With college players all having the option to return for another season, this year has a lot more draft flux than usual. On the other hand, the international draft class is one of the deepest in recent memory even with a number of top players born in 2001 opting for the college route. Teams have been more aggressive in recent seasons in using picks on international players, even reach prospects, and with the talent available this year, we could be looking at a record number of international picks in the twelve team era. The rules continue to be the same as players born outside of the United States in 2001 who have never exercised intercollegiate eligibility in the United States can only be selected in this draft and will be free agents if they are not picked. Players born in 1999 who did go to college, but left, and have never been eligible for a draft are also in this draft, but technically do not fall under the category of international players. With a lot of players for teams to evaluate, here are some of the names that could be called later this year (club team country indicated if different from player’s national team):
Awak Kuier, PF, Finland, Virtus Eirene Ragusa (Italy)
She may have achieved notoriety for her dunking, but Kuier has been quietly developing into this draft’s premier international prospect. With many of her peers playing on teams with older players, spending more time on a youth-focused team in Finland ahead of her decision between college and professional careers may have actually helped her long-term. She was encouraged to shoot from distance and allowed to attack from the perimeter off the dribble and continued development in both areas will help her continue to fit in as a modern post player. After opting against college, she signed in Italy for this season and has fit in well with the team concept and shown a few flashes of what she can accomplish. Finland’s less than elite status among Europe’s women’s basketball hotbeds means that she has a tougher path to prove that she is deserving of the higher level playing gigs and accompanying salaries, meaning that her willingness to showcase herself in the WNBA may be stronger than players from other countries and should preserve her value as a pick.
Shyla Heal, PG, Australia, Townsville Fire
Known as a sharpshooter, Heal has worked hard on becoming a more complete point guard and it showed in her time as a starter on a strong Townsville team. While she is not quite at the playmaking level of a traditional passer, her game has become more complete ahead of her year in the draft and is a threat to pass or score when she attacks the paint. The ability to shoot out of spot up situations will also continue to be important with more and more taller players preferring to start possessions with the ball in their hands. A point guard sized player whose offensive game does not suffer off the ball can provide value to any team. Her consistent improvement and the greater likelihood of Australian players being willing to come over when ready make her a reliable pick. Not playing a competitive game for months before the draft may leave her out of the spotlight, but decision makers will certainly be ready to rank her among the rest of the prospects.
Florencia Chagas, SG, Argentina, Empoli (Italy)
Having challenged herself at a young age by choosing to leave home for Italy, Chagas has been limited to garbage time minutes in past seasons, but playing for Empoli this campaign has given her ample opportunities. She has demonstrated flashes of scoring touch at this level, but not necessarily the playmaking that has generally led her to being labeled a combo-guard. She does have the height to play on the wing so continuing to develop that scoring ability can pay off in the future. Argentina has had solid national teams in the past, but are looking for the next talismanic figure to push them back into the top trio in South America and she could become that player soon, but probably not alongside her sister Luciana, who opted to suit up for Uruguay. With her WNBA dreams and the benefits that becoming a contributor at that level could bring for the rest of her career, she would be a reliable pick, but is still a few years away from earning a chance on a roster.
Raquel Carrera, PF, Spain, Valencia
Top Spanish prospects have had the habit of trying the college route lately, pushing back their draft clocks, but Carrera chose to sign with ambitious Valencia and fight for playing time on a team pushing for trophies. She has put up solid numbers as a part of the rotation and figures to also challenge for national team recognition in the future. While she figures to be a solid scorer in the future, she does land in a tricky place when it comes to European archetypes translating to WNBA play. It is not clear at this point whether she would be able to play consistently in the post at the highest levels and her range is still expanding in this phase of her career. Further development in the next few years could provide a payoff for a team rolling the dice late in the draft.
Laura Meldere, PF, Latvia, Reyer Venezia (Italy)
Having spent several years in Italy already, Meldere has been steadily learning her craft from more established players and preparing for the future. Unfortunately, given how the draft works, a pick has to happen this year or she is a free agent and it is hard to see how there will be much more information to base a decision on between now and then. Her team was undefeated until recently, so not cracking their rotation is not a concern. The likelihood of her being picked has been severely hurt by the lack of youth national team play last year where she would have been able to play a number of games as the feature scorer and show her ability to rebound and defend against her peers. Teams that have been scouting the younger prospects for a while could choose to roll the dice late here.
Gili Eisner, PG, Israel, Hapoel Rishon LeZion
After a few impressive scoring displays as a youngster, Eisner was on the radar as a potential future elite outside shooting threat with some combo ability as a secondary playmaker. Over the offseason, that playmaking ability was refined and she entered the season as her club’s point guard. While that decreased the percentage and volume from distance for a while, her assisting ability started to push the league’s top passers whose professional careers have been defined by their passing and despite efforts to sign another lead guard, her team will be relying on her for the rest of the season. Judging performance in the Israeli league can be difficult, but she did show playmaking ability in one of the national team’s qualifying games. Given her potential at two key skills, she could be a canny pick late in the draft with the hopes that a few more years of development like the last one will get her to the required ability to contribute at a higher level.
Goksen Fitik, PG, Turkey, Cukurova Mersin Yenisehir
After a promising last season, there were some hopes of a bigger role for Fitik this season. Her club decided to bring back a player with preferences for initiating the offense on most possessions so she took a more complementary role for several months. Roster changes since then mean that she now is in firm control of the offense. She immediately showed that she could be a confident playmaker at this level and is also now in a position where she can hunt her shot when the time is right. With her counting numbers steadily climbing, decision-makers will now have the footage they need to make a decision and as a result, she could get that late round look where international picks make the most sense. Her shooting range still needs some improvement although she has had the chance to launch her fair share from distance in this new role.
Maxuella Lisowa Mbaka, SF, Belgium, Braine
A player who has been on the radar from this class for years, Lisowa Mbaka may ultimately go undrafted without the right exposure for this season. She was been a part of the rotation for Belgium’s powerhouse club from a young age and had excellent numbers in youth national team play a couple years ago, especially against the United States. This season, Braine was not in EuroLeague and despite two strong games from her, failed to advance in EuroCup. Their roster is no match for their opponents domestically and making sure that everyone gets their chances has taken away some opportunities for her to feature. While she can contribute in a variety of ways, the lack of range extension over time as she has had to downshift positions at her height is a major concern for her reaching the next level as a player. In a typical season, there probably would have been a path for her to play her way to a late pick, but this past year might not be enough.
Dragana Zubac, SF, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Pecsi (Hungary)
Few leagues have devoted as much resources to giving young players the opportunities to develop on the court as the one in Hungary. While there are hopes for a draft pick in the next few seasons from among their native players, teams in the league have also aggressively brought in players from other countries. As is the case with other emerging Bosnian players, Zubac left the country to play elsewhere at a young age, heading to Romania last season alongside her sister Nikolina, but they are in different countries this campaign, giving her a separate spotlight. Her last stint in youth national team play was the one that made her a player to watch as she had significant responsibility in trying to avoid relegation at home. The region has traditionally been a strong source for draft picks, but has not provided one since 2015 and this might not be the year either with Zubac still proving herself at the club level.
Iliana Rupert, C, France, Bourges
It is surprising that the reigning EuroLeague Young Player of the Year can be falling below the radar, but it has been an unusual season for Rupert. Virus cases have hit Bourges hard all season starting from opening day and then an injury kept her out of action for months. Given that this is her one chance to get drafted, teams will be hoping that there is a little more recent tape to go off of before they pull the trigger. She is more of the traditional scoring post player and will need to continue to add to her game. While she has said all the right things about wanting to play in the WNBA, but her draft stock will definitely fall because teams will be wary of national team commitments. She has already been fast-tracked into the full national team and their success and the tough competition that players face to keep their places on the team likely mean that she will be unavailable for partial or full seasons over time. After some of the higher level American prospects come off the board, a team could find tremendous long-term value out of a calculated risk.
Marine Fauthoux, PG, France, Lyon-Villeurbanne
Another player identified as having potential early, Fauthoux signed at Lyon this season after Tony Parker cleared space in the rotation for her as he was constructing the roster with the chance to take the keys to the offense. Results have been somewhat mixed as the team’s ambitions continue to rise on the national and international level. She has also played for the full national team and figures to be involved there heavily in the near future, which could drop her draft stock. While she has a fairly complete game as a point guard, she has not really demonstrated elite ability at any one skill so it may take a few years for her to contribute at a high level overall. Teams seem to be more conscious of the upside of international picks in the second half of the draft these days and this is certainly a case where unexpected value could arrive a few years down the line compared to the college prospects available at that point.
Kendra Chery, SF, France, Landes
After a bit of bouncing between teams in France, Chery challenged herself to continue to prove her credentials as a prospect with a move to Landes this season. She has managed to get a very solid number of minutes on a team in continental play and chasing trophies domestically. That said, she is still working on carving out a role above opportunistic scoring, but has demonstrated intriguing possibilities long term on the defensive end. Of particular concern at her height is a lack of makes beyond the arc. This was an absolutely loaded birth year class in France even if not all of them end up being WNBA or elite European level talents and in comparison to some of them, she will have a lot more film available of her play when it comes to making that draft decision late.
Zoe Wadoux, SG, France, Villeneuve-d’Ascq-Lille
It had been a fairly quiet season for her, but Wadoux caught fire behind the arc in Romania during the EuroCup group stage and helped her team qualify for the knockout round. That potential as a shooter is what will help her develop a role over the course of her career, but her domestic league season has not given her much opportunity to show that her ability over a larger sample size. That difficulty in fighting for playing time in a competitive league is what has driven a number of French prospects to pursue the college route in recent years. The inconsistency in playing time and the resulting challenge in assessing her shooting ability will probably leave her out of the draft picture. Further development into a clear role could see her gain interest as a free agent in the future.
Janelle Salaun, SF, France, Villeneuve-d’Ascq-Lille
While she did not enter the season as her team’s highest-rated draft prospect, Salaun had a solid start to her season and earned more playing time than expected as she moved clubs over the offseason. As the season has progressed, that has not necessarily parlayed itself into additional opportunities to move from the fringe prospect category. She is one of a number of prospects who greatly missed the chances afforded by youth national team play most years. Being able to play last year would have given her the ability to confirm the promise of her 2019 play with France’s U18 national team where she demonstrated capabilities to shoot from a range that is not normally part of her club play. She would have been more of a feature player if she could have played last summer at the U20 level and given more indication of 3-and-D possibilities in the future. Instead, she is likely to remain an interesting name for the future from this season.
Marie Pardon, PG, France, Tarbes Gespe Bigorre
A team with a rich point guard tradition, Tarbes has recently provided many opportunities to young guards looking for the minutes to showcase themselves and build their careers. Pardon has had the chance to be the starter all season long and has certainly showcased her playmaking ability with the third highest assists per game in the league so far. While she has focused on getting her more experienced teammates their shots in the flow of the offense, she will have to increase her own scoring ability in the future to reach her full potential. At this point, she is probably on the outside looking in when it comes to draftability, but she is having to take on more responsibility than most players her age and having a good season in a tough league with defenses that can challenge young players.