Jonathan Givony went on an 11-day trip through seven countries to evaluate most of the top NBA draft prospects in Europe. For his final European Dispatch, he visited Le Mans, France, to watch three 7-footers.
Le Mans has been a popular destination with NBA talent evaluators this season because there may not be another team in the world that can boast having three 7-foot players.
Youssoufa Fall, 20, came to France from Senegal three years ago, while the youngest, 18-year-old Jonathan Jeanne, was brought to the famed INSEP Academy in Paris from the French colony of Guadeloupe. Petr Cornelie, also 20 and the most immediate draft prospect of the three, is seeing the most playing time at the senior level and has been with the club for six years.
In their own words
“We’ve been practicing together, the three 7-footers. We don’t have the same profiles, but we are used to practicing together. Working on blocking shots, dunks, aggressiveness. I am not the tallest guy on the team, so that is funny for me.” – Cornelie
Cornelie, 7-feet-½ without shoes with a 7’1 wingspan, is a smooth athlete who moves fluidly and plays above the rim. He says he is a stretch four, and he does possess a beautiful jump shot with a high release point, shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc this season. Cornelie has made major strides with his approach to the game this year and looked like a veteran, scoring 14 points and grabbing five rebounds in 14 foul-plagued minutes. He plays with great confidence and maturity in a tough and physical league, and although he struggles because he lacks bulk, he shows great potential defensively on the perimeter, thanks to his quick feet and ability to switch on ball screens. Finally, he draws rave reviews for his personality from everyone who has been around him and was possibly the best interview we conducted from the many players we spoke with on the trip.
Jeanne is a physical freak with outrageous size and length (7-feet-2 without shoes with a 7-7 wingspan) to go along with impressive fluidity and agility for a player his size. His skill set is unique for a 7-footer. He handles the ball impressively in half-court and full-court situations and has range out to the 3-point line. Shockingly, he is capable of making pull-up jumpers off isolation plays. Defensively, he moves his feet well and has obvious potential, even though he’s far from being a polished player. Jeanne is just starting to come into his own as a player and has a world of upside as he continues to mature. He has a gregarious personality and showed quite a bit of interest in discussing the merits of his draft-prospect peers on both sides of the ocean, which is not very common in our experience.
Fall is an absolute giant, measuring 7-feet-3 without shoes with a 7’8 wingspan, and has freakishly big hands. He’s added nearly 50 pounds to his frame since arriving in France and looks like he can continue to get even stronger. While he looks somewhat awkward moving at times, he has nimble feet and moves well overall for someone his size. Very raw offensively, Fall averages a little over three blocks per 40 minutes in senior competition (Pro A and EuroCup) and 4.5 blocks per 40 minutes in junior competition, called the “Espoirs league” in France. He’s also a huge presence on the glass, grabbing 11.5 rebounds per 40 minutes in senior competition and 17.2 in the Espoirs. Highly competitive, Fall has good hands and a solid feel for the game, so there is hope he can continue to develop offensively. Simply put: He’s mobile, can catch pretty much everything thrown his way and can finish plays around the rim while barely jumping.
In their own words
“Some people say if you are a big man you need to stay in the paint, you need to pick, you have to roll, you need to block shots, you have to do the simple things. I don’t like this. I like to see big men who [are] all-around players. Guys who can shoot, pass the ball, put the ball on the floor, can pass … and run.” – Jeanne
“I am a defense-first player. I want to protect the rim and take all the rebounds.” – Fall
AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT
Very narrow in the upper body, Cornelie was attacked mercilessly in the post by older and more physically mature players, leading to his four quick fouls. His lack of strength (he currently weighs just 220 pounds) and just-decent toughness make it difficult for him to hold his ground and at times struggles to finish effectively around the basket through contact. That and the fact he does not have great length relative to his height may make it difficult for him to emerge as a great rebounder. He can be a little nonchalant in his approach to the game at times, but is making significant strides in this area. Cornelie has dished out just 13 assists in 567 minutes this season, or one every 44 minutes he’s on the floor.
Weighing just 194 pounds, Jeanne is paper thin relative to his height. With very thin legs, it will be a long process for him to reach full maturation, something that may take another four or five years. His lack of strength affects him in every facet of the game and forces him to play almost exclusively on the perimeter. He can be very wild with his approach to the game, turning the ball over at a very high rate and jacking up difficult 3-pointers early in the offense. While he has great length, he is not a great rim protector, looking a step slow at times rotating and contesting shots around the basket. The fact that he’s blocking just 2.2 shots per 40 minutes in the fairly weak Espoirs league shows how much work he needs to do in this area. Finally, he is somewhat of a project off the court as well, as he can be very immature in his approach to the game. He also has been highly reactive to refs, teammates and opposing players during games. There is little doubt that he is a long way away from helping an NBA team, logging just six minutes at the pro level this season.
Only playing serious basketball for a few years, Fall is fairly limited skill-wise, being mostly relegated to scoring off cuts and offensive rebounds. He struggles to use his superior size with his back to the basket and is somewhat mechanical in his approach overall. Fall has an awkward running style that belies how mobile he actually is, looking a bit stiff and upright at times when running up and down the floor. He’s certainly not an overly explosive player, struggling to get up off the ground and make plays, and missing occasional layups. He’s struggled to get consistent playing time at the pro level this season, totaling 90 minutes in EuroCup and Pro A competition.
In their own words
“I need to improve on my handle. My 3-point shot. My physique, getting stronger. I am eating a lot, to gain weight. I am lifting weights. I don’t want to be too bulky, so I am doing exercises to stay fast.” – Cornelie
“I need to work on my body. It is my first goal. I am too long. If you aren’t strong and tough it is difficult for you. My court vision and turnovers too. … I could be more physical in the paint. … If you only play and not get in the weight room that’s not going to be OK. I also need to do nutrition. It’s a process.” – Jeanne
Cornelie and Fall will make themselves eligible for the 2016 NBA draft, their agents, Bouna Ndiaye and Jeremy Medjana of Comsport, told The Vertical. “No decision has been made on Jonathan Jeanne at the moment,” they said.
There is very little consensus on the 7-footers among NBA teams. Cornelie, who is seeing the most minutes of the bunch in Pro A (around 20 minutes per game), is getting quite a bit of interest in the Nos. 15-25 range of the draft, but is considered more of a late first- or early second-round “draft-and-stash” pick by others. Skilled power forwards in his mold are very much en vogue these days, and it’s easy to see a team plugging Cornelie into its rotation in the not-too-distant future.
Fall could very well be a second-round, draft-and-stash candidate. It’s rare to find players in his mold, and there is very little risk associated in taking a flyer on him to see how he develops over the next few years. Players like him often make big jumps as they gain experience and the game slows down for them. Even though 7-footers aren’t quite as coveted as they used to be, his potential as a mobile rim protector is certainly intriguing.
Jeanne is perhaps the most interesting case. There is simply a huge spectrum for his long-term development, and projections on him vary wildly. Some NBA teams compare him to Rudy Gobert, while others feel he is more similar to countryman Alexis Ajinca. It wouldn’t be shocking to see a team with multiple draft choices invest a late-lottery pick on him and stash him in Europe for another year or two. But the fact that he’s simply so far off from being NBA-ready could drop him to the Nos. 15-25 range. Jeanne’s agents (who represent Gobert, Evan Fournier, Ian Mahinmi and others) have proven to be very patient with their French clients in the past, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if he ended up waiting another year or two to keep his name in the draft.
In their own words
“I am watching a lot of Porzingis, because he is a bit like me. I want to play like that. It’s my style.” – Cornelie
“I know I can be a big player in the NBA, so I am working hard. Sometimes it’s difficult to stay focused, because people in the States are saying I am a big prospect in Europe. I have to prove in France that I can play in the NBA.” – Jeanne
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