Aday Mara, the 7-3, 245lb 18-year-old center from Spain has been rumored to be heading to UCLA in advance of the 2024 NBA Draft. That big move however, is on hold has he tries to get free from his contact with his current team Casademont Zaragoza. If all goes as planned he’ll be one of the most intriguing prospects in college basketball next season.
But will he live up to all of the hype that surrounds him? How will his game translate to college ball and eventually the NBA? How good is Aday Mara really?
I’ve had him listed as a lottery pick in the 2024 draft for a while now and I am a full believer in his talents. However next year’s draft class is notably weak, so being projected as one of the top 14 picks doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a franchise altering talent. It should also be noted that some other major 2024 mock drafts out there either don’t have him listed at all or have him in the late first round. There is no consensus at this point.
My evaluation of Mara is that he grades out as a potential starting-level center in the NBA with upside beyond that; that isn’t the type of player that is guaranteed to be taken in the top 10 of a draft but again, next year could be different. There was a time way back when (2013) that I had Alex Len as my projected no.1 overall pick. Of course that would have been a terrible first pick, but not nearly as bad as drafting Anthony Bennett at no.1, good lord! Len ended up getting drafted at no.5 (an obscure forward named Giannis went no.15). But I digress.
My point is that taking a potentially really good player ahead of some boom or bust players can often be the right move.
Last year at about this time I took a closer look at Victor Wembanyama and gave some NBA player comparisons for him. It was clear at that point that he was an elite, generational talent. The same cannot be said for Mara, although he brings some of the same attributes to the table. Still, he’s a very interesting international big man prospect who deserves some closer attention.
Aday Mara’s Physical Profile
Mara is not only 7-3 with good length but he’s already up to about 245lbs and he’s got the type of frame that should fill out well over the next few years. He’s not nearly as agile as Wembanyama (no player that size is) and his lack of speed/agility could be a major factor at the next level. He’s not ultra-switchable and is kind of a lumbering straight-line runner. We’ll see if he can gain some lower body strength and agility over the next couple of seasons.
Mara uses his size well and is a force in the paint. He’s very skilled around the basket, dunking almost everything and showing enough strength to take contact and still power through to the rim. As he matures and grows into his frame he’ll be able to take even more contact. And his size is also a major factor on the defensive end.
Aday Mara Has An Elite Skill
But I’m burying the lead here. Mara does have an elite skill that separates him from almost every other 7-0+ center that has come through the draft in recent years. He is a sensational passer with elite court vision, feel for the game and play-making skills. His great size and long arms allow him to make passes over and around defenders, and he’s got pinpoint accuracy, almost always hitting his teammates right in the hands. He plays with his head up and is always looking to drop dimes.
The modern NBA game is all about having a big post player operate as an offensive hub, drawing the defense and hitting open shooters and cutters. I think Mara will do this well. It might be unusual to draft a 7-3 center for his passing but I think teams will really covet this skill and have him high on their boards, even if some of the other aspects of his game don’t come along as quickly or project as readily to the NBA level.
Offensive Skill Set
There’s much more to Mara’s offensive game than just elite passing. He’s a constant threat in the paint and merely needs to puts his arms up to be at the rim. He catches the ball well and is always a threat for lobs and passes over the defense – even though he isn’t a super quick leaper or a vertically explosive athlete.
And his offensive skill set fits the modern NBA well. He’s already a capable floor spacer who can step out and hit the 3. This part of his game is still a work in progress but what he’s showing now as an 18 year-old bodes well for his future.
He also shows a very good looking mid range game. This is where my first comparison (see below) comes in. Although the mid range jumper isn’t as valued in the modern game it can still be a major weapon, especially when combined with elite passing ability.
Overall Mara’s offensive game is really solid. He not only has the size, the passing and the ability to put the ball in the basket but he just knows how to play. He sets good screens, creates good angles and spacing and is overall a major plus on the offensive end of the court. He’s very effective at rolling to the basket off of screens and has good touch on the shots that he’s not able to dunk.
Aday Mara’s Defense
On the defensive end Mara is a game-changer in the lane, altering and rejecting a ton of shots and overall just being an intimidator in the paint. As mentioned above, he’s not a very quick leaper but when you’re 7-3 with length…who cares!
He’s developing the strength to hold his own against NBA size/power and should do just fine, once his frame fills out.
The biggest question mark in Aday Mara’s game is his ability to guard in space, defend the pick and roll and switch onto guards when needed. If he ends up at UCLA he’ll be playing alongside Adem Bona who is one of the most athletic and versatile big man defenders you’ll ever see. This could help mask some of Mara’s weaknesses if they play together in big lineups – or it could highlight Mara’s lack of agility and perimeter defense.
As a NBA defender expect Mara to be closer to a Jacob Poeltl or Kristaps Porzingis and not the next Joel Embiid.
NBA Comparisons For Aday Mara
There are two main comparisons that I have for Aday Mara: Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Pau Gasol.
Zydrunas Ilgauskas was a player before his time. The 7-3 Lithuanian was skilled with the ball in his hands, had great touch from mid range and was a very good passer. Big Z was never a dominant force but provided many years of value for the Cavs, after being selected with the 20th pick in 1996. He was a solid defender in the paint, a good rebounder, and overall just a quality big man with a modern-type game.
Pau Gasol: Aday Mara also compares in some ways to fellow Spaniard Pau Gasol. He’s a bit taller and not quite as mobile as Gasol and it remains to be seen if he develops into the type of offensive force that Gasol was at the height of his career but they have similar skill-sets and overall similar games. Like Gasol, Mara is an advanced passer/facilitator who can operate as an offensive hub. Comparing this kid to a Hall of Famer is a stretch but there are enough similarities there to at least warrant the discussion.
A third name I’ll through out there is Arvydas Sabonis. For those who don’t remember, Domantas Sabonis’ father was a sensational passer and play-maker. At 7-4 he was a monster in the paint, with good touch at the rim, very good mid range shooting and that elite passing ability. He also had tree trunks for legs, something Mara will have to work to develop.
If Mara can reach an outcome somewhere in the range of these three players he’ll be a very good value in next year’s lottery. But a lot will depend on him developing his lower body strength and his overall athleticism/agility.
Take a look at the highlight video below to see what you think.
UCLA Has Elite NBA Level Talent
If Mara ends up at UCLA he’ll be joining a number of other big time talents on the roster, including a few talented international players. The return of Adem Bona for year two only adds to the depth of talent.
This spring UCLA landed a very highly touted French wing, Ilane Fibleuil, who is a fluid and bouncy 6-6 athlete with great NBA level tools. He has a chance to be a one and done or two year player with first round upside.
And they recently added Lithuanian Jan Vide, a 6-6 combo guard who just won the MVP of the Junior Euroleague while playing for Real Madrid. Vide could be a one and done 2024 draft pick.
The Bruins also return a very underrated young point guard in Dylan Andrews, who is poised for a breakout season.
Italian wing Abamo Canka is also an interesting along term prospect, as is 6-10 Mac Etienne, both of whom will be entering their sophomore seasons with the Bruins. Plus a handful of other nice talents will be on next years team.
But Aday Mara could be the cream of the crop and could be a star next year for the Bruins if he manages to break free from his current contract situation.
Here’s my latest 2024 NBA Mock Draft
And here’s an in-depth look at the potential strengths and weaknesses of the 2024 NBA Draft class.
Thanks for reading!