In advance of the 2020 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops is evaluating prospects with a look at what the Atlanta Hawks might be considering from now until the selection process occurs. Dozens of prospects will profiled in this space and, in this installment, we take a look at Cameroonian forward Paul Eboua.
Over the last decade. the NBA has seen an increasing number of African-born players not only drafted into the league but excelling at the highest levels.
Joel Embiid has thrived in the NBA since overcoming his early injury concerns but is, himself, one of the rarer exceptions as an African-born player who was drafted in the top-3 of the draft. Embiid was the No. 3 overall pick in 2014, but had he not been diagnosed with an injury before the draft, he might have been the No. 1 pick and you could argue that he would’ve succeeded anywhere he would’ve been drafted.
That said, there have been a number of African-born players who have been drafted below — in some cases, much further below — the top-3 and have carved out great NBA careers for themselves.
Serge Ibaka, for instance, was drafted No. 24 overall in 2008 and has carved out a fine NBA career, having led the NBA in blocked shots on two occasions, made three All Defensive First Team appearances, racked up 133 playoff appearances and won an NBA title as a member of the Toronto Raptors.
A more recent example — and a feel-good story for everyone, really — has been the story of Pascal Siakam, who was a little raw when he was drafted No. 27 overall in 2016 but, thanks to continued work and development with the right organization, has blossomed into an All-Star and franchise player with the Toronto Raptors.
With Siakam’s continued success, there’s this growing desire around the league to find ‘The Next Pascal Siakam.’
That brings us on to today, where we’re going to talk about Cameroonian draft prospect Paul Eboua (this has nothing to do with Siakam, but just happens to be a convenient segue).
The 20-year-old forward currently plays for Italian side Carpegna Prosciutto Basket Pesaro (yes, that is the name of the team...hooray for sponsorship!) The club was previously known as VL Pesaro but are probably also known as ‘rubbish,’ since they are at the bottom of Italy’s Lega A at 1-19.
Physically, Eboua projects well — 6’8 with a 7’3 wingspan (wingspan numbers per Sam Vecenie of The Athletic), providing potential versatility at either forward spot (where he played for Pesaro) and defensive upside. Eboua’s overall body is impressive, and while might describe his body as NBA ready, I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. But certainly I’ve seen forwards at his size and age that would not be in as good of shape as Eboua.
His stats for the season won’t floor you: 7.3 points per game on 46% shooting from the field on 5.4 attempts, 25.8% from three on 1.7 attempts, 62.5% from the free throw line on 3.1 attempts, 5.2 rebounds, throw in an effective field goal percentage of 50% and a true shooting of 54% (if not for the missed free throws, this could’ve been quite an impressive number), 2.5 offensive rebounds in 21.6 minutes a game in 18 games played (12 of which he started), per RealGM.
(It’s also worth noting that Eboua’s season only began in mid-October as he spent a month rehabbing from a knee injury sustained in a car crash.)
I imagine the main takeaways people will have from looking at those are the three-point shooting numbers and the free throw shooting.
(A disclaimer before we look at some film... Once again, I am no expert. I watch the film, talk about what I see/don’t see and give you the footage and you can go from there and form your own thoughts. Footage of Eboua — who wears number 12, if you can see it — is incredibly rare to find and not in great quality, so apologies in advance as I have to rely on that, as well as a blend of what I saw in a limited sample and how it lines up with what others are also saying. That said, I’d like to really thank Mike Gribanov of The Stepien for providing some footage of Eboua to help, and Peachtree Hoops’ Andrew Kelly for his assistance in that.)
Let’s start with the three-point shooting — 25.8% on 1.7 attempts per game is tough right now but, as always, context is key.
When looking at Eboua’s boxscores, there were a number of games where Eboua didn’t attempt a three and then there were games where he’d attempt three or four. Towards the end of the season, there were games where Eboua would make nothing and games where he’d make over 50% of threes in a game, potentially highlighting a somewhat streaky nature from the outside.
Some of these genuinely look good:
And others...not so good looking, and at 25.8% from three you have to believe that the misses are more of an outlier than the makes, such as this wild three-pointer off of the dribble, which ends up hitting the back-board in a violent manner:
The follow-through on this attempt is a little lacking on this miss:
I just don’t think he’s a jump shooter at this stage of his career and that’s going to limit his upside: you have to be able to make shots in the NBA, especially from the outside. And as we discussed with Yam Madar, if you can’t do that, you better be incredible at something else...
Next stat that pops out with Eboua are his free throws and free throw percentage.
3.1 attempts per game is impressive but 62.5% mitigates the good work Eboua does to get himself to the line as often as he does, which he mostly draws going to the rim.
In the open court, Eboua takes the ball the distance and draws the foul and free throws:
Here, Eboua whips out a decent right-to-left cross in the half-court and draws the foul on the drive to the basket:
From the three-point line, Eboua drives toward the rim and, in amongst the traffic, draws the foul and free throws:
Offensively, Eboua is quite raw, which only furthers the issues of his poor free throw shooting because there’s not a lot of places where the points are going to come.
Eboua can be...a little erratic at times, which appears to be a common thought when it comes to evaluating Eboua.
On this possession, Eboua attempts to drive inside, loses the handle, his dribble is killed but instead of looking to do, well, anything else, Eboua hoists a wild shot with his weaker left-hand which misses wildly:
The best thing you could say about Eboua offensively is his athleticism — he’s an above average athlete and this helps him in multiple facets, and when in combined with other qualities.
Firstly, he can do things like this:
(Not a monster athlete by any means, but not bad all the same...)
But Eboua also uses his hops in tandem with his hustle to come up with offensive rebounds: and he’s good at it, securing 2.5 offensive rebounds per game.
Off of the miss at the rim, Eboua is on-hand to follow the miss and finishes with the dunk:
On the three-point attempt, Eboua secures position inside, boxes his opponent out, grabs the offensive rebound and scores the second chance opportunity:
On the miss at the rim, Eboua leaps into action to secure the offensive rebound and scores the put-back:
Again, Eboua steams into the fray — slipping unnoticed until it’s too late — collects the miss and follows through for the bucket:
What Eboua can contribute on the glass and in second chance scoring is, probably, by far his best attribute offensively. Bottom line is that he’s raw and has much to learn and improve on (we’ll flesh this out a little later)
Let’s move onto defense, where things are a little better for Eboua overall.
In terms of positives, Eboua showed flashes of some shot blocking potential, and perhaps that shouldn’t really come as a surprise given his athleticism and wingspan.
On this play, the space opens on the left side of the court for the ball-handler to exploit. Eboua is alert and rotates to swat the shot out of bounds:
After a made basket, Pesaro are somewhat disorganized heading back on defense. Eboua is once again alert to the danger, gets in position and blocks the shot as the help defender:
This next clip is probably my favorite defensive clip of Eboua. He starts off by switching onto the ball-handler — halting that avenue — who passes to the roller. Eboua then rotates back to his man and blocks what would’ve been a certain two points (but unfortunately can’t prevent the second chance score):
Really excellent timing on that play, a lot of fun to watch. You hate to see a great defensive play still end up in a bucket on the second chance but alas...
In the games I saw of Eboua, I didn’t get to see a ton of possessions where Eboua was worked one-on-one off of the dribble, and part of the reason for that is because Eboua was deployed at power forward often (and even center at times), and the power forwards aren’t looking to blow by you too often.
Instead, they looked to work Eboua in the post. This can be a tough ask for Eboua, an undersized power forward in Europe in many ways whose body is still being filled out for a 20 year old.
There were times where he was up to the task:
(I liked the footwork and some of the verticality, above)
And other times it’s a little too much, such as this play where Eboua, though doing a decent job keeping those arms somewhat up, commits the foul for the three-point play:
Here, Eboua bites on the fake in the post, leading to a basket:
This is something Eboua, unfortunately, finds himself doing too often: biting on fakes.
On this attempt at the rim, Eboua bites on the pump and commits the foul in addition to conceding the basket:
This one on the three-point line in somewhat of a scramble situation you can understand a little more but even then, the ball hasn’t even gone above the shoulders and Eboua has already committed to the contest, making it easy to see coming and adjust accordingly, leading to an open shot:
Eboua is prone to other lapses too.
At an important time of the game — a game that Pesaro had a chance to actually win, which was hard to come by (and that’s an understatement) — Eboua is caught ball-watching as his man makes a cut for an important basket:
On this out-of-bounds play, Eboua seems to just fall asleep and fails to see what is developing in front of him, and by the time he shows life, it’s too late:
This is just not a good foul to commit:
Let’s move onto playmaking (we’ll come back to defense very soon) and this is going to be brief because there’s not a lot to talk about here.
0.8 assists a game, an assist percentage of 6% and more turnovers (22) than assists (15)... It’s just not a part of his game right now or something he’s asked to do.
Sure, you may get the occasional pass here or there, such as this one out of the post to the weak-side corner for a three:
This was actually quite nice but it’s not a staple of his game. I wouldn’t call Eboua a selfish player (even though he takes some poor shots where he would be better off passing) more so than I think it’s just that part of his game just isn’t refined.
Let’s try land this thing.
I find myself comparing the prospects I cover, even though they play different positions and have different roles. I say that because while I think Eboua doesn’t really have a skill he truly excels at like Madar does defensively, I think Eboua’s ceiling is higher overall — but it’s going to take a lot to get there. If you wanted to take a swing, perhaps some teams might want to look here in the second round — Eboua is listed 55th overall in ESPN’s ‘best available’ (as of April ), and is also listed in this range by Sam Vecenie of The Athletic, mocking Eboua at 58th overall with this to say about the Cameroonian
Eboua closed the season well, getting in double-figures in seven of his last 14 games. He seems to be developing from an offensive perspective despite still being pretty raw. And at 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and massive hands, he’s a monster defensive player. Toronto obviously specializes in these types of guys and tends to have success with them. This is a late bloomer profile, even if scouts do have some concerns about the way he processes the game on offense, and the fact that he doesn’t really ever make high-level passes.
Offensively, it’s not pretty and there’s a lot to iron out — improving three-point efficiency, improving shot selection and just fleshing out Eboua’s offense in general because it’s not what I would call especially versatile. The things to like offensively are his athleticism, and his commitment and ability to grabbing offensive rebounds and scoring second chance opportunities. The good news is that those are things usually end up translating to the NBA fairly quickly, less so the offensive rebounding than the athleticism.
To be fair to him, his rawness can be explained by the fact Eboua only ‘learned about basketball’ about a year before he moved to Italy in 2015 despite not knowing a word of English or Italian and not even having seen an airport prior to leaving for Italy.
I’d recommend reading this article from 2018 from the Adidas Next Gen Tournament, but here’s an excerpt from it.
Eboua’s challenges have changed quite a bit since he first arrived in the Italian capital in the summer of 2015. Back then, he left his family, including an older brother and two younger sisters, to come to Europe – without speaking Italian or English. Eboua said he had not even seen an airport before his journey to Italy.
The move to Italy also meant a major change in his commitment to basketball. He had only learned about basketball about a year before coming to Italy and said he was practicing only about five or six times a month. That quickly became two practices a day in Rome.
He’s still learning the game (and this would help explain why he looks, at times, just lost on offense).
Defensively, I think there could be something there.
Physically, Eboua’s got some great tools and starting points to work with, such as his wingspan. I would’ve like to have seen a little more one-on-one defensive action, because the threes and fours (I’m including small-ball fours here too) will drive a lot more in the NBA than in Italy and if Eboua isn’t up to that task, that’s going to be a problem. Eboua’s ability to switch will help him play either forward position but I’d be slightly concerned about some of the slashing forwards.
As a shot blocker, Eboua has some solid tools and shows flashes of having the instincts to snuff out the danger. However, he’ll absolutely have to clean up the mental aspects on defense — paying attention and staying awake, biting less on those fakes, knowing when not to commit the foul. The smaller post defense problems I wouldn’t worry about really. To be fair, the mental aspects are easier to tidy up than other issues. You can’t teach athleticism and wingspan, and those are in Eboua’s favor.
To be honest, if Eboua is drafted this year, I think the best option is either one of two things: just send him to the G League, maybe even a two-way contract might be safer if a playoff team selects him. Alternatively — and this could be the better option — just stash him and perhaps ensure he ends up on a better team than Pesaro.
That’s a knock some have on Eboua (Sam Vecenie talked about this) is that the level of competition he plays with isn’t the highest around, and I certainly think there’s at least three or four leagues that Eboua would certainly be better off playing in, however, I believe Pesaro did discover him in Cameroon (which is why he’s in Italy and not somewhere else). I don’t think it reflects massively well that even on 1-19 team that Eboua hasn’t really excelled.
These kinds of prospects can be strange sometimes. I’m constantly reminded of Rodions Kurucs, who I felt wasn’t going to really help an NBA team because I wasn’t sure what on earth he brought to the court for the Barcelona B Team, and he ended up having a good rookie season with the Brooklyn Nets. More recently, Sekou Doumbouya was a player who I liked but I thought would take a little longer to hit the ground than he did — he has to be one of the bright spots for the Detroit Pistons going forward.
It’s possible that Eboua could be drafted and is immediately brought over and he ends up having something to offer immediately — I’ve been burned worse before when it comes to these. But I just think it might be too soon for Eboua to come over (and if he does, he should really be in the G League for the entire season).
I think the best thing that could happen for him is that he’s drafted and that he finds himself in Spain, or France, or Germany or in the Adriatic League.
Eboua just turned 20 in February, so he’s still young, but still a little raw...