"Can he be good enough defensively to go against the future of the game?"

5 Nov

Ariel Hukporti isn't yet the "Wemby stopper" that NBA scouts are scouring the globe to get their hands on.

Realistically, he might never be.

A growing number of seasoned pros are finding out first-hand that defending Victor Wembanyama - the 224cm No.1 draft pick tipped to change basketball forever - is a tough ask.

But plenty of talent spotters are keeping close tabs on Melbourne United's hulking German-Togolese Next Star just in case.

A steady stream of NBA representatives have been through the NBL club's Sandringham training facility this season to cast an eye over Hukporti.

"Everyone's kind of like, 'We're not sleeping on Ariel, but we've loved seeing the progress that he's making'," Melbourne coach Dean Vickerman said.

"I keep talking to Ariel (about the fact) that everyone's looking for a 'Wemby stopper' right now.

"Can he be good enough defensively to go against the future of the game? We have a bit of fun with that."

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Nearly a third of the way through NBL24 &amp; Next Star Ariel Hukporti continues to impress game after game.<br>The big man currently sits atop NewsCorp&#39;s Next Star Power Rankings &amp; Dean Vickerman today said he should be in all conversations for the DPOY award - <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Melbourne United (@MelbUnited) <a href="">November 2, 2023</a></blockquote> <script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Taking a more serious tone, Vickerman is quick to highlight Hukporti's credentials as a genuine NBA prospect.

The 21-year-old centre has fought his way back from a ruptured achilles, which ruined his 2022/23 campaign, and has put a huge stamp on the NBL for ladder-leading Melbourne this season.

Hukporti is firmly in calculations for the league's defensive player of the year award.

"He's got the best defensive rating in the league, he's protecting the rim, he's challenging shots - he's doing a lot of things," Vickerman said.

"That's where we want him, and if that's a chance to get him to the NBA - being the best defender in this league - then we hope it does."

NBA championship-winning guard Matthew Dellavedova has no doubt his Melbourne teammates Hukporti and Luke Travers both have what it takes to make the step on to the big stage.

"Big A and LT can definitely play in the NBA," Dellavedova said.

"(I've seen) Big A's growth in his talk and communication and understanding.

"He's always had the physical tools, but with all the work he's put in upstairs in the gym ... he's come back (from injury) stronger and more athletic.

"I think he'll do great (when he gets to the NBA). He can sit down and guard guards, use his length, and he's so strong.

"The biggest thing for him is going to be guarding pick-and-rolls, and I think he's shown all year that he's done a great job of that."

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