Barcelona center James Nnaji has submitted the paperwork necessary to make himself eligible for the 2023 NBA draft, his agents, Gerard Raventos and Deirunas Visockas of YouFirst/Tandem Sports, tell Jonathan Givony of ESPN.
Nnaji is a projected first-round pick, currently ranked No. 24 on ESPN’s big board. According to Givony, Nnaji is the second-youngest player projected to be selected in June, as he won’t turn 19 years old until August.
Barcelona, which is currently atop the standings in the Spanish ACB league and ranks second in the EuroLeague, features several former NBA players on its roster, which is why Nnaji’s role has been modest. However, he is considered one of the top athletes in the class, standing 6’11” with a 7’5″ wingspan, Givony notes.
The young Nigerian only started playing basketball in 2016, Givony writes, making him something of a late bloomer. Barcelona’s season could extend into late June, so Nnaji’s agents are trying to work with the team so he can conduct interviews and workouts with NBA clubs, Givony adds.
Another possible first-rounder, French wing Bilal Coulibaly, is entering the draft, he tells Givony. Coulibaly is a teammate of projected No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama on Metropolitans 92, and is currently ranked No. 26 on ESPN’s board.
“The NBA has always been a dream of mine, and now it’s a goal,” Coulibaly said. “It’s the natural next step in my evolution.”
Like Nnaji, Coulibaly is one the youngest players in the class — he turns 19 at the end of July. According to Givony, Coulibaly was a relative unknown as recently as last year, but he had an enormous growth spurt in the past couple years — going from 5’11” to 6’8″ — and has impressed scouts this season with his defense and guard skills.
As Givony writes, both players will have until June 12 to decide whether or not to keep their names in the draft — that’s the withdrawal deadline for international early entrants. Givony believes Coulibaly could be a potential top-10 pick in 2024 based on his upward trajectory.