The G League Fall Invitational is quickly becoming one of my favorite events on the basketball calendar. Born out of intrigue for last year’s Victor Wembanyama vs. Scoot Henderson matchup, the Fall Invitational signals the beginning of a new draft cycle as well as the impending NBA season with the FIBA World Cup concluding this past weekend.
This year, the G League Ignite, entering its fourth season, hosted the Perth Wildcats of the Australian NBL for two games at the Ignite’s home in Henderson, NV. The Ignite has arguably their most talented group highlighted by Matas Buzelis, Ron Holland, and Izan Almansa while Perth’s prized prospect is former Overtime Elite big man Alexandre Sarr.
All four can make lottery cases, but Sarr was the one making the best case for #1 overall. Here are my three takeaways from the two games:
1. Alexandre Sarr was the most complete prospect on the floor
Sarr is yet another prospect hailing from a basketball family; his Senegalese father, Massar, played professionally, and his brother, Olivier, plays for the OKC Thunder and is a former Kentucky Wildcat.
Alex’s own decorated career starts in France where he grew up before signing to Real Madrid’s youth program where he spent two seasons. He then spent two seasons in the United States playing for Overtime Elite when it first started.
Now, Sarr finds himself in Australia playing for Perth, a move that NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger says “will be of immense benefit to Alexandre’s development, as he immerses himself in a professional environment with a fantastic set of coaches and teammates.”
All this moving around and time spent with prestigious programs has led to Henderson for these two games, and he really took the opportunity by the horns to show what he’s capable of.
Averaging 21.5 points and six blocks, Sarr’s elite instincts and movement stood out. For standing so tall at 7’1, Sarr always knew where to be and was always able to get there. His recovery speed and length (7’4+ wingspan) combine to make him a potent disruptor, but his feel on that end makes him a true nightmare.
In one instance, Sarr jumps a passing lane to deflect a ball he’s unable to fully recover, but he sprints back to switch onto Ignite star Ron Holland. Sarr knows Holland likes to drive, so he overplays to cut off Holland’s lane not once nor twice but three times, finally forcing a bad pass out after Holland gives up on the play.
Later on when Perth had the second game in hand, Sarr found himself guarding Holland again, but this time Holland does find a lane. Holland is smart to attack Sarr’s back, but Sarr is able to recover and turn for the block.
here are just a couple of my favorite defensive moments from alex sarr in last week’s g league fall invitational.
both against potential 2024 top pick ron holland, sarr does such a good job of using his feet and hands in tandem to clamp guys. pic.twitter.com/qJvnrfbqkx
— damon (@iamdamonallred) September 11, 2023
As for the other side to give Sarr the “most complete prospect” title, I was blown away by how versatile his offensive game is as well as how easily it should translate to both the NBL and NBA games. He thrived in both pick-and-roll as well as pick-and-pop (3-for-5 from three-point range over the two games) sets, but also displayed a willingness to do dirty work, whether it be screening away from the ball to open up offense for teammates or taking the lunch pail to the glass, finishing multiple second-chance opportunities.
If I had to poke holes in his offensive game, his self-shot creation outside the paint isn’t great, but it’s better than where most 7’1 18-year-olds are at; he found himself a few mid-range jumpers to varied success. It’ll be the skill I track most in his NBL season.
2. Ignite’s dynamic duo is already fixing their biggest flaws
Matas Buzelis, getting to Ignite by way of Sunrise Christian Academy (KS), is already in the conversation for 2024 top-five thanks to his mix of size and skill.
He played point guard for much of his prep ball despite measuring in at 6’11. Based on how Ignite was using him, they don’t see him as a point guard, though he was still able to find two assists per game. Instead, he shot 3-of-7 from three over both games, and got to the rim well.
The number one concern NBA teams will have next June is how his body takes contact, especially when trying to score inside. Thankfully, Buzelis has a few things working in his favor, like 43.1% 3P marks as a senior in high school (across 25 games tracked by Synergy) that should soften up defenses. Plus, he’s already been able to take advantage of the few months already in the Ignite program, adding some visible muscle, resulting in the first poster dunk of his pro career:
Ron Holland, the more aggressive counterpart, comes from Duncanville High (TX). He also comes in with two gold medals on his resume, starring for Team USA – 2021 U16 Americas and 2022 U17 World Cup.
Holland was hyper-efficient as always, shooting 18-of-32 (56.3 percent) from the floor as well as nabbing eight steals across both games, showing how he can impact the game on both ends. But he even hit 4-of-9 threes, which has been the biggest knock on him coming into the cycle.
The most encouraging thing about these shots was how creatively Holland was able to get to them. Sometimes it’s as simple as a one-dribble pull-up from the elbow, but other times he’s stringing together a cross-over with a stepback for a tough three.
3. Babacar Sané is proof of growing NBA Global Academy
Sané was the prospect I knew the least about coming in, but I’m glad to get to know him because he’s really a fun watch and is just my kind of player.
Sané, along with Thierry Darlan, represents the NBA Academy Africa on Ignite, and both have Basketball Africa League (BAL) experience. Darlan didn’t play in the Fall Invitational, but Sane averaged 12 points and nine rebounds in two games coming off the bench.
He does a great job of hustling, filling in the gaps, and really just doing those ancillary things that fourth or fifth options in lineups need to provide. He’s capable of attacking closeouts to put extra pressure on the defense. Admittedly, his four turnovers in the first game despite not having a ton of on-ball reps were a little worrying, but he was much more careful with the ball in the second game, turning it over just once.
With a reputation as a three-level scorer, Sané projects to add depth to a highly-talented Ignite squad, and he could push for first-round consideration if all goes well. Darlan, who may have even more upside, will also be fun to track this season as it relates to the growing Africa roots the NBA is continuing to put down.
Hoping that Babacar Sané doesn’t go under the radar this year. I think this Ignite team will be more transition-heavy, which does him well, but you can feel the game slowing down too. Would’ve rushed plays like these last year, but seems to be pacing himself much better now. pic.twitter.com/bmcfdXMqqf
— Wilko (@wilkomcv) September 7, 2023