Hayes, Avdija top list of international NBA draft prospects

·5 min read

Most NBA fans are just now learning the name Killian Hayes, the 19-year-old French-American point guard who could be a top 5 pick in Wednesday night’s draft.

The shifty 6-foot-5 lefty is among several international prospects, continuing the NBA’s global reach. Others include Deni Avdija, Israel; Théo Maledon, France; Leandro Bolmaro, Argentina; and Aleksej Pokusevski, Serbia.

There were 108 international players on opening-night rosters for the 2019-20 season. That number could increase this year and Hayes will be one the new faces.

He has the ability to create space for himself or teammates. He'll benefit from the NBA's defensive 3-seconds rule and is effective running the pick-and-roll. In Europe, defenders can clog the lane.

“When he gets in the paint he’s able to find his shooters, he’s able to find his big men,” said Peyton Siva Jr., who plays for Alba Berlin in the German league. “That’s when he’s more dangerous, when he’s able to create for others.”

Playing in Ulm — Albert Einstein’s hometown in Germany — Hayes showed he has room to improve. He was inconsistent from 3-point range (21.8% in 20 domestic league games; 39% in 10 EuroCup games), but is crafty with the basketball.

“He hit me with a really good move at the top of the key — made me stumble and fall,” said Siva, who played one season with the Detroit Pistons. Hayes finished with 20 points and 10 assists in the loss to Siva's team.

Although quiet, Hayes does not lack confidence.

Hayes told the French sports daily L'Équipe about questions NBA teams ask during pre-draft interviews. One asked if he was a “dog” on the court, and Hayes replied yes. What type? He said, “Rottweiler.”

Hayes was born in Florida but grew up mostly in his mother's hometown of Cholet in western France where his American father played basketball.

DeRon Hayes played at Penn State and in Europe. Killian debuted for Cholet at age 16.

“Killian's dad would be at every practice,” ex-teammate Antywane Robinson said, “in the same spot at the top of the stands. Their relationship is a beautiful one.”

Hayes' mother, Sandrine, never missed a game and cousins would also be in attendance.

He had all of Cholet buzzing about his game. Hayes earned co-MVP honours at the Jordan Brand Classic International Game in 2017. He also played for French youth teams before declining an invite to play for a French Under-20 team. He later moved to Germany.

Hayes has spent the past few months in Lakeland, Florida — his father's hometown — about 40 miles southwest of the NBA's bubble in Walt Disney World.

He's been working out with another Lakeland native, Dwayne Bacon of the Charlotte Hornets.

The studious Hayes said in a media video call that he tends to analyze fellow left-handers like James Harden, Goran Dragic and Manu Ginobili.

Hayes said his agent told him to expect to be drafted somewhere between No. 2 and 10.

Some other international NBA prospects to keep an eye on:

DENI AVDIJA

Scouts really like the versatility of the 19-year-old from Israel but they are not as enamoured by his poor free throw shooting. Avdija says not to worry.

At 6-8, he can play several positions and does a little of everything. His stat line from the 2019 under-20 European Championships final: 23 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 blocks and 1 steal. Israel beat Spain for the gold and Avdija was the tournament MVP.

In 59 games for Maccabi Tel Aviv last season, he shot just under 59% from the free throw line and 33% from 3-point range.

“It’s a matter of time and I think it’s a matter of the head,” Avdija said of the dismal percentage in a media video call. “I think I can shoot even above 70%. I’m going to get there.”

Just don’t compare him to Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic — or anyone else for that matter.

“I just want to be the best Deni Avdija I can be," he said. “I just don’t want to be compared to anybody.”

THÉO MALEDON

The 19-year-old Maledon is a French point guard who draws comparisons to Tony Parker.

Maledon was 17 when he was named “best young player” of the French league in 2018-19. That puts him in good company. Past winners include current and former NBA players Frank Ntilikina, Evan Fournier, Clint Capela, Boris Diaw and Parker.

Maledon and Parker grew up in the same city: Rouen in the Normandy region. And like Parker, Maledon has considerable pro experience playing in France — and in the EuroLeague.

He also played for Parker’s team, ASVEL in the city of Lyon. Parker bought the team while he was still playing for the San Antonio Spurs.

Maledon, 6-4 and about 175 pounds, missed time early last season with a shoulder injury and acknowledges that his draft stock may have slipped a bit.

“That kind of stays in my head. I got a chip on my shoulder for that,” he said in a media video call. But “it's only on the court that you can prove things.”

LEANDRO BOLMARO

Bolmaro of Argentina is another versatile international prospect. At 6-6 and 185 pounds, he can play small forward and both guard positions.

The 20-year-old Bolmaro is also gaining experience coming off the bench for Barcelona in Spain's strong domestic league as well as the continental club competition EuroLeague.

Bolmaro is comfortable using pick and rolls and attacking the paint to either finish himself or pass to teammates in space.

ALEKSEJ POKUSEVSKI

Serbian 7-footer Aleksej Pokusevski has mostly played in the Greek second division. NBA fans might not remember but that’s where Giannis Antetokounmpo played before being drafted in 2013.

Not that anyone is comparing the 18-year-old Pokusevski with the Greek Freak, but the Serbian has impressed scouts with his ball handling, shooting and defending.

Playing for the Olympiacos B team, Pokusevski averaged nearly 10 points per game, 7.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks.

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Ken Maguire, The Associated Press