While NBA scouts and executives prioritized going to France to check out Victor Wenbanyama this offseason, there was another young player that caught their eye and generated buzz in this year’s NBA draft. Bilal Koulibaly, a 6-foot-6 guard with a 7-3 wingspan, passes every eye test as an NBA prospect. He has length and athleticism and doesn’t need the ball in his hands to make an impact on the game.
Koulibaly is one of the youngest players in this draft class at 18 years old, and his 92 stats for Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans this season don’t exactly jump off the page. Teammate Wembanyama leads the entire French Beticlique Ely League in points (21.6), rebounds (10.4) and blocks (3.1), while Koulibaly is averaging 5 points and 3 rebounds per 18 minutes this season. This was his first year playing professional basketball in France. He has shown tremendous improvement since the start of the season and is now playing confidently for the Mets 92 in the LNB Pro A playoffs.
Koulibaly told ESPN last month: “When the opportunities came, my confidence grew. I’m working on everything to be the most complete player I can be. The main thing is to be confident and apply what I’ve learned in the games.”
When drafting players in the first round, the NBA values young players with high ceilings, and Koulibaly has both. Every year, it’s the one-and-done prospects who are projected toward the top of the draft than college players with four years of experience.
An NBA scout told Yahoo Sports in March, “There’s a connection in terms of youth and history. “You expect inconsistencies at 19 or 20, but the combination of youth and production is the best scenario. Young people, in general, indicate the opposite.”
Koulibaly is still developing with his game on the court as well as his tall frame. In two years, Koulibaly went from 5-6 to 6-3 and added another three inches the following year. He uses his height to his advantage, especially with a high release on the jump shot, connecting on 40% of his attempts from 3-point range this season in catch-and-shoot situations. He has solid fundamentals and needs to work on his post-handover time, but the shooting mechanics are there. A defender where he shines with his long wingspan and quick feet that affect different aspects of the game. Koulibaly has shown flashes of what he could be as an NBA wing, whether it’s his impressive dribbling in transition, the way he can latch onto the backboard or drive the baseline to find Wembanyama in the lane.
“He’s our X factor,” Wembaniyama told SLAM magazine. “A versatile tool, he can post up a player and block him on the next play. Players continue to underestimate him because he is young. Every game does something crazy. I think he’s the player I want the most on the court.
He is a late bloomer who was relatively unknown a year ago. Wembaniyama, considered the No. 1 pick, is a generational talent who sits on the court, but makes everyone around him better. Scouts who have watched any of Wembanyama’s games this season have found a potential star in the making with Kulbali.
Before the start of the season, the 2024 NBA draft was Koulibaly’s goal. Now, he’s a first-round pick in the upcoming June 22 draft. A team that is patient and willing to develop Koulibaly for a couple of years could be a steal once he grows to his potential and the next one is young and talented. European player to beat the NBA.