Evaluating Rayan Rupert and Wani Swaka Lo Buluk in an NBL Preseason Game

September 10th, 2022

By Alan Lu

Today, there was an NBL preseason game that featured Rayan Rupert and the New Zealand Breakers against Wani Swaka Lo Buluk and the Illawarra Hawks, which was a competitive that went all the way into overtime, and I was able to see this game with thanks to YouTube via National Basketball League.  Both teams played tough, hard-nosed defense, but struggled to make shots, but New Zealand was able to hold on to get the victory.  Rupert and Swaka Lo Buluk both defended well, but turned in uneven performances offensively.  Here are my thoughts on how both fared, as well as how they may currently stack up as prospects for the NBA. For those that are interested in the box score of this game, here is the link.

Rayan Rupert is a very athletic swingman that showed off strong defensive skills in New Zealand’s preseason game against Illawarra today.
David Grau/Euroleague Basketball via Getty Images, via Bleacher Report)

Rayan Rupert had an uneven performance overall, but he made some good plays to help his team on the court on both ends of the floor.  He is a very athletic swingman that defended well, and he is an aggressive defender that gives great effort at all times.  He also thrived at scoring on fast breaks on offense.

Rupert poked a ball away from a lead ball handler to get a steal early on, and he drove up court to score on an athletic, fast break dunk.  He also ran the floor hard and caught a long pass to score on a breakaway layup.

He also showed an adequate ability to score off the dribble.  He tended to prefer driving to his left on half-court drives, and he was tripped up once, which enabled him to draw free throws.  He tended to short arm his free throws when he was there though, as he didn’t quite seem to follow through when shooting the ball at the foul line.  He also attempted a baseline floater later on, but missed it due to rushing.

He also missed both of his three-point attempts, and he tended to rush his shots on his spot-up opportunities.  Rupert did appear to make an open three off the catch early on, but unfortunately it was waved off because his teammate was called for a three seconds in the key violation.

Also, he is an unselfish player that will look to make the extra pass, and he showed that he can make safe passes out on the perimeter.  On the downside, he drove hard to his right, but was called for charging as it led him to commit an offensive foul and a turnover, although his opponent appeared to have flopped on the play.

Plus, Rupert did a decent job of rebounding the basketball.  He was very active at crashing the glass to chase down balls to get defensive boards.  He also played satisfactory defense in this game.  Rupert aggressively defended an opposing ball handler and managed to swipe a ball away to get a steal.  He also was able to get back on defense and rotate to contest a shot off of a drive in transition to tenaciously force a miss.  He also moved well to his left, and he was able to quickly contest a three to force another miss. He also would stay in front of opposing ball handlers to cut off penetration and force his opponents to pass the basketball.

On the downside, he would sometimes be foul prone.  He gambled for a steal and missed once, which led him to commit a reach-in foul when defending an opposing ball handler around mid-court.  He also struggled to fight through a screen and was late to get back another time.  He didn’t give up on the play, but then committed a foul on the drive.

In general, Rayan Rupert is a very athletic, energetic swingman that could project into a 3 and D role in the NBA.  He will need to significantly improve his jump shot, but he is a solid defender that held his own in this game.  He could end up being selected in the late first to the second round range, and he could end up being a similar player to Thaddeus Young in the NBA.

Wani Swaka Lo Buluk is a very athletic, defensive-minded swingman that defended very well in today’s preseason game, but he will need to improve his ability to shoot and score the basketball.
Getty Images, via Sydney Morning Herald)

Illawarra’s Wani Swaka Lo Buluk also put forth an uneven performance in his team’s overtime loss in this game, but he defended very well when he was on the floor.  His offensive skills look to still be a work in progress, but he is a very athletic, defensive-minded swingman that was able to get crunch time minutes both late in the fourth quarter and in overtime.

Swaka Lo Buluk played good defense in this game.  He is a very athletic, energetic swingman that played very good team defense, and he is an extremely agile, high-motor player that will communicate to his teammates on the defensive end, and he consistently gives effort when he is on the floor.

When defending on a drive, he was able to poke a ball away to a teammate to help his team get a steal.  He also jumped up actively when defending the inbounder and his activity helped disrupt his opponent to force a passing turnover.  He also would fight through screens to stay with opposing ball handlers. He would also get back on defense, communicate to his teammates, and cut off penetration to force passes.  He also recovered to close out on a three-point shot to force a miss.  On the downside, sometimes he would take bad angles when defending on screens or opposing ball handlers, which would occasionally lead him to commit fouls and allow scores.  On another play, he was caught ball watching and was late to rotate back, and he gave up a bit too much space that led him to give up a three-point basket.

He also did a very good job of rebounding the basketball, and Swaka Lo Buluk would often chase down balls to get defensive boards when he was on the floor.  On one play, he boxed out his man and leapt up to grab a defensive board, and then quickly brought the ball up afterwards.  He has very good hands, which would enable him to come away with numerous boards in this game.

On offense, Swaka Lo Buluk really struggled to score the basketball, and he was unable to make any of his corner three-point attempts.  He tended to rush his outside shots, especially when defenders would close in on him, and he also received low passes in which a combination of that combined with rushing would make it difficult for him to get into a rhythm.

He was able to get the ball on the break, but he drove wildly to the hoop and rushed his shot wildly once a defender helped to rotate on him, and Swaka Lo Buluk tried to evade contact in mid-air and wildly missed the rushed layup attempt that time.

On the other hand, Swaka Lo Buluk did a better job of making mid-range jumpers.  He ran off of a ball screen to get it on a dribble handoff, and he drove to the hoop to score on a mid-range, teardrop floater.  Another time, he made a quick cut to get the ball on the move, but missed a quick, rushed mid-range jumper.

As a playmaker, he looked to be fairly average.  Swaka Lo Buluk is an unselfish player that will make the extra pass to find the open man.  On one play though he threw a careless pass into traffic, and it got deflected and intercepted that time.

In summary, Wani Swaka Lo Buluk is a very athletic, defensive minded swingman that played very good team defense, and like Rupert, showed the ability to guard lead ball handlers on the defensive end.  However, Swaka Lo Buluk’s offense appears to be a major work in progress.  He will need to improve his jump shot significantly and play more under control when he looks to score on offense.  Currently, he is a borderline second round candidate for the 2023 draft, but he could project to be a solid defensive specialist in the NBA. If he improves his jump shot significantly, he could end up being a solid role player in the NBA similar to New Orleans Pelicans’ swingman, Garrett Temple in the league.

Other Notes:

New Zealand’s 6-7 forward, Dan Fotu was able to get some run during the second quarter of this match.  He didn’t take a single shot, but he operated as a ball mover, was able to set a solid off-ball screen, and played solid team defense when he was on the floor.  That he didn’t take a single shot in the roughly five minutes he played may not bode too well for his NBA draft prospects, but he did seem to be able to fit in, and he could end up being a rotation player for his team sometime in the future.

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