With the NBA season in the rearview mirror, basketball fans that need a fix can tune into the FIBA U17 World Championships and see some of the top domestic and international talent go head-to-head. While most of these prospects are at least two years away from being draft eligible, players like Ben Simmons, Andrew Wiggins, and Kristaps Porzingis honed their skills in this very tournament before stepping out into stardom.
Elias Valtonen, Finland, Shooting Guard, 6'6", Age 17
Few players in this tournament are as polished offensively as Valtonen is from the perimeter. Averaging 17.3 points, four rebounds, and two assists-per-game while shooting 50 percent from the floor and 42 percent from deep, its not a shocker to hear that he is getting some seriously looks from Pac-12 powerhouse Arizona, among other schools.
His best game of the group stage came in the opener against China, where he netted 22 points on nine of sixteen shooting from the floor and four of nine from deep. China's defenders did not have an answer for him, especially as the game winded down. In a blowout loss to Canada, he did not get a lot of shots up but he passed the eye test. Against one of the better teams, that's loaded with top prospects, Valtonen still looked like one of the best, if not the best player on the floor. His skill, shooting stroke, and feel for the game are undeniable. If he grows a little taller and continues to develop at this rate, he will be making an impact in the league in no time.
RJ Barrett, Canada, Shooting Guard, 6'7", Age 16
If you find yourself wondering why you should care about the Canadian U17 team, look no further than RJ Barrett. Currently ranked number one overall on ESPN's top 25 list of prospects for 2019, he is playing like a man amongst boys. Through three games he has averaged an efficient 17.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.7 assists-per-game and had one of the biggest highlights of the tournament courtesy a game winning dunk.
His most complete game came against Finland and one of the top prospect, Elias Valtonen, who was matched up on him for most of the game. Barrett finished with 16 points to go along with 10 rebounds and two blocks and held Valtonen to 12 points and seven shots. He opened the game with a thunderous dunk, followed it up with a corner three, and was the catalyst behind their route of Finland. As he develops and grows into his body, he will undoubtedly become one of the top prospects in the world and will most likely be a lottery pick come 2020.
Jaylen Hoard, France, Small Forward, 6'8", Age 17
One of the top prospects in the tournament, Jaylen Hoard, has scouts salivating over his potential. The 17 year old from France has been lighting up the competition, averaging 25.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, and three assists-per-game in the group stage.
In their opening game, Hoard tied the world record for points scored in a FIBA U17 game with 41. He shot an efficient 53.6 percent from the floor on 15 of 28 shooting and two of eight from deep. Physically speaking, Hoard dominates his opponents. He is just bigger, stronger, faster, and plays above the rim — something that is uncommon in this tournament. He has basketball in his blood, as his father played at Kent State and then professionally overseas. Americans should get used to hearing his name because he just announced that he will be taking his talents to High Point (N.C.) Wesleyan Christian for his upcoming junior season.
Sergi Martinez, Spain, Power Forward, 6'7", Age 17
Spain has a tradition of skilled bigs that can rebound and it looks like Sergi Martinez could be the next in line. In all the games that I watched, no player had a better feel for grabbing rebounds like Matinez did for Spain. Through three games he is averaging a very impressive 17 points, 15.3 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game.
His best showing came against Argentina in the final game of the group stage, where he took over the game after fellow star Miguel Gonzales went down with an ankle injury. He finished with 19 points, 16 rebounds, and three assists and was the guy who put Argentina away in the final five minutes after a furious comeback attempt by Lautaro Lopez. He is highly skilled on the low post, often embarrassing opposing bigs with his advance post moves and counters.
Dzanan Musa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Small Forward, 6'8", Age 17
There is no denying it, Musa is without a doubt the best player in the entire tournament. The Bosnian sensation has been in the spotlight for several years now and is the target of many major European clubs as he starts to mature. He is the current tournament leader in points-per-game at 29 and also adds in eight rebounds and three assists-per-game too.
Watching him go to work against Korea was one of the highlights of the group stages for me, as he cut through the defense like a hot knife through butter. He could not, and was not denied at any point in this game as he finished with 36 points, 11 rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block. There isn't anything he cant do. When Korea would take away the perimeter, he would drive, with ease, through the defense for an easy bucket. When they would clog the lane, he would start hitting jumpers and threes. It won't be much longer before he is dominating the NBA, everyone better get ready.
Lautaro Lopez, Argentina, Point Guard, 6'2", Age 17
This list has been full of great players, but there is not a prospect on this list that means more to their team than Lautaro Lopez means to his Argentina squad. He is averaging 18.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists and leads his team in every major statistical category, by a long shot. For perspective, the next highest pointsper game average on the team is 5.7.
Lopez is a one-man wreaking crew and has been my favorite prospect to watch by a landslide. It is apparent, right from tip-off, that Lopez is the best player on the court. He has a deadly crossover and court vision that is reminiscent of a young Ricky Rubio. If he had teammates that could finish the easy looks he gives them, he would be averaging six to eight assists easily. His shooting numbers don't do him justice, as he is tasked with so much of the offensive load that he is often forced into bad shots, but he is deadly when driving the lane. If he can add a consistent three-point shot and mature physically, there is no telling how high his ceiling could be.