In the latest installment of ‘P.I. Pulse,’ Pro Insight’s Drake U’u reflects on his own time playing professionally in Australia, provides an update on the latest NBL happenings through Round 15, and covers the top prospects currently playing “down under,” highlighting what should make them appealing to NBA teams:
As I reflect on my brief time in the NBL with the Perth Wildcats, I feel incredibly privileged and grateful to have played in one of the best basketball leagues in the world. As I transitioned into an NBA front office in Sacramento, I had always felt that the league was a hidden gem for scouting talent. Fast forward six years, and it is truly special to see the league gain the relevance and respect it deserves. From James Ennis, to Torrey Craig; from Jae’Sean Tate, to the number-three pick in the 2020 NBA draft, LaMelo Ball — the NBL has proven to be a hotspot for attracting and developing talent.
While it may not be known as the most athletic league, the NBL is one of the more physical and intelligent levels I’ve evaluated. With the recent success of former players translating to the NBA, the NBL is undoubtedly a league that requires attention. I love Australian players. They have a tremendous amount of pride in the team, they are disciplined and tough, and most importantly they care about winning. Every game is a battle, regardless of where teams find themselves in the standings. Coaches and management teach discipline and players hold each other accountable.
As my boy Corey “Homicide” Williams says, “The NBL ain’t no cupcake league!” The NBL is the real deal, and it is here to stay.
Let’s talk prospects.
2021 Draft Prospects
Josh Giddey, 6’8 PG, Adelaide 36ers
11.1 PPG, 7.1 REB, 7.4 AST, .420 FG, .308 3P
Giddey has quickly emerged as one of my favorite players in this year’s draft. At just 18 years of age, Giddey plays with tremendous poise, pace, and maturity. He has great positional size as a PG which allows him to get to his spots and keep defenders on his hip as he makes his reads. Great feel for the game offensively. I love his ability to play in the pick-and-roll with his size. He’s rarely rushed or rattled by pressure, and his vision is special. Giddey is extremely comfortable off the bounce, making plays with either hand and delivering precise passes to teammates. So much of his game translates to the next level, and it’s hard not to see glimpses of LaMelo Ball, Tyrese Haliburton, and Joe Ingles. He has shown the ability to make open shots with his feet set or off the dribble, although this is a major area for growth in his game. Mechanically, his shot looks comfortable and should improve with repetition and confidence. He’s capable of finishing around the rim, but this is an area he needs to improve consistency in as well — specifically through contact and length.
Defensively, he also has room for improvement — although the majority of his deficiencies should improve as he gains strength and improves focus and effort on this end. After watching a handful of his games this year — including his most recent performance against the NBL’s number-one seed Melbourne United where he posted a triple-double (he and LaMelo are the two youngest players to achieve this in NBL history) — it is clear that Giddey has real game and is a top prospect in this year’s class.
Mojave King, 6’5 SG, Cairns Taipans
4.9 PPG, 2.0 REB, 0.6 AST, .360 FG, .286 3P
Mojave is an interesting young prospect with some upside as a perimeter defender at the next level. Physically, he has a great frame for his age and plays with a good motor on both ends. He possesses plus-athleticism and length and has shown some ability to knock down open shots. Unlike Giddey, however, his feel for the game is still developing and his decision making with the ball needs to improve. Ironically, his strongest game of the season came against Adelaide, where he and Giddey matched up and he finished with a season-high 14 points and 5 rebounds in 27 minutes. His minutes have been sporadic, but as my Pro Insight colleague Henry Ward recently pointed out, he is a prospect worth tracking in the second round.
Justinian Jessup, 6’7 SG, Illawarra Hawks (Golden State Warriors)
14.7 PPG, 4.2 REB, 2.0 AST, .457 FG, .403 3P
Jessup has had an efficient rookie season with the Illawarra Hawks. The Golden State’s draft-and-stash prospect has been doing what he does best: shoot at an elite level with size. He’s connected on over 40% of his three-point attempts on the year, on nearly six tries per contest. He’s always on balance and has great footwork to quickly get into his shot. He moves well without the ball and most importantly, he doesn’t need the ball to be effective. He’s shown nice improvement off the bounce and an ability to defend his position. I think this was a nice pickup by Golden State in last year’s second round. He fits from a stylistic standpoint and immediately adds a floor spacer to their group.
Didi Louzada, 6’5 SG, Sydney Kings (New Orleans Pelicans)
8.8 PPG, 3.4 REB, 1.9 AST, .391 FG, .264 3P
Despite similar numbers across the board from his rookie season — and a significant dip in his three-point shooting percentage, I still like Louzada’s potential as an NBA prospect. He has a great NBA frame and the ability to guard either guard spot. He plays with great passion and a motor on both ends. He has a decent feel for moving without the ball and for the most part, plays to his strengths. He is aggressive and unafraid, and when he is making shots can likely find his way on to an NBA floor. While he isn’t quite the floor spacer that Josh Hart is yet, I can see him filling a similar role. Looking forward to seeing how the Next Stars prospect progresses.
Jock Landale, 6’10 C, Melbourne United
15.8 PPG, 8.1 REB, 2.5 AST, .526 FG, .365 3P
Landale has been on my radar since his Saint Mary’s playing days and I’m confident in his ability to play on an NBA roster. There’s a lot to love about everything that he brings to a locker room — from his game to his professionalism. Since graduating from college, he has transformed his body and become more agile, and most importantly has expanded his range to the perimeter (shooting nearly 37 percent from 3P range this season on nearly four attempts per game). More skilled than he is an athlete, but moves well for his size and has great touch over either shoulder in the post. He sets great screens, has an exceptional feel for the game and a knack for making winning plays. Definitely a prospect who is ready for the next level.
Cam Oliver, 6’8 PF, Cairns Taipans
17.3 PPG, 10.0 REB, 1.2 AST, .495 FG, .319 3P, 1.3 BLK
I’m a huge advocate for players testing the G-League for a season or two after college, and if they don’t receive a call-up, taking their game overseas to continue developing, maturing, and getting better. Oliver fits this mold, as he left Nevada after his sophomore year and joined the Philadelphia 76ers’ G-League affiliate (Delaware Blue Coats). After two seasons, he decided to test the international market — a market that not only helps with developing skill on the court, but forces players to be on their own in a foreign country and learn how to mature as men away from home.
Fast forward a few years — a brief stint in Israel and now finishing his second year in Cairns — and Oliver has really evolved into a mature, consistent player. He’s always had the physical tools, but now has really refined his game and is playing to his strengths. He’s proven to be a capable floor-spacer as well as an NBA-level rim runner. His decision making has improved over the years, as has his effort level on both ends. Oliver is someone NBA teams looking for a dynamic 4-man should have on their radars. He has put the work in and stayed true to his journey. At just 24 years of age, he’s a prospect that still has a significant amount of upside.
Nathan Sobey, 6’3 PG, Brisbane Bullets
22.4 PPG, 4.4 REB, 4.0 AST, .473 FG, .419 3P
In his seventh year as a professional, Sobey is having himself a career season. Statistically, he’s improved in almost every category and tallying career highs in points per game, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, and minutes. Sobey has been one of my favorite players to track over the last few seasons. He plays with a unique blend of skill and athleticism at the point guard position. What really stands out this season is his improvement from behind the arc, where he is shooting an impressive 42% from deep on over seven attempts per contest. Sobey plays with an aggressiveness and tenacity that I’ve always found appealing — someone who gets going downhill and will finish above the rim through contact. As he’s matured, he’s become a great passer and playmaker off the dribble and someone who can defend either guard position. Sobey is someone I would consider for a veteran team looking to add experience or depth at guard. Despite being 30 years old (which as a 31-year old, pains me to even put in writing), the season he is having in Australia shows he still has plenty left in the tank and ability to contribute.
Bryce Cotton, 6’1 PG, Perth Wildcats
24.3 PPG, 2.9 REB, 5.8 AST, .402 FG, .316 3P
Arguably the most dominant player the NBL has had for the last three seasons. Cotton consistently has the Wildcats in championship contention. A consummate professional, Cotton is an elite scorer at three levels. He competes on both ends and makes his teammates better. Still just 28 years of age, Cotton could fit an end of the bench role as a seasoned veteran — a reliable scorer, teammate, and winner.
Summer League/G-League Candidates
John Mooney, 6’9 PF/C, Perth Wildcats
17.0 PPG, 12.0 REB, 2.7 AST, .546 FG, .552 3P
Mooney has been an incredible addition for the Wildcats this season. In just his first year as a professional, Mooney leads the league in rebounds and double-doubles on the season. He plays with a great motor and toughness, and what really stands out is his consistency from the perimeter on the season — currently shooting just over 55% from distance on over one attempt per game. He has a great knack for rebounding the basketball and nice touch around the rim. He sets great screens and gets himself open in a variety of ways either as the dunker or floor spacer. Mooney is someone who reminds me a bit of Erik Mika from a physicality standpoint. I think he would be a nice summer investment for a team looking to get him into their G-League program.
Mitch McCarron, 6’2 PG, Melbourne United
11.4 PPG, 5.0 REB, 4.9 AST, .450 FG, .312 3P
In his fifth season as a pro, McCarron has really developed into a nice veteran point guard. He’s got a nice strong frame and good size that allows him to comfortably play the position, and has really improved as a decision-maker and playmaker. Strong driver to the rim and capable shot-maker with his feet set. McCarron is coming off a career season and is a solid summer-league/G-League level target.
Sunday Dech, 6’5 SG, Adelaide 36ers
9.6 PPG, 4.7 REB, 2.1 AST, .404 FG, .365 3P
Dech is a former development player who has worked hard and improved every season as a professional. I love his potential as a perimeter defender, as he consistently takes on the responsibility of guarding the opposition’s best player. Since Damian Martin’s retirement, Dech has been the league’s best on-ball defender and has improved his offensive repertoire. He plays with a great motor and toughness on both ends. He also moves well without the ball as a cutter and has shown improvement in his jump shot. After posting career highs in nearly every category, Dech is definitely worth summer league consideration.
Yanni Wetzell, 6’10 C, Southeast Melbourne Phoenix
11.0 PPG, 6.0 REB, 2.0 AST, .540 FG
Wetzell is one of my favorite rookie prospects in the NBL. He has great positional size, a strong frame, and solid mobility. Great feel for the game and battles on both ends — love his poise out of the post, as he does a great job surveying the floor before either attacking/countering or finding open teammates. Surprisingly, he hasn’t attempted a 3-pointer on the season as I think he has some potential as a floor spacer. Definitely worth summer league consideration, as I think he still has upside as an NBA prospect.
Jordan Hunter, 6’11 C, Sydney Kings
8.2 PPG, 6.2 REB, 0.6 AST, .570 FG
Hunter has been on a tear to finish his sophomore NBL season. In round 15, a crucial weekend for Sydney, Hunter had a monster weekend posting averages of 17.5 PPG, 10.5 RPG, and 2 BPG while shooting 59% from the field. The front-runner for the Most Improved Player award, Hunter has really improved as a rim-running, shot-blocking big. He plays with a great motor on both ends, and has been a major factor in Sydney’s late-season playoff run. Hunter has great feel for his position, sets hard screens and has shown impressive athleticism finishing at the rim as a roller. He would be a great summer league/G-League option at center.