Fiba U18 Championships: Top Prospects
By Rick Fois
The following is a recap of the Fiba U18 European Championships from Konya, Turkey. After attending the event in Konya, it is apparent that there is a lot of talent on the horizon in Europe from the next generation.
Dragan Bender 6'11'' PF 1997
For the first time in the more than 2 years that I have been tracking him, I saw Bender completely dominate a game, and he did it playing against older opponents. He had always shown his skills and potential in the past, and it was easy to see the immense talent but he always lacked aggressiveness, or the will to win, something always seemed to be missing in his performances. Everything came together against Lithuania as he was facing Sabonis and Birutis, two of the best bigs of the tournament. Bender was a beast. He started the game attacking the basket, making shots, attacking the close out to finish at the basket, grabbing every rebound. For him playing aggressive is a must. He can't just live outside the paint because I don't think he is that good of a shooter. He runs and moves a little like Pau Gasol, though Bender is much more comfortable in running with the ball. When he rebounds the ball he immediately looks up the court, and if he can't find somebody, he pushes the ball himself. He doesn't have Porzingis' length, athleticism and impact in defense, where he is long but not a great shot blocker from the weak side. Bender on the other hand is very skilled, very comfortable playing outside the paint and reading the defense. His post game isn't bad at all, but the problem is that he never posts up; when he does he uses his quick feet to go left or right. He has good control of his body, also in traffic, but his hands aren't that great at catching the ball. His best skill is passing, as he makes great decisions to find the open man. His shooting is very streaky, as he doesn't always do a good job of setting his feet, making for a lack of consistency in his form. He obviously is a very good shooter for his height, but needs the space and time to set up for his shot. Around the rim he has the potential to finish above it, but right now lacks the strength to do it consistently. A prospect with possible lottery chances, has a 4+3 years agreement with Maccabi with a Million dollar NBA buy out in the last year. He wont be eligible until 2016, but has emerged as one of Europe's bright young hopes.
Marko Arapovic 6'10'' C/PF 1996
One of the most improved players over the past two years. His body is much stronger and balanced. He has a strong upper and lower body and was easily more physical than the Croatian big guys. Has very good control of his body, particularly in traffic, and like Bender he showed great skills in bringing the ball up in transition making good decisions, finding the open man or taking it himself. Not a great athlete but explosive enough to finish drop offs with strong dunks. He plays very tough in the post on both ends and gets a lot of fouls, as he knows how to use his body to compensate for his lack of athleticism. On drop offs he is explosive and very strong with the ball. Right now, I consider him a better 3 point shooter than Bender. Obviously Arapovic is older but given space, he doesn't miss. As opposed to Bender, he is not that comfortable attacking closeouts. But plays tough defense, he is hard to move around and screens really hard. Doesn't get as many rebounds as he should with the way he plays and not sometimes wants to make the assist too much instead of the easy pass out. Any how A much better player that what he was two years ago, the key element for his Croatia team to succeed in this European Championship also on a leadership stand point.
Domantas Sabonis 6'9'' PF/C 1996
Has improved considerably over the past year as well. One year of practicing and playing with the senior team of Malaga completely changed his body and also the way he plays. Right now Sabonis kind of plays bully basketball, as he cannot use his right hand at all, But he has great IQ, can finish over his right shoulder in the post and can really pass the ball, something natural considering his last name but perhaps didn't really emerge until this tournament. He plays really hard, with passion, defensively and offensively fighting for position and has good feet and overall skills for a big. To be an NBA player he needs to develop a face up game and a very solid mid range jumper, because I'm not sure he is explosive and quick enough to go by people even facing up. He has a good hand and has been making 3 point shots when he has time and space but certainly it will be something he'll need to work on at Gonzaga. He will not be able to play bully ball in the NBA, so he needs to improve his skills to succeed and make it at the next level. Finishing with his right hand is also a must.
Egemen Guven 6'10'' C 1996
Guven is growing on me every time I see him. I like his long arms and coordination when he catches the ball in traffic. I love that he is the only big here to catch and finish without bringing the ball down like a young Gasol. Guven is explosive around the basket and has a nice hand from mid-range when left open. He runs the floor very well, and though he doesn't have many offensive moves in the post he is pretty efficient in scoring when catching down low. I feel that when his body matures and fully develops he will become a much better player, because he is strong and understands the game, but right now he suffers against athletic bigs, and ones his size or taller. In the future he needs to develop a go to move on both blocks and keep working on his body. Footwork isn't great defensively and he struggles to jump in front of opponents. To play in the NBA he cannot just passively stay behind his man, he needs to fight for position. I might sound crazy but with a couple more inches and development of his body, the way he runs, moves, and shoots with both hands, he looks a lot like a young Pau Gasol.
Federico Mussini 6'0'' PG 1996
You can call him the Steph Curry of the Boot. Has close to zero NBA chances, but was one the most fun and clutch players of the tournament. Mussini made all the defenders trying to stop him crazy. His quickness is outstanding and he goes by people like a knife through butter. A great shooter from 3 pt and pull up jumper. Doesn't have a great body, very skinny, but he is strong and knows how to handle contact, which is how he scores so much in the paint. Despite that if he wants to play at higher level and be the successor to GianMarco Pozzecco, he needs to put some muscles eventually. His short size is partially overcome by his long arms that make him like a 6'3'' PG. Not a crazy athlete, but uses two hands like a piano player. One of the things to re-evaluate is his ability to involve teammates, he clearly knows how to create the advantage for the offense but almost never creates for his teammates. Maybe it's because his teammates on this Italian team aren't exactly the most skilled ( in particular the bigs), but if the plan is to play him behind Cinciarini in Reggio Emilia he will have to be a more classical PG and it will be interesting to see how he can adapt his game and also how his defense will be against stronger opponents than him. He did it last year in some games, like the Italian Cup quarterfinals and played great, but now will have to be more consistent. One thing is for sure, when he gets in his "zone" he is absolutely dominant like possibly only Rubio has been in a Youth European championships over the last 10 years.
Edin Atic 6'7 SF/SG 1997
One of the surprises of the Championships. He has developed a bad reputation but he can really play basketball. Perfect small forward who has a solid frame and nice wingspan. He can shoot from outside and has made some very big shots to keep Bosnia alive. His best overall skill is attacking close outs and getting to the rim. He can finish above or under the basket and is completely fearless when getting to the rim. He is a beauty when he can fully extend on layups. He needs to put weight on but is one year younger than the competition and can really be crafty using his body when attacking. Defensively he is not a lock down defender but has a good feel for the game and is often in the right spot thanks to his long arms. If he focuses on basketball and becomes more coachable, it seems that he can become a really interesting player.
Aleksa Ilic 6'8 SF 1996
In a one year span, he went from 5'11 to 6'8'', switching from PG to SF. The most athletic wing in the tournament, he helped Montenegro to an impressive campaign. This kid can absolutely fly and has a tremendous wingspan, which appears to be well over 7'0''. His dunks and blocks were some of the most exciting moments of the tournament. He can take off with one or two feet with equal efficiency. But Ilic isn't just athletic, he has a very good handle, a great transition game and quality pull up jumper. He can attack the rim but struggles to create a shot for himself. He made some three points but he isn't so comfortable right now in doing that. Where he really separates himself is for how high he gets on the board and how many blocks he gets in defense, both on ball and help side. I was very impressed with his speed as well and the upside he has. Needs to work on his shooting and lateral movements on defense, but definitely a guy to keep both eyes on for the future. Doesn't lack confidence for sure and makes big plays.
Vasileios Charalampopoulos 6'9'' PF/SF 1997
The best left hand in the tournament. Not athletic at all, he can't jump over a phone book, but he paints masterpieces with his left hand. Has a really high basketball IQ, he understands the game. He's not quick or explosive, but Vasileos has a very good touch for shooting mid-range, and has improved a lot from 3 pts since last year. He also has a nice post game as he can go to his right shoulder. His best skill is passing, and he sows good from the post or in transition, and he has great reads of the defense to make the right pass at the right time. He is averaging almost 5 assists per game. Greece's fortunes are completely in his hands and he is the emotional and technical leader of the group. He can't go by people, which is why he needs to play the 4 at a higher level, though he has been playing minutes as a 3 in a very tall line up. Defensively he is big and switches on every P&R or screening situation, and has very good feet but lacks good lateral movements. He knows how to box out and use his thick body to cut off defenders averaging almost 11 rebounds per game. One of my favorite players in the tournament, but he is not athletic or big enough to play in the NBA right now. Historically Greek players have shown a tendency to not perform too well outside of Greece, but he was phenomenal in Konya. If he grows some more, he has a chance and would be a perfect system player.
Furkan Korkmaz 6'6'' SG 1997
The best natural scorer for Turkey, sometimes gets lost in the crazy rotations of the Turkish coach. This kid can really shoot it, shot an unbelievable 70% from 3 pointers going 16 of 23 during the tournament. He possesses a quick release and very good follow through, reminds Ibrahim Kutlay with the way he shoots. Korkmaz needs the ball in his hands to create, and he doesn’t have a strong lower body, reason why he has a much harder time beating 1996 opponents than he does against players his age. But he his still able to score utilizing the P&R to attack the basket and shoot behind the screen. Korkmaz has a good frame, has the size and the skills to become one of the top guards in Europe and once he develops his body can become a better defender as well. The aren’t too many European guards who can create shots for themselves and he is one of them. Not a bad athlete, though he only shows it when he has an open lane. Otherwise, he prefers to settle for outiside shots.
Ante Zizic 6'11'' C 1997
Right now he is the best pure center of his generation (1997, with only Jacob Larsen comparable): he has a huge wingspan and very good feet. You can recognize the quality basketball genes from his brother. He is a terrific rebounder and despite the average explosiveness he is a good rim protector. In Europe he can become a high level Euroleague kind of center, he already has some very good moves in the post, though he cannot finish with his left and tends to shuffle his feet many times with travels getting called. Has very good eye-hand coordination. He should look to develop a jump shot so that he can play the 4 position. He has the balance and physical abilities to do it. He plays tough and is very good at finishing on drop-offs from his teammates. I like him, because wants to play in the post, plus he has some interesting moves and counters already. Like Bender, he has an agreement with Maccabi for multiple years.
Yankuba Sima 6'10'' C 1996
He was much more intriguing than expected. Still very raw with his skills, but he has a very good body for basketball ready to fill out. He runs the floor very well, not so coordinated yet but he can score when he gets the ball around the basket, which is enough for now. He is not a dominant force yet, but has a lot of upside and defensively he is a presence protecting the rim. He was the best rebounder and shot blocker of the tournament. He can do multiple jumps one after the other, and is very explosive. He doesn't have post moves but is very good with both hands when he needs to finish. I don't like his feet on P&R defense, at this point you must leave him under the basket. If he works on his balance, he could be able to recover in these scenarios, with his athleticism and long arms. He should also focus on playing in the post more instead of running outside the 3-point line and settling for long jumpers. Not a good screener, and lacks aggressiveness but… One of the players with the most upside among the age group.
Lovro Mazalin 6'7'' SF 1997
The all-around guard that plays for Cedevita didn't play his best basketball here, but was impressive statistically for a 1997 kid who was surrounded by many good players. He shows very good athletic abilities, he is explosive and in particular can go left and is a very good scorer attacking the rim. He is very good when he can attack close outs, he can read the help and make good passes and finish above the rim. Defensively he has very good lateral movements and has a good feeling for rebounding on a team where with the bigs they have there aren't a lot of rebounds lefts to grab. He needs to improve his ball handling and shooting. He can make shots, but he is not consistent and his form isn't so good. I like the fact that he can play multiple positions and has the ability to do many things on the floor. I would like to see more from him though, sometimes he doesn't make good reads, too many TOs and his IQ could be better.
Alpha Kaba 6'9'' PF 1996
One of the top French talents, Kaba has a great body for a PF. He's strong, mature and very athletic. He uses his strong upper body to finish through contact, and he is explosive enough to finish well above the rim on drop offs. He doesn't have many post moves right now, normally just tries to finish over his left shoulder, but has really good skills to push in transition and can shoot 3 pointers with good footwork. He has problems staying in the game because he fouls so much, and many of his fouls are very much avoidable. He needs to be more consistent with his game and learn how to play facing the basket. Kaba has good hands and shouldn't have too much trouble developing a solid mid-range jumper. His attitude is still a little bit soft, he's not really a tough guy, and he doesn't always command the ball. Instead he let others take big shots. However with his skills and explosiveness, he can certainly play ball and should work on being more assertive.
Okben Ulubay 6'8'' SF 1996
The most talented wing for Turkey, he was their key player in many situations in creating shots. On the court Ulubay is a sneaky lefty, who is an underrated athlete and smooth enough to go by people. Doesn't need the ball too much to create, he actually knows how to use screens and read the defense. He is good in attacking close outs, but would be even better if he was a better shooter. He can score in different ways but he is not a great scorer, he can do a little of everything but nothing great. Can play P&R very well particularly if he can turn the corner going to his left, he made some nice jumpers and a couple of good passes for the roller. He his a good defender as well, not too quick but with a strong upper body to stay in front of people. Many Turkish talents get lost when they have to move to the next level, Ulubay seems to be able to do the right things for the team to find his spot everywhere thanks also to the confidence he has in himself.
Isaiah Cordinier 6'5'' SG 1996
The new kid on the block, coming from out of nowhere. He didn't take too long to catch my attention with what was probably the dunk of the year in Europe. You can tell he plays wild, and he will need to tone down his game some. But the flashes he shows are amazing, as he can beat people from off the dribble, shoot the ball well from three points and can posterize you on drives. He's really quick and explosive, the only jump shots he takes are from three point, something that hurts his percentages, but he has the athletic gifts to be a high level guard. What I love about him is his first step, and the fearless attitude to finish with contact. Very different than the typical European guards you see. He needs to work on his skills and incorporate his focus within the context of team. He's not consistent at all right now, but this kid could be a pearl.
Georgios Papagiannis 7'1'' C 1997
I never liked Papagiannis because of his body. He is too stiff and runs too strange to be effective as a basketball player. To his credit he played really well in Turkey, showing good explosiveness and impacting the games a lot coming off the bench for a tough Greece team that plays mostly zone with him on the floor to hide his defensive mistakes. He's a good rim protector, but not great. In offense, he doesn't fight hard for position but he's pretty good in making decisions if he catches the ball deep. He's not good at playing P&R because he can't catch passes in traffic and maintain control of his body. He decided to go back from the States and play for Panathinakos next year without signing a contract, keeping the door open for a possible NCAA come back.
Zoran Nikolic 6'9 C 1996
The best Center of the tournament. I love Nikolic as one of the old school big centers. He is too short for the NBA but has an absolute gift for taking position hard and deep inside the paint, with nobody able to push him out. He can finish over both shoulders, with jump hooks and semi-hooks. He always plays hard, and knows how to use his big butt. At this level skinny bigs are on a mission impossible to take position against him, but has Guven showed against him, he really suffers against long, athletic bigs. He's not explosive but skilled, makes very good reads of double teams in the post and has good feel in both hands to make passes to the open man. I really like him for Europe, with a couple of inches he would be an NBA player, but his growth seems to have halted, so it's more likely he'll become a high level European player.
Danilo Ostojic 6'8 SF/PF 1996
Right now he is playing the 4 but already has the skills and ideal body to be a really good SF. Possesses very long arms, and to me he is the most talented prospect, possessing the most upside for this Serbia team. He plays like a PF for them, but only because they have many guards that he is forced to. What I love about him is how smoothly he can run, pushing the ball, and how explosive he is around the basket. He is unselfish and plays great team basketball. He can pass the ball, once he beats his defender and has a good shot with his feet set. He is a very good rebounder, especially offensive, thanks to his quick feet to get around opposing players. What he needs to grow is in offense with the ball in his hands. He can't really create an advantage in the half court, and right now he sets the screens when I think he should receive them. I believe he has the upside to become a SF in a couple of years, but we'll see within the next year if that's part of the plan.
Marc Garcia 6'6'' SF/SG 1996
Garcia is a very good scorer, a good slasher, he can take it to the rim, but in reality he plays under the rim. When shooting he can make shots but he needs time to adjust his feet. His body obviously needs time to develop and the frame is the one of many Spanish SFs but I don't think he has the specific skills of some of those small forwards. In my estimation he will be a good European player, and not a player you will see in the draft anytime soon. Garcia had a great tournament in Mannheim, but for me he doesn't shoot well enough to be a specialty guy, and he is not even as athletic as someone like Alex Abrines.
Stefan Lazarevic 6'7'' SF 1996
He is a terrific defender and one of the key guys for Serbia. He plays hard, can jump and has a really strong upper body. He doesn't have 3 point range at all, though still finds ways to score moving without the ball and using his body. However, his lack of quickness and explosiveness will always be tough for him to overcome. This, combined with his lack of shooting, makes Stefan a near certain European level player.
Cyrille Eliezer Vanerot 6'6'' SF 1996
The French forward actually has a chance. A very good athlete who has good ball handling and knows how to finish around the rim. Doesn't have any post moves, but can shoot pretty well from outside with confidence. Like many French players focus and consistency aren't exactly the two of his greatest qualities, but he shows flashes. Considering his body, he really needs to be more aggressive going for rebounds, but he plays good team basketball and very rarely forces things.
Dominik Olejniczack 6'11'' C 1996
For somebody that has been playing basketball for just 3 years the Polish center has made some outstanding progress. Has a really nice touch offensively around the rim, almost like a little floater. Doesn't really have moves yet, but can finish on drop off and has been very effective on P&R. Defensively it is where it gets interesting, he has a really good body, has timing for blocks and good lateral movements to show on P&R. He has been great from Poland in protecting the rim and grabbing rebounds. Suffers a lot when he plays against more athletic players. Maybe is not too athletic, but there is a lot of upside to work with.
Maciej Bender 6'9'' PF 1997
The big Polish player has the potential to become a Ryan Kelly kind of player, and even looks a lot like the former Dukie. You can see he is still losing baby fat and his body has yet to fully develop. He can run the floor and moves really well, and has a nice touch from everywhere in the floor. His skill level for his size is very good, but he struggles against more mature players like the ones he played in this competition. Studying and playing in the USA will certainly help his physical progress. He's got a great frame, length and good feel for the game. Lacks huge upside, but can be a solid contributor in Europe at minimum.
Laurynas Birutis 6'11'' C 1997
He moves his feet better than you would expect. He is the key player for Lithuania even though he barely scores any points, but he is a constant presence in the paint, contesting shots and protecting the basket. Birutis has close to zero skills at the moment, but has a really good balance for somebody of his size and a strong core that makes it hard to push him around. He has big problems when he leaves the paint on P&R. Very long wingspan. I like his dirty work he does or the team but out of all the bigs in Turkey with potential he is the one that I don't think has the upside to play in the League. He is signing pro in Lithuania, so his overall development could take off and make him a much different player next year.
Nedim Djedovic 6'9'' SG/SF 1997
More skilled and taller than is brother, Nedim, is actually playing a really good tournament after a really bad Basketball Without Borders. Playing without the ball in his hands actually helped him in showing his qualities. He made shots, big ones against Turkey, from three points and attacked very well once somebody created an advantage for him or he could curl off screens. Needs to get stronger and more show more courage when getting to the rim, is almost like he is too nice, the opposite of the brother. Has to improve ball handling and finishes but has been playing very well. If he could have more confidence and play more aggressive he would be a much better player.
Stefan Peno 6'6 PG/SG 1997
Peno played solid basketball in Turkey. He has a good body that needs to mature and needs the ball in his hands to be effective offensively. He lacks lower and upper body strength, but the kid clearly has talent for the game. Djordjevic, head coach of senior national team really likes him. I don't see it, too me Peno is too slow and not athletic enough. He has good court vision and plays well in P&R, but he forces too much in many situations. He wants to score or make the assist. Playing SG is actually helping me like him more, but I don't see him in the NBA ever, actually not even in Europe.
Imran Polutak 6'10 C 1996
Another of my favorites; a poor man's Nurkic. Unfortunately he is shorter and doesn't seem to have that big of a frame, nor the amazing feet that Nurkic has. But Polutak is a great leader for Bosnia, has some unexpected great moves in the post, though most of the plays for him are more about screening than finding space in the block. I like how he uses his body, can always finish though he can't jump and has no fear. I don't think he will grow anymore, with a couple of inches he could be a different player. It is becoming harder and harder these days to find big centers that know how to do the dirty work and help their team. Polutak is one of those.
Ayberk Olmaz 6'9'' C/PF 1996
After the NJIT this year he was very much one of the players on the rise in the European scene. He was awful in this European Championship. Outside of his body, very good for a PF, and the way he runs and moves there aren't other things to like about him. "He doesn't know how good he is" is the consensus and I agree that he has everything to be NBA player. But he doesn't seem to have his head on the shoulder, too weak, he gets pushed around by everybody and in offense he just walks around. This was a big test for him and he failed in showing any improvements.