The next NBA No. 1 draft pick is playing on Australian soil, according to many basketball pundits.
French teenager Alexandre Sarr has rocketed up draft boards in recent months and will ply his trade for the Perth Wildcats in the new NBL season, which tipped off on the weekend.
Rated a top five prospect, Sarr is seen as having some of the most upside in a wide open draft class that doesn’t boast a generational talent like Victor Wembanyama, who was drafted to the San Antonio Spurs.
Playing alongside established stars including Bryce Cotton and Keanu Pinder, the 18-year-old is in the perfect spot to develop his game without needing to be the main man for the Wildcats.
“I would have Alex Sarr as a top three guy right now on my board,” The Athletic’s NBA draft analyst Sam Vecenie said on the Game Theory Podcast.
“I think Alex Sarr is a genuine contender to go No. 1 overall in this draft… depending on who gets that number one overall pick, they could really sell themselves on Alex Sarr being the best long-term asset in this draft.
“Alex Sarr is a joke defensively. He is so, so advanced for a teenager playing in a professional league. I was like ‘this guy has a feel for the game and an innate understanding of the moment’.”
NBL General Manager of Next Stars Recruitment Liam Santamaria told news.com.au: “He has genuinely shifted into the conversation to be the No. 1 pick. Whether he ends up being that guy or it’s top three or top five, there’s a lot of water to go under the bridge.
“But he has unbelievable physical tools. NBA scouts have been really impressed by his approach to the game. You can see he’s become more aggressive out there on the floor.”
Another teenager to watch out for is 17-year-old Rocco Zikarsky, who barely has to jump to dunk the ball thanks to his 7-foot-3 (220cm) height.
“He has the chance to become the next great Australian big man on the international stage following in the footsteps of guys like Andrew Bogut, Luc Longley, Aron Baynes,” Santamaria said.
“That’s the kind of talent he has. He’s young. He’s going to be first eligible for the NBA Draft in 2025 so he’s going to play a minimum of two years in the NBL before making that jump. He’s got an unbelievable amount of upside.”
Ripped Delly out for revenge
Melbourne United are one of the favourites for the championship and began their campaign with a dominant win over cross-town rivals SEM Phoenix.
With a stacked roster featuring the returning Matthew Dellavedova, Shea IIi, Luke Travers, Chris Goulding, Ariel Hukporti and Jo Lual-Acuil, United will take some serious stopping this season.
Dellavedova was a surprise omission from the Boomers squad for the recent FIBA World Cup, and the veteran looks fitter than ever after returning from a season with the Sacramento Kings in the NBA.
Can the Sydney Kings three-peat?
Three-peats are extremely rare in the NBL, in fact it’s only happened twice — the Sydney Kings in 2003-05 and the New Zealand Breakers in 2011-13.
The Kings are the two-time reigning champions but face an uphill without Xavier Cooks, Vasiljevic, Derrick Walton Jr, and coach Chase Buford, who have all departed.
They welcome back former NBL MVP Jaylen Adams and have enough depth to make finals and challenge for three titles in a row.
Elsewhere, the Tasmania JackJumpers and New Zealand Breakers pride themselves on their defence and are expected to feature in the pointy end of the season.
Although the Breakers are more of a legitimate championship contender thanks to a talented roster headlined by Will McDowell-White.
But 2018 NBL champion Peter Hooley believes the lack of continuity could actually play in the Kings’ favour as they aim for a three-peat.
“I think they can definitely do it,” Hooley told news.com.au.
“Losing a few pieces and the coach is probably going to help them. You back to back and if you’re the Kings and everyone’s still there you’re thinking, ‘OK we do everything the exact same and we’ll in the position to win again’.
“Whereas now they’ve got all these new pieces and a new coach, they’ve got no choice but to try and change things around a little bit. I think that’s going to be in their favour because really, it’s a completely new team.”
Watch every game of the NBL season LIVE on ESPN via Kayo Sports
NBL Round 1
Melbourne United 82 def South East Melbourne Phoenix 67
Brisbane Bullets 86 def Adelaide 36ers 71
Perth Wildcats 101 def Tasmania JackJumpers 96
New Zealand Breakers 98 def Cairns Taipans 87
Sydney Kings 96 def Illawarra Hawks 81
Melbourne United 82 def Adelaide 36ers 74
South East Melbourne Phoenix 110 def Perth Wildcats 99