Team USA will wrap up its participation in group play at the FIBA World Cup on Monday morning with its fifth game of the tournament, against Brazil. To advance to the quarterfinals, Brazil must beat the U.S. or have the Czech Republic lose to Greece.
While the Brazilians feature a number of current (Bruno Caboclo, Cristiano Felicio) and former (Anderson Varejao, Leandro Barbosa) NBA players, it is a 20-year-old national team rookie, Pelicans draftee Didi Louzada, who is the team’s most intriguing player.
Here’s what you need to know about Louzada:
1. Scouts Say Louzada is Closer to NBA-Ready Than Expected
Louzada has developed a good perimeter shot that should translate well to the NBA game and has the athleticism to be a good attacker of the rim. But he needs work offensively and will need to smooth out his game, especially his ballhandling. The concern before the draft was that he is a project who would need two years before he’s ready.
What has scouts excited, though, is the strides Louzada made in recent months and how that portends for his future.
“He could get time in the NBA next season if they wanted him to because he can shoot and he can defend,” one league scout told Heavy.com. “He has good size, he is well-built frame-wise, he looks like he has added some weight and strength. That will keep improving. He needs that. I think just doing a little more work physically will go a long way. And then it is just maturity and getting his focus right. That is going to come with time.”
2. The Pelicans Drafted Louzada With the No. 35 Pick After a Draft-Day Deal With the Hawks
The No. 35 pick was part of the package that came to New Orleans in the deal that sent the No. 4 pick along with Solomon Hill and the No. 57 pick to Atlanta. The Pelicans also got Nos. 8 (Jaxson Hayes) and 17 (Nickiell Alexander-Walker) in the deal.
But the scout said that the Pelicans may have landed a steal, mentioning Danny Green and Thabo Sefolosha as potential Louzada comparisons. “He would have been a first-round pick in a year,” the scout said. “He is going to be labeled a 3-and-D guy, and he can do that. But he can maybe do more, too.”
3. Louzada Impressed as a Shooter in Summer League
Louzada averaged 11.0 points in four games in the Las Vegas Summer League in July, shooting 8-for-18 (44.4 percent) from the 3-point line. He was consistent and looked more at home among his fellow NBAers than many of the other rookies.
“Really cool, calm and collected,” his Summer League coach, Fred Vinson, told the Pelicans’ website. “He’s got kind of a smooth pace to his game that I like, and he can really shoot the ball. But on the other end, he’s really tenacious defensively. He is aggressive – he gets to the ball, fights over screens and is super-competitive.”
4. He’s Gained Valuable Experience in the World Cup, Including From a Memorable Mistake
Louzada has played only 10.3 minutes per game in Brazil’s four outings in China, and the most significant play he has made has been a blunder that came at the end of Brazil’s critical one-point win over Greece in its second game.
On the play, Louzada fouled Greece’s Kostas Sloukas with two seconds to play and Greece ahead by three points. But Sloukas made only two of his three free-throw tries and Brazil held on for the win.
“You know, he is the guy who is the first time on the big stage, only 20 years old,” Brazil coach Aleksandar Petrovic told reporters after the Greece win. “Everyone supports him. The most important experience for him is that Alex talked to him. When the most experienced guys grab you and talk with all his heart and I also talked with him in front of all the people so, there is not going to be huge difficulties for him. It is a time of growing. He is only 20, it is his first time on the big scene. That kind of thing happens.”
5. Louzada Will be Part of an Impressive Group of Potential Draftees Playing in Australia This Season
The Pelicans picked Louzada as a draft-and-stash player, with the understanding he would spend a year playing in Australia’s NBL, a step up from his stint with Franca in Brazil last year. It’s part of Australian basketball’s new “Next Stars” program, which aims to allow high draft picks to skip college to sign contracts and develop in the NBL. Louzada is expected to study English while in Australia.
R.J. Hampton and LiMelo Ball, two likely 2020 lottery picks, will also be playing in the NBL next season.