By Davide Bortoluzzi
Croatia has won 2012 u18 European championship, following the success of 2010 u16 championship for their ’94 generation. The final game involved the same two teams of the 2010 u16 final, with Lithuania unable to stop Dario Saric, who reminded people of Toni Kukoc: 39 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assist, and an incredible 52 efficiency figure. The bronze medal game was a match up between Serbia and Russia, with the Serbian guys clinching onto the third spot on the podium after a close game.
This edition was loaded with quality guards and forwards, but lacked elite talent at the center position, here it is a list of the top performers that showed some NBA potential:
Dario Saric (1994, SF/PF, 6’10”, Croatia), 25.6 points, 10.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists
Saric was absolutely the dominator of the competition, both from the statistical ad technical standpoint, with coaches of other teams simply unable to stop or contain him. His ability to play basically all the 5 positions, with amazing ball handling and passing skills for his size could be considered an unconventional weapon at this level. He has a complete offensive skill set, a great post game with a good variety of moves and an effective use of pivot foot. His mobility is solid in the open floor, his sense of position and basketball IQ allows him to create baskets or assists off pure talent. He plays with energy and intensity, and this sometimes causes early fouls, especially on the offensive side. His main shortcoming is the lack of elite athleticism and his poor footwork, a flaw that could affect his overall offensive effectiveness when he decides to go NBA. He needs to work on his shot, even if he has 3 point range, he has to add fluidity to his mechanics and confidence, and this will probably the key to his success overseas. The bank shot is reliable from midrange, but at the moment his bread and butter is workning from the post position. He needs to work on his defensive positioning and he needs to add more toughness and intimidation.
He has just signed a multi-year contract with Bilbao, an ACB team, but next year he’ll stay in Croatia again.
Mislav Brzoja (1994, SG, 6’5”, Croatia), 15.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists
Solid big guard with a great frame and upper body strength. He plays with toughness when the ball is in his hands, with the ability to easily withstand contact when attacking the basket. He has a “slasher” kind of game and a great capability to draw contacts and go to the free throw line, where he shot 76%. Even if he shot an average % from 3 point line, he needs to add consistency to his mechanics and shot selection, he’s not selfish but definitely not a pass first guard. On the defensive side, his frame allows him to guard both SG and SF positions, showing a good attitude. His offensive game definitely needs to become more polished in order to develop as an elite scorer, by adding more moves.
Marius Grigonis (1994, SF, 6’6”, Lithuania), 12.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, 2.6 assists
An athletic wing with great scoring instincts, excellent foot speed and a lightning quick first step that allows him to get to the basket. He has a good shooting range, but he needs to work on shot selection and on his mechanics, in order to become more reliable as a shooter. He has well developed passing skills, he often looks for teammates when the defense collapses on him, sometimes with glimpses of talent. He needs to work on his mid-range game, especially on the jump shot from the dribble, in order to become a complete scorer. Sometimes he tends to have early foul troubles, he needs to work on the defensive side, especially on his positioning. Good upside, especially if he works on his shot.
Justas Tamulis (1994, SG/SF, 6’5”, Lithuania), 14.4 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists
Killer streaky shooter in catch and shoot situations, his game style looks like the one of Arvidas Macijauskas. He plays effectively and with confidence off the ball, exploiting cuts and screens in order to receive the ball in the best position. His athleticism and speed are average, but he could be considered basically a good athlete, with a good structure (length). His basketball IQ and sense of position are rather developed, he’s a good passer for the role, with interesting instincts and skills. He should be more confident when attacking the basket, sometimes he tends to rely only on his floater, avoiding contact. He could ultimately become an interesting role player also in NBA context, but must get a lot stronger.
Nikola Radicevic (1994, PG/SG, 6’5”, Serbia), 12.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 5.1 assists
Combo guard with good size and athleticism, he suffered an injury that limited him to play just a few minutes in the last two games of the competition. Left handed, like Pot he can play both guard spots, but the point guard position could be considered his future target, mostly due to his struggles in adding consistency to his jump shot. His ball handling skills are rather developed and with his quickness and explosiveness he’s able to beat basically any defender in one on one situations. His playmaking skills are good, he’s able to read the situations properly and control the tempo, with good vocal leadership. On the defensive side he needs to improve on his attitude and concentration.
Nikola Jankovic (1994, PF, 6’8”, Serbia), 14.0 points, 8.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists
Old school player, with great sense of position and fundamentals in the post, hook shot and use of pivot foot. He’s a bit undersized and not really explosive, but he could be considered a good athlete, thanks to his combination of mobility, leaping ability and footwork. His balance is excellent and his sense of position makes him a reliable rebounder even without an elite height and wingspan. He’s effective in P&R situations, especially when he receives the ball in movement after the screen. His main shortcoming is his shot, his range is rather limited, and he also struggles from free throw line. He needs to work on his mechanics.
Stefan Pot (1994, PG/SG, 6’5”, Serbia), 9.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists
Combo guard with a great jump shot and a complete midrange game, he’s able to finish directly at the rim or use the floater with either hand. His shot off the dribble is confident, especially after the pick and roll, thanks to his great ball handling skills. He has good instincts as a passer, but he needs to develop his playmaking skills if he wants to evolve into the PG position. His 3 point shot is reliable, making him a versatile scorer with a complete offensive repertoire. He’s a bit skinny and an average athlete, he needs to bulk up in order to withstand better contact. He has started from the bench for all the competition, but with the injury to Radicevic in the last two games, he was able to display his potential.
Mikhail Kulagin (1994, SG, 6’2”, Russia), 14.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.0 assists
He’s the younger brother of the 1992 Dmitry, with whom shares some similarities in game style. Kulagin is a bit undersized for the role, but he’s really athletic and solid, with good leaping abilities that allow him to conclude consistantly above the rim. He exploits the off the ball game, often reaching the basket after a back door cut. His shot from the dribble is reliable, but he needs to work on his ball handling in order to add consistency to his game. His shooting range is deep, but he has to work on shot selection, he’s not selfish, he often tries to find teammates when defenses collapse on him for corner 3 point shots. His athleticism and craftiness make him an astonishing rebounder for the role and the height. On the defensive side he has quick hands and great instincts on the passing lanes.
Mouhammadou Jaiteh (1994, C, 6’9”, France), 16.6 points, 11.6 rebounds
Jaiteh was the best rebounder of the championship with his strong body and athleticism. Unfortunately for him France team hasn’t played at his best and has been forced to play in the relegation round, in order to keep his presence in Division A, fact that limited the likelihood to face competitive big men for him. Jaiteh has showed some improvements since last year, starting from an excellent physical base, and soft hands. He’s more confident moving on the floor, and his comprehension of the game is better. Regardless, he’s still raw, and he needs to work on some reliable movements starting from the post position. Definitely an NBA body that could clinch a pick, but there’s a lot of work to do.
Aleksandar Vezenkov (1995, SF, 6’8”, Bulgaria), 16.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.9 assists
He has good size and height, combined with quickness that allows him to play multiple positions at this level of competition. He’s a bit skinny and he needs to bulk up but his frame is a good starting base. He’s a reliable shooter also behind the three point line, but he needs to become faster with his release since it can easily be contested when defenders are close to him. He works perfectly off screens and cuts with a very polished off the ball game. He struggles in creating his own shot off the dribble and he needs to work on his ball handling skills. His versatility allows him to create mismatch situations, when facing smaller opponents in back to the basket. In order to complete the transition to backcourt positions, he needs to work on his speed in transition and on the defensive side. Definitely an intriguing prospect with a great upside.
Davide Bortoluzzi is based in Treviso, Italy and runs an Italian based draft website called: draftology.