Every year at least one prospect hits some kind of roadblock during the draft process. Sometimes it's a current injury, or concerns about a nagging one, and sometimes it is a newly unearthed issue. In a sad twist, twice in the last five years a potential first round draft pick has been diagnosed with Marfan syndrome (MFS) during the extensive medical testing administered by the NBA. Though the diagnosis derails their immediate plans for the future, it can also be a life-saving diagnosis. A genetic disorder of the connective tissue, people with MFS tend to be tall and thin with long arms, legs, and fingers and more at risk of a number of heart related issues potentially triggered by intense physical activity.
Almost three years ago, Baylor power forward Isaiah Austin was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, just days before the NBA Draft. Handling the sudden termination of his basketball career admirably as he was faced with a whirlwind of media attention, Austin was selected ceremonially in the 2014 NBA Draft in front of a supportive crowd at the Barclays Center.
Fast forward to last fall, and Austin's name unexpected reappeared in the news, albeit a ways away from the NBA radar. Medically cleared to play in late November, well after the beginning of the season in Europe, Austin signed with FMP in early January returning to the floor for the first time since his diagnosis on January 15th. Playing alongside Jonah Bolden, Austin was clearly still regaining his form and conditioning, but had a number of big scoring nights in the Adriatic League and finished the season averaging 7.1 points and 3.6 rebounds over 14.9 minutes per game.
French center prospect Jonathan Jeanne was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome on June 8th. Turning 20 just a few weeks from now, the news that his basketball career was in jeopardy came just weeks after he turned in a terrific performance at the NBA Draft Combine. We interviewed him after watching him work out in Dallas shortly after. However, with the experience of Austin's comeback working in his favor, there are still some rumblings that Jeanne could be selected late in the second round despite his diagnosis. In a shallow year for international prospects, Jeanne remains on the board for some teams who believe the reward of a medically cleared Jeanne a few years from now outweighs the risk that he won't play again and dwarves the ceiling of selecting most alternatives that late in the draft.
Measured at 7'2 in shoes with a 7'6.5 wingspan, but weighing only 207-pounds, Jeanne has outstanding size for a center even if his frame is still a long way off. Quite nimble for his size, Jeanne's mobility stood out at the Combine, where he repeatedly scored off of rims runs. Able to dunk the ball and block shots while barely jumping, Jeanne registered a solid 29 inch no-step vertical and used his length and impressive athleticism to swat away shots playing against a far more experienced group of players.
Born in Guadeloupe, but incorporated into INSEP early in his career, Jeanne made an impression averaging 9.6 and 5.2 rebounds per game two years ago playing in the French third division with CFBB. Signing with Le Mans, who played him almost exclusively at the junior level last season, Jeanne began this season playing primarily in Espoirs as well, but was loaned to less talented first division club Nancy mid-season, affording him an opportunity to gain some high level experience. Finishing the year averaging 3.7 points and 3.9 rebounds over 13 minutes per game after his loan, Jeanne began seeing minutes more steadily as the year wore on and had a few strong performances trying to help Nancy avoid relegation.
Offensively, Jeanne's size is obviously a factor. He's an excellent target for lobs and his foot speed makes him a very effective roll man as well. Coordinated with good hands, Jeanne plays above the rim effortlessly and is also a factor on the offensive glass thanks to his length.
Apart from his ability to finish from close range, Jeanne is otherwise a work in progress offensively, lacking much in the way of polish. He struggles against contact and tends to be fairly turnover prone, though he can handle the ball a bit. He will also knock down an occasional three-pointer, but shot just 26% from beyond the arc in across 127 attempts in the EuroCup, French League, Champions League, and Espoirs over the last two years. A decent passer, Jeanne is also prone to some careless mistakes, which is expected given his age and experience level, but is craftier than he appears on first glance possessing a solid feel for the game and fairly unique package of building blocks for a player with his size and length.
Defensively, Jeanne's length is a gamechanger. On paper, few players in recent history can match Jeanne's near 12-foot no step maximum vertical reach, and it shows on the floor as the young Frenchman alters shots around the rim in bunches. He also shows decent feet stepping away from the rim, though he doesn't always know his limitations out on the perimeter. An improved defensive rebounder, Jeanne still struggles to deal with physicality inside, getting thrown around by stronger players.
A developing prospect with great upside thanks to his rare physical tools and potential versatility, Jeanne's frame and lack of polish are question marks. His immediate future is murky due to his recent diagnosis, but he remains an interesting low-risk, high-reward option in the late second round as the experience of NBA decision-makers with Isaiah Austin's process through the medical red tape leaves quite a bit of hope for Jeanne.