France is the new Canada.
About a decade ago we saw a big increase in the talent level coming out of Canada, with Canadians featured on many top college teams and making an annual splash in the NBA Draft.
Now there is a new hotbed of talent coming into the NBA and this country is not just bringing in role players but stars and superstars.
A generation after Tony Parker (who was actually born in Belgium to a Dutch mother and an American father, but then grew up in France) paved the way, France is now a country loaded with up-and-coming basketball talent. French players will be selected at or near the top of the next two drafts, with plenty of other first and second round prospects coming up as well.
Here is a closer look at some of the top French players for the next three NBA drafts:
French Prospects In The 2023 NBA Draft
French prospects will play a major role in the 2023 NBA Draft starting right at the top with sure-fire no.1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama who is one of the top prospects to ever enter the NBA. Wembanyama is freaky-elite, with skills and abilities that are hard to comprehend. Actually seeing him in a NBA uniform, in a NBA game is going to be mind-blowing. More on Victor here
Victor’s teammate on Metropolitans 92, Bilal Coulibaly is a likely first round pick as well. The high flying 6-8 wing has raw athleticism and upside potential while also having some productive moments for the Mets this season, especially over the second half of the season. With Bilal it’s all about the elite tools and athletic ability that he shows. He’s smooth, graceful, fast and explosive on the court and easily looks the part of a high level NBA small forward. Only 18 years old, Bilal has a lot of development left to do including tightening up his handle, gaining a better feel for the game and polishing his outside shot. He’s far from a finished product but all indications are that he’s on his way to being a big time player.
Rayan Rubert played this past season for the New Zealand Breakers where he showed off his high level defensive abilities and emerging offensive game. The 6-7 wing with a colossal 7-3 wingspan missed a chunk of time with a wrist injury, which slowed down his development a bit, but he came back and showed some really nice flashes, especially on the defensive end. He’s the type of big, rangy wing that NBA teams love to develop. Becoming a knockdown shooter will be the major swing skill for Rubert and it remains to be seen how is offensive play-making will come around but as a baseline you get a strong defender and a great transition player.
Cidy Sissoko just keeps flying under the radar but he could end up as one of the better players from this 2023 draft. After a somewhat slow start with the G League Ignite Cidy came on strong over the second half, often looking like the best player on the court. He’s a burly 6-8 wing with some guard skills, the ability to take his man off the bounce and the power to finish in traffic. He’s a terrific defender with great versatility on that end of the court. For the season he shot just 30% from 3pt land, so there’s room for improvement. He did demonstrate nice passing instincts and feel for the game, going for 3.6 assists per game, against 1.9 turnovers.
French Prospects In The 2024 NBA Draft
Looking ahead to the 2024 draft there are a handful of high-level French prospects including Zaccharie Risacher who projects as a possible top 5 pick. While he’s certainly no Victor Wembanyama, Risacher has star upside and might be the top international prospect next year. The 6-8 1/2 wing is lethal with the ball in his hands and makes the game look easy. He can put the ball in the basket from 3 levels and has an ease and a naturalness to his game. At the recent Nike Hoops Summit he was a bit slow to find his footing (being the youngest player on the world team) but came on stronger as the week went by and showed off his shot-making, passing and terrific defense.
Tidjane Salaun was born in 2005 and could enter the 2024 draft or wait until 2025. He’s one of the more impressive power forward prospects in Europe, showing really good mobility, a lot of toughness and he plays with good energy on the court. He’s a long and springy athlete who plays inside and out on offense and flashes some wing potential. His outside shot is a bit slow but he can hit the 3 and shows a lot of promise in this area. He’s also a versatile defender who can guard in space and excels in an up-tempo game.
Alexandre Sarr is a name that might sound familiar (his older brother Olivier played for Wake Forest and Kentucky). The younger Sarr has been honing his talents in the OTE league for the past two seasons and is a projected second round pick in 2024. At 6-11 with a wiry frame and solid athleticism, Sarr has the size and physical tools for the NBA.
Illan Pietrus – Mickael Pietrus’ nephew is a steady and mature point guard with a good frame, decent open court speed and court vision. He’s not a high-end prospect but could get looks in the second round. Has a smooth jumper and keeps the defense honest with his outside shot.
Killian Malwaya has been a name in scouting circles for a while and seems to be finally starting to find his footing. The 6-6 shooting guard has excellent position size, good athleticism and is really emerging as a scorer. The tools are all there, let’s see if he can continue to progress. His upside is as a first rounder but at this point I’d project him more as a second rounder.
French Prospects In The 2025 NBA Draft
Looking even farther ahead there are a handful of French prospects that I project to be in the 2025 draft. Some of these players are 2005 born, meaning they would be eligible for the 2024 draft, but might need an extra year of development before declaring for the draft.
One of my favorite upcoming international prospects is 2005 born Illane Fibleuill, a highly athletic, skilled and talented 6-6 wing with intriguing upside, who recently signed with UCLA. It wouldn’t surprise me if he starts getting a lot of draft buzz over the next year or so. Fibleuill is a high level shot-maker with an advanced offensive game and all the tools to make it in the league. He should be in line for minutes next season with the Bruins, who are loosing a number of stars from this year’s team.
Noa Essengue is a hyper-mobile 6-8 small forward who excels in an up-tempo game. He’s a great finisher in transition, uses both hands around the rim and is a blur in the open court. He also shows flashes of a nice 3pt shot and some play-making ability. Born in late 2006, Essengue is very young with a lot of good basketball ahead of him. He could be a 2025 draft prospect, or even 2026.
Mohamed Diakite is a long and mobile athlete who has great physical tools but a long ways to go before being draft ready. Born in 2006, Diakite is at least a few years away from entering the draft so he’s got time to hone his skills and develop his game. But the promise and the upside are there.
One even younger prospect to keep an eye on is 2007-born forward Oscar Wembanyama, the younger brother of Victor.
I’m sure I’ve missed a few key prospects so give a shout on twitter if you have any names to add to this list.
France is certainly not the only international hotbed of basketball talent. Canada is still putting players into the NBA, as are Spain, Senegal, Nigeria, Mali, Serbia, Croatia, Congo, Cameroon, Australia and more. With so many of the top NBA players coming from overseas the game has truly gone global and overseas scouting is more important than ever.
Basketball Is Love
And perhaps the spread of basketball around the globe will bring with it some of the unwritten rules and values that the game of basketball embodies: love, respect and sportsmanship; values that cross all national, political, racial and cultural boundaries.
Let’s keep spreading the love.