2021 NBA Draft International Player Profiles: Josh Giddey, Alperen Sengun & Usman Garuba
Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Josh Giddey.
The NBA is an international game now, more than ever.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is an NBA champion and Finals MVP. Nikola Jokic is the reigning MVP, and he beat out Joel Embiid for the award. Luka Doncic is the early favorite for next season’s MVP.
Those four might be the collective faces of the NBA going forward — and they’re all international players.
For too long have NBA teams let international prospects slip much too far in the NBA Draft. Doncic was not the top pick. Antetokounmpo didn’t make the lottery. Jokic wasn’t even a first rounder. But with the international explosion, you can bet teams will be looking for the next star outside of the USA now more than ever.
There’s no international star in contention for the top pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, but three guys have separated themselves at the top of the class, each one of them a potential lottery selection.
So who are Josh Giddey, Alperen Sengun and Usman Garuba?
Josh Giddey NBA Draft Odds & Profile
|Draft Slot (Odds)||11.5 (over -150, under +120)|
|Odds as of Saturday via BetMGM.|
Giddey is the next big lead handler, and he is the whole package as a passer. He has outstanding vision, excellent feel for the game and decision making skills, and terrific timing and touch on his passes. Giddey can hit the pocket pass, throw a skip pass on the money, kick it out on a drive, or make the live-whip pass with either hand. He also has awesome processing speed.
Take a look at these three passes from Giddey. They came on consecutive possessions — from an 18-year-old. He’s a special passer.
These 3 passes from Josh Giddey came on 3 consecutive possessions. You don't even need to cherry pick his best passes to put together a highlight reel. There are obviously some '?', but he's still 18, and he's 6'8 with special feel, vision & PnR ability. Lottery guy for me. pic.twitter.com/YjFhEBOBwZ
— Draft Dummies (@DraftDummies) April 8, 2021
The question with Giddey is what else you’re getting outside of the passing. He’s 6-foot-8 so that helps with passing angles, but he’s a pretty underwhelming athlete. He doesn’t have much burst or vertical pop, and he has an unreliable and rudimentary handle. He’s never really relied on athletic advantage, though, and done just fine anyway with a shifty change of direction and speed.
His shot is also a long ways away, with a slow gather and release, a bit of a hitch and inconsistent, at best, results. Giddey is not a scorer, but you need the ball for all that passing to matter. NBA teams will go under every screen and dare Giddey to drive into the paint or shoot over them and make them pay. He can’t do much of either right now.
Giddey might also have a problem defensively. He is slow laterally, so he’s going to be too slow to stay in front of most guards, and he has a negative wingspan and plays smaller than his height. Giddey is a really intelligent player so he’s usually in the right place for team defense but often doesn’t have the athleticism to make the plays even when he’s in the right spot.
Still, Giddey is young and already playing good winning basketball in one of the best leagues in the world. Just look at this highlight package from his first game in the Australian NBL, when he had just turned 18:
Here are Josh Giddey’s highlights from his first preseason game: 13-8-6. It only took 24 minutes for him to become one of the NBL’s must-watch players. Poised as hell for someone who just turned 18.pic.twitter.com/JrnBKtjeXI
— Olgun Uluc (@OlgunUluc) November 13, 2020
If Giddey doesn’t develop athletically or improve his shot, he’s something like a taller Ricky Rubio or a caricature of what folks thought LaMelo Ball might be. Maybe he’s more of a connecting piece, like the other Ball, Lonzo. But at 18. years old, Giddey’s intelligence and feel combined with his incredible passing and vision give him a high floor, and he has many paths to improvement.
Giddey’s draft over/under is at 11.5, with juice to the over. Our Matt Moore reports Giddey’s range is from Nos. 6 to 14, but that he’s more likely to slip than to be reached for, with two of the most interested teams currently positioned outside the lottery. It’s a stay away for me.
Alperen Sengun NBA Draft Odds & Profile
|Draft Slot (Odds)||13.5 (over +160, under -200)|
|Odds as of Saturday via BetMGM.|
Alperen Sengun has been one of the draft’s biggest risers, and he’s still rising after a monster spring season in Turkey at age 18. Sengun averaged 19 points and nine rebounds on 62% shooting, with numbers comparable to guys like Jusuf Nurkic or Jokic in similar European leagues.
Production like that at such a young age is nearly unprecedented, and Sengun has incredible polish and skills, considering his youth. He has outstanding footwork and post moves. He loves to go to the drop step and has a great spin move he goes to often.
Sengun is also a skilled passer for his size, like most good European big men. He has a soft touch around the rim and shoots 81% from the line, so though he doesn’t shoot many 3-pointers yet, it’s fair to expect that to develop in time. Though he’s a little small at 6-foot-10 and more of a 4/5 tweener, he has the whole package as a big man prospect on offense.
Just look at some of the skills and polish on display by Sengun in these clips, and remember, this is an 18-year-old.
#NBA Prospect Alperen Sengun ('02) is one of the most interesting European Player for the next Draft.
Here is a clip of his ability as a roller: great technique, great IQ+ ability to read the coverage+ finishing.@EmilianoNaiar8 @lorenzoneri84 @IChytrzynski @Kuzeykg @AndBand7 pic.twitter.com/uMTj6go7y7
— Roberto Fois (@CoachFois) February 1, 2021
The defense is much more of a question mark. Sengun has short arms with a sub-7-foot wingspan. He’s too small to play center full-time in the NBA but not quick enough to play on the perimeter, so he may not have a position to defend. Size and defense matter more than anything else for NBA centers, and that’s not something Sengun can fix.
Sengun will likely need to play drop defense, and I’m not sure he’ll be particularly adept at it. He’s pretty ground-bound and isn’t especially quick or explosive as an athlete. European competition is higher caliber than most NCAA teams, but it doesn’t measure up athletically, and it’s a concern that Sengun looked a bit lead-footed even in Turkey at times.
The offense certainly should translate, and Sengun’s instincts and feel for the game will help a lot with defensive positioning. Still, he might be a guy who’s more valuable in the regular season than in games at the highest level. Think a smaller Nikola Vucevic or Enes Kanter, maybe a less-skilled Domantas Sabonis. All good players, and valuable in the right context, but only to an extent.
Here are a few more highlights from ESPN’s Mike Schmitz.
A few highlights from Alperen Sengun's 22-point, 10-rebound, 8-assist performance in a comeback playoff win over Tofas. Impressive stuff from an 18-year-old. Learn more about the potential lottery pick putting up huge numbers in Turkey: https://t.co/Q42fN9CJwm pic.twitter.com/Up76MqMtXK
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) May 14, 2021
Sengun is a high riser. You’re paying outrageous juice to grab the under-13.5 right now, but that shows you how quickly Sengun is shooting up the draft board. Our Matt Moore reports that at least one team is considering Sengun in the top 10 picks, with their analytics department rating him highly.
Usman Garuba NBA Draft Odds & Profile
|Draft Slot (Odds)||15.5 (over -150, under +120)|
|Odds as of Saturday via BetMGM.|
Usman Garuba is usually listed third of the 2021 international prospects, but he’s my personal favorite.
Garuba might be the single best defender in the entire draft. He’s a true power forward at 6-foot-8, but he has a huge wingspan and a 9-foot standing reach, so he should be able to play some small-ball center in time.
Garuba is a bundle of endless energy. He only plays at one speed, and that speed is bananas.
Garuba is a high-motor rebounder and an awesome shot blocker. He has a quick leap and avoids fakes well, and he stays extremely engaged in defense and fights to the last second. It feels like Garuba wins every 50-50 ball, and he’s constantly jumping passing lanes and poking the ball loose, boxing an opponent out, or tapping a rebound to a teammate.
Frankly, Garuba looks absolutely exhausting to play against. Watch him pick up this poor guard at three-quarter court:
i think i would hate playing basketball if Usman Garuba was on the other team pic.twitter.com/Ucbob2jHMK
— Chip Williams (@chipwilliamsjr) July 17, 2021
Now check out Garuba here, down 15 with a minute left of an exhibition game, still hustling to the end, tipping a rebound to keep it alive, chasing it down, and saving it to a teammate:
This is the Usman Garuba experience in a nutshell. Down 15 with less than 90 seconds left on a meaningless exhibition game, about one week away from the draft: still playing with energy, going for loose balls and 50/50 plays. There are no meaningless games/possessions for him. pic.twitter.com/TPG7FtSg9j
— Ignacio Rissotto (@eyreball) July 19, 2021
Oh, right, forgot to mention: 19-year-old Usman Garuba is already playing regular minutes for Spain. That’s the same Spain team that won three straight Olympic medals, the one that has ranked No. 2 in the FIBA rankings the entire cycle since the 2016 Olympics, behind only Team USA. That’s how good Garuba already is right now. That game was a week ago. You’ll see Garuba play real minutes in Tokyo.
Garuba is a four on defense but plays like a center on offense. He moves instinctively without the ball and likes to play in the dunker spot, but he’s mostly a play finisher, though a good one. I’m impressed with Garuba’s decision making and passing on the short roll. He doesn’t have much of a handle and can’t shoot yet. He’s also a good-not-great athlete, with a slower second jump and not a ton of vertical pop. He’ll be fine, but he’s not a freak, and his high energy play leaves him out of position at times.
All of that is fine for a 19-year-old kid still learning to play the game, though. Garuba screams Serge Ibaka to me, and it wouldn’t surprise if that’s who he’s modeled his game after since Ibaka is also a Spanish national. Garuba will be a real difference maker on defense. He can protect the rim and should be able to defend the pick and roll and switch a bit. He’s the exact sort of four I’d want next to a great offensive center like Jokic or Karl-Anthony Towns, where his defense is badly needed and his offense won’t clog the paint.
Check out Garuba’s overall game in this series of clips from Spain’s game against Team USA last week. You get a couple nice early buckets off good movement, an ugly corner 3, and some energy rebounds and defense:
🇪🇸6’8 F Usman Garuba looked like an immediate impact NBA player in his exhibition vs the US. Garuba was given the task of guarding KD and looks like a lottery pick in the upcoming ‘21 Draft #NBADraft @destusman1 pic.twitter.com/4xuHxcuC4j
— Intuition Hoops (@IntuitionHoops) July 22, 2021
It’s tough to get a read on a good landing spot for Garuba. I’d love to see him in Denver, Minnesota, Chicago or Dallas next to one of those offensive-minded centers, but only the Nuggets still have their first-round pick.
Houston could make some sense at No. 23 or 24 next to Christian Wood. I’d lean over with Garuba based on a lack of clear buzz for now, but he’s a lottery prospect on my board.