2022 Draft Watch: Evaluating Unicaja Malaga’s Yannick Nzosa

April 19th, 2021

By Alan Lu

I decided to take the time to watch Unicaja Malaga’s 6-11 center, Yannick Nzosa from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He is a very athletic, prodigious center that has been playing very well for his team in limited minutes in both the Spanish ACB League and in Eurocup, and he plays in some of the toughest leagues in professional basketball.  I decided to watch him play in a February 27th game against Movistar Estudiantes, with thanks to YouTube via David Maestre, and it was shown in two parts.  I took the time to assess Nzosa’s skills in this game, and here are my thoughts on how he fared, and how his game may translate to the NBA.

Unicaja Malaga’s 2003-born center, Yannick Nzosa is a very athletic big man that could be a lottery pick in the 2022 draft.
Javier Albiñana, via Malaga Hoy)

Yannick Nzosa showed a solid ability to score on hustle plays.  Early on, he ran in to score on a high-flying tip dunk off of an offensive rebound, and he made his presence felt as an interior player early in this match.  He also managed to score on a strong roll to the rim in traffic. He would consistently run the floor and roll to the rim hard, and he has great foot speed and quickness that will enable him to get plenty of chances to score on off-ball motion plays.  On the downside, there was one play where he got the ball on a cut, but he ended up missing on a left-handed, running layup, as he missed it short, and he appeared to rush the shot and take it from a bit too far away.

Also, late in this game, he ran off the ball quickly to make a smooth, mid-range jumper from around the right elbow.  Nzosa looked to have a decent shooting stroke, and that he’s an above average free throw shooter may be an encouraging sign that he could extend his shooting range to become a stretch big, or at least build up a reliable mid-range shot in the future. He also tried to post up late in this match, and he moved off the ball to get it underneath the basket.  However, he ended up missing on a quick, reverse flip layup off the glass, as he took a tough angle shot that he couldn’t quite score on. As a playmaker, he looked to be fairly average at best.  For the positives, Nzosa is an unselfish player that would pass out of the post to find the open man.  He also would set solid screens to help teammates get open jump shots and driving lanes, and he would sometimes set firm screens to help them score on those plays. 

On the downside, he tended to get away with setting moving screens, which would likely be offensive fouls that would get called on him in the American basketball.  He also threw a hard, tough to catch high pass that was dropped out of bounds by his teammate, though the turnover was credited to his teammate instead for dropping the pass.  While he technically didn’t turn the ball over once on offense, he didn’t get any assists either, and he rarely looked to handle the ball much in this match. Also, Nzosa did a decent job of rebounding the basketball.  He would leap up aggressively to get boards on both ends of the floor, and he also managed to tip a ball to a teammate to help his team get a defensive rebound another time.

He also played satisfactory defense in this game.  Nzosa did a good job of blocking shots, as he would rotate to quickly swat shots hard off of drives due to possessing good athleticism, length, and timing.  He also would show the willingness to body up on his opponents when defending rolls and in the post, and he would use his length and strength to contest shots to force misses.  He also showed off impressive mobility and footwork when defending out on the perimeter, as he would effortlessly hedge out onto pick and roll ball handlers, he was able to fight through screens quickly, and he would hustle back on the defensive end. 

On the downside, he would tend to be too aggressive when defending opposing ball handlers out on the perimeter, as he would hedge too aggressively and then he would pick up quick fouls by bumping into his opponents.  He also struggled to defend screens, as he would sometimes over-rotate, and he would sometimes take wild gambles that would leave his man to end up being open.

Overall, Yannick Nzosa is a very athletic, energetic center that has may have a great deal of upside, and he could project to be an elite rim protector in the NBA one day.  He excels at making hustle plays on both ends of the floor, and he is already playing well in his role in high-level International basketball.  On the other hand, he will need to continue to improve his skill level offensively, and he will need to play more under control to be able to stay on the floor for longer stretches.  He is a very talented prospect that could be a lottery pick in the 2022 draft, and he has all of the tools that could allow him to be a solid role player similar to New Orleans Pelicans’ center, Jaxson Hayes in the NBA.

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