French revolution: Atlanta Hawks select Zaccharie Risacher with No 1 pick in NBA draft

Author: Editors Desk, Guardian sport and agencies Source: The Guardian
June 27, 2024 at 10:46
Atlanta had only a 3% chance of landing the top pick in the NBA draft. Photograph: Julia Nikhinson/AP
Atlanta had only a 3% chance of landing the top pick in the NBA draft. Photograph: Julia Nikhinson/AP
  • Second consecutive French player to go No 1 overall
  • Center Alex Sarr selected by Washington at No 2
  • Three French players drafted in top six picks

The NBA is in the midst of a French revolution. The Atlanta Hawks drafted Zaccharie Risacher with the No 1 pick in the NBA draft on Wednesday night, making him the second consecutive French player to be drafted with the top pick.

Risacher doesn’t come with the enormous height or hype of Victor Wembanyama, the towering center who San Antonio selected No 1 overall last year and went on to win the Rookie of the Year award. But the Hawks saw Risacher as the best choice in what has been viewed as a draft absent of elite talent.The 19-year-old forward was the winner of the best young player award in the French League last season and beat out big men Alex Sarr, a fellow Frenchman, and UConn’s Donovan Clingan in the race to be the top pick.

When he did, it made NBA draft history. This is the first time that the draft has gone consecutive years without the No 1 pick being someone who played at an American college.

The 19-year-old Risacher impressed the Hawks as a catch-and-shoot scorer with ideal size for a wing player. Risacher – at 6ft 9inch and 215 pounds – will be expected to join guards Trae Young and Dejounte Murray and forward Jalen Johnson as foundation players for a team which has not won a playoff series since advancing to the 2021 Eastern Conference finals.

In a year there was no consensus choice as the top player in the draft, the Hawks could have traded down for more selections. The No 1 pick was their only selection in the draft. Instead, general manager Landry Fields didn’t pass up the rare opportunity to take advantage of the top pick.



The Washington Wizards grabbed Alex Sarr with the second overall pick, using their highest selection in 14 years to add some much-needed size to a team that won only 15 games last season. Sarr played last season for the Perth Wildcats in Australia. He also spent two years in the US with Overtime Elite, a developmental league.

The Wizards are a year removed from a front office overhaul and an offseason in which they traded Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. Their struggles last season – they set a franchise record for losses – were fairly predictable, and it’s not clear how much anyone in this draft can accelerate their rebuild. Washington hasn’t advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 1979, and this is only the third time since then the franchise has picked in the top two of the draft.

After Sarr, the Frenchmen kept coming. The Charlotte Hornets selected French power forward Tidjane Salaun with the sixth overall pick. It marked the first time a country outside the US had three players selected in the top 10 of the NBA draft.

Elsewhere, Houston made Kentucky freshman Reed Sheppard the No 3 pick. Stephon Castle of the two-time reigning national champion Huskies made it two straight college freshmen when San Antonio took him at No 4.

Zach Edey will take his 7ft 4inch frame to Memphis to start his career. Edey, the former Purdue center who became the first player in more than 40 years to win the Associated Press’ men’s college basketball player of the year award in back-to-back seasons, was taken by the Grizzlies with the ninth pick.

But the night belonged to French basketball. A one-and-done college player had topped the draft for 13 straight years from 2010-22 before Wembanyama ended that streak. Now, it’s France’s time at the top.

NBA 2024 Draft: the first round

1) Atlanta Hawks, Zaccharie Risacher, SF, JL Bourg (France).

2) Washington Wizards, Alex Sarr, C, Perth Wildcats (France).

3) Houston Rockets, Reed Sheppard, PG, Kentucky.

4) San Antonio Spurs, Stephon Castle, SG, UConn.

5) Detroit Pistons, Ron Holland, SF, G League Ignite.

6) Charlotte Hornets, Tidjane Salaun, Cholet Basket (France).

7) Portland Trailblazers, Donovan Clingan, C, UConn.

8) San Antonio Spurs, Rob Dillingham, PG, Kentucky.

9) Memphis Grizzlies, Zach Edey, C, Purdue.

10) Utah Jazz, Cody Williams, SF, Colorado.

Full draft selections for all teams.

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