The Portland Trail Blazers have finally stopped the NBA Draft day slide for New Zealand Breakers’ French Next Star Rayan Rupert.
Rupert was projected as a mid to late first round selection in Thursday’s NBA Draft (Friday NZ time) in Brooklyn, New York, but slid to the second round.
The 19-year-old was finally snapped up 43rd overall by the Trail Blazers – the 13th selection of the second round. He had to wait nearly four hours to hear his name called after compatriot Victor Wembanyama was selected first overall by the San Antonio Spurs as expected.
Rupert looks set for a reunion with the Breakers with the Kiwi side expected to take on the Blazers and Utah Jazz in the NBA pre-season, some between October 10 and 16 – which is yet to be publicly announced.
Mojave King, the son of former Otago Nuggets’ American standout Leonard King, a former high performance coach at Basketball NZ, was selected four picks later, 47th overall by the Los Angeles Lakers. He was immediately traded to the Indiana Pacers.
King, 21, played for the Southland Sharks in the NBL last season before joining the NBA G League Ignite of the NBA G League. He was born in Dunedin and moved to Queensland with his family when he was four.
Rupert was aiming to be the third Breakers’ Next Star to be selected in the first round, joining RJ Hampton and Ousmane Dieng.
Hampton was drafted at 24, via trade, in 2020 by the Denver Nuggets (currently with the Detroit Pistons) and Frenchman Dieng was picked at No 11, via trade, in ‘22 by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Earlier this week ESPN draft expert and Breakers scout Jonathan Givony described Rupert, who has a 7’2 wingspan, as “one of the best defenders in the draft”.
“He has a chance to step on an NBA floor immediately because of the havoc he wreaks in the passing lanes, the way that he chases down blocks, the energy that he plays with, the intensity, and the ability to get out in the open court and finish with both hands,” Givony told Sportscenter.
“The background intel is sparkling on this kid. The interviews have been amazing. Everybody raves about him.”
Portland had a season to forget, finishing 13th in the Western Conference with a 33-49 record.
Rupert averaged 17.1 minutes, 5.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.7 steals and 1.1 turnovers over 28 games for the Breakers this past season. The Frenchman did have to deal with a fractured wrist mid-season.
He shot the ball at a less than stellar 35% from the floor, and 23% from beyond the arc.
There was little to no doubt San Antonio would select Wembanyama first overall, who is listed at 7-foot-4, but says he is 7-3 (2.21m).
An emotional Wembanyama said hearing NBA commissioner Adam Silver call his name brought him to tears, saying he has been waiting for the moment. “I’ve dreamed up of this … I got to cry.”
The Charlotte Hornets selected forward Brandon Miller with the second pick, while guard Scoot Henderson went third overall to Portland.
Twin brothers Amen Thompson (fourth to Houston Rockets), and Ausar Thompson (fifth to the Detroit Pistons) went back-to-back shortly after – the first twins to be selected in the top 10 of the same draft.
It marks the third time in San Antonio’s 51-year history the Spurs have held the No 1 pick. They are hoping Wembanyama fulfills predictions that he is a generational big man and follows in the championship footsteps of the franchise’s previous top picks of David Robinson in 1987 and Tim Duncan in 1997.
In four professional seasons in France, the 19-year-old Wembanyama showcased his versatility as a skilled ball handler, three-point shooter, and the ability to rebound and block shots with an eight-foot wingspan and impressive athleticism. During those four seasons, he averaged 12.8 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and 1.4 assists, while continuing to improve.
This season, Wembanyama was named MVP and defensive player of the year after leading the French league in scoring, rebounding and blocks for the Metropolitans 92.
Wembanyama had expressed a desire to play in San Antonio before it became official, excited about the franchise’s five NBA championships and its history of developing international players. And his own ties to the San Antonio organisation didn’t hurt.
Former Spurs forward Boris Diaw is president of Metropolitans 92 and Wembanyama spent the previous season playing for ASVEL, which is owned by former Spurs point guard Tony Parker.
“For me, San Antonio is synonymous with winning,” Wembanyama said on Thursday (NZT). “On lottery night, when the Spurs got the No 1 pick, I was just thinking, I was feeling lucky that they got the pick. As a franchise that has that culture and that experience in winning and making, creating good players. So, I really can’t wait.”
– Stuff with AP