2022 NBA Draft: Seven prospects with Aussie links
Aussie hoops fans will be watching out for Dyson Daniels, but there are other prospects linked to the landscape, who are waiting to hear their name called.
Credit: JBC Studios
The 2022 NBA draft will be a major milestone for Aussie hoops, not just in terms of NBA representation and future Boomers prospects, but also as a reflection of the overall talent development in Australia. In addition to local hopefuls like Dyson Daniels and Luke Travers, NBL imports Hugo Besson, Kai Sotto and Ousmane Dieng will be putting their hands up for selection, while college underclassmen Bennedict Mathurin and HyunJung Lee - who have links to Canberra’s NBA Global Academy - are also in the mix.
Lottery candidates (top 14 picks)
Dyson Daniels (G League Ignite)
By now, it’s no secret that Dyson Daniels will be the face of this draft, for Australian basketball fans and local media outlets. The Bendigo product (earlier interview) has enjoyed a late charge up the draft boards, in a manner reminiscent of Josh Giddey last year, largely thanks to a show of athleticism at the 2022 NBA draft combine. Most mock drafts have Daniels ranked in the 5-10 range, with Jonathan Givony ranking him seventh in ESPN's latest iteration, so it's hardly surprising that the Aussie has been invited to the green room — reserved for top prospects and their families — on draft night.
I covered Daniels’ rise to NBA lottery fame and his perceived high ceiling in a recent predraft analysis.
At the next level, Daniels projects as a lead guard on offence, who can comfortably guard positions 1-3 on defence thanks to his footspeed, 6’10’’ wingspan and 6’8 frame (in shoes). He will go down as a major success story for the G League Ignite program, perhaps serving a major blow to the NBL's Next Stars initiative, and its appeal to top tier Aussie prospects in future years.
Bennedict Mathurin (NBA Academy, University of Arizona)
Mathurin is a well-travelled prospect who grew up in Montreal, Canada before getting noticed by the then-fledgling NBA Academy network. He subsequently developed his craft at the NBA Academy Latin America in Mexico City, and linked up with Canberra's NBA Global Academy squad over the 2019-20 summer. Mathurin joined forces with Josh Giddey to help the Global Academy win the prestigious 2020 Torneo Junior L'Hospitalet, and Academy technical director Marty Clarke was impressed with his potential.
“I first met Ben at the G League showcase, when we take our group over there and we mix the academies around, and play in a couple of tournaments. I was able to coach him for a couple of years, in 2018 and 2019. And then he also came to the tournament in Barcelona, with us,” Clarke shared. “So I’ve seen Ben’s growth from a really good athletic player, that can get on the rim, [but] almost exclusively went left at that stage, to a player that plays very maturely now. He can shoot it, he can shoot it in transition [and] he comes off screens. Great body, great athlete, good rebounder and certainly in that tournament in Barcelona, [he made himself known]. I know Giddey won the MVP, [but] Ben made the All-Star 5 [team]. They were a pretty lethal combination, with a few others, among which Dyson was a young player in that team, as well.”
Mathurin wasn't quite on the NBA draft radar when he started his rookie season at the University of Arizona, but by his sophomore year he was the best player in his conference, winning Pac-12 player of the year honours. Most mock drafts predict that he won't fall out of the lottery, and that's hardly surprising as Clarke saw NBA level athleticism when Mathurin was a relatively unknown junior. In fact, the Canadian was so impressive that plans were hatched to bring him down under.
“He was definitely an NBA-caliber athlete, the first time I saw him. I was like wow, this guy is a big, long wing that could play way above the rim. And he would have likely come to the Global Academy if COVID-19 hadn’t hit. That was the beginning of 2020, that we took him to Barcelona. There were certainly plans around bringing him down [to Canberra] for a year, but then COVID hit and we couldn’t get anyone in.
“The Latin American Academy has done a fantastic job with him, as have the University of Arizona, to continue to not just get his body and his skills right, but it was really a matter of getting [on top of] Ben’s mental approach to the game. It seems that now, he is ready to play in the biggest league.”
For more details, read my Mathurin feature from April.
Ousmane Dieng (New Zealand Breakers)
Dieng, the NBL's first French Next Star, overcame a slow start to the 2021-22 season and solidified his position as a first round pick. The 19 year old offers an intriguing blend of length, athleticism and an improving jump shot.
Dieng shot 20% from the field through his first eight NBL games and saw inconsistent playing time, but the catalyst for change was a 30-minute outing against Tasmania on the 30th of January. Breakers head coach Dan Shamir showed increased faith in his French import from that night onwards, and Dieng made the most of his final thirteen NBL games. With averages of 12.8 points and 4.0 rebounds on 48% shooting over this span, Dieng clung onto his first round pick status, and looks set to join an NBA roster.
At face value, Dieng’s length and speed allowed him to accrue high percentage buckets at the rim, but he often showed versatility by deploying a floater from close range. The lanky forward also improved his three point shot throughout the season, making 21 of 60 (35%) over his final thirteen games. Outside shooting will be a key swing skill for the Frenchman in pre-draft workouts, as he aims to push his stock up into the mid-lottery range.
Dieng is a project in terms of skill level, with his left hand and ball handling being key areas for improvement in addition to his jumper. However, given the success of lanky athletic projects like Giannis Antetokoumnpo, there will always be an NBA team swinging for the fences in the first round. ESPN’s latest mock draft has him joining the Oklahoma City Thunder at pick 12, so expect to hear Dieng’s name called out in the late lottery range.
The 19 year old’s game was also recently discussed in detail on Michael Houben’s Next Star Review.
Second round hopefuls (picks 30-60)
Hugo Besson (New Zealand Breakers)
Although not officially a member of the NBL’s Next Stars program, Besson joined the NBL with hopes of boosting his NBA draft stock. The 6’3 combo guard is a score-first player who can function as a secondary playmaker, and looks set to be a second round pick in the upcoming draft. ESPN have ranked him 41st in their Best Available list, but others are less optimistic, with the The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie sneaking him into the second round at 56th, and Sport Illustrated’s Jeremy Woo leaving him out of the top 60 entirely.
Besson remains a polarising player. Questions linger on multiple facets, from his jump shot to shot selection, defensive ability and size at the two guard. He averaged 13.9 points and 2.3 assists for the Breakers, but shooting splits of 39% from the field and 31% from beyond the arc — on 6.2 three-point attempts per game — leave a lot to be desired. Besson is very much a cavalier shotmaker who will not hesitate to launch a three with a hand in his face, or off a step back dribble.
Even when factoring in the degree of difficulty on his shots, one could raise questions as to whether Besson is a talented isolation scorer, or a gunslinger who settles for challenging looks. He also struggled to lift a struggling Breakers team which finished on a 5-23 record, although the same could be said for his compatriot Ousmane Dieng. While it would be a major endorsement for the NBL to see Besson make a 2022-23 NBA roster, it’s more likely he will be stashed in the G League or overseas. Perhaps a return to the NBL may even be on the cards.
Besson was also recently covered by The Pick and Roll’s Michael Houben in his 2022 Next Star Review.
HyunJung Lee (NBA Global Academy, Davidson)
Hyunjung Lee is South Korea's next great NBA hope, and yet another notable graduate of Canberra's NBA Global Academy. The perimeter forward is known for his three-point marksmanship, with a game reminiscent of Golden State Warriors swingman Klay Thompson.
Marty Clarke, who spent two years with Lee in Canberra, witnessed his growth from pure shooter to NBA prospect over a span of two years. “Hyunjung is basically what they look for in the NBA. He’s a 6’8.5’’ [forward], shoots the lights out, and gets it off really quickly, with a really high release. He’s actually got more to his game than that, but because that’s the thing that stands out, that’s what people have pegged him as - [a lot of people say] oh, he’s just a shooter.
“He’s actually better in the areas of playmaking and rebounding than most people realise. He is an elite cutter, and obviously a great spacer of the floor with his shooting. He was down here [in Canberra] for two years, and then went to the University of Davidson.”
After three years at Davidson under coach Bob Mackillop (earlier story), who once mentored a young Stephen Curry, Lee has taken a leap of faith by entering the 2022 NBA draft. He averaged 15.8 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 47% from the field and 38% from downtown - on 6.2 three point attempts per game - in a productive junior season.
Most mock drafts have Lee missing selection, with ESPN ranking him 89th on their Best Available list, but don't discount the possibility of a late second selection. Lee's jump shot gives him a definite NBA skill, and may be a point of difference over more versatile, jack of all trades type players, who don't have a clear cut NBA skill.
Kai Sotto (Adelaide 36ers)
Sotto carries the weight of a nation’s expectations, as the Philippines’ next best hope of producing a home-grown NBA player. He arrived in Adelaide a relative unknown, with a two year NBL contract that saw him listed as a “Special Restricted Player”, but quickly exceeded expectations by making an impact as a reserve. The 7’3 centre averaged 7.5 points and 4.5 rebounds across 23 NBL games, while shooting 50% from the field and averaging just 15 minutes.
Sotto may be a lefty but can score with either hand around the basket, and his 7’5 wingspan gives him an advantage on the glass. However, questions have been raised about his mobility in the open court, jump shot and rim protection ability - despite averaging a respectable 0.8 blocks in the NBL. With the NBA’s evolution into a shooter’s league, Sotto will have to show more than just an interior offensive presence, especially as he isn’t known for explosive athleticism.
The 20 year old was left off top 100 prospect rankings by both ESPN and Sports Illustrated, suggesting he is currently some way off earning selection. Nevertheless, the Filipino big man is working out for NBA teams and hoping to sneak into the back end of the second round. The most likely outcome is that Sotto returns to Adelaide for the second year of his deal, but stranger things have happened on draft night.
Luke Travers (Perth Wildcats)
Luke Travers is one of Australia’s top junior players, and at the young age of 20 logged important minutes for the Perth Wildcats last season. The versatile forward averaged 7.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists in the 2021-22 NBL season, where he filled the stat sheet in numerous ways. Travers shot 42% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc, on 2.5 three-point attempts per game.
Travers is currently working out for NBA teams, in a bid to sneak into the second round, but draft analysts would suggest that’s currently a long shot. The Aussie is ranked 100th in ESPN’s Best Available list, and has almost universally been left off mock drafts, but the predraft process will give him invaluable feedback for the long term. Travers projects as a jack of all trades player who can contribute in various ways, both on and off the ball, and on both ends of the floor, but will need to develop a definitive NBA skill to join the world’s best league.
Joe Ingles, who joined the Utah Jazz after spending several years in the NBL and Europe, is likely the blueprint for Travers. The former built up an impressive resume after missing NBA draft selection in 2009, and there’s no reason Travers can’t do the same if he returns to Australia and resumes his place on the Wildcats roster. Marty Clarke, who briefly coached Travers at Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence, credited his former pupil’s athleticism, but identified his jump shot as an area for improvement.
“[Travers is a] long athlete, and an easy athlete. [He’s] not the guy that looks like he’s working hard, probably because the game and movement come so easy to him. He can cover space both vertically, but also horizontally across the floor, and he does it with ease. Obviously he’s still got to work on his shooting, and that has gotten better, but his ability to get to the hoop [stands out],” Clarke said.