It already looks like 2021 will be an important year for gauging which Australians are in that top tier of basketball prospects across the globe.
The recent under-20 Australian Junior Championships gave us the opportunity to continue to track the development of multiple potential NBA-level players, as well as those who could emerge future pros as we enter the 2021 FIBA under-19 World Cup cycle.
That under-19 World Cup tips off on July 3 in Latvia and, with Josh Giddey's sights likely set on the Boomers in Tokyo, the door is open for another top Australian prospect to take the reins of the 'Emus'.
With that in mind, here's a look at some of the top performers from the recent Nationals tournaments, with a sharp focus on the prospects who project to have the biggest upside.
The expectation is that, going into the Latvia tournament, Daniels will be the headliner for Australia; not dissimilar to when Danté Exum entered the 2013 iteration of the event.
Daniels, a member of the NBA Global Academy, went into the recent under-20 Nationals as a projected mid-first round pick for the 2022 NBA Draft - he came in at No. 16 on ESPN's first mock draft for the class - and was able to show an impressive level of improvement across the board.
Tracking Daniels' development over the past year and a half, his game is largely the same - he's a 6'6 combo guard who excels on the defensive end, can run the point effectively, has good touch around the rim, and is a plus athlete - but it's his ability to do that consistently over a game, and across multiple contests, that's the most important part of his growth.
"He shows all the traits we look for in a young guard prospect," ESPN's Jonathan Givony said of Daniels in a phone interview.
"First of all, physically; his frame, athleticism. And then the ability to create off the dribble. He's one of these guys that can play basically all three back-court positions. We're not sure exactly what position he's gonna end up long term, but that's fine. He's a big, playmaking guard who can handle it, play out of pick-and-roll, he can create for others, he can get to the rim, he's got a really nice floater, we know he's also a really good defender, which is probably his best trait right now.
"The thing that most impressed me was his defence. He's not a great shooter, but he makes shots, so it's encouraging to see that. Looks like he's got real touch. Most guards aren't great shooters when they're young, especially guys who are creators the way he is. That's the thing he's gonna have to work on, but nothing mechanically broken there. It's just a matter of getting in the gym and working."
The shooting aspect of Daniels' game is reminiscent of what we've seen with Giddey; a bigger playmaking guard who clearly has touch, and whose jumper is by no means broken, but one who just hasn't demonstrated the ability to hit consistently from range.
At under-20s, Daniels seemingly made a concerted effort to look to score from the perimeter, shooting 36.3 percent from beyond the arc, on 4.4 attempts a game. He finished the tournament averaging 16.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 4.8 assists a game, while remaining his usual elite self on the defensive end - he boasts a close-to-6'10 wingspan - of the floor.
"He absolutely deserves to be in the same conversation that Giddey's in at the moment," Marty Clarke, the director of Canberra's NBA Global Academy, told ESPN.
"He's grown, to start with. He's grown, he's filled out, and he's now a big strong athlete... His ability to score the ball in the paint is his biggest attribute. He can get in the paint and make good decisions in there, whereas most young guards get in the paint and play really fast; he can play slow.
"Defensively and rebounding wise, he presents something that maybe Australian basketball hasn't seen from a point guard. Damian Martin, just five inches taller and a better athlete. That's a big tag because Damo's a heck of a player and great leader, but Dyson does exhibit a lot of those same features.
"He's developed his shooting... he's definitely developed his ability to come and practice hard every day, and that's why he's getting better. I think he's just grown up as a person; he has an opinion and he's able to express himself more, and that's just a maturity thing."
Following under-20 Nationals, and after evaluators were able to get a better look at some top-level prospects at this month's Iverson Classic, Daniels shifted to No. 18 on ESPN's 2022 mock draft, with the upcoming under-19 World Cup the next stage for the 18-year-old to show off his progression.
"Showing that he can be a leader in that setting, which is gonna be really high-level competition," Givony said of how Daniels could help himself in Latvia.
"He's probably gonna be the focal point of the scouting reporting, so showing that he can create for himself, get others involved, and just contribute to winning. That's what we wanna see. We wanna see guys who can make a positive impact on both ends of the floor. Just continue to do what he does. It's still a long way to the 2022 draft, and so just incremental progress is all people wanna see."
Beyond that, there's a good chance we see Dyson as part of the NBL's Next Stars program, but college does remain an option. Dyson was recently offered by Oklahoma, sources told ESPN, as he's still in the process of figuring out what the next step in his young career will be.
The elite Australian prospects out of the NBA Global Academy have come in waves. First, it was Giddey and Mojave King. The next is Daniels. After that, it's more-than-likely to be Tyrese Proctor, who showed really impressive flashes over both the under-18 and under-20 tournaments in the span of a month.
In Proctor, we have a 6'4 combo guard whose ability to create separation for his own shot is as elite as perhaps we've ever seen in Australia.
"His balance and his lightness of foot allow him to - and keep in mind that, at the moment, his frame is light so he'll get bigger and stronger - step-back and pull back; he can do that and still be on balance, and then he has the ability to re-attack off that," Clark said.
As a 2004-born guard, Proctor was one of the youngest players at the under-20 Nationals, but still showed himself to be extremely effective for a talented Academy team. He averaged 13.8 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game, while shooting 41.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Over his years growing up at Sutherland, and during his time at the Academy, Proctor's calling card has been his ability as a perimeter scorer, but he's shown a more rounded game recently.
Proctor demonstrated impressive poise as a lead guard, crashed the boards with more intent than we've seen before - averaged 4.1 rebounds a game at under-18s - and has clearly made a jump athletically.
"He has a good ability to get other people involved, and we're very, very pleased with his performance at under-20s for a 17-year-old, in his ability to run a team, and that's where he's really improved," Clarke said.
"He can run a team, and understands the hows and whys of things now. Evolving defensively, and if he can get to the level of being a real pest on the ball, then he has two ends to his game now. He's still growing, so he's not gonna get strong like Josh and Dyson are now for another couple of years but, when he does, it's look out.
With a 6'6 wingspan and the potential for him to continue growing because he has youth on his side, there's room for Proctor to become a really formidable two-way player who can play both guard positions. The 2023 draft is a long way away so putting him in that conversation is premature, but he definitely has the tools of a legitimate NBA-level prospect, and he's trending in the right direction.
When we're looking at who may be the next Jack White or Dejan Vasiljevic as a rookie in the NBL who can make an impact from day one, Blake Jones could well be that player.
The 6'9 forward was named the under-20 Nationals' most valuable player - becoming just the second player to win the award twice - leading Queensland to a gold medal; the NBA Global Academy won the final, but was ineligible to win the tournament.
Throughout the event, we saw the skillset that made Jones one of Australia's best prospects in the college class of 2021. Jones primarily plays as a four-man and can really stretch it out to beyond the three-point line. You can tell that his time as a development player with the Brisbane Bullets has helped him, because he's noticeably beginning to play the game at his own speed.
Jones is committed to George Mason, starting with the 2021-22 NCAA season, and projects as a top-tier player in the NBL down the line.
When you're able to stand out on a really talented Academy team, you're doing something right. Rory Hawke was coming off a relatively impressive under-18 Nationals campaign, but it was his ability to play a somewhat stripped-back role for the Academy at under-20s that projects really well for his future as a pro.
In a talented backcourt - alongside Proctor - Hawke showed off a versatile skillset, expertly controlling the pace of the game as a Mitch McCarron-type of player. The 6'4 guard works really hard on both ends, has a terrific nose for the ball, and demonstrated an improved shooting stroke.
"Rory is less flashy," Clarke said.
"He's more: I'm doing things really solid and I'm really good at what I do. He is a phenomenal worker, and really goes about his work very quietly, and that's why he's not as noticeable... He's a much better distributor than people think... He's a guy people will really wanna follow, because I think he's extremely humble; the good thing about Rory is that he doesn't know how good he is yet.
"He'll get the job done, and he has a good breadth of skill that he can get it done in a number of ways - whatever you need from Rory, he's able to deliver - and he's a great teammate. Absolute joy to coach. He just hasn't worked out yet that he's really, really good. The longer it stays 'pure', the quicker he'll keep getting better."
Hawke is another 2004-born prospect, which makes his performance at under-20s even more impressive; his development over the next 12 months will definitely be worth tracking.
Compare the 2020 under-20 Nationals to the 2021 event, and you see two different versions of David Okwera, who remains one of the more intriguing 2002-born prospects in Australia.
In 2020, Okwera was part of a talented Victoria B team, and looked like a really solid plug-and-play type of guy in that context; he was more selective with his shot attempts, showed glimpses of creating out of the high post, and was a versatile defender at 6'10. Going into the 2021 tournament, Okwera clearly had the intent to lead from the front.
The bright spot is clearly the upside. Okwera showed impressive flashes for his size; taking opponents off the dribble, creating separation for perimeter shooting, and looking like a really versatile athlete.
On a relatively weak Western Australia Black team, Okwera was slightly limited because opposing defences were locked onto him, so he finished the tournament averaging 10.2 points and 8.3 rebounds a game, while shooting 41.4 percent from the field and 30.8 percent from downtown.
Before the tournament, Okwera announced that he'd be bypassing college - where he had high-major division-1 offers - to turn pro. At the time, Okwera had interest from several teams across Europe, sources told ESPN, though his camp is hopeful that he could join the NBL's Next Stars program.
At this point in his development, Okwera looks more like the level of prospect that generally signs a multi-year deal in the NBL, with the first season as a development player. He projects as a top-tier NBL player down the line, but the raw talent combined with his size and athleticism would lead one to believe that his ceiling could well be higher.
Moving forward, the interesting thing to keep an eye on is what his focus is from a development standpoint. One case study to look at is Matur Maker, a 6'10 power forward who excelled as a relatively skilled, rim-running big early in the junior ranks, though his sights were set on becoming a ball-dominant wing.
Okwera had shown better co-ordination and more flashes of a guard skillset at this point, but the question remains whether he can actually do it on a consistent enough basis to be effective at the next level. It's early, but he may make more of a long-term impact as a pro by leaning into being an elite plug-and-play guy.