MANILA, Philippines – Kai Sotto ended all speculations about his plans for next season after he announced that he has thrown in his name among applicants of the 2022 NBA Draft.
The question in everyone’s mind is whether the 7-foot-3 teen giant is ready to take his game to the highest level of basketball in the world, and that is the NBA.
In assessing Sotto’s readiness, though, only a small sample size can be evaluated since his exposure the past two years has been limited to the FIBA competitions and the recently concluded National Basketball League (NBL) season in Australia where he suited up for the Adelaide 36ers.
While his numbers Down Under were not the type that would knock the socks out of the most astute of NBA scouts, his overall performance revealed a young prospect who has shown a lot of promise and at the same time, still has a number of facets to his game he will need to work on.
Sotto’s playing time was obviously carefully managed as the Adelaide 36ers coaching staff made sure to slowly get him acclimatized to the brand of play and level of physicality in the pro league.
Sotto averaged a mere 15.26 minutes in 23 games for the 36ers as he had to share floor time with two accomplished frontline veterans, long-time Adelaide star and former Australian national team member Daniel Johnson and former Chicago Bull Cameron Bairstow. The Filipino teen’s playing time was gradually increased in the last two months of the season when Bairstow was sidelined with an injury.
One thing going for Sotto is that he ended his stint with Adelaide on a high note which could leave a lasting impression on NBA scouts who visited Australia the past two months.
April saw Sotto play eight games, the most he had played in a month in the NBL. It was also his most productive month on the offensive end as he averaged 9.37 points, highlighted by his season-high output of 21 points in a losing effort against the Brisbane Bullets last April 11.
The 19-year-old also pumped in 16 points in their penultimate game of the season last April 22 against South East Melbourne. His rebounding numbers for April, though, were at its lowest as he only managed to pluck 3.75 boards per game.
During the course of 23 games in Sotto’s single season exposure in the NBL, his averages are a decent 7.52 points, 4.48 rebounds, and 0.83 blocks per game.
One player in the NBL who is high on the list of different reputable mock drafts is 6-foot-10 French unicorn Ousmane Dieng. Turning 19 this May, Dieng has been projected to be picked as high as 11th in the first round of this year’s NBA Draft.
Dieng’s numbers in the NBL are not a lot better than Sotto’s. Dieng averaged 8.87 points and 3.17 rebounds for the New Zealand Breakers which finished last in the standings. Dieng played 23 games and averaged 20.79 minutes per outing.
There are two other young prospects in the NBL who are ranked higher than Sotto in most mock drafts, but their numbers do not paint a picture of players who are way more advanced than Sotto in terms of skills and potential.
Makur Maker, a 6-foot-11 Sudanese-Australian, averaged 7.81 points and 5.9 for the Sydney Kings, while 6-foot-9 Russian forward Nikita Mikhailovskii averaged just 1 point per game for the Tasmania Jackjumpers. Both Maker and Mikhailovskii are 21 years old. Sotto being younger than the two could eventually help him move up in future mock drafts.
Australian legend Andrew Gaze said that anytime a player of Sotto’s size and skill set comes along, he should merit some attention from any NBA team.
Sotto will have a chance to showcase himself up close to scouts in the NBA Draft Combine scheduled from May 16 to 22. That would be a perfect venue for him to display how much he has learned and grown from his stint with the Adelaide 36ers in the NBL.