GM of Next Stars Recruitment Liam Santamaria has unpacked the fallout from the 2023 NBA Draft.

23 Jun
By Dan Woods for

Following the successful draft night experienced by both Rayan Rupert and Mojave King the NBL General Manager of Next Stars Recruitment Liam Santamaria has praised the multitude of different pathways that are emerging across the globe for players to reach the NBA.

Rupert was a member of the New Zealand Breakers’ Championship Series-contesting side of NBL23 and was selected with the 43rd overall pick by the Portland Trail Blazers, despite pre-draft predictions labelling him as a comfortable first-round pick.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Another Next Star success ?<br><br>Rayan Rupert has been selected by the Portland Trail Blazers with the 43rd pick in the <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBADraft</a> ?<br><br>Congrats <a href="">@trailblazers</a>, you&#39;ve got a good one ? <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL (@NBL) <a href="">June 23, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

King was taken just four selections later by the Los Angeles Lakers at pick 47. He spent two seasons in the NBL as a Next Star prior to taking his talents to the NBA G-League Ignite for his draft year.

“We’ve been speaking in recent years about LaMelo Ball and Josh Giddey who have come through the Next Stars – that’s a different pathway – but there are so many,” Santamaria said on SEN.

“Four of the top five, five of the top seven didn’t come through the NCAA pathway.

“(Victor) Wembanyama from France and (Bilal) Coulibaly his teammate, (Scoot) Henderson out of the G-League Ignite and the Thompson twins (Amen and Ausar) out of Overtime Elite.

“There’s a recognition that there are a variety of different ways you can get there in the basketball landscape.

"This is the fifth guy in four years to be drafted straight out of the Next Stars program and you combine that with other NBL players – Luke Travers and Hugo Besson last year getting drafted – it’s sort of becoming something that happens on a regular basis.

"There is well and truly an understanding right around the globe now - particularly across the pacific in North America -  that the NBL is now a proven pathway."

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While Rupert was projected to be drafted as high as the 18th pick to Miami as few as four weeks ago by ESPN, the French wing fell to the Portland Trail Blazers’ third selection of the night halfway through the second round.

Portland had already selected Scoot Henderson with the third selection of the draft and Kris Murray at pick 23 prior to calling Rupert’s name.

While the analysts on ESPN’s draft broadcast were surprised as to why Rupert fell so low and praised his ability as a first-round talent, Santamaria believes he knows what may led teams to explore other avenues, however he still believes Rupert will be a success in the NBL.

“There is a key question mark around Rayan in his scouting report and that is his perimeter shooting. He shot the ball terrifically well in the pre-season in the NBL Blitz and then it was a little up and down from there over the course of the NBL season,” Santamaria said.

“Defensively though, he’s elite. If he can stick he has the potential to be an all-league level defender at the NBA level. A real lockdown guy, real long and versatile – just loves to sit down and guard. There’s the juxtaposition of those two things, the offence is a work in progress but the defence is at a really high level.

"He has the potential to be an all-league level defender in the NBA.

“The Trail Blazers – Mike Schmitz in particular, the assistant GM who spent a long time working wit Jonathan Givony at Draft Express and ESPN – he’s all over the NBL. He came and sat courtside and watched Rayan Rupert play for the Breakers last season and they would have been pinching themselves to see him still available at 43 and they snapped him up.

“I’m fascinated to see what happens with Rupert. He’s a first-round talent and they were saying on the broadcast today he was a steal at 43. He’s a player with a first-round grade so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Trail Blazers take advantage of that fact and put him on the roster.”

King, meanwhile, surpassed many expectations by being selected, and Santamaria believes it’s just reward for the former 36er and Taipan’s strong body of work.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">A team fit for a King ?<br><br>Former NBL Next Star Mojave King has been selected by the Los Angeles Lakers with the 47th pick of the NBA Draft ?<br><br>The pick has been traded to the Indiana Pacers. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; NBL (@NBL) <a href="">June 23, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

“He’s a really great story of perseverance and self-belief,” Santamaria said of King. “It took a little longer than he might have expected, he was a really highly touted prospect out of the NBA Global Academy.

“There was a hope of late second round would be in the realm for Mojave King but this is how it goes – some guys slip a little, some guys jump up a little from projections and expectations.

“Pick 47 was probably at the very top end of where he was expected to go today.

“He’s got there, and his foot is now in that NBA door, and he has a chance now to break it open.”

Both Rupert and King are likely - but as of yet unconfirmed - to suit up for the upcoming NBA Summer League. Rupert for the Trail Blazer and King for the Indiana Pacers – who traded for the number 47 pick’s draft rights with the Los Angeles Lakers.

A number of players from NBL23 have already reportedly signed on with teams across the NBA for the Summer League. You can view them here

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