The 13th tournament wasnt so much different from the one a year ago in many aspects. It seems that the organizers are sticking to staging the Sabonis Cup for the U-17 age group, so this year it was 1989 and later born guys taking part. Looking from our point of view it has two sides: one in getting to know the players mostly for the first time, and on the other with them being so young, not allowing us to predict that much into their future as 16 or 17 years old still have a long ways to go in terms of polishing their skills and developing physically. Still, we could remember that the MVP of last years tournament Alexey Shved later on in the season had more strong appearances and is on the verge of entering NBA draft mocks soon enough.
Another matter of the Sabonis Cup is the varying level of participating teams. This year again 8 teams were invited, with BK Ostrava (Czech Republic) failing to arrive and at the last minute being replaced by the 2nd team of the Arvydas Sabonis Basketball School. This B squad together with BC Khimik (Ukraine) and Barking Abbey (England) sadly didnt field even a single at least somewhat interesting prospect. Needless to say that meeting all three of these teams was a cake-walk for other participants, creating some boring matches in the tournament.
Nonetheless, there were plenty of interesting games between the usual three entrants of the Cup CSKA Moscow (Russia), Sarunas Marciulionis Basketball Academy (Lithuania), and the Arvydas Sabonis Basketball School (Lithuania). This group was also joined this year also by stronger opponents from BC Khimki (Russia) and Prokom Trefl (Poland). The latter team got very unlucky already in the first game, losing probably their most intriguing player Igor Trela with an elbow injury. Trelas game was already covered by DraftExpress in the Euroleague Junior tournament in May, and it would have been interesting to see how hes improved over the summer.
Despite losing their leader, Prokom Trefl stayed competitive even though they lost all matchups against the favorites by small margins. In the group games, CSKA and Khimki remained undefeated, but both lost in semifinals to Lithuanian squads. In the finals, Sabonis Basketball School had a close fight for 3 quarters with their rivals from Marciulionis Basketball Academy, and in the end edged them 92:75.
Before we start talking about individual players, we should note that CSKA brought a relatively weaker team than last year. The evidence for that is clear last years winners and main favorites for taking the Cup this time finished only 4th this time around, losing by 20 points in the semifinal to Sabonis Basketball School and scoring only 56 in a 10 points loss against a surprising BC Khimki team in the game for 3rd place.
Another arrow of criticism must be pointed at organizers of the tournament, who werent able to provide full statistics of the games. Only points were counted and even if we dont put too much emphasis on stats, such aid as shooting percentages would have helped to know more about the players, because some games were being played in two halls at the same time.
And the most important note should be repeated for one more time. These players are still young and analyzing their abilities as NBA draft prospects is definitely premature. They even might not come close to it anytime in their careers, however some players here looked better than their contemporaries, and as Shveds example showed last year, anything is possible in the future.
SARUNAS VASILIAUSKAS, Arvydas Sabonis Basketball School, PG, 6-2, 27/03/1989
The first glance at Vasiliauskas creates an image that a player with his body couldnt do much on the floor. Listed at 6-2, Sarunas doesnt look that tall, because of his small frame and skinny arms. However, since he enters the court the picture starts changing significantly. Vasiliauskas is a steady point guard with nice ball-handling skills. It is hard to remember any turnovers in dribble-drive situations as he controls the ball equally well with his either hand. He is lightning quick and looks like a fish in the water in fast-breaks. Sarunas basketball IQ is extremely high. He has good court-vision and even showed nifty stuff such as a full-court bounce pass for an easy 2 points on a few occasions.
Anyway, we cant call Vasiliauskas a classic pass-first point guard as he is at his best with the ball in his hands. That for sure isnt the sign of selfishness or poor playmaking, Sarunas always has his teammates in mind and controls the game well, but he is the most effective slashing to the basket. His poor frame doesnt stop him from driving in and its quite a sight to see him finish in traffic. It might be a coincidence, but despite being right-handed he seemed to prefer going to his left more often, always creating turmoil for opponents in the paint. Vasiliauskas has the willingness to go all the way to the basket and uses the glass well, attacking with either hand from close distances. His shot isnt a weakness either. Sarunas can score from midrange by pulling up off the dribble as well as from beyond the arc. He showed superb efficiency from the free throw line, and without a doubt he was the most often guest there.
As you can imagine for a guy with such a frame, defense is sometimes a concern. Vasiliauskas tried to pick his position cleverly, but a few times fighting through screens was difficult for him. We also could notice that on the final day Sarunas had an off night (probably being tired after having such a large amount of minutes playing 6 games in 4 days) and sometimes that frustrated him, resulting in a few bad decisions. Looking towards the future, the biggest question relates to how the strengths he showed in the Sabonis Cup will translate into mens basketball with opponents being tougher and more mature.
SEMEN SHASHKOV, CSKA Moscow, SF, 6-7, November 28, 1989
Shashkov possesses good length as a wing and probably left the most promising impression of all the guys seen here. Semens biggest asset is his shooting touch, which he demonstrated on any possible occasion. He has a wide array of ways in which he can finish around the perimeter. A set shot is a piece of cake for him and he is also able to create a shot for himself. Shashkov has quite a quick release and no fear of shooting just seconds after coming off a screen. He used midrange jumpers after a short dribble or two, even with defenders right in his face. A few times it resulted in airballs, but on others the 16 year old kid looked quite solid by netting some fadeaway jumpers.
It is hard to call Shashkov one-dimensional as he is much more than a simple spot-up shooter. However, the lack of penetrations was a glaring drawback in his play. During fast-breaks he showed that he can finish in traffic using some of his athletic abilities, but in the half-court game his very few tries at slashing looked rather weak. One guess could be that having a very strict coach in Andrey Maltsev, Semen decided to stick to what he knows he can do the best.
On defense, Shashkov was always concentrated, he took his fair share of rebounds, but with some overly-aggressive moves found himself usually collecting fouls quick, while on the other hand he managed not to pick up the last foul for a long time. Overall, Shashkov switched into dominating mode a few times during this tournament, making consecutive shots and carrying CSKA on his shoulders. If he improves his slashing, adds some toughness and becomes a bit more versatile, he could become a really interesting prospect in the long term.
DENIS POLOKHIN, CSKA Moscow, PG, 6-5, December 7th, 1990
Polokhin is more of pass-first point guard, who sees the floor well and at the same time is able to knock down a jumper after beating his opponent. He looks comfortable dribbling the ball and protects it well. Denis looks far more comfortable in transition play than in the set offense, where we could see the few times after failing to find a good direction he decided to end the attack by himself. His playmaking and distributing sometimes lacked fluidity, but generally he showed potential in this area. The same as in shooting, especially from the midrange area, but while attacking from further distances Polokhins shot wasnt as stable.
Another pleasing aspect was his ability to collect defensive rebounds. Its quite a rare remark when talking about point guards and we can only regret that statistics werent presented to prove the fact. Polokhin looked brave in the clutch, willing to be a part of deciding situations. He can penetrate to either side, but his finishing might need some improvement. His body looks very decent for a kid who is yet to turn 16, and Denis showed enough of fundamentals to keep us interested. He has many things to work on (such as his defense), but obviously he has plenty of time for that.
Keep an eye on:
Anyway, he showed nice coordination, using his back to the basket game well and scoring some nice semi-hook shots on a frequent basis. He blocked some shots and rebounded fairly well, but early foul trouble was an every day habit for him. For a big man, his free throw stroke was particularly good. We missed a bit of a midrange game, which would compliment his paint activity. Adding some bulk wouldnt hurt either.
It could be noticed that Kuzminskas wasnt active enough without the ball, sometimes lurking in the corner for long stretches. Limited athleticism hurts his potential NBA wise, but he can certainly follow in the footsteps of his older brother Saulius, who this season is set to debut in the Euroleague as a member of Olimpija Ljubljana.
A lack of athleticism will stop Waczynski from being a serious NBA prospect in the short or long term, but he has a chance to be a very good player at the European level. To achieve it, he, as well as his Prokom Trefl club have to show that Polish teams can develop players from the junior to senior competitions, which for now is a very weak part of the Polish coaching and developing system.