While NBA scouts and officials made it a priority to go to France this season to watch Victor Wambanyama, another young player in this year’s NBA draft is catching their eye and generating buzz. Bilal Coulibaly, a 6-foot-6 guard with a 7-3 wingspan, passes every eye test as an NBA prospect. He has the length and athleticism and doesn’t need the ball in his hands to affect the game.
Coulibaly is one of the youngest players in this draft class at 18 years old and his stats this season for Boulogne-Levallois Metropolins 92 aren’t exactly off the page. While his teammate, Vembanayama, is leading the entire French Betclic Elite League in points (21.6), rebounds (10.4) and blocks (3.1), Coulibaly is averaging just 5 points and 3 rebounds in 18 minutes this season. This was his first year playing professional basketball in France. He has shown great improvement since the start of the season and is currently playing with more confidence for the Mets 92 in the LNB Pro A Playoffs.
“My confidence grew when the opportunity came,” Coulibaly told ESPN last month. “I work on everything to be as complete a player as I can be. The key has been just to have confidence and apply what I learn in practice.”
The NBA values young players with high ceiling when drafting players in the first round, and Coulibaly has both. Each year, it’s one-of-a-kind prospects who are projected toward the top of the draft over four-year veteran college players.
“Historically speaking, there is a correlation between youth and upside,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports in March. “You expect discrepancies at 19 or 20, but a combination of youth and production is the best-case scenario. Youth, in general, suggests the opposite.”
Coulibaly is still growing in his game on the court and in his tall frame as well. Over the course of two years, Coulibaly went from 5-6 to 6-3 and then grew another three inches the next year. He uses his height to his advantage, especially in catch-and-shoot situations where he has a high release on his jump shot, connecting on nearly 40% of his attempts from 3-point range this season . He has a strong base and needs to work on his load time after catching the ball, but has solid shooting mechanics. Defensively is where he shines with his long wingspan and quick feet affecting various aspects of the game. Coulibaly has shown what he can be as an NBA wing, whether it’s his impressive dunk in transition, the way he blocks off the backboard or finds Wembanyama in the lane when he drives to the baseline.
“He’s our X factor,” Vembanayama told Slam Magazine, “An all-field weapon, he can line up a player and block him on the very next play. Players keep underestimating him because he’s young…they scoff, thinking they’re safe and their Apocalypse happens. Every game he does something crazy. I think he’s the player I look up to most on the court.”
He’s the definition of a late bloomer who was relatively unknown a year ago. Vembanayama, the supposed No. 1 pick, is a generational type of talent with his prowess on the court, but he makes everyone around him better. Scouts attending any of Wembanyama’s games this season discovered a potential budding star in Colby.
Before the start of the season, the 2024 NBA draft was Coulibaly’s target. Now, he is a projected first-round pick in the upcoming draft on June 22. A team willing to be patient and develop Coulibaly for a few years could be a steal once he grows in potential and becomes the next young and talented youngster. European player to hit the NBA.