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Wembanyama, countrymen add French flair to international class of NBA draft prospects

PARIS (AP) – Victor Wembanyama wasn’t the only young French prospect turning heads overseas.

Granted, fans would have had to look much farther to find Rayan Rupert, who played for the New Zealand Breakers. He is among the international prospects expecting to hear their names called at the NBA draft on Friday in New York. They don’t possess Wembanyama’s size and skills, but they’re confident they can make an impact.

There’s a distinct French flavour in this year’s draft class. Wembanyama and Rupert are French, as is Bilal Coulibaly, Wembanyama’s teammate with Metropolitans 92.

Here’s a look at some of the top international prospects other than Wembanyama:

RAYAN RUPERT, NEW ZEALAND BREAKERS

STRENGTHS: Rupert is a tenacious defender with a 7-foot-2 wingspan who likens his game to Mikal Bridges of the Brooklyn Nets. Standing 6-6 without shoes, the 193-pound swingman was part of the National Basketball League’s Next Stars program and just turned 19. He averaged 5.9 points and 2.1 rebounds per game. After breaking his right wrist early in the season, he used the time to improve his left-handed skills. His sister, Iliana Rupert, was drafted by the Women’s National Basketball Association Las Vegas Aces in 2021.

CONCERNS: Rupert shot 23 per cent from three-point range in 28 games played and acknowledges that he needs to improve his consistency from outside the arc. His overall field-goal percentage was just 35 per cent, though he says his jump shot is underrated.

ABOVE & BELOW: Rayan Rupert; and Bilal Coulibaly. PHOTOS: AP

BILAL COULIBALY, METROPOLITANS 92

STRENGTHS: The 6-6 swingman uses his length effectively on both ends, slashing and finishing above the rim while also being a disruptive defender. The 18-year-old Coulibaly is projected to be the 11th pick in the AP’s NBA Mock Draft. He’s a pest defensively, using his 7-3 wingspan to harass ball handlers and shooters. Super athletic, makes smart cuts and can finish in traffic. Delivered some strong performances in the playoffs for Metropolitans 92 in the French league.

CONCERNS: Not a pure shooter. Even benefitting from extra space with Wembanyama on the floor, he shot just under 24 per cent from three-point range through nine playoff games – down from 36 per cent during the regular season. Here’s what Wembanyama thinks: “By now, everyone knows he deserves to be top 10. But not enough realise he deserves to be top five.”

JAMES NNAJI, BARCELONA

STRENGTHS: The 6-11 Nigerian centre with a 7-5 wingspan is a rim protector and pick-and-roll lob threat for Barcelona, one of the best teams in Europe. The 249-pound Nnaji has averaged 9.3 minutes, 2.2 rebounds and 0.6 blocks per game over 53 games – with Barcelona currently in the Spanish league playoffs and facing Real Madrid in the finals.

CONCERNS: Lacks shooting touch when defenders keep him away from the rim. Can be prone to turnovers – 0.8 per game in limited minutes – due to unrefined post moves. He’s shooting 51 per cent from the free throw line. He’s seen as a developmental prospect – he turns 19 in August.

KEEP AN EYE ON

Tristan Vukcevic: The 20-year-old centre impressed at the NBA draft combine, scoring 21 points with three-for-three shooting from behind the arc in one game, and standing just over 6-11 without shoes.

Vukcevic has moved all around Europe, playing in Olympiacos’ youth system before joining Real Madrid and ultimately Partizan Belgrade in Serbia, where he shot 37.3 per cent from three-point range this season.

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