2024 NBA Draft: Alex Sarr has taken a unique path as the projected No. 1 pick

The Atlanta Hawks will be making the first pick in the 2024 NBA Draft and, unlike last year when Victor Wembanyama was the clear No. 1 pick, there is not a consensus top pick this year. But the player favored to go No. 1 is another French center, 7-foot-1 Alex Sarr.

Sarr’s path to the NBA has been unique. He turned pro at 14, with his young career starting off in Spain and France before he moved to the States, where his older brother, Olivier, played college basketball at Wake Forest and Kentucky before going undrafted in 2021. (Olivier Sarr played for the G League’s Oklahoma City Blue this season.)

Alex Sarr joined Overtime Elite’s semi-pro program for two years, and last spring he made the 12,000-mile move to Perth, Australia, to play for the Wildcats in the National Basketball League as part of the NBL’s Next Stars program.

“The professional route just suits me better as a player and has helped me develop my game better,” Alex Sarr told Yahoo Sports last fall. “The spacing allows me more freedom and versatility, so that’s why I chose to play in the NBL and not college.”

Last September, Sarr and his teammates traveled to Las Vegas for a pair of exhibition games against the G League Ignite. Over 200 scouts and executives filled the arena to see Sarr and Ignite forwards Matas Buzelis and Ron Holland — all three projected lottery picks heading into the season. In the first game, Sarr finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and six blocks in 29 minutes. In the second game, he looked even more comfortable, coming off the bench and posting 26 points, 10 rebounds and six blocks in a 127-112 win.

This was Sarr’s coming out party. He made a strong statement and lasting impression in those first two games that would carry over through the course of the season.

“There were stretches in both games where he was the best prospect on the court,” an NBA scout told Yahoo Sports. “A two-way player who showed everyone that he’s more than just a rim protector.”

Sarr was a steady contributor for Perth as it finished third in the NBL regular season with an 18-13 record. The versatile center went through stretches with minor injuries but never considered walking away from the season early, even after showing enough to be considered a lock as a top-five draft prospect.

“Not finishing the season never crossed my mind, not once,” Sarr told Yahoo Sports in November. “I committed to this team, and I’m going to play all the way until the end. I came here to get better and improve, and you can only improve if you’re on the court playing against real competition.”

Sarr averaged 9.6 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 18 minutes off the bench. He scored in myriad ways all season, whether it was stepping into long 3s out of the pick-and-pop, taking players off the dribble or catching lobs off the roll or in transition. Defensively, he is one of the best shot blockers in this draft class and can shoot the gap, deflect passes and alter shots with his 7-5 wingspan.

“The NBA is evolving and becoming more positionless, so even at my size, I have to be able to guard every position and feel comfortable with the ball in my hands,” Sarr said. “I feel like I’ve always been able to play on the perimeter and it’s nothing new or uncomfortable for me to step outside of the paint and make plays.”

Because of his limited playing time with Perth, for the scouts who made the long trip to see Sarr play, it was a smaller sample size. But the 19-year-old entered the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago looking physically stronger and tested well in the agility and shooting drills. He did not participate in the 5-on-5 scrimmages and is likely to only meet and work out for a few teams picking inside the top five.

“I just want to show NBA scouts how impactful I can be on the court, on or off the ball,” said Sarr, who played two years in Atlanta for Overtime Elite and told reporters at the combine that he went to several Hawks games but doesn’t know any of the players personally. “I think my versatility separates me from other bigs in this draft with my rim protection, high motor and shot creation.”

Most consider the 2024 draft class to be weak. While great players will emerge, no one knows if that will be pick No. 1 or pick No. 35. But the upside Sarr has at 7-1 and his versatility as an inside-out, two-way player project him in the same category as young hybrid centers like Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren.