Evaluating Yusuf Sanon

April 6, 2018

by Alan Lu

Recently, Union Olimpija’s 6-3 combo guard, Yusuf Sanon from the Ukraine decided to enter the 2018 NBA Draft.  ESPN had recently put out a feature to give more information on him, and after having read that article and learning that they had immediately put him in their top 100 rankings list, I decided to watch a full game of his online to see for myself where he is as a player, and how well his game may translate at the next level. 

With thanks to YouTube via Košarkarska zveza Slovenije videoposnetki tekem, I decided to watch him play in a Slovenian SKL game between Union Olimpija and Sencur Gorenjska that was played on January 28th, as the box score for that match can be found on RealGM.  In this game, Sanon showed some interesting skills, as he is a defensive minded combo guard that also excels at attacking the basket on offense, and he is a fairly good athlete that will compete on every possession. 

Yusuf Sanon is an agile playmaker that does a good job of scoring on strong drives to the basket.  He will probe the defenses, and he can change directions and use ball handling moves to get past his man, and he has good body control to regularly finish plays around the basket.  He also has the foot speed to regularly get past his man, and he is an aggressive player that can draw fouls upon his opponents.  Plus, he also ran off of a screen, and managed to make a long two from the corner, as he stepped on the three-point line.  Sanon moves fairly well off the ball, and early in this contest, he managed to set an off-ball screen, and get open around the hoop, as he took a dribble to score off the glass.

However, Sanon generally struggled to knock down jumpers, and he especially had trouble making threes, even though he appeared to have good form on his shot.  He showed good footwork in getting his shots up, but he was unable to make three-point shots off the catch, dribble, or after dribbling off of screens.

He also showed off decent playmaking skills.  Sanon generally played off the ball at the two, but he would look to find the open man, as he can pass it to shooters to set up scoring chances for them.  He will also sometimes push the ball up the floor.  Also, he didn’t turn the ball over often, but he did so once, as he shuffled his feet while looking to pass on one possession.  Plus, he also displayed adequate rebounding skills.  Sanon will actively look to crash the glass, as he was able to haul in multiple boards on both sides of the ball.  However, sometimes he may mistime balls, as he can end up allowing opponents to get rebounds in his area.

Also, he looked to be a fairly good defensive player.  Sanon is a very aggressive defender that will tend to roam around, as he will rotate around to provide heavy ball pressure upon his opponents.  Sometimes, he won’t stick to his man, but in this game his unusual style of defense was very effective.  Sanon does a very good job of playing help defense, as he can poke balls away, and he also helped found a loose ball that his teammate jarred out to get steals for his team.  He will also look to actively contest and block shots.  He is actually quite effective at rotating off his man to force misses and turnovers, as he can take advantage of his opponents when they don’t look to make the right pass or to take threes from beyond the arc.  Plus, he will also aggressively cover for his teammates, as he can switch onto opponents quickly.  He also will actively fight through screens, and he has quick feet to trap opposing ball handlers.

On the other hand, it may be tough to know if his style of defense will be as effective in the NBA.  Often times in this game, he was able to take advantage of his opponents because they would tend to look for their own shot, and they also would pass up three-point shots.  But in the NBA, there are much better shooters and passers, so Sanon’s approach could end up causing him to allow more three-point baskets at that level.

In this game, he didn’t have many miscues, but there were a couple.  On one play, he over-helped in the paint, as he sagged too far off his man, and he ended up allowing his man to score on a three-point shot.  On another, he aggressively fought through a screen, which was good, but then he went hard for a steal but missed, as he was called for a reach-in foul on an opposing ball-handler.

In summary, Yusuf Sanon is an intriguing prospect, as he is an athletic, skilled combo guard that may have the ability to both run a team, and he also could potentially be one of the best defenders among prospects at his position this year.  He will need to significantly improve his three-point shot, as he will need to grow more comfortable in taking shots from that distance.  Also, his lack of consistent playing time at the higher levels may suggest that there may be a good likelihood that he might not be ready to play in the NBA right away.  Even still, Sanon is a talented player that may possess considerable upside, and if developed properly, he could be able to help an NBA team in many different ways, and he could end up being a worthwhile pick in the second round range of the upcoming draft.