Every year, 40-some international prospects file paperwork with the NBA league office in mid-April declaring for the upcoming draft. Every year, 30 or more of those players subsequently withdraw in mid-June. Whether it is because they didn't get the guarantee they wanted or, like Kristaps Porzingis in 2014, believe they can go higher in the draft a year later. Dozens of foreign players go through the draft process, only to take themselves off the board a little over a week before draft day. Able to be eligible for the draft as many as three times, many prospects of varying legitimacy put their name in the draft multiple times before they become automatically eligible during the year in which they turn 22, in an effort to drum up interest not just in the NBA, but from the top international teams as well. This process has become something as a formality for many prospects.
When an unheralded player leaves their name in the draft, it raises the collective eyebrow of the NBA and international scouting community. In an age where the vast majority of teams have extensive internal scouting databases, and video on nearly every key league in the world is readily available on Synergy Sports Technology, teams aren't often surprised by the names they see on the final eligibility list, as the majority of those players tend to be locks to get drafted.
Leaving his name in the 2016 NBA Draft past the international withdrawal deadline, 18-year old Gracin Bankumanya is perhaps the closest thing to a mystery in this draft class. Few players in this draft class are quite as well-travelled as the intriguing big man, whose background spans three continents and a variety of circumstances.
Discovered in his native Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Bakumanya started his career in Spain with Torrelodones, the same team that recently withdrawn early draft entrant Jordan Sakho played for this year. Showing well at the junior level throughout his two-plus year stint in Spain, he was subsequently brought to the United States in the hopes of finding a landing spot in prep school, an endeavor that ultimately proved less than fruitful as he was connected with a number of programs as a 2016 recruit, including St. Anthony's in New Jersey, powerhouse Montverde Academy, and Texas based Pantego Christian, but before long, found himself back in Europe as his English simply wasn't up to par at the time. Briefly residing in Belgium, Bakumanya joined Antibes shortly after in 2014, spending the last two seasons with the French club who earned promotion to Pro A last season, carving out a spot for Bakumanya to play in Pro A Espoirs this season as a result. Playing 30 games of the 32 he appeared in this season in Espoirs, Bakumanya averaged 14.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game over 26.7 minutes per game at the junior level.
Long considered an interesting talent in European circles, Bakumanya's physical tools are certainly intriguing for a prospect at any level. Standing 6'11 with a wingspan near 7'3, a solid 240-pound frame, and terrific mobility, the young center has a lot going for him from a physical perspective. His skill set, however, is still a major work in progress, though he has some flashes of promise scoring the ball. He throws in the occasional right handed hook or 3-point jump shot, can put the ball on the floor a bit, and finishes above the rim, but lacks consistency, awareness and polish. He seems to operate almost purely off his talent, as his feel for the game remains quite poor. Taking a lot of difficult jump shots, showing limited vision as a passer, and not getting to the line as often as one might hope, the young center has plenty of room to grow on this end amid flashes of good things for a player his size.
Much the same thing can be said defensively, where Bakumanya shows terrific quickness defending the perimeter, plays with some energy, allowing him to rebound the ball at a solid rate, but has no real instincts, as reflected by his very poor 1.1 blocks per 40 minutes pace adjusted, good for 18th in that very weak level of competition. He shows quick hands getting into the passing lanes when the action comes to him, but otherwise has a surprisingly limited impact given his tremendous physical tools on this end.
Able to run the floor impressively, finish tip dunks crashing the glass, and make a mechanically sound jump shot from the top of the key, Bakumanya is an interesting prospect, but his lack of experience against quality competition and questionable feel for the game are significant concerns. His background hasn't afforded him much exposure to this point, there are question marks about his true age, and he's a long way away from being a NBA contributor, but that hasn't stopped teams from gambling on players with his tools in the past. It will be interesting to see if or when Bakumanya's name is called on draft day, as the mystery surrounding his declaration won't last much longer.