Timothe Luwawu is one of the better stories in this year’s draft class. One year ago, Luwawu was a relative unknown as a 19-year old Frenchman who had only spent time in the French B league and their junior league, but was entering the draft anyway. Luwawu had never seen time as a top option on a high-level squad, and he brought with him many of the significant questions usually surrounding young European players. The main theme was that he looked the part, but we hadn’t seen him prove himself, and his shooting was a significant question.
Luwawu ended up withdrawing from the draft, through a strange turn of events that involved an airport mishap not allowing him to work out at EuroCamp. And that may have been the best thing for him. Luwawu elected to head to Serbia to ply his trade in the Adriatic League, and the results have been stellar. He is the leading scorer for a Mega Leks team that features three DX top 100 prospects, and he’s blossomed as an all-around scorer with averages of 14.7 points per game on 43.0 percent shooting and 37.9 percent shooting from outside.
That Mega Leks sits at fourth in the very competitive Adriatic League, ahead of European competition staples Union Olimpija and Partizan Belgrade, is even better. Luwawu needed a competition upgrade and got one, and now he’s a potential lottery pick.
Luwawu’s offense when he was with Antibes in France was a major question mark. For a future NBA prospect, averaging 7.1 points per game in the French B League isn’t impressive, and he really struggled shooting the ball with an ugly Effective Field Goal Percentage of 45.3 percent (39.9 FG%, 28.7 percent from 3-point range).
However, this season, Luwawu has taken off. While he benefits from an up-tempo style of play that Mega Leks employs, his offensive game has opened up and diversified, and he’s taken to even being the Serbian side’s lead guard at times. Luwawu’s shooting mechanics have made significant improvements, too, and he’s been dynamite as a catch-and-shoot weapon this season, hitting 43 percent on those looks.
Luwawu has always been a solid attacker off the dribble and in transition, but he’s improved there as well by adding a pull-up jumper that has reasonable success and improving his handle to cut down on turnovers. Luwawu is still incredibly turnover prone (turning the ball over on 16.9 percent of possessions is not great), but that should be less of a factor in the NBA as he continues to improve his handle and is asked to be less of a dribbling threat.
The real draw for Luwawu, though, is as a slasher. He’s always been solid at this, but he has fantastic potential as a rim-runner and in-game dunker.
The area I’d like to see Luwawu get better in is getting to the line — he finishes well through contact, but he often opts to try to snake around a defender at the rim and rely on his touch. For someone as explosive and strong as he is, Luwawu should live at the line, and while his four free throw attempts per game are decent, it would be nice to see some improvements.
The major concern with Luwawu offensively is the sustainability of his shooting. That he’s made a huge leap is a good sign, but it has come in a league that is one of the world’s most wide-open, and we’ll need to see if he can maintain this success at the NBA level. Even if he can’t, though, Luwawu has the tools to be a rotation-level offensive player. But like Victor Oladipo when he came out, 3-point shooting and better responsibility with the ball probably separate whether Luwawu is a rotation player or quality NBA scorer.
There’s tons to like about Luwawu on the defensive end. He’s 6-7 with a 6-11 wingspan, and he has the speed and upper body strength to defend most perimeter players. Luwawu’s biggest strengths are his hands, which help him wreak havoc in the Adriatic. He has a 3.1 steal rate this season, and he’s shown flashes as a potential shot-blocker and strong help-side defender. Luwawu still needs some work as an off-ball defender, which is a given with his limited experience in high-level basketball. He suffers occasional mental lapses and can be late on rotations, and that might hold him back early on. But being a pest when you’re young helps you stay on the floor, and Luwawu can definitely be that.
An area that Luwawu could also stand to improve in is navigating screens. He’s good at following under screens and chasing shooters off the 3-point line in the pick-and-roll, which will help him defend guards early on. However, he still has issues going over the top of screens and recovering to the shooter, and he can get hung up on screens against bigger forwards up top. That’s the next step for him as a pick-and-roll defender, and it’s something that can be learned as he matures.
Maturation is the answer to a lot of the concerns Luwawu has defensively, and that’s a good sign moving forward. He has the stuff that many European wings struggle with down — steals, effort, rebounding — and a lot of the advanced concepts that he struggles with, such as pick-and-roll defense, are things that take most young wings years to grasp. Luwawu needs the right situation to develop properly, but he could be a dynamo on this end in the NBA when he hits age 25.
Luwawu should be able to be a strong two-way wing in the NBA. He’s still raw on both ends, and with some development could become a quality scorer and elite defender on the perimeter. At the basis of his talents, he could at least fit in the league as a Corey Brewer-type energy reserve, and he seems to be a low-floor, high-ceiling player — something you don’t often see with international players.
Development will be key, though. Getting Luwawu to improve his ball-handling, continuing to work on his 3-point shooting, and letting him learn the more advanced concepts of NBA defense will be crucial to him being a successful two-way player. If a team is willing to invest the time to allow him to grow, Luwawu seems like a strong bet to fit into the Nicolas Batum or Jimmy Butler lineage of strong two-way guards with few visible weaknesses, and he’s definitely a guy worth consideration in the back half of the lottery.