The 2022 edition of the NBA Draft is just a few hours away, and all eyes are on the Orlando Magic as they have earned the right to pick first overall among top prospects like Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero.
What makes this draft one of the most exciting in years is the fact that there is no consensus No. 1 overall pick since all three prospects have a strong case for that honor.
One prospect that has also been making waves in the past few weeks is that of potential top sleeper pick 7-foot-2 Filipino Kai Sotto.
Sotto was not one of the 283 players who applied for early entry into the draft, opting instead to declare shortly after winning the 2022 Fans MVP award in Australia’s National Basketball League (NBL).
The Filipino standout played the 2021-22 NBL season with the Adelaide 36ers and went on to average 7.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists, 0.3 steals, and 0.8 blocks in 23 appearances.
Though his numbers do not entirely stand out, his potential has landed him pre-draft workout sessions with the Atlanta Hawks, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, New York Knicks, Orlando Magic and Sacramento Kings.
All of the aforementioned teams, aside from the Bulls, have a second-round pick which is where Sotto is most likely to be drafted in.
It is also worth mentioning that Sotto broke through the top 58 (the Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat forfeited their second-round selection due to tampering) for the first time on Sports Illustrated’s mock draft, projecting him to go 49th overall to the Kings.
“Kaiju” also explained to the media following his pre-draft workout with the Pacers about how much he patterned his game after two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol.
“A 7-footer who can pass, who can score and also has a high basketball IQ, so I try to watch and learn from him [Gasol], so I would say those are my advantages. I just have to get stronger, faster and more athletic,” Sotto explained.
Sotto broke onto the international scene during his stint with the Philippines’ FIBA Under-16, Under-17 and Under-19 tournaments where he showcased his entire arsenal including his reliable outside touch, fadeaway, and rim-running.
However, the biggest point of concern for him right now is his strength.
NBA players, and big men specifically, have a different level of strength and fitness as compared to those that he has faced before since he could be sharing the floor with the likes of Rudy Gobert, Nikola Vucevic, Nikola Jokic and Deandre Ayton among others.
It is a need that he and his team has been addressing through the years and is progressing in, which could be expedited even further when working with an NBA team.
While there is doubt as to whether Sotto can play at an NBA level right out of the gates, he is worth investing in for the long haul simply because of what he brings to the table.
The hype around Sotto has been slowly building through his own body of work, but the passionate fanbase in his home country certainly has gotten him a long way as well.
When it was reported that he had signed with the G League Ignite, many Filipinos believed that it was going to be the realization of an island nation’s dreams whose love affair with the sport dates back to the 1910s.
The Portland Trail Blazers’ social media account even teased the possibility of them drafting Sotto in a graphic posted on Friday, June 17.
Should Sotto’s name be called on draft night, he will earn the distinction of being the first-ever pure-blooded Filipino talent to enter the NBA via the draft and he will also join Filipino-Americans Raymond Townsend, Jordan Clarkson and Jalen Green on the list of Asians to play in the NBA.
As the clock ticks ever closer to the 8:00 PM ET start time of the 2022 NBA Draft, Sotto and the Philippines’ dreams are just a step away from becoming a reality.