U19 World Championships: Top International Prospects
Team USA won the 2013 U19 World Championships held in Prague on July 7. The Americans -- clearly the most physically talented squad in the tournament -- held off a tough Serbian team in the title contest. The bronze-medal game matched up Lithuania and Australia, with the Lithuanians (the 2011 champs) clinching the third spot on the podium.
Team USA featured a bevy of potential pro talent (tourney MVP Aaron Gordon, Marcus Smart, Jahlil Okafor and a handful of other promising players), but they weren't the only ones NBA scouts had their eyes on. Here it is a list of the top international performers that showed NBA potential, including a star-making performance from a certain Australian guard.
Dante Exum (1995, 6-foot-6, PG, Australia, AIS Canberra)
No player meant more to his team than Exum, as he led his team to the semifinals despite playing with a mediocre supporting cast. Standing 6-foot-6 with a remarkable 6-foot-9 wingspan and big hands, Exum possesses amazing physical skills for a point guard, combining his size with top-shelf quickness and athleticism. He isn't an elite leaper and his upper body needs some bulk, but he was without any doubt one of the top athletes in the competition.
His best attribute might be a lighting-quick first step. In transition, he is simply unstoppable at this level of competition when he hits his top speed, showing incredible body control and the ability to change direction in limited space. He loves to penetrate, and he can finish at the rim with a good variety of moves, even off balance. His ability to draw contact generates a high number of free-throw opportunities (seven per game during the tournament), but his conversion rate has definite room for improvement (60-percent FT in Prague).
He needs to work on his ball-handling skills, as he occasionally loses control of the ball against pressure and traps. His catch-and-shoot 3-point-shooting ability is becoming more reliable, but he needs to work on his pull-up jumper and his midrange game, since most of his attempts take place in the painted area. He prefers to create off the dribble in iso situations, distributing the ball when defenders try to double team him, but he needs to work on his decision-making skills in pick-and-roll situations.
Defensively, he’s able to guard just about any backcourt player with his combination of size and lateral speed, but he must improve his defensive fundamentals and positioning. He closed the tournament with 17 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists, emerging as one of the top overseas prospects, regardless of age.
Dario Saric (1994, 6-foot-9, PF, Croatia, Cibona Zagreb)
Saric hasn’t shown significant development since last summer, even though he collected remarkable stats in this tournament, closing with his typically eye-opening all-around numbers (22.4 points, 12.2 rebounds, 5.5 assists).
At this level, he’s able to play both wing positions, with well-above-average ball-handling and passing skills for his size. Saric owns a complete offensive skill set, an advanced post-up game with a wide variety of moves and an effective use of his pivot feet. His 3-point shot in catch-and-shoot situations is quite consistent, but he still needs to add fluidity to his mechanics. His mid-range game is well rounded, but he should improve his pull-up jumper and his ability to attack the basket off the dribble.
His rebounding instincts are on another level, thanks to his superior basketball IQ, positioning and intensity. On the defensive side, though, he needs to work on his one-on-one positioning, while playing with more toughness. His main flaws at the pro level will be his lack of elite athleticism and poor lateral speed, both of which could limit his effectiveness as a small forward, forcing him to play near the rim against bigger and stronger forwards. The quickness with which Saric can develop a more fluid jumper will likely hold the key to his success overseas, where he is destined to play as a stretch power forward.
Vasilje Micic (1994, 6-foot-5, PG, Serbia, Mega Vizura)
Micic was among the tournament's best point guards, with his top-level size and physical power allowing him to excel at this level. He possesses a unique skill where he can master the rhythm of his team's offense, finding innovative ways to involve all of his teammates -- particularly in pick-and-roll situations. His creativity with the ball in his hands is quite impressive. Plus, he has a complete offensive repertoire, including fakes, jukes, and changes of speed/direction off the dribble.
His main shortcoming is his lack of consistency on his three-point shot. In addition, he lacks elite lateral speed and athleticism, but he compensates for those flaws with his high basketball IQ and game comprehension. It seems highly unlikely that his style is suitable for the NBA, but he definitely seems destined to compete against the best European talent. He closed the tournament with 12.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
Tyler Ennis (1994, 6-foot-2, PG, Canada, Syracuse University)
The Syracuse recruit was one of the tournament's most prolific scorers, as he carried most of the offensive burden of the Canadian National Team on his shoulders. Standing 6-foot-2, McIntyre has a solid body structure (especially in the upper body) that allows him to effectively absorb contact. He’s not a ball-hog, but he certainly isn't a traditional pass-first point guard, as his scoring instincts are strongly developed.
He’s really quick an a terrific ball handler, which makes him awfully difficult to keep away from the rim. As a volume scorer, he needs to work on his shot selection and especially on his 3-point stroke (22.2 percent) -- his main offensive flaw, especially off the dribble. He still must improve his playmaking skills and in decision making in pick-and-roll situations. On the defensive side, he shows quick hands and good instincts.
Zhou Qi (1996, 7-foot-1, C, China, Liaoning)
Zhou Qi was one of the event's youngest players (age-17), but proved that be belonged at this level of competition -- which bodes well for his future development. He one of his team's most effective players on both ends of the floor, closing the tournament with 12.3 points and 10.2 rebounds. His name hit the international spotlight after his astonishing performances (including a jaw-dropping 41 points, 28 rebounds and 15 blocks against Germany) in a famous U16 Tournament held in Turkey in 2011.
Qi Zhou is a really quick big man with long arms and amazing footwork for a player his size, showing a soft touch from both midrange and in catch-and-shoot opportunities. He needs to work on his posture and his upper-body strength, but he must be careful when adding bulk in order to prevent stress fractures, given his height/dimensions. He has reliable passing skills and good ball-handling skills for a 7-footer, showing strong fundamentals. At the moment, he’s not able to create his own shot with consistency; in fact, most of his points came from assists or offensive rebounds. He still needs to develop some go-to post moves and improve the use of his pivot foot.
Defensively, he’s really effective in help situations, with excellent timing on block attempts, but he has to develop his fundamentals and positioning. If he continues on this developmental path, he may be the next great Chinese basketball prospect.
Nikola Jankovic (1994, 6-foot-9, PF, Serbia, Charleroi)
Jankovic is a polished and mature power forward who should have been included in the All-Tournament team. He’s a bit undersized and not extremely explosive, but he makes up for that with his combination of mobility and footwork. He plays with an old-fashioned style, with a solid sense of positioning and fundamentals in the post. He's particularly effective with his hook shot and pivot feet.
He has terrific instincts and the necessary toughness to fight below the boards to make him a quality rebounder, even without elite measurements. Like last year, his main shortcoming is his jump shot -- his range is rather limited and he struggles from the free-throw line. He closed the tournament with 11.5 points and seven rebounds.
Mislav Brzoja (1994, 6-foot-5, SG, Croatia, Villanova University)
Brzoja has developed nicely since his first season with the Villanova Wildcats. The big Croatian guard has defined his frame and upper body in the American weight rooms; plus, he has worked on his outside shot, improving his mechanics and shot selection. The slashing 2-guard plays with toughness when the ball is in his hands, and can easily withstand contact when attacking the basket, allowing him to convert a high number of 3-point plays. His size and frame also make him a remarkable rebounder for the position. He’s not selfish but he's definitely not a pass-first guard.
On the defensive side, his size and tenacity allows him to guard both wing spots effectively. His offensive game definitely needs more polish if he hopes to develop into an elite scorer. He was the second-best scorer on his team with 13.8 points 6.9 rebounds and two assists.
Nikola Milutinov (1994, 7-foot, C, Serbia, Partizan Belgrade)
Milutinov was one of the best big men in the tournament, thanks to his combination of size and mobility. He stands a legit 7-feet tall and possesses a remarkable wingspan. He plays with confidence and maturity, thanks to his ongoing experience with Partizan Belgrade, which allows him to face all of the best big men at the highest European level.
His leaping ability and athleticism are quite impressive for European standards, where he uses those physical attributes to his advantage as a rebounder. His offensive fundamentals are solid, where he shows a good midrange touch, but he needs to improve his post positioning and his back-to-the-basket game. On the defensive side, he intimidates opponents with great timing for blocks and solid positioning. An intriguing prospect with high upside, he closed the competition with 11.1 points and 5.9 rebounds.
Marius Grigonis (1994, 6-foot-8, SF, Lithuania, Zalgiris)
Grigonis is an athletic wing with strong scoring instincts, especially in transition when he has space to attack the basket. He’s able to use his excellent foot speed and explosive first step to beat his opponents and get to the rim, even if he is knocked off balance. He has good height for the small-forward spot, with a solid body structure that only needs added definition. He has advanced passing skills and is often looking for teammates when defenses collapse on him.
His mid-range game is still lacking, though, especially his jumper off the dribble, limiting his overall effectiveness in the half-court game. His range is solid, but he needs to work on his selection and mechanics in order to become a more reliable shooter. He needs to work on the defensive side, especially on his positioning and his occasional struggles with early foul trouble. Grigonis is prospect that could excel in the top European levels. He closed the tournament with 12.5 points 5.9 rebounds and two assists.
Micic really impressed me as a young point guard from Serbia. His 6'5 frame combined with a sort of Ricky Rubio type fluidity and craftiness looked like a guy who could have a bright future. Against the USA in the championship game he showed off his vision with double digit assists, seeming to always make the "right play". IMO he was an impressive PG
If you knew that Zhou Qi was playing with fever during the U19 World Championships, you can see his performance should be much better when healthy...
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