TORONTO — While the stars of today flaunted their skills at the Air Canada Centre over the weekend, NBA scouts, coaches and some of the top young international prospects packed a two-court gym for the 2016 Basketball Without Borders Global Camp. And of the 53 participants looking to make some noise, nobody impressed more than Frank Ntilikina, a 1998-born point guard from France.
He was the obvious standout during a weekend of drilling, five-on-fives and NBA evaluators on the sidelines. Though not eligible to declare for the draft until 2017, he's emerged as a prospect to monitor over the next 15 months—particularly for teams searching for their next floor general.
Instructors and scouts both came away pleased with the structure and teaching aspect of the event. But thanks to campers like Ntilikina, they also raved about the level of talent, which was considered higher than in previous years.
Coming into the weekend, Ntilikina was seeing limited playing time with Strasbourg in the LNB Pro A in France, but his future started looking brighter after a strong showing at the Under-18 European Championships over the summer. Based on what he did in Toronto, the buzz should only continue to strengthen despite little chance for significant minutes in France's top division.
Listed at 6'5", 186 pounds, Ntilikina has strong size and quickness for a point guard at any level. He's not wired with explosiveness, but he does an excellent job of changing speeds to create and drive through gaps.
Ntilikina's poise and execution stood out most, as he picked his spots as a scorer without hijacking any offensive possessions. When a hole opened up, Ntilikina attacked it and finished with an arsenal that included off-hand layups and balanced floaters in the lane.
He was difficult to contain in ball-screen situations, where he'd use hesitation to freeze the defense and get to the basket. Even if he missed, his penetration alone led to second-chance points for the bigs on the offensive glass.
Ntilikina also converted a handful of jumpers throughout the three days, including three triples on Saturday. He looked comfortable stepping into space and making pull-ups off the dribble. It might take time before anyone labels his shooting a strength, but the fundamentals are there.
Ntilikina also demonstrated admirable maturity for a primary decision-maker. Based on personal observations after speaking to him briefly and studying his approach, he appeared coachable, engaged and levelheaded. You didn't detect any ego or personal agenda.
If anything, he may have been too passive. It would have been nicer to see Ntilikina, more of a silent assassin, take over games and situations sooner rather than defer.
He made the All-Tournament team and the strongest impression of anyone in the gym, seeming to capitalize on the platform Basketball Without Borders created, as well as the unique opportunity to receive face time with scouts and instruction from NBA coaches. For instance, Toronto Raptors assistant Jama Mahlalela tracked him down after Sunday's session for tips to improve his ball-screen defense.
Ntilikina told me he was just focused on the current season and not thinking about when he'd declare for the draft. But all indications are he'll be ready by 2017, when he'd likely join a loaded field and compete with Dennis Smith (headed to North Carolina State) and De'Aaron Fox (headed to Kentucky) for the title of top eligible point guard prospect.
Notes and Takeaways from Basketball Without Borders
- Australia's Thon Maker was up and down throughout the three days. For what it's worth, his motor never shut off. Maker's athleticism, energy and length led to plenty of big dunks and blocks. Unfortunately, he couldn't get the jumper to fall at all. And the misses didn't stop him from taking more. Scouts love his work ethic and hustle, but questions of his interior strength and perimeter skills won't go anywhere.
- Thon's brother, Matur Maker, was actually placed with the wings on Friday. It's noteworthy, considering he's 6'10". Maker also plays hard and had one explosive dunk off a slash through the lane, but he didn't appear strong enough in any one area.
- It wasn't tough to recognize the upside tied to DeAndre Ayton (Bahamas), the consensus No. 1 2017 recruit (ESPN, 247 Sports, Scout.com) out of Hillcrest Hoops in California. Listed at 7'1", 243 pounds, Ayton, 17, has an NBA body. He sat out Sunday for unknown reasons, but on Friday and Saturday, he held his own against the older Thon Maker. Ayton had some nice finishes off dumps and putbacks and made a few jumpers during five-on-fives. In shooting drills, he was knocking down threes with comfort. Ayton could stand to improve his overall body language when he doesn't have the ball, but in terms of talent, he's one of the more exciting young up-and-comers.
- Canada's Abu Kigab was an enjoyable watch, if for no other reason than he was the most talkative, spirited player in the gym. Vocally supportive of teammates, both on the floor and from the bench, Kigab oozes positive vibes. But he also flashed promising versatility. Listed at 6'7", 220 pounds, Kigab ran his team's offense. He got to the basket and finished a number of times in traffic. His jumper looked capable, and his defense was encouraging. He'll need to improve his ball-handling and shooting range, but Kigab should win over fans quickly at whatever college he attends.
- Turkey's Omer Yurtseven, one of the higher-profile prospects in attendance, made news for rejecting a five-year extension with Fenerbahce. And just as BWB was getting started, his coach, Zeljko Obradovic, publicly bashed him at a press conference. "Omer didn’t even ask me if the team needs him for the match against Unicaja Malaga," Obradovic said, according to Bugra Uzar of Eurohoops.net. "Why? It’s very simple. He doesn’t care for the team or us. He only cares about himself. For him, this team doesn’t exist." Yurtseven didn't appear to be affected by the criticism in Toronto. For a 6'11", 241-pound center, he looked coordinated and fluid around the basket, where he did most of his work as a finisher and over-the-shoulder scorer. Yurtseven made the All-Tournament team and told Scout.com's Evan Daniels he wants to play college ball. Unfortunately, there is skepticism concerning his eligibility due to the fact his coach referenced paying him for three years, per Uzar.
- Germany's Isaiah Hartenstein was relatively disappointing. Viewed as a potential 2017 lottery pick, he sure looks the part with 6'11" size, destructive power and above-the-rim athleticism. And he's comfortable in face-up situations, where he can drive, take a runner or fire a mid-range jumper. But he turned the ball over a ton and couldn't finish anything, inside or out. Calling him a surefire lottery pick is premature.
- German wing Richard Freudenberg, who recently committed to St. John's, made the All-Tournament team after three solid days. He's a smooth athlete for a 6'8" swingman. Freudenberg has a natural shooting stroke and the ability to slash to the rack. You also got the sense he just knew how to play. He should be able to help out right away as a freshman and eventually generate NBA interest down the road.
- The tournament MVP, SMU commit Harry Froling (Australia), was a pick-and-pop machine. At 6'11", 263 pounds, he was one of the biggest players in the gym but also one of the top shooters. Despite lacking great athleticism and explosiveness, he was still nimble on his feet and a force around the hoop. I'm not sure how great of an NBA prospect he is, but Froling looks poised to make some noise in the AAC next year.
- Angola's Valdir Manuel opened some eyes with his 6'9" size, mobility and activity. He converted a couple of drives right down the throat of the defense. And though he missed more jumpers than he made, he's showed he can hit an open three. He'll be a project worth monitoring for international scouts.
- There were two Lithuanians who really stood out: Arnoldas Kulboka and Tadas Sedekerskis. Kulboka, a 6'9" wing, has a sweet three-point stroke. He'll need to add significant bulk, but his perimeter-scoring ability and bounce both opened eyes. Sedekerskis' versatility showed up in a big way on Sunday. Also at 6'9", (and 219 pounds), he was handling the ball, getting himself layups and setting up teammates. And his outside touch looked hopeful. He was one of the more productive players after the weekend.
- Standing 7'2", 247 pounds, Brazil's Felipe Dos Anjos De Paula Gama was the tallest player at the event. He didn't move particularly well or get high off the floor, but his hands and touch both looked notably soft. The big fella finished some tough-angled shots around the basket and was accurate during shooting drills.