Evaluating NBA Draft prospects at the FIBA U19 World Championships

Breaking down the players who turned heads and improved their future NBA Draft stock at the FIBA U19 World Championships last week.

The 2019 NBA Draft just ended, but the 2020 and 2021 NBA Draft scouting calendar is already underway, with the 2019 FIBA U19 World Championships taking place last week in Greece. The tournament featured several players who should be factors over the next two drafts, and we got to see some valuable film on talented international players who don’t play big minutes during the international season, as well as a look at the development of some younger college players who may be poised for breakout sophomore campaigns.

The United States team captured the championship, beating Mali by a score of 93-79, mostly cruising through the tournament on the backs of Mississippi State sophomore Reggie Perry, Iowa State sophomore Tyrese Haliburton, and 2020 high school senior Cade Cunningham. But they were far from the only clear draft prospects at the tournament. It also showcased the potential depth of the 2020 draft’s international class, featuring names such as Lithuania’s Rokas Jokubaitis, Senegal’s Amar Sylla, and Russia’s Nikita Mikhailovskii that help give the 2020 class what looks like incredible depth. The story of the U19s was as much about the positive signs from the top international prospects as it was about how easy the U.S. team made things look.

A lot of the performances we saw in Greece should matter moving forward, so it would be tough to dive deeply into everyone who could be on NBA radars at this point, but we’ll hit the major players who impressed most throughout the week-long event.

Cade Cunningham, PG, USA

2021 Draft prospect, Montverde Academy

Cunningham came into the U19 championships as the most interesting prospect to follow, and definitely did not disappoint, showcasing the passing ability and raw scoring upside that project him to be a top pick in either the 2020 or 2021 draft (Cunningham has not yet decided whether he’s going to reclassify). A 6-foot-7 combo guard, Cunningham established himself as the best passer in the event (no small feat, as we’ll discuss later), routinely making good decisions on the break, and showing an incredible diversity in the types of passes he can make.

Cunningham’s driving ability was also perhaps the best of any of the guards in the event. He has a good combination of strength and footwork, and that allows him to leverage his length into some impressive finishes. He does a solid job of powering through contact and being unbothered by opponents’ length:

He also showed an ability to warp space with his footwork, reminiscent of R.J. Barrett:

Cunningham’s advanced skill level makes him a very intriguing future draft prospect. While he wasn’t Team USA’s leading scorer, he was impressive in his ability to capitalize on the opportunities he got, and he has the best shot of being a primary creator of anyone in the tournament. His classification decision this summer is going to be huge for the strength of the 2020 NBA Draft class because he has a very real chance of being the number one pick if he enrolls early.

Tyrese Haliburton, PG, USA

Iowa State sophomore

Haliburton had one of the weirdest statistical profiles of any prospect last season. He rarely ventured into the paint on drives but shot 68.5 percent on 2-point shots. He averaged just 4.3 assists per 40 minutes but showed incredible playmaking skills. And he almost never turned the ball over, but forced a ton of steals and blocks, despite coming into ISU at just 172 pounds.

Given all of that, it was nice to see Haliburton possibly take a step forward in his dictation of play while he was on the floor for Team USA. It was clear that he was brought in to be a leader for the team, and he was much more aggressive as a playmaker, averaging 6.9 assists per contest and taking 7.3 shots per 40 minutes, continuing his outlier efficiency (68.8 percent from the field, 55.6 percent from 3). Building his confidence in these areas was a big reason for coming back to Iowa State, and he looked much more fluid and comfortable as a decision-maker and shooter.

Haliburton has been a draft hipster favorite because of his efficiency, but he needs to show the confidence to be able to do the things he’s good at on a more consistent basis. The U19s were a good first step towards that, and if he looks as good as he did in this tournament during the college season, he’s probably a first-round level prospect this year.

Scottie Barnes, SF, USA

2021 Draft prospect, NSU University School

The No. 9 prospect on the ESPN Top 100, Barnes was probably the second-best of the high school players on Team USA. The 6-foot-8 forward from Florida struggled early on, but he looked very good in the knockout stages, finishing with 16 points against Latvia and 11 points and 8 rebounds against Mali in the final. His defense was particularly impressive, as he showed some good versatility to be able to potentially play up a position and defend 4s moving forward.

Barnes still doesn’t look super-fluid as a ball-handler as of yet, and he took just two 3s for the entire tournament. As a modern hybrid forward, he’s going to need at least one of those things moving forward, especially as he’s not an Aaron Gordon-type athlete. But just in terms of raw production and pecking order indicators, Barnes looked fairly good.

Reggie Perry, PF, USA

Mississippi State sophomore

Perry won MVP for the event in a pretty obvious fashion, averaging 13.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and a steal and a block per contest to pace Team USA. He was clearly one of the best prospects there in terms of functional strength, and no one had his combination of strength and coordination among the teams that the USA faced off with.

But at this point, you would hope that was the case with Perry. We already knew functional strength and coordination were strong points for him, and the hope was that we would see more skill play and defensive technique from him. This didn’t really happen, outside of a few flashy transition handling chances. Perry’s defensive impact was still felt primarily under the basket, and finishing was the primary offense for him. He still doesn’t look like much of a functional shooter, and he’s still going to have a tough time battling with NBA-level 5s when his strength is matched.

Essentially, Perry looked like the end of bench player who goes to Summer League and looks amazing, but doesn’t really have any way to apply his successes there into real NBA play. That’s why despite his numbers, Perry is still probably a firm late-second-round/undrafted player to me at this stage.

Other team USA notes

– Evan Mobley, the top-ranked player in the 2020 high school class, barely played due to injury. This was a major disappointment, although it’s likely there wouldn’t have been much meaning to take away from him playing given the lack of comparative size among the teams the U.S. played.

– That being said, Trevion Williams of Purdue had a disappointing performance overall given expectations. Williams flashed a good amount as a freshman with the Boilermakers, and there was hope that he’d continue to show off his passing and defensive potential in Mobley’s absence. That didn’t materialize though, and he struggled to finish and looked very stiff at times on the defensive end.

– Isaac Likekele impressed with his minutes on the wing, with consistent active on-ball defense and some impressive finishes around the rim. He was a relative unknown last year as a freshman at Oklahoma State but outplayed a few of the younger players and especially Kira Lewis. He’s a player to keep an eye on for the future.

– The other three high school seniors were relatively inconsistent throughout the tournament and didn’t really pop in any significant way. Jalen Suggs played some solid off-ball defense but somewhat floated on offense. Jalen Green faired better offensively, particularly as a finisher, but shot just 20.7 percent from three. And Zaire Williams played mostly spot minutes with minimal valuable scouting information coming from them. We will have to see how all three 2020 top-10 recruits fair in the future.

Rokas Jokubaitis, SG, Lithuania

2000 INTL class, Zalgiris

The Lithuanian guard was probably the most impressive international player present, and definitely looked the part of at least a future elite Euroleague-level guard. Cunningham was the most impressive passer, but Jokubaitis had the most positive impact as a passer for his team’s offense, using elite vision and showing the ability to shield the ball with his body to create passing angles that most players can’t.

He also shot 40 percent from 3 and was able to finish well off the dribble, even against elite length, as half his games came against the US or Senegal. He’s not a special athlete but seems to have all of the craft and skill needed to succeed as a point guard if you aren’t lightning quick. He should be considered a first-round prospect next year and used an opportunity to not have the shadow of Killian Hayes, Theo Maledon, and Deni Avdija to make a strong name for himself.

Amar Sylla, SF, Senegal

2001 INTL class, Real Madrid

Sylla was the other first-round level international prospect there, and he also mostly lived up to expectations. The Real Madrid import has a reputation as a potential all-world defender who is extremely limited on offense, and that’s exactly what we saw. Opponents had a terrible time with Sylla on the perimeter, as he used his hands and strength to punish on-ball attacks:

But offensively, he lacked the decision-making feel and touch to make use of his physical attributes.

Now, it wasn’t all bad offensively. Sylla did shoot 2-of-20 from 3, but he did show the confidence to take them, and there’s hope that this is going to be a point of development moving forward. He also had some special passing moments in the tournament, particularly out of the post:

Offensive development is going to be what gets Sylla into the first round, so seeing small steps on that end is helpful.

Nikita Mikhailovskii, SG, Russia

2000 INTL class, Avtodor Saratov

A probable second-round prospect, Mikhailovskii equipped himself well offensively in Russia’s fifth-place finish. The 6-foot-7 guard is still razor thin, but looks decent as a pull-up shooter, able to shoot over the top of guards and showing a quick, efficient release. His passing was also a pleasant surprise, as he showed good vision and touch in the halfcourt, especially when bailing out of drives against good defense.

Mikhailovskii is probably just a poor man’s Deividas Sirvydis, who went in the second round to the Detroit Pistons this year, but still, there’s a premium on tall guards who can create, and Mikhailovskii could find a role at the next level if he puts on more strength.

Filip Petrusev, C, Serbia

Gonzaga sophomore

Like Perry, Petrusev’s numbers were probably a product of his advanced physical development, but he was very efficient as a finisher, and probably was the most well-actualized rim protector in terms of showcasing the traits used by modern NBA big men. His screening technique is fantastic, and he looks pretty mobile defending on the perimeter. He probably doesn’t do anything at an elite level, and he is a complete non-shooter at this point, but as an early second-round big man, he’s a solid option for 2020 if he grows into a starting role for Gonzaga.

Zoran Paunovic, SG, Serbia

2000 INTL class, FMP Beograd

Paunovic fell out of favor over the past year because he struggled to earn playing time, but he again showed flashes of why he may still be a first-round level talent. A 6-foot-6 playmaking guard, Paunovic’s burst off the dribble is enough to completely overwhelm the majority of defenders in this setting.

This tournament didn’t put Paunovic over the top back into the draft conversation, but it gives optimism that with actual playing time in 2019-20, there’s still a long-term future for him.

Joel Ayayi, SG, France

Gonzaga sophomore

Ayayi was a productive scorer, averaging 20.9 points per contest for third-place France, and looks like a very good slasher at the next level. While undersized at 6-foot-3, Ayayi has good athleticism and body control in the air and is a confident enough handler that he could become a useful secondary playmaker eventually. To do that, though, he needs to improve as a shooter, and his court vision may not be at the necessary level to be an NBA wing either. But at the very least, he looks like he should be a major factor for Gonzaga this year.

Karlton Dimanche, SG, France

2000 INTL class, Cholet

Dimanche was France’s 1A option behind Ayayi, but showed very impressive two-way potential, handling some playmaking duties throughout the event and coming away as one of the tournament’s best point of attack defenders. Dimanche has the length to be a very useful on-ball defender and showed good instincts on switches as well. Offensively, he was a fairly poor shooter with some questionable shot selection, but his passing ability looked strong, and he’s an impressive rebounder as a guard. He’s another nice long-term guy to keep an eye on.

Nikolaos Rogkavopoulos, PF, Greece

2001 INTL class, AEK Athens

Another long-term prospect, Rogkavopoulos was interesting as a 6-foot-8 forward with a strong pull-up jumper and decent footwork and strength on both ends. The 17-year old struggled to finish against the bigger and longer teams that Greece faced, but his ability to create space with his dribble and shoot off the catch and nice selling points for his projection as a possible playmaking 3 in the role of a Davis Bertans.

Other International Notes

– Marko Pecarski was a name to watch after his MVP performance in the European U18 championship last year, and while he put up good numbers — 22.5 points and 9 rebounds per contest — he showed again why he fell off a lot of draft boards over the past year. One of the older players at the event, Pecarski was able to put up those numbers thanks to his physical dominance, but was mostly poor on the defensive end, missing rotations and only posting one block on the week, struggling to apply that size into even passable rim protection. It’s hard to have Deandre Ayton’s skill set when you aren’t an Ayton athlete, and that’s why while Pecarski probably has a fruitful European career ahead, he probably isn’t an NBA prospect.

– Dalibor Ilic’s rebounding ability continues to impress, but his offensive limitations left him as the clear third big for Serbia behind Pecarski and Petrusev. His space defense was good, but this was not the setting to really get excited about Ilic as a prospect.

– Ibou Badji of Senegal might be one of the more interesting players to come out of the tournament. A young guy at just 16-years old, the 6-foot-11 center was the longest player in the event, and showed impressive activity on both ends, protecting the rim with his 7-foot-7 wingspan, and showing some interesting hints at handling ability out of face-up attempts. He’s still incredibly raw — he was impressively turnover prone, and is still definitely learning basic tendencies on the defensive end — but as a long term development play for 2021 or 2022, he comes away from this event with as high a stock increase as anyone.

– A.J. Lawson was Canada’s best player, as expected, and while he ran hot and cold from 3 — 6-of-10 vs. Senegal saved his numbers, certainly — he still looks like the fringe 3-and-D-plus guard that he looked like last year with the Gamecocks.

– Latvia was completely overmatched as a team without Arturs Zagars, who missed the event due to injury. But Arturs Kurucs, brother of Rodions of the Brooklyn Nets, had positive moments on ball, showing good creativity with the ball out of isolations and impressive shiftiness on drives. He’s a mess on defense right now, but should continue to develop at Baskonia, and is worth keeping an eye on after proving himself well against elite competition.

– Argentina’s two main prospects were pretty forgettable, but it’s worth mentioning them because they’ll be on bigger stages this year. Francisco Caffaro, a redshirt freshman at Virginia, had a pretty solid tournament, struggling to score inside but providing a very stable, disciplined defensive presence typical of the Virginia system. Leandro Bolmaro, meanwhile, had a rough shooting performance but showed some raw ball-handling capability that should make him an interesting long term development piece at Barcelona.

– And finally, Gonzaga commit Oumar Ballo had an impressive showing in Mali’s surprise run to the final, averaging 17.6 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. Ballo is very physically mature for being 16-years old, and he showed good touch on the offensive end and impressive rim protection instincts on the defensive end. There’s still plenty of raw aspects to his game, but he definitely looked the part of a future first-round center.