ESPN’s NBA Draft analyst Jonathan Givony spoke with NBL Media about NBL22's NBA draft prospects, including their strengths, weaknesses and what they need to show this season.

13 Oct

By Liam Santamaria 


Having produced top 10 picks in each of the past two NBA Drafts, the NBL has become a popular destination for the world’s most talented prospects.

Much of that is due to the league’s Next Stars program which, having facilitated the development of first-round picks LaMelo Ball, RJ Hampton and Josh Giddey, is now a recognised route to the NBA.

This year that pathway has even further expanded, with a number of top prospects from Europe and Asia – elite young talents firmly on the radar for the 2022 NBA Draft – joining the league.

In total, there are nine top prospects for next year’s draft set to compete in the NBL this season: six Next Stars, one import, one ‘Special Restricted Player’ and one fully contracted Aussie.

Who are they? What will they bring?

To help answer those questions, ESPN’s NBA Draft analyst Jonathan Givony spoke with NBL Media about each prospect, including their strengths, weaknesses and what they need to show this season.

Additionally, former NBL MVP Derek Rucker offered his thoughts on protégé, Mojave King and young Filipino star Kai Sotto whom he worked with this off-season.

So, here you go: everything you need to know about the NBA Draft prospects set to play in NBL22.



Team: New Zealand Breakers

Nationality: French

Age: 18

Height: 208cm (6’10”)

Position: Forward

Current 2022 NBA Draft Ranking (ESPN): 11

Shades of: Paul George, Brandon Ingram

Bio: Labelled a “freak” and a potential NBA “franchise player” by Breakers coach Dan Shamir, Dieng is one of France’s most promising young stars.

The 18-year-old has spent the past couple of years at INSEP Academy in Paris where he has competed in his home country’s third division.

On the international scene, Dieng broke out at the FIBA U16 European Championships in 2019 and had some impressive moments at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament in Belgrade in February 2020. 


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Coming ? to <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBL22</a> <br><br>The hype about Next Star Ousmane Dieng is real ??<a href="">@ousmane1121</a> <a href="">@NZBreakers</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; The NBL (@NBL) <a href="">June 1, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>


Jonathan Givony on Dieng: He's an exciting talent. The big thing that's going to intrigue people is just his physical profile. He has a really interesting body type with his huge wingspan and just how smooth he is… and he's really a big guard in terms of his game. He can handle it, he can pass it and he can shoot it. 

You just don't see that a lot: a 6-foot-10, 18-year-old kid with that body type and that versatility. 

Givony on what Dieng needs to show: Strength is going to be the big thing for Dieng. Just building up his body over the next two or three years. It's not going to happen for him right away. I mean, he only weighs 205 pounds (93kg) right now. So where is he best suited defensively? Who is he going to guard? He does have that length and a great feel but the NBL is a very physical league. So that's going to be the early challenge for him. 

He's also not going to play the same role with the Breakers like he did at INSEP where he's the point guard and he's dribbling the air out of the ball and taking step-backs. That's not going to be his role. He's going to have to find other ways to contribute, such as pushing off the defensive glass, attacking close-outs, playing some second-side pick-and-roll and making open shots. 

In fact, making shots will be a big one for him as he's been inconsistent at times from beyond the arc. He does have great shot-making ability, but the efficiency hasn't always been there. He's going to have to take much better shots and be a lot more efficient with his game. 

Overall, he's going to be someone that's going to have to progress over the course of the season. It's a big transition from the third division of France to the NBL but he's a special talent and so he’s going to be fun to watch.


Team: New Zealand Breakers

Nationality: French

Age: 20

Height: 196cm (6’5”)

Position: Shooting Guard

Current 2022 NBA Draft Ranking (ESPN): 30

Shades of: Tyler Herro, Chris Goulding

Bio: A talented shot-maker and play-maker out of pick-and-rolls, Besson has signed with the Breakers as an import for the 2021/22 season.

After two seasons playing limited minutes in the Pro A, Besson played in France’s second division last season where he absolutely exploded, leading the league in scoring and earning All-Star Five honours.


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Bonjour, Hugo ??<br><br>The <a href="">@NZBreakers</a> have added a certified bucket for <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBL22</a> in rising French star Hugo Besson ? <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; The NBL (@NBL) <a href="">September 22, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>


Givony on Besson: He's a scoring machine. For him to lead the entire second division in France in scoring, and do it on a winning team, that's impressive. 

He wasn't just a gunner either, he was also very efficient… This is a guy who is getting his own shot, scoring in the open court and playing pick and roll. To be a primary guy and to score at that level of efficiency as a 19-year-old, that's super impressive. 

On top of that, he's got a great feel for the game. He's 6-foot-5 and a half and he can play point guard. That's really interesting. 

What scouts really like about him is just that swagger that he brings. He knows that he's the best guy on the court every time he steps on the floor and he plays like it. He's going to dribble it up and pull up from half court and make that shot sometimes. Those are the kind of shots that he takes coming off screens, just really tough ones. I think that's just really interesting and that's what NBA teams are looking for, that 6’5”/6’6” combo guard, who can dribble, pass and shoot and just scores like he breathes.

Givony on what Besson needs to show: Defence is the main one. Just knowing how to defend and being engaged on every possession. Part of that is going to come with his body. I mean, he only weighs 190 pounds (86kg) and he's not very long. So, who is he going to guard in the NBL? That's going to be his ticket to earning that offensive freedom. He's going to score if he's on the court but staying on the floor is going to mean that he holds his own defensively.


Team: Melbourne United

Nationality: German / Togolese

Age: 19

Height: 213cm (7’0”)

Position: Centre

Current 2022 NBA Draft Ranking (ESPN): 49

Shades of: Thomas Bryant, Daniel Gafford

Bio: Born in Germany to Togolese parents, Hukporti is a big boy with a whole bunch of talent. 

The seven-footer played his first two years of pro ball in Germany before taking his game to Lithuania, where he averaged 10 points and seven rebounds per game last season. 

Hukporti has represented Germany at numerous international junior tournaments but his breakout came in February of 2020 when he was named MVP of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders Camp in Chicago – an event that also featured Josh Giddey and Kai Sotto.


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">?????? SCHÖN<br><br>Thanks for choosing the NBL, Ariel Hukporti, we can&#39;t wait to see you in action with <a href="">@MelbUnitedHQ</a> ?<a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBL22</a> <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBLNextStars</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; The NBL (@NBL) <a href="">July 28, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>


Givony on Hukporti: It's easy to see on first glance why people are intrigued by him. I mean, he’s 7-feet tall, 250 pounds (113kg) and is a pretty good athlete. He’s a lefty who is quick off his feet and mobile. 

He's got talent, especially as a scorer. He can handle the ball some, he can create his own shot and he can protect the rim in a pinch or make an open three at times. He’s got an interesting all-around game and combining that with the physical tools there's just a lot to work with there, talent-wise. 

Givony on what Hukporti needs to show: He’s coming from a situation in Lithuania where wins and losses weren't that important – it was more of a platform for him to showcase himself – and his efficiency was very poor. He's going to have to compact his game and show that he can impact winning. Now, if he does, the upside is huge because there just aren't that many human beings on the planet who look like him and have that type of talent. 

That said, defence has always been the question for Hukporti. The motor has always been up and down, as has the feel for the game and the awareness. Big men in the NBA need to be able to anchor a defence which is why it's a great situation for him that he's walking into at Melbourne United. Dean Vickerman doesn’t mess around on that end of the floor. If you're not going to defend, you're not going to play. So, I think this is going to be a great year for him in terms of being forced to work on different parts of his game that he wasn't necessarily pushed to as hard last year.


Team: Adelaide 36ers

Nationality: New Zealand / American

Age: 19

Height: 196cm (6’5”)

Position: Shooting Guard

Current 2022 NBA Draft Ranking (ESPN): 79 

Shades of: Gary Harris, Armoni Brooks

Bio: Born in New Zealand to an American father and a Kiwi mother, King grew up in Queensland and developed his game at the NBA Global Academy in Canberra. He currently possesses both New Zealand and US citizenship but has expressed a desire to obtain Australian citizenship and don the green and gold.

The athletic guard first launched himself onto NBA radars with a standout performance at the Global Academy’s ‘Next Generation Showcase’ in Minneapolis in 2019. 

Entering his second year as an NBL ‘Next Star’, King has moved from Cairns to Adelaide for the upcoming season. The 19-year-old played 30 games for Cairns last season, putting up 6.2 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. 

His best performance came in his final Taipans game when he dropped a career-high 25 points – the second-highest scoring game for an 18-year-old across the past 25 years of NBL history.


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">In the last 25 years, only three players have scored 20+ points before their 19th birthday.<br><br>LaMelo Ball for Illawarra Hawks in 2019<br>Joe Ingles for the South Dragons in 2006<br>Mojave King for the <a href="">@CairnsTaipans</a> last night ?<a href="">@Mojaveee</a> <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBL21</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; The NBL (@NBL) <a href="">May 27, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>


Givony on King: I was going through my notes on King from the very first time we watched him in 2019 and I was so high on him at that point. It was him and Josh Giddey in all the same showcases and all the same settings and it looked pretty clear at that point that Mojave was a better prospect… So I'm just curious to see: can Mojave get back to playing with that level of confidence that we saw from him earlier in his career? 

Givony on what King needs to show: Last year was a tough year for him. His ball-handling ability completely evaporated, and he got picked on so much defensively that it was just hard for him to stay on the court. He also didn't make enough shots to compensate for that. 

Now, that said, he just turned 19 in June so there's still obviously a world of potential there. We just need to see what makes this kid special… The question is: what separates him from American players in his position in college? I mean, there are a lot of guys who are 6-foot-5 and are kind of streaky shooters and just okay ball-handlers. So, I'm just very curious to see what his role is going to be in Adelaide because I think there's still a lot there.

Derek Rucker on King: I’ve watched a lot of Jayson Tatum’s highlights and training videos and have incorporated those learnings into Mojave’s workouts. I feel Mo could display similar offensive skills in a smaller frame. 

One guy’s mindset, from an NBL historical perspective, that I would love Mo to adopt is Randy Rutherford’s. As in, always apply a firm, controlled pressure to the defence with the ability to get in the paint and on the glass. Draw fouls and create both finishes and offensive rebounding opportunities for bigs. Away from the ball, read screens and do what is necessary to create quality catch-and-shoot opportunities.


Team: Brisbane Bullets

Nationality: French / Spanish

Age: 20

Height: 196cm (6’5”)

Position: Shooting Guard

Current 2022 NBA Draft Ranking (ESPN): 80 

Shades of: Tayshaun Prince, RJ Hampton, Leroy Loggins 

Bio: Digbeu is the son of former NBA draftee, Alain Digbeu, who played pro ball in Europe for many years and is now an NBA scout.

As a junior, Tom Digbeu developed his game as part of FC Barcelona’s basketball academy. In 2019 he signed a multi-year deal with European powerhouse Žalgiris who then sent him on loan to another Lithuanian team, BC Prienai.

Digbeu’s best performance last season came against Žalgiris when he poured in 27 points and 11 rebounds in an eye-catching display.


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">CAN YOU DIG IT?<br><br>Currently ranked 77th on ESPN’s list of the top 100 prospects entering next year’s NBA Draft, <a href="">@BrisbaneBullets</a> Next Star Tom Digbeu will have plenty of ? on him in <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBL22</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; The NBL (@NBL) <a href="">September 5, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>


Givony on Digbeu: He’s a really smooth, versatile player who can do a little bit of everything and he's going to intrigue people with just his physical profile. 

He had some big games last year and he quietly made a big jump in terms of his off-the-court approach. That’s always been something that people have questioned about him but you just heard that he got a lot more serious about his approach to the game and his professionalism. 

I think he quietly could have a really good year and he could very well be the third or fourth most talented Next Star. 

Givony on what Digbeu needs to show: His jumper has always been streaky. It's kind of a funky form. He shot 23 per cent for three last year and 65 per cent from the line. If you want to play in the NBA, you have to be able to make shots. 

In terms of his body, he's always been on the thinner side but with a really nice frame. I'm just curious to see how he looks now as it's going to have been six or seven months since the last time we’ve seen him play.


Team: Tasmania JackJumpers

Nationality: Russian

Age: 21

Height: 206cm (6’9”)

Position: Shooting Guard

Current 2022 NBA Draft Ranking (ESPN): 86

Shades of: Doug McDermott, Svi Mykhailiuk, Ryan Broekhoff

Bio: Mikhailovskii is a sharpshooter who already possesses loads of experience as a pro.

The 21-year-old has played for Avtodor Saratov in the Russian VTB United League since 2017 where he has twice been named the league’s Young Player of the Year (2019 and 2021).

He has also represented Russia at numerous international events including the 2018 FIBA Europe U18 Championships (where he was named to the All-Star Five) as well as the 2019 FIBA U19 World Cup.


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">From Saratov ?? to Tassie ??<br><br>Nikita Mikhailovskii will have <a href="">@JackJumpers</a> fans rushin&#39; to fill the stands in <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBL22</a> <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBLNextStars</a> ? <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; The NBL (@NBL) <a href="">July 29, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>


Givony on Mikhailovskii: He’s got great size for a wing and he can really, really shoot the ball. I mean, he's been a 42 to 46 per cent three-point shooter his whole career. There's a lot of value in that; a 6’9” guy who is an absolute sniper. 

That's going to be his role (with the JackJumpers) but he's also not completely one-dimensional. He's good in transition, he's shown some ability to pass the ball and he's coming in with a lot of experience under his belt. He's ready to make an impact that's pretty close to an import-calibre guy for Tasmania.

Givony on what Mikhailovskii needs to show: First of all: defence. He's never really shown any inclination to stop his man. He never really needed to because he was in this situation in Saratov where his agent is the GM of the team and everything was catered to him. That's going to be one challenge: you're not going to have some guy sitting in the second row telling the coach to put you in the game. It’s not going to work that way anymore. That's going to be good for him, stepping out of his comfort zone and being forced to earn his playing time. 

Secondly, talking to Americans that have played with him and other Russian guys they say he’s not a very bubbly, engaging personality. Cleaning some of that stuff up and showing that it's not all about him all the time and you can make other people better and your body language can stay positive even when your teammates mess up. I think that’s something that people are going to want to see more of and learn more about. 

That's why I think leaving Russia, leaving Saratov, and going to Tasmania could just make a world of difference for a kid like that. Let's see how he opens up and how he blossoms.  


Team: Sydney Kings

Nationality: South Sudanese / Australian

Age: 20

Height: 211cm (6’11”)

Position: Centre

Current 2022 NBA Draft Ranking (ESPN): 93

Shades of: Thon Maker, Pascal Siakam, Jo Lual-Acuil

Bio: Makur Maker is the cousin of former NBA player Thon Maker and his younger brother, Matur (who is also set to play for Sydney this season).

Born in Kenya to South Sudanese parents, Maker grew up in Perth and is an Australian citizen.

He was a consensus five-star recruit coming out of high school last year and made headlines when he became the highest-ranked recruit in the modern recruiting era to commit to a historically black college or university (HBCU), when he joined Howard University in Washington. 

After playing just two games with Howard – a stint limited by injury and COVID – Maker participated at this year’s NBA Draft Combine before withdrawing from the draft and joining the Kings on a Next Stars contract.


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">? YOUNG ? KING ?<br><br>The sky&#39;s the limit for <a href="">@SydneyKings</a>&#39; Next Star <a href="">@MakurMaker</a> ? <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBL22</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; The NBL (@NBL) <a href="">August 24, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>


Givony on Maker: Firstly, he's got great size. He measured 6-foot-11 and change at the combine (with a 9-foot-4 standing reach) and 232 pounds (105kg) so he's got legitimate NBA centre measurements. 

He's always been known for his skill level. He can handle the ball, he can make shots and he can create. His highlights have always been super impressive. Similarly to Hukporti, the talent is definitely there offensively. I'm just curious to see what kind of role he has for the Kings but he can put the ball in the basket for sure.

Givony on what Maker needs to show: It's who he guards defensively. He's always had these wide, thick hips with skinny legs and struggled to get out and defend on the perimeter. He's not really a rim protector and he's not a great athlete so, like any big guy that's trying to make the NBA, the number one question is on defence. Who is he going to guard? 

The other question is: can he find a more efficient style of play? He always had this really long leash playing at a very low level of competition. He never really played up against anybody of note, it was always these very small high schools and situations where everything was built entirely around showcasing him where wins and losses didn't matter. Now he's going to have to step into a very different situation where he’s going to have to play defence, he's going to have to pass, he’s going to have to take good shots. 

That's going to be really good for him and I'm excited to see how he looks just because he's been this guy that everybody's known about for years but he just hasn't really played at a very high level so we've just never really got a feel for what kind of player he actually is. 


Team: Perth Wildcats

Nationality: Australian

Age: 20

Height: 203cm (6’8”)

Position: Small Forward

Current 2022 NBA Draft Ranking (ESPN): Unranked 

Shades of: Andrei Kirilenko, Andre Iguodala, Sam Mackinnon 

Bio: After spending the past two years as a Development Player, Travers will step into a fully contracted role with Perth this season.

The athletic wing started 20 games for the Wildcats last season and was particularly effective late in the year when he averaged 10.9 points and 7.7 rebounds per game across his final seven games. 

Travers becoming the third-youngest player to record a double-double in an NBL playoff game earlier this year when he notched up 13 points and 10 rebounds in Game 2 of Perth’s Semi-Final series against Illawarra.


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">LUKE. TRAVERS.<br><br>Absolute scenes in The Jungle <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBLFinals</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; The NBL (@NBL) <a href="">June 14, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>


Givony on Travers: I really like the size, the passing ability, the versatility and the toughness. Just the grittiness to get in passing lanes and on the glass and out in the open court. He contributed to a really good team and made some big strides last year. Especially down the stretch, he was awesome for them (Perth).

Givony on what Travers needs to show: I'm just excited to see what his body looks like after not having watched him in six months or so. And what does his shot look like? I mean, being a guy who is a career 29 per cent three-point shooter, with that type of body… he's going to have to show that he can make shots. Because if he can’t make shots, he's not interesting at all for the NBA. He's done it at times, it’s just a matter of consistency for him.


Team: Adelaide 36ers

Nationality: Filipino

Age: 19

Height: 218cm (7’2”)

Position: Centre

Current 2022 NBA Draft Ranking (ESPN): Unranked 

Shades of: Brook Lopez, James Wiseman

Bio: The son of a former pro baller, Sotto is a rising star of Philippines basketball who has signed a multi-year deal with Adelaide as a ‘Special Restricted Player’.

The towering centre was a member of the NBA G-League Ignite squad last year, however parted ways with the team after competing with the Philippine National Team at the 2021 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers.

Earlier this year, Sotto represented his country at the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Belgrade, Serbia.


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">??? ?<br><br>The <a href="">@Adelaide36ers</a> got their Kai for <a href=";ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#NBL22</a>, the 7&#39;2 insanely skilled teenager from the Philippines, <a href="">@kzsottolive</a> <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; The NBL (@NBL) <a href="">April 21, 2021</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>


Givony on Sotto: He's huge. I mean, he's 7-foot-2 and he’s around 240 pounds (108kg). He's also really, really skilled. He can shoot the ball, he can handle it and he's got great touch around the rim. He has a 9-foot-2 standing reach and has shown some instincts at times as a rim protector. 

The bottom line is that when you’re 7’2” and you can put the ball in the basket, people are going to be interested in that.

Givony on what Sotto needs to show: I could see him staying two years (in Adelaide). I'm not sure that he's a guy that gets drafted right away. He's only 19. I always look at these guys through the lens of: if they were in college, how many years would they stay? After all, not every player goes to college and it's one and done. So, for him to go into the draft when he's 20 or 21? There will be nothing wrong with that.

The big thing for Sotto is showing that he can defend. Showing that he can stay at the level just in terms of the physicality and the toughness and holding his own as a rebounder. He's not a very athletic kid and so it’s just always going to be a challenge for him stepping out on the perimeter. He's not the longest guy around so he's going to have to make up for that with his basketball IQ and showing that he can be in the right spots at the right time. People are going to want to see more of that. 

Rucker on Sotto: The NBL hasn’t seen a guy of this age, at this height, with mobility, passing ability, handle and stroke. That’s combined with some orthodox back-to-the-basket game, including a sky hook with both hands. 

In terms of a player comp, Kristaps Porzingis comes to mind, but I believe, in time, Kai will be able to do more than just score from the perimeter. I truly see him triggering offences and possessing the aptitude to play as a really long point forward. For a historical comparison, he has shades of a young Chris Anstey about him.

The views on this page are those of the writer and other contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBL, its Clubs or partners.

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