For the first time since 2001, four of the top five picks in the NBA draft did not play college basketball in the United States.
No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama will join the San Antonio Spurs after having played in France’s top league.
The third pick, Scoot Henderson, went to the Portland Trail Blazers after two seasons with the G League Ignite. Last season, he averaged 17.6 points, 6.6 assists and 5.1 rebounds in 25 games, including a 28- point outburst in a preseason game against Wembanyama’s Metropolitans 92 squad.
The next two picks, twins Amen and Ausar Thompson, played for Overtime Elite, an Atlanta-based pro league for 16- to 20-year-olds. Amen Thompson went to the Houston Rockets, while Ausar went to the Detroit Pistons.
“When you see somebody elite, you know it,” Pistons general manager Troy Weaver said. “I think Halle Berry is pretty in church or in the grocery store. So I think that you can kind of figure it out when you see something pretty special.”
The picks showed the increasing viability of overseas and domestic minor leagues as paths to the NBA. Henderson said his time in the G League made him the most prepared player in the draft.
“We play against pros every night and guys that killed college, guys that killed overseas, guys that are going up and down in the league, coming down just to play against us, to show that they can dominate draft picks or whatever the case may be,” he said.
The only top-five pick who played in college was Brandon Miller, a one-and-done player out of Alabama who went to the Charlotte Hornets at No. 2.
Wembanyama played the past three seasons in France’s Pro A. Last season, he led the league in scoring, rebounding and blocks. He was the youngest regular-season MVP in league history and its defensive player of the year.
“Can’t really describe it,” he said. “Still fresh. Best thing in my life, you know. Best night of my life. Dreaming about this for so long. It’s a dream come true. It’s incredible.”
Miller was a first-team Associated Press All-American, averaging 18.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists.
The Thompson twins led the City Reapers to the Overtime Elite championship last season. Ausar was the regular-season and Finals MVP while Amen was an all-league first-team pick and posted a league-best 9.2 assists per game during the Overtime Elite playoffs.