It wasn't that long ago 6-foot-8 Australian point guard Josh Giddey's objective was to play in the NBL — not the NBA.
The Melbourne native had his country's National Basketball League in mind when it came to career goals, but his game kept improving — and eventually so did his goals.
"I was good at basketball but I just didn't think I’d be in the position I am now," Giddey said. "My goal was to be a good NBL player. The NBA was always a dream, but it didn’t become a reality until probably six to 12 months ago."
The 18-year-old Giddey is among another crop of intriguing international prospects expected to hear their names called in the NBA draft on Thursday. Other projected first-round selections are Usman Garuba, a center/power forward from Spain, and Alperen Sengun, a center from Turkey.
Some NBA fans may not know their names yet, as was the case with some other gems that have come from the international pool of players in recent years like Luka Doncic (3rd overall pick in 2018), Nikola Jokic (41st overall in 2014) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (15th overall in 2013).
Giddey, considered one of the best passers in the draft, had turned down college offers and instead chose to play this past season for the Adelaide 36ers.
It's looking like it was a good decision.
In 28 games, he averaged 10.9 points, 7.4 rebounds, a league-leading 7.6 assists, and 3.3 turnovers per game.
"Playing against grown men at an early age I thought would fast-track my development," Giddey said in a pre-draft media session online.
He also credits the NBA Global Academy with developing his game and putting him on the radar with scouts.
Here’s a look at some of the top international prospects:
With the ball in his hands, he always seems to be under control and makes great decisions.
STRENGTHS: He's a lanky 205 pounds and not super explosive like other prospects, but makes up for it with, as they say, a high basketball IQ. "I’m not a big highlight reel kind of guy. I’m a team-first playmaking guard," he said. "My game is kind of as you see it. Passing is my biggest strength ... in the NBA because the court is so much more spaced and spread out — it’s going to allow me to get into the paint and make some more reads, whether that’s scoring on the read myself or hitting teammates."
CONCERNS: A knock on Giddey is his shooting, which is a work in progress. He shot 43% overall and just 29.3% from the 3-point line in a fairly small sample size (29 of 99 from long range). He admits he had a slow start to the NBL season.
"It took me a little while to find my feet," he said "I think the shooting thing about me is a bit exaggerated. I started the year so bad it was hard for me to catch up percentage-wise."
Giddey didn't make it to Japan for the Olympics, but Usman Garuba is playing in the Tokyo Games for Spain alongside Pau Gasol, Ricky Rubio and company.
STRENGTHS: With his 6-foot-8, 230-pound frame, defense is one of Garuba's calling cards. The Real Madrid power/forward center only turned 19 in March and already has two full seasons under his belt in the highly respected Spanish domestic league and the EuroLeague,
CONCERNS: He averaged 5.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game in the Spanish league last season, with slightly lower averages in the EuroLeague. He averaged 7.2 rebounds per game in the EuroLeague playoffs. But he has shown steady improvement. His EuroLeague averages last season were 4 points, 4 rebounds, 0.7 blocks and 0.6 steals in just over 16 minutes per game — good enough to win the "rising star" award as voted by coaches.
"To me, that was one of the most impressive things — watching what he was doing in the EuroLeague playoffs against Efes — switching out on those guards, it’s tricky," said Will Voigt, who coached in Germany last season with Bonn. "He not only held his own, but was making plays. To see those flashes at that age, at that level, is pretty impressive. He can guard 1 through 5."
Alperen Sengun is a 6-foot-9, 240-pound "old school" center/power forward. He models his game after Tim Duncan and Shaquille O’Neal, as well as current bigs Nikola Jokic and Joel Embiid, he said.
STRENGTHS: His upside. He just turned 19 on Sunday, which means he was all of 18 years old when he won the MVP award of the Turkish league last season with Besiktas. He averaged 18.6 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks in 34 games in 2020-21. Sengun has great footwork, an array of low-post moves, finishes deftly with both hands, and is a good passer.
CONCERNS: He's not a good long-distance shooter and lacks quickness, especially defensively. "I have to improve my pick-and-roll defense and my switching defense," he said through a translator in a pre-draft media session Monday.
Belgium is a hotspot for waffles — not usually for NBA prospects. Vrenz Bleijenbergh and Amar Sylla hope to change that. Bleijenbergh had flown a bit under the radar, but not anymore. The 6-foot-10 playmaker has been posting on his social media accounts about his pre-draft workouts — more than a dozen. For Antwerp last season, the 20-year-old averaged 9.5 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists per game and shot 33.5% from distance. In tweets Saturday, he cited draft day and indicated a surprise was in store, posting: "I can’t wait for the day that I prove all of the people that doubted me wrong." Sylla is another Belgium-based prospect that could find his way onto an NBA roster. The 6-foot-9 power forward is a Senegal native and played for Oostende last season.