2020 NBA Draft: LaMelo Ball, Killian Hayes and Deni Avdija lead a loaded international class

When you scope out the international players eligible for the 2020 NBA Draft, they generally fit in two categories: U.S. born standouts who played overseas last season, and more traditional international prospects who have cut their teeth in recent years on some of the toughest European professional circuits. Together, they make up a large chunk of this year’s lottery prospects in one of the deepest and most impressive international classes in recent draft history.

The class is led by California native LaMelo Ball, the younger brother of New Orleans Pelicans guard Lonzo Ball and the offspring of the infamous LaVar Ball, who ranks No. 1 on the CBS Sports Big Board. Ball last played overseas in the Australian’s NBL, just one of his latest professional pit stops after playing in Lithuania for Prienai and then in L.A. for his father’s upstart league in recent years. Even for as off the map as the locales he’s played in, he’s the most familiar name to many who have followed the draft. With 5.3 million Instagram followers, for example, he has more than Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett — the top three draft picks from last year.

But the lesser-known international prospects to many in the states will have an equally large say in how this year’s lottery and first round could take shape. Between Killian Hayes, Deni Avdija and Theo Maledon, there are a handful of international prodigies set to challenge Ball at the top of the draft order.

So what should you know about these players? Who ranks where? And wait — how, exactly, do you pronounce those names again? Let’s get to those questions now, starting with the U.S. born prospects and working all the way through the international class. We’ll introduce every prospect ranked inside the top-30 of our Big Board.

U.S.-born international standouts

LaMelo Ball

6-6, 180 | PG

Big Board rank: 1

LaMelo Ball has long been known in basketball circles. That has both helped and hurt his perception as a prospect. He first popped on the radar as a flashy guard for Chino Hills years ago when Lonzo Ball was a senior, dropping 92 points in a high school game in 2017. At the time, he was committed to UCLA — and expected to follow in Lonzo’s footsteps — before his father pulled him out of high school to pursue a professional career at just 16 years old.

It wasn’t until this past season that he really grew into a bonafide NBA prospect, both figuratively and literally. Now a 6-foot-6 point guard, Ball has sharpened his skills and developed into a jumbo playmaker with elite anticipation as a passer and endless upside as a dynamic offensive playmaker.

Ball struggled early playing overseas for the Illawarra Hawks at just 18 years old … until he didn’t. Before his season was cut short with a minor injury, he was tracking as one of the NBL’s most productive players over his final month, showcasing the passing vision, scoring upside and playmaking that has him on pace to be this year’s top pick.

There remains questions about his game, though: Ball shot just 25% from the 3-point line, made careless mistakes as a passer sometimes trying to be too flashy, and struggled finishing at the rim despite good touch and a trusty floater. But he has the physical tools, feel and basketball smarts to be the most complete offensive weapon to come out of this year’s draft despite the deficiencies in his game elsewhere. 

RJ Hampton 

6-5, 185 | SG

Big Board rank: 24

A one-time five-star recruit himself, RJ Hampton chose to play overseas in the NBL like Ball — for the New Zealand Breakers — with middling results.

While he’s long been considered an elite two-way guard prospect due to his freakish athleticism, polished handle and an intriguing pull-up game, his time overseas didn’t quite allow him to display all of that. Not successfully, anyway. He shot just under 30% from 3-point range, 40.7% from the field, and was a general liability on the defensive side of the ball. All things considered, though, most of that is to be expected — if not perhaps in the obvious realm of potential outcomes — for an 18-year-old playing in a league as tough as the NBL. That he played meaningful minutes in the rotation at all could be considered a positive.

Still, Hampton won’t entirely get a pass for it. His time in the NBL showed he’s got some clear flaws, from his slender frame, to his defense, to his hit-or-miss jumper. But the physical gifts, frame and athleticism are enough for an NBA team to take a chance on him likely in the middle of the first round — a bet that he can put it all together and really hit. I’d expect his draft range settles somewhere between No. 10 and No. 20. If he reaches his ceiling he can develop into a modern-day pick-and-roll guard who becomes an impactful scorer and secondary initiator.


Killian Hayes is becoming an intriguing lottery pick.
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International class

Killian Hayes

PG (6-5, 192)

Big Board rank: 2

French prospect Killian Hayes is a prodigious talent at just 18 years old with a lengthy list of accomplishments on his resume. He won a FIBA MVP award at the U16 championships in 2017, where his team took home the gold. He also competed for three seasons on the international scene, first with Cholet’s senior team and most recently with Ratiopharm Ulm.

Playing for Ratiopharm Ulm is where his stock really exploded, jumping from a potential first-rounder to a potential No. 1 pick. What was seen as a huge shortcoming in his game — his 3-point shooting — suddenly became a positive, as he shot 39% from the 3-point line in EuroCup play. And during that span, he added a stepback jumper akin to James Harden’s that has proven to be equally as lethal overseas.

The emergence of a more consistent scoring threat from Hayes has made him one of the most complete guard prospects in this class. Already, he was an incredible passer and playmaker who plays with a controlled tempo and feel. But with the improved shot he’s rounded out as a potential franchise lead guard teams could be targeting as soon as No. 1.

Deni Avdija

SF (6-9, 215) 

Big Board rank: 4

Deni Avdija (pronounced: Denny Ahv-dee-ya) checks all the boxes of a prospect who projects to be a point-forward type player at the NBA level. At 6-foot-9 he has great positional size, reads the floor like a point guard, and has the skills to crash the boards and subsequently lead the break with the ball in his hands.

What’s worrisome about Avdija’s NBA prospects is his shooting. He shot 33.6% from 3-point range last season, and worse, just 52.0% from the free-throw line, per RealGM data. The 3-point percentage is passable — barely — but the free throw percentage is red flag territory. Scouts often use free throw shooting as a predictive statistical indicator of whether a prospect can realistically extend their range deeper — and 52.0% is well below the mark that would generate optimism for that to happen.

Avdija’s been working early in the morning to late at night to improve specifically in that area of his game this offseason, I’ve been told. He knows that to fulfill his potential in the NBA he’ll need to become an above average, reliable 3-point threat.

I’m buying he figures it out because every other aspect of his game offensively is so polished, which is why I have him as high as I do here. But it’s a legitimate concern for some who envision him as a stretch forward that stretching him past the 3-point line may not be as automatic as you’d think. 

Theo Maledon 

PG (6-4, 174)

Big Board rank: 11

A shoulder injury last fall knocked Theo Maledon (pronounced: Tay-Oh Mall-eh-don) off course, but he got better as the season went on and as his health improved. For a team looking to bet on him in the first round, the hope is that that upward trajectory continues on as he jumps to the next level.

Maledon’s style is one of constant attack. He comes at you downhill hard and often with speed to get past defenders and the handles to get to the rim at will. He doesn’t have an explosive first step or burst to blow by his defender, but when he gets going he’s incredibly challenging to stay in front of.

What I like about Maledon is the versatility. It’s what the NBA will love about him, too. So long as the scoring and shooting comes along, he’s a guy who I think can play either guard position at the NBA level — and he’s already played some with ASVEL both on and off the ball. The comfort he has jumping between different roles seamlessly should be enticing to teams looking for a versatile guard with his creation and scoring upside.

Aleksej Pokuševski 

C (7-0, 205)

Big Board rank: 15

In this draft, most of the international prospects are fairly well-known commodities. Maledon, Avdija and Hayes have been on the radar for years as international standouts primed to one day be NBA standouts. Hampton has long had the frame and athletic ability to be a first-rounder. Leandro Bolmaro has been considered a potential draft pick for quite some time. But Aleksej Pokusevski (pronounced: A-lek-say Poke-ooh-sev-ski) is an enigma to many — and an intriguing enigma at that.

It starts with his 7-foot frame and 7-3 wingspan, but his intrigue branches out from there because of what he can do despite that size, which would be a hindrance for many. He moves incredibly well for a 7-footer with the fluidity of a small forward or shooting guard, and does many of the things a player of those positions can do, too. The ball-handling, floor-spacing, shooting and passing is next-level stuff for a center his size, which in that respect is comparable to Kristaps Porzingis.

The frame is a major question, though, as he hovers around 200 pounds. The chance of him getting knocked around playing with that slender of a frame is a real concern. And the way he plays in the interior, sometimes shying away from contact and struggling to finish easy opportunities, could be problematic unless he makes some serious physical developments. He could be a two years away from being two years away type player, to steal a line from the great Fran Fraschilla.

But if a team is drafting on upside, Pokuševski at the very least should get consideration in the lottery. He’s a developmental project, sure. But the skill set combined with the frame and fluidity has him breathing rarefied air. If I’m a team betting on upside in the late lottery there’s few I’d prioritize higher than Pokuševski projecting what he can be down the road and not necessarily what he can contribute right away.

Leandro Bolmaro 

SF (6-7, 178)  

Big Board rank: 28

What stands out about Leandro Bolmaro (pronounced: Boll-marr-oh) is the playmaking skills for his size. He can take defenders off the dribble and attack to the rim, or pull up on a dime to drill jumpers, or parse a defense on the move and find a cutting teammate for an easy bucket. There’s nothing he can’t do offensively that a point guard cannot. And that initiating upside is where his value really lies.

What may hold him back from being a lottery prospect, though, is the shooting. Last season he hit on just 27.9% of his 3-pointers and 67.6% of his free-throw attempts.

Adding to the shooting concerns is his athleticism (or lack thereof). He’s been able to compensate for that overseas with a tight handle and smarts, dazzling his way through defenses with shiftiness. But the NBA’s length and athleticism will be an entirely different challenge for him. He struggles at times to finish consistently at the rim already, and adding that extra layer is enough to question how he’ll create an advantage for himself, especially if he’s unable to make marked improvement as a distance shooter.

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