, but he has grown and now weighs 224 pounds.
“I’m working my entire body. Core stability is really important to me,” said Jovic, who turned 19 this month.
Rafael Barlowe, director of scouting for the NBA Big Board, said Jovic is targeting a “league-average defender” and said the right fit is crucial: “He could end up in a situation like Germany. Nee Avdija (Washington Wizards) in such a bad situation. He didn’t get a chance to handle the ball, he was stuck in the corner.”
The lanky Frenchman has bounced back from a slow start in Australia to show why he’s a potential lottery pick.
Strengths: Outside skills, playmaking potential, can defend multiple positions. He averaged 8.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. His 3-point shooting was in the single digits early on, but was 35 percent in the final 12 games of the season.
“I just have to find my rhythm and keep going,” he said.
Dieng works with “many” teams, but declined to name them.
“I can fit into any team and because I’m so versatile, I can do whatever the coach wants me to do,” he said. “I’m a very hard worker and very versatile, with a good vision and can do anything on the field.”
Focus: Shot consistency and framing. He needs to add volume. At 215 pounds, he was about 10 pounds heavier than at the start of the season, when he looked lost at times.
“The gap between the French third division and the NBL is really big. Everything is faster, everything is more physical,” he said, adding that playing with ex-NBA players “was really good for me.”
Some other international people with no US experience:
— ISMAEL KAMAGATE: 6-11, 230-pound center of Paris Basket. The 21-year-old Frenchman is averaging 11.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game. He denied nine shots against Roan. Ligue 1 All-Star.
— KHALIFA DIOP: The newest Senegalese big man is 7-foot-1, 240 pounds in Gran Canaria, Spain. He averaged 6.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game.
— Hugo Besson: The 21-year-old shooting guard played with Dieng on the New Zealand Breakers. The 6-foot-4 Frenchman is averaging 13.9 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game. 30.8 percent from three-point range.
— GABRIELE PROCIDA: A 6-foot-7 Italian who shot 38.3 percent from beyond the arc in Bologna.
Looking to the future
The 7-foot-3 Frenchman Victor Unbanyama could be this year’s No. 1 pick — and possibly last year’s. The 18-year-old will eventually qualify in 2023.
With his size and skill — ball handling, shooting, rim protection — Vinbanyama is considered a generational talent. He had 22 points, eight rebounds and eight blocks against the U.S. team, which included Chet Holmgren, in the FIBA Under-19 World Cup final last July. He plays for ASVEL, a French team owned by Tony Parker.
“If he maximizes all his talents,” Barlow said, “he’s easily one of the best players of his generation.”
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