With the 2023-24 college basketball season fully underway, we’re all getting the opportunity to watch some of the best prospects in the 2024 NBA Draft. However, the top prospect in the draft has been playing for a couple of months now. That’s because the player that is most likely to be taken first overall is Alexandre Sarr, a 7-foot-1 French big man that plays for the NBL’s Perth Wildcats. Sarr isn’t in the same league as a prospect as fellow Frenchman Victor Wembanyama was, so I’d caution against making the mistake of comparing the two. But the 18-year-old has more upside than anybody else in this draft class, and there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to his game.
None of Sarr’s NBL stats jump off the page, as he is averaging just 9.5 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game this season. But Sarr has done all of that in just 18.3 minutes per game, and the eye test is what makes the former Overtime Elite star special. Well, that combined with the fact that he averaged 21.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 6.0 blocks per game in a two-game set of exhibitions against the G League Ignite in September.
With Sarr, it all starts with his ability to impact the game on the defensive end. Sarr has a reported 7-foot-5 wingspan. When you combine that with his height, you’re talking about a guy with game changing length. And Sarr uses every bit of it to be an elite shot blocking presence. Sarr has remarkable timing and instincts as an interior defender, staying down on fakes and knowing exactly when to go up for the swat. That should instantly make him a feared rim protector in the NBA. Sarr is just relentless in his pursuit of the basketball, and that’s something his coaches will love about him. They’ll also like that he is just as good at altering shots as he is blocking them.
Sarr also happens to be a very fluid mover, as he’s more of a wing that is blessed with a big man’s size. That allows him to do a nice job of contesting jumpers. It also lets him easily recover when he is overeager and his man gets a step on him. However, the real beauty in his athleticism and mobility is that he’s comfortable guarding in space.
Sarr’s true breakout came in the previously mentioned meetings with the Ignite. Sarr found himself guarding Ron Holland for a couple of possessions across those games. Holland is one of the best wings in this draft, and he is highly regarded as an offensive talent. But Sarr held his own when he was matched up with him on the perimeter, which shouldn’t be easy for a big man. On one possession, Sarr smothered Holland and forced him to give up the ball. On another, Holland got by him and Sarr recovered to block him. That wowed a ton of scouts and draft analysts, shooting Sarr up draft boards.
Guarding the perimeter is massive when it comes to assessing a big man’s long-term potential. Sarr looks like he’ll be plenty reliable when being switched onto smaller players, and that makes it hard to rule out an All-Defensive future. Sarr will butter his bread defending forwards and centers in the NBA but knowing he can switch one through five is tremendous.
Offensively, Sarr is a work in progress. As previously mentioned, he does move well for a big, so that’s going to present tons of opportunities for him to beat slower big men off the dribble. However, he’ll need to tighten his handle a bit in order to start creating for himself consistently. For now, his best work will come as a pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop threat. But the good news is that he should be effective as both rather quickly.
As a roll man, Sarr is going to be able to immediately come in and catch lobs in the NBA. He’s also tough around the basket, so I think he’ll be a good finisher around the rim — even with defenders nearby. That’ll especially be the case once he adds more muscle to his frame. As far as the popping goes, Sarr has a nice-looking jumper right now. The center is only shooting 31.3% from three in the NBL this season, but his mechanics aren’t bad and he has shown off some decent touch. Sarr also has range all the back to the NBA three-point line, as evidenced by the three triples he made over two games against the Ignite.
Overall, Sarr is a jack of all trades offensively, but he’s a master of none. There’s clearly a lot of versatility at play with the Frenchman, but he’ll need to hone his craft in order to deliver on his promise. I’d also like to see him process the game better as a passer out of the roll. But considering what we’ve seen from him, plenty of NBA teams will be excited about the possibility of getting him in their programs. He’s a highly moldable ball of clay on that end of the floor. And even if he just settles in as a good rim runner that can occasionally step out and hit some shots, he’ll be a very good pro because of what he brings defensively.
A lot of people are down on this class, especially when comparing it to some of the previous ones. With that in mind, Sarr seems like a relatively safe bet to go first, and that’s the direction I’d go if I were making the selection right now. In a draft that doesn’t have any clear future franchise players, Sarr’s ability to play the defensive end, combined with all the tools he has to work with offensively, makes him a swing worth taking. I’d be shocked if he wasn’t a highly productive starter, at the very least. But the right coaching staff can get a lot more out of him.