It’s been over a decade since the last time there were no Canadians selected in the NBA Draft. Last year’s draft alone saw a historic six Canadians selected in the draft and at least another three signed as undrafted free agents. But after all the excitement of last season, the 2020 Draft is expected to be quiet from a Canadian perspective. Most draft experts say there won’t be any Canadians taken in the draft.
There is, however, one Canadian wildcard in the draft.
The 20-year-old Karim Mané, born in Dakar, Senegal, and raised in Montreal, is one of the biggest unknows in this year’s draft. Unlike the vast majority of draft prospects who come from the collegiate ranks or well-known international leagues, Mané, a 6-foot-5, 195-pound guard, will jump straight to the NBA from Vanier College, a post-secondary CEGEP program in Montreal. It was a decision he said he made in consultation with NBA teams and his family who felt it would allow for better development.
That kind of jump has understandably raised some questions about Mané who averaged 15.9 points on 43% shooting with 7.9 rebounds last season playing in the RSEQ, a level he said is in between high school basketball and collegiate hoops.
“I think all the rookies that are coming in [have questions],” Mané said. “I think the main thing we have to do is prove ourselves, earn our stripes, that’s nothing that I’m afraid of doing.”
Physically, the sky is the limit for Mané who has an NBA body and athleticism. The question will be his development, according to Canadian basketball scout Wesley Brown, who sees Mané as a bit of a work in progress.
“Karim is a very good, fluid athlete, probably the most fluid first step you’ll see,” Brown said. “He can beat his man with one dribble very cleanly and turn the corner, so fluidity is his greatest skill, I’d say. Without help defence at the rim he’s shown he can elevate early and finish at an elite level. At times he’s shown he can shoot it, but he has to make a higher level of shots. I just think he’s a guy who will need to figure out his role in the NBA.”
That’s what could make Mané an interesting pick for the Raptors at the end of the second round. With president Masai Ujiri at the helm, Toronto has become one of the league’s premiere developmental organizations, turning late picks and undrafted players into contributors. For Mané, who said he had a really good pre-draft interview with Toronto, the idea of playing for the Raptors is an exciting one.
“Their development culture with guys like Fred [VanVleet] and Pascal [Siakam] and all those guys, I think I’d fit well in whatever situation I’m in, especially with the Raptors,” he said.
Turning Mané from an unheralded prospect into an NBA contributor is going to take some work. He’s going to have to clean up his 3-point shooting which dropped from 36.8% in 2018-19 to just 21.2% last season. But there’s no questioning Mané’s work ethic considering how far he’s come in the eight years since he said he first picked up a basketball when he was 12 years old.
“I wanted to be a soccer pro,” he said. “I was born in Senegal and back there that’s all I was doing, that’s all I knew.”
He said his background in soccer has made him a more dynamic offensive threat on the basketball court. It helps him think a few seconds ahead of the play, the way soccer forwards have to time their runs to make sure they stay onside then the ball comes.
Mané’s versatility on both ends of the court allow will him to fill a variety of different roles at the NBA level, Brown said. For him to succeed, it’s going to come down to who drafts him and how they choose to develop him. Though Mané isn’t projected to be get picked in most mock draft, he said he’s spoken to over 20 teams and they’ve conveyed interest in him.
“I’m kind of a mystery to a lot of people and that’s cool with me,” Mané said. “I want it to be like that coming in because it gives me an advantage in competition, they don’t really know what’s going to come at them. Once I get there, I think I’m going to surprise a lot of people and turn a lot of people’s heads.”