While scouts and NBA executives made it a priority to travel to France to see Victor Wembanyama this season, another young player caught their eye and generated buzz during this year’s NBA draft. Bilal Coulibaly, a 6-foot-6 guard with a 7-3 wingspan, passes all eye tests as an NBA prospect. He has length and athleticism and doesn’t need the ball in his hands to impact 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 aren’t exactly eye-popping. 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 5 points and 3 average rebounds in 18 minutes this season. It was his first year of professional basketball in France. He has shown immense improvement since the start of the season and is playing with more confidence for the Mets 92 in the LNB Pro A playoffs right now.
“My confidence grew as opportunities presented themselves,” Coulibaly told ESPN last month. “I work on everything to be as complete a player as possible. The key has just been to be confident and to implement in games what I learn in training.”
The NBA values young players with a high ceiling when selecting players in the first round and Coulibaly has both. Each year, it’s the unique prospects that are thrown up the draft on experienced four-year-old college players.
“There’s a correlation between being young and rising, historically speaking,” 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, in general, suggests the upside.”
Coulibaly continues to grow in his game on the pitch and also in his long frame. In two years, Coulibaly went from 5-6 to 6-3, then added three more inches the following year. He uses his size to his advantage, especially in catch-and-shoot situations where he has high clearance on his jump shot, connecting on nearly 40% of his attempts from 3-pointers this season. He has a solid foundation and needs to work on his loading time once he catches the ball, but the shooting mechanics are there. Defensively, that’s where he shines with his long wingspan and quick feet, impacting different aspects of the game. Coulibaly showed flashes of what he could be as an NBA wing, be it his impressive dunks in transition, the way he pins backboard blocks or finds Wembanyama in the lane when driving the baseline.
“He’s our X factor,” Wembanyama told SLAM Magazine. “An all-terrain weapon, it can posterize a player and block them from the next game. Players keep underestimating him because he’s young… They go for a lay-up thinking they’re safe and they get wiped out. Every game he does something crazy. I think he’s the player I’m looking for the most on the pitch.
He is the definition of a late bloomer that was relatively unknown a year ago. Wembanyama, the rumored No. 1 pick, is a generation-type talent with his skills on the pitch, but he also improves everyone around him. Scouts who tuned in to one of Wembanyama’s games this season discovered a potential budding star in the making with Coulbaly.
Prior to the start of the season, the 2024 NBA Draft was Coulibaly’s goal. Now, he’s a projected first-round pick in the upcoming June 22 draft. A team that is willing to be patient and develop Coulibaly for a few years could get a steal once he reaches his potential and becomes the next young and talented European player to hit the NBA.