LAS VEGAS — NBA scouts and executives got a first glimpse of a handful of draft-eligible players in the 2024 NBA Draft as the Perth Wildcats took on the G League Ignite in a pair of exhibition games this past week. The Ignite took the first game 124-105 and the Wildcats bounced back in the second game with a 127-112 win Friday night.
"It's a good benchmark to start the draft season, especially with things being so wide open towards the top of the draft," one NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. "There's a lot of talent on the court this week and it was good to see the progress in some players."
The Ignite's roster is loaded with young talent. Out of the 15-man roster, seven players qualify for the upcoming draft with at least three players projected in the first round. At least two scouts or front office executives from every NBA team were present all week for practices and the games. Every scout was very familiar with Ignite's two young star players, Ron Holland and Matas Buzelis, but it was Perth center Alex Sarr who showed the most improvement to his game and had glimpses of promising upside as a versatile big in the NBA.
In the first game, Sarr finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and six blocks in 29 minutes. The 7-foot-1 center out of France looked much more comfortable in the second game, coming off the bench and recorded a double-double with 26 points and 10 rebounds and added six blocks in the win.
"I just want to show NBA scouts how impactful I can be on the court, on or off the ball," Sarr told Yahoo Sports. "I think my versatility separates me from other bigs in this draft with my rim protection, high motor and shot creation."
Sarr scored in myriad ways, whether that was stepping into long 3s out of the pick-and-pop, taking players off the dribble or catching lobs off the roll or in transition. Defensively, he was the best shot blocker on the court and was consistently shooting the gap, deflecting passes and altering shots with his 7-5 wingspan.
"He's a really good player and it's hard to get shots off around him," Buzelis told Yahoo Sports. "I didn't expect him to step out and guard the perimeter like he did and he just a lot of little things really well."
This is not Victor Wembanyama 2.0 by any means. There are a few parallels with both players being from France, being over 7 feet and having a unique skill set with the way they handle the ball in the open court and elite shot-blocking skills.
"The NBA is evolving and becoming more positional-less so even at my size, I have to be able to guard every position and feel comfortable with the ball in my hands," Sarr said. "I feel like I’ve always been able to play on the perimeter and it’s nothing new or uncomfortable for me to step outside of the paint and make plays."
Sarr, the younger brother of Oklahoma City center Olivier Sarr, joined the Wildcats after spending last season with Overtime Elite in Atlanta. Olivier went the college route and played at Wake Forest and Kentucky before going undrafted in the 2021 NBA Draft. Unlike his older brother, Alex elected to go pro and is playing one season in Australia's National Basketball League before hitting the NBA.
"The professional route just suits me better as a player and has helped me develop my game better," Alex Sarr said. "The spacing allows me more freedom and versatility, so that’s why I chose to play in the NBL and not college."
Sarr and his parents have been in Australia for fewer than two months. Wildcats head coach John Rillie has already seen strides in his development as he gets comfortable with a new team and system.
"He's only got better and better since he arrived," Rillie said after Friday's game. "I can't imagine how much growth we're going to see over the course of the season. Alex has a chance to be really special. We all get enamored by the blocked shots, but it's also how he keeps players in front on the perimeter, his second efforts to contest shots and how well he reads the defense and finds little pockets on offense."
Coming into the two preseason exhibition games against the Ignite, Sarr was largely projected as a fringe first-round draft pick who had a ton of potential and would need time to develop at the NBA level. NBA scouts left more than impressed with where Sarr is at in his development at this point and how much improvement he's made since his time at Overtime Elite last season.
"There were stretches in both games where he was the best prospect on the court," another NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. "A two-way player who showed everyone this week that he's more than just a rim protector."
Sarr will play his former team, Overtime Elite, in an exhibition game Sunday in Las Vegas before the team travels back to Australia for the NBL Blitz (a tournament with every NBL team) taking place Sept. 16-22.
The 18-year-old center made a strong statement to kick off the draft season and will be a player a lot of NBA teams watch closely this season as another versatile, 7-footer out of France gets ready to hit the NBA in less than a year.