While NBA scouts and executives preferred to come to France this season to see Victor Wembanyama, there was another young player who caught their eye and created buzz in this year’s NBA Draft. Bilal Coulibaly, a six foot guard with a wingspan of 7-3, passes every eye test as an NBA candidate. He has height and athleticism and does not need the ball in his hands to influence the game.
Coulibaly is one of the youngest players in this draft class at 18 and his stats this season for Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 don’t really jump off the page. While his teammate, Wembanyama, leads the entire French Betclic Elite League in points (21.6), rebounds (10.4) and blocks (3.1), Coulibaly has only averaged 5 points and 3 rebounds in 18 minutes this season. This was his first year playing professional basketball in France. He has shown tremendous improvement since the start of the season and now plays with more confidence for the Mets 92 in the LNB Pro A playoffs.
“My confidence grew when opportunities came along,” Coulibaly told ESPN last month. “I work on everything to be as complete a player as possible. The key was just being confident and implementing into games what I learn in practice.”
The NBA values high-ceiling young players when drafting first-round players, and Coulibaly has both. Each year, it’s the one-time prospects projected to the top of the draft over the four-year veteran college players.
“There is a correlation between youth and advantage, historically,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports in March. “You expect inconsistencies at 19 or 20, but the combination of youth and production is the best case scenario. Youth generally suggests better.”
Coulibaly is still growing in his game on the court and also in his long frame. Over the course of two years, Coulibaly went from 5-6 to 6-3 and added another two inches the following year. He uses his height to his advantage, particularly in catch-and-shoot situations where he has a high release on his jump shot, hitting nearly 40% of his attempts this season from 3-point range. He has a strong base and needs to work on his loading time once he catches the ball, but the shooting mechanic is there. Defensively, he shines with his long wingspan and quick feet, influencing various aspects of the game. Coulibaly has shown flashes of what he could be as an NBA winger, whether it’s his impressive dunks in transition, the way he pins blocks off the backboard, or finding Wembanyama in lane when he drives the baseline .
“He’s our X Factor,” Wembanyama told SLAM Magazine. “An all-terrain weapon, it can posterize a player and block them on the next play. Players keep underestimating him because he’s young… They go for a layup thinking they’re safe and they get destroyed. Every game he does something crazy. I think he’s the player I’m most looking for on the pitch.”
He is the definition of a late bloomer who was relatively unknown a year ago. The presumed number 1 pick, Wembanyama is a generational talent with his skills on the pitch, but he also makes everyone around him better. Scouts who tuned into one of Wembanyama’s games this season discovered a potential star in the making with Coulbaly.
Before the season started, the 2024 NBA Draft was Coulibaly’s target. Now he is an expected first-round pick in the upcoming draft on June 22. A team willing to be patient and develop Coulibaly for a few years can get a bargain once he reaches his potential and becomes the next young and talented. European player to the NBA.