The best prospects in the 2020 NBA draft could be playing halfway around the world during March Madness. A weak group of Americans and a bumper crop of internationals means that at least three European players who never played in college could land in the lottery. That hasn’t happened since Jonas Valanciunas, Jan Vesely, and Bismack Biyombo were taken in 2011.
The difference this time is that these Europeans all play on the perimeter. The 2020 trio is made up of Deni Avdija, an Israeli combo forward, and Killian Hayes and Théo Maledon, two French point guards. NBA teams are no longer just searching for big men overseas. The rise of the 3-pointer over the past generation has put a premium on the more well-rounded offensive games that European guards tend to possess.
The hard part about evaluating European prospects is that they rarely get the same opportunities as Americans their age. That’s what made Luka Doncic so special. He starred in the EuroLeague, winning MVP in 2018, before coming to the NBA. Most European prospects are stuck in smaller roles on their professional teams without getting to show what they can do against elite competition. That leaves NBA scouts to extrapolate from their performances against less talented players.
Frank Ntilikina is the perfect example. He never averaged more than six points per game in two seasons as a professional before being drafted by the Knicks. His breakout performance came when he led France to a gold medal in the under-18 European championships in 2016, but he has not been able to replicate that success in the NBA, where his inability to create off the dribble against elite defenders has kept him stuck in the same complementary role.
The ways that Avdija, Hayes, and Maledon are being used in Europe will leave a lot of questions for NBA teams to figure out over the next few months. Here’s a look at the biggest surrounding each. (All stats courtesy of RealGM.)
The same situation Ntilikina faced applies to Avdija. He’s a role player in his day job with Maccabi Tel Aviv, averaging 4.1 points in 13.9 minutes per game in the EuroLeague. There are games when he doesn’t do much beyond take a few open jumpers and move the ball around the perimeter. His role expands when Maccabi plays in the less competitive Israeli league, where he averages 12.4 points in 26.6 minutes per game. But Avdija started generating real buzz when he led Israel to a gold medal in the under-20 European championships last summer, averaging 18.4 points and 5.3 assists per game.