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Basketball’s global growth has been rising at an incredible pace and the latest evidence of this was Nigeria’s stunning upset over Team USA which featured Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard and Jayson Tatum. For context, just a decade ago, USA beat Nigeria 156-73! And if we look at the NBA, there’s a very strong argument to be made that international stars Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic are in or are right around the top five players in the league. The 2021-22 Draft Class isn’t short of international talent either, so this article will be a quick breakdown of the top prospects.
Alperen Sengun (C, Besiktas)
As an 18-year-old, Sengun dominated in the Turkish Super League for Besiktas on his way to the MVP Award, putting up 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.7 blocks in 28 minutes on 64% shooting and 81% from the line. He’s far from the modern NBA big man as he has a throwback post game with tons of nifty moves, spins and fakes, and his strength is way ahead of the curve for someone his age. He can power through contact and lived at the free throw line, attempting 7.9 free throws per 36 minutes. And the kicker is that he can finish with either hand, making him a matchup nightmare for opposing big men.
And not only is he a gifted post player, but Sengun is also a crafty playmaker and gives me some Domantas Sabonis vibes. If teams try to double him to get some relief in the paint, Sengun will effortlessly find the open man with some crisp passes. He has all the tools to one day become a focal point of the offense, even at the NBA level. He has superstar upside, and his athleticism is way ahead of some of the players he’s been compared to (Sabonis, Nikola Vucevic) -- he was never afraid to take players off the dribble on the perimeter despite being a 6-10, 240 pound big man. His rookie dynasty ADP is already No. 6 according to Fantasy Basketball International but I expect him to end up in the top five quite easily when the word gets out. As for his real life draft stock, he’s projected to a mid-lottery pick, but I think it’s possible he goes as high as No. 6 to the Oklahoma City Thunder with their knack for identifying international talent. He also fills a glaring need up front and would be such an intriguing fit alongside another international phenom in Aleksej Pokusevski.
The one thing I'd like to see Sengun add is an outside shot, but I have no doubt he'll develop one in no time at this rate.
Josh Giddey (PG, Adelaide)
While I have Sengun as the top international prospect, Giddey is the No. 1 international prospect on a lot of boards and there is definitely a lot to like. A PG with great size at 6-8, Giddey has drawn a lot of comparisons to fellow Australian, Joe Ingles. Giddey played a featured role for Adelaide at only 18 years old, playing 32 minutes per game with 10.9 points, 7.5 assists, 7.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.0 triples.
While not an explosive athlete, Giddey can dissect a defense with his change-of-pace moves and excellent body control. It’s important to note that you can get away with not being too athletic if you can get your opponent off balance, and Luka Doncic is a good example of that. An excellent passer with both hands, Giddey looks like he’d be able to contribute right away but there are some areas he needs to improve. For starters, he only shot 29% from beyond the arc, and he struggles to shoot off the dribble as well as spot ups. He can finish pretty well, but it does worry me that teams will sag off him and dare him to shoot to neutralize his playmaking ability.
Usman Garuba (F, Real Madrid)
Arguably the top defender in this class, Garuba has the potential to be an All-NBA defender. He doesn’t have elite athleticism, but makes up for it with intellect and pure hustle. That made him a deflection machine for Madrid where he racked up 1.4 steals and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes. At 6-8, Garuba should be a switchable defender that can contain all five positions, one of the most sought-after skills in the NBA - think Lu Dort. He’s also a solid passer, but the rest of his offensive game needs a ton of work.
Garuba shot just 31% from beyond the arc and 65% from the line, and opponents felt comfortable sagging off him at Madrid. You better believe that will be the case in the NBA if he doesn’t improve in that regard, as he’s shown very little touch away from the rim. A raw prospect but one that comes with loads of upside, I think Garuba will hear his name called in the 20s.
Rokas Jokubaitis (G, Zalgiris Kaunas)
Playing in his third season with Zalgiris Kaunas, Jokubaitis finally had a decent role after playing very limited minutes in years 1-2. At 20 years old, he put up 7.0 points, 2.5 dimes, 1.7 rebounds, 0.5 steals and 0.6 triples in 20 minutes. He projects to be a point guard at the NBA level, but was mostly a secondary playmaker overseas. He’s definitely a work in progress, but his skills in the pick-and-roll will be coveted by NBA teams. He also shot 38% from long range which should translate well, but one knock on him is that he settles for too many long mid-range jumpers. I’m expecting him to be a draft-and-stash player in the early portion of the second round.
Filip Petrusev (C, Mega Bemax)
A former Gonzaga Bulldog, Petrusev spent last season in Serbia where he showed tremendous improvement. He was an absolute stat stuffer too, putting up a per-36 minute line of 25.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 blocks, 0.5 steals and 1.6 triples. A modern day big man, Petrusev shot the lights out from beyond the arc (46%) and had an elite 63.6% true shooting percentage. Projected to go in the second round, I think Petrusev will be ready for minutes right away at age 21 as long as he lands in the right spot.