2021 Draft Watch: Assessing Kai Sotto in a U19 World Cup Game

August 23rd, 2020

By Alan Lu

Recently, Philippines 7-1 center, Kai Sotto decided to enlist his participation in the G-League for the 2020-21 season, and he has been mentioned as the future of Philippines’ basketball.  He’s been mentioned as a prospect across various websites, though some don’t rate him nearly as high as other highly touted prospects such as Jalen Green or Jonathan Kuminga.  I decided to watch Kai Sotto play in a July 3rd, 2019 U19 World Cup basketball game that took place between the Philippines and Serbia, as I was able to see this with thanks to YouTube via FIBA.  This provided an opportunity to see how well he would stack up against other quality big men his age, as he played against Filip Petrusev and Marko Pecarski, and it was an opportunity to watch Petrusev and some of the other prospects as well.  Here are my thoughts on how Sotto fared, and how his game may translate to the NBA.

Philippines’ 7-1 center, Kai Sotto is a prospect to watch for the 2021 draft, as his inside scoring, rebounding, and shot blocking skills could make him a potential first round pick next season.
(Photo:
FIBA.com, via Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Kai Sotto is a skilled big man that excels at getting scores in the paint.  He showed a knack for scoring on hustle plays, particularly off of rolls to the rim.  He would frequently score on rolls to the rim, and he also scored on an emphatic dunk early on.  He also managed to score on a tip-in, and he also drew free throws after getting the ball on the break later on.  Sotto also is a good low post scorer, as he can score on a one-legged, fadeaway jumper move, and he also would often draw fouls upon his defenders to get to the free throw line often.  He possesses good footwork and shooting touch down low when posting up on the block.  Sometimes though, he may not always have his balance, as he can sometimes miss on turnaround jumpers.

He also struggled to make jumpers when he would hoist up shots from further out.  Sotto missed on both of his three-point attempts, despite being open on both occasions, and he also missed on a long two-pointer.  He did get to the free throw line quite a bit, but he struggled to consistently make his free throws.

He also displayed adequate playmaking skills in this game.  Sotto would throw timely interior passes to find cutters to notch assists, and he also managed to find a teammate on a dribble handoff to set up another score.  However, he also was fairly turnover prone, as he would throw inaccurate long passes, as he had one pass that ended up being intercepted, and he threw two other balls that sailed out of bounds. Plus, he also did a good job of rebounding the basketball.  He was able to leap up to get boards on both ends of the floor, and he also would tip balls to teammates to help his team get defensive boards.

Sotto will actively look to challenge shots inside the paint, but he will still need to improve defensively.  For the positives, he is a tall, mobile big man that has good length and timing to block and alter shots inside the paint, and he will look to swat balls to his teammates.  He also will look to deflect passes and poke balls away, as there were a couple of times where he nearly was able to get steals.  When he is within range, he will use his length to contest shots to force misses.

However, he tended to struggle to defend in the post.  Sotto struggled to guard stronger players down low, as he would give up deep position and get outmuscled by his opponents, which would cause him to commit fouls and allow scores.  He also would try to over-compensate by trying to front his man and go for steals, but he would miss on his gambles, which would put him badly out of position.  A couple of times, he would get beat on moves when defending his man.  His team also played a zone defense in which he was often times tasked to guard an area but not a man, so he would play too far off his opponent, as his team would allow opponents to score on numerous open shots from the floor.  Other times, he wouldn’t hustle back on defense, which would put his team in scrambling situations when defending on the break.  From where he is at right now, Sotto can be an impact interior defender when he is in position to challenge shots, as his size, mobility, and shot blocking skills can make it difficult for his opponents to get easy shots up in the lane.  On the other hand, he will need to add strength, and he will need to be a more disciplined and focused defender in games.

In general, Kai Sotto is a tall, mobile center that may have the skills to project into a backup center in the NBA.  He is a skilled big man that can score in the post as well as on off-ball motion plays, and he also is a good shot blocker that has the potential to be a plus-level defender at that level.  He is also a willing passer that can find teammates on the move.  On the other hand, he will need to improve his jump shot and face-up game, and he will need to improve his on-ball defense, and he will need to add more strength to his frame.  Right now, he may project to go in the late first to the second round range for the 2021 draft, but if things break his way, he could end up being an effective role player similar to former Golden State Warriors’ center, Damian Jones in the NBA.

Other Notes:

Gonzaga’s 6-11 sophomore center, Filip Petrusev played very well to lead Serbia to a double-digit win over the Philippines.  He excelled as a low post scorer, and he also showed a knack for scoring on hustle plays.  Petrusev showed off good footwork and scoring touch on the block, and he also ran the floor to score while drawing an extra free throw on one play.  He also was able to find a cutter to notch an assist, and he also rebounded and defended well.  The only downside was that he would sometimes be foul prone when defending in the post, as he can be over-aggressive in trying to make plays. 

In this game, Petrusev primarily excelled as a scorer, but he also made timely plays to on both ends to help his team get the win.  He is a skilled, mobile big man that has a solid scoring touch in the paint, and he could be a good second round pick for a team in the NBA, as he could be a similar player to current Oklahoma City Thunder center, Mike Muscala in the association.

6-9 forward, Dalibor Ilic had a solid game for Serbia in his team’s win over the Philippines.  He excelled at scoring on hustle plays, as he would catch tough passes to score on the break, and he also managed to catch a lob to score on an alley-oop dunk early on.  He also showed a penchant for scoring off of cuts, and he also scored on a tip-in another time.  He also took a corner three, but he ended up missing that shot from beyond the arc.

He also showed off solid playmaking skills.  Ilic can pass out of the post to find cutters to notch assists, and he sees the floor well.  He also drove up court to find a teammate ahead to set up a score for him on the break.  He also did a good job of taking care of the basketball in this game.  Plus, he also rebounded and defended well, and he also was able to block a three-point shot while chasing down the ball to get the board that time.

Overall, Dalibor Ilic is an athletic, energetic combo forward that could project to be a defensive specialist in the NBA.  He is a solid athlete, and he looked to be the most athletic player among participants that played in this game.  He will need to significantly improve his jump shot, but he could be a solid pick for a team in the second round of the 2021 draft, as he could be a similar player to former Philadelphia 76ers’ big man, Lavoy Allen in the association.

6-10 center, Marko Pecarski also played well for Serbia to help lift his team to a double-digit win on this day.  He showed off versatile scoring skills, as he was able to make a three, and he also excelled as a scorer in the post and in transition.  He also would frequently get to the free throw line by making aggressive moves to the hoop on off-ball motion plays.  Pecarski shot the ball well, and he also did a good job of making mid-range jumpers.  In addition, he was able to jump passes to get a couple of steals.  Overall, he is a skilled, mobile big man that can score the basketball, and he could be a second round prospect to watch in 2021.

Serbia’s 6-7, 2000-born swingman, Uros Trifunovic excelled at making open spot-up threes off the catch, and he excelled as a facilitator on offense.  He was able to throw a lob pass to set up a score for a teammate on the break, and he also passes the ball well off the dribble.  He is a skilled, crafty point forward that sees the floor well, and he could be a potential second round pick either this year if he stays in the draft, or in 2021.

Serbia’s 6-7, 2000-born swingman, Zoran Paunovic excelled at going to the basket and he also passed the ball well.  He is an athletic, point forward that has a solid first step off the dribble, and he would score on right-handed drives to the hoop.  He also ran the floor to score on an emphatic dunk on a breakaway.  He also passes well off the dribble, as he would throw crisp interior passes to notch assists.  Overall, Paunovic played very well in this game.  He will likely need to improve his jump shot as he didn’t really look to score from outside of the paint area, but he is an athletic playmaker that could be a player to watch in the future.

Sean Ildefonso is a crafty scorer that has a variety of moves that he can use to score off the dribble.  He was able to make a fadeaway jumper from around the right elbow, and he also managed to score on an up and under layup.  He also showed a knack for making pull-up threes, and he also blocked a shot in transition.  He is an above average athlete, and he also did a good job of shooting and scoring the basketball.  The 6-0 tall point guard looked to be one of the best players on the Philippines’ team, and he has a bright future ahead of him.

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