2007 King’s Cup: A Look at the Oldies (Drafted Players/Free Agents)

2007 King’s Cup: A Look at the Oldies (Drafted Players/Free Agents)
Feb 14, 2007, 02:52 pm
2007 King’s Cup: NBA Draft Prospects

NBA teams not only look for draft prospects at the Spanish King’s Cup. There are many past draft investments, mostly second-round bets, still playing and developing in the ACB League, while it’s also one of the best international markets to acquire quality free-agent veterans to help a team out right away.

Actually, with lights and shadows, successes and failures, this is a growing trend that opens new alternatives for the NBA squads to strengthen their rosters during the summer market. Considering only last year's edition of the King's Cup, we see the likes of Jorge Garbajosa, Walter Herrmann and Shammond Williams as free-agents currently on a NBA roster. On the other hand, it’s a trend that is hurting European basketball, and the success of a player like Garbajosa (not your prototypical NBA prospect) and the Toronto Raptors (stacked with guys who matured playing the Euroleague) might invite other teams to fish in the already damaged European pool.

With the superstars-to-be already leaving before making a big impact in the Old Continent (Bargnani is the last example, and he did last longer in Europe than your usual top prospect), these less glamorous leaders such as Garbajosa (until he left this past summer), Theo Papaloukas (recently honoured as the FIBA Player of the Year) or Nikola Vujcic (early frontrunner for Euroleague MVP this season), among others, form the European star system. It's not that attractive for wide audiences, but still effective enough to build a quality competition with a solid fan base. Without them, the general crisis will only get worse.

Anyway, there weren’t that many interesting free agents to look for in the Cup. One of them, Jordi Trías, came up with the MVP award.


He’s a 6-9, hard-working power forward with nice athleticism and limited skills. Despite somehow being a veteran born in 1980, he’s a player that has made great strides lately and might keep developing in the near future, so he’s a name to keep under the radar. For the moment, we’ll get into details with Felipe Reyes and former draft phenom Nikoloz Tskitishvili.

There was much more to bite on the drafted-players side, with a nice bunch of guys who are maturing in the ACB League. Let’s start with them first:


Juan Carlos Navarro (Washington Wizards)
Winterthur F.C.Barcelona, SG, 1980, 6-4


He didn’t come up with eye-popping stats this time, and the MVP award went to his teammate Jordi Trías, but still Navarro managed to emerge as one of the top performers in this Cup, if not the best. He was again a lethal offensive weapon that sprung to action any time F.C.Barcelona needed him, for example taking the scoring load in the dangerous third quarter in the quarterfinal against Unicaja Malaga (Barcelona has a history this season of dreadful third quarters), or building a definitive lead early in the final against Real Madrid. Navarro scored 14 points in each of the three games, which reflects on his consistency in this tournament over the years.

We could see the usual repertoire, including terrific off the ball play, impressive first moves after receiving the ball to anticipate his opponent's reaction, the ability to create his own shot attacking his rival and generating separation for a shot, his creativity finishing near the basket with high-arched runners, or his impressive shooting range that goes beyond the NBA three-point line. Still Navarro didn’t abuse his abilities (his moderate stats are a good proof) and played within the flow of the offense, making good decisions, sharing the ball and creating opportunities for his teammates, particularly the big men, dishing out 8 assists in the span of the tourney.

Nevertheless, the biggest news came on the defensive end, where Juan Carlos emerged as a very reliable defender, even in very complicated match-ups against the likes of Rudy Fernandez or Louis Bullock. This is a department where Navarro is steadily improving, showing better intensity and taking advantage of his quickness to stay in front of his man (he’s likely answering the demands of his very tough coach Dusko Ivanovic). Obviously he’s still a bit undersized and not the strongest guy around if we talk about dealing with very physically gifted shooting guards, but Navarro has reached a level of playing and maturity on court that should enable him to eventually succeed at the NBA level--meaning to establish himself as a useful player there. Still buyout complications (he has a 10-million escape clause) picture an unlikely scenario to happen unless he reaches some kind of agreement with F.C.Barcelona. Navarro wants to play in the NBA, though,and there is a sentiment that Barcelona might be willing to work with him on achieving that goal if it makes sense for them.

Luis Scola (San Antonio Spurs)
Tau Vitoria, PF, 1980, 6-9


We saw the same old Luis Scola here. He remains a major scoring force within 16 feet from the basket. His low post game is a thing of beauty, where he shows impressive footwork and footspeed while an incredible knack to find the way to the basket. He also looked reliable with the mid-range jumper as usual, while he’s probably the best frontcourt player in Europe in terms of moving off the ball. However, he didn’t enjoy the same magical pick-and-roll connection with Pablo Prigioni that they had showed in the previous edition (leading Tau to a brilliant victory then), as his point guard teammate is not in the same terrific shape he enjoyed last year. Anyway, some punctual moments aside, Scola was almost unstoppable with the ball in his hands, and even was smart feeding his teammates when he was overdefended. He had 23 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals in the quarterfinal game against Caja San Fernando, but settled for 15 points and 5 rebounds in the semifinal against Real Madrid, suffering from foul trouble.

At this point, it’s hard to predict if or when Scola will be able to play in the NBA. His high buyout, the apparent lack of interest in him that the San Antonio Spurs show lately and their own reluctance to sell his rights are a difficult equation to sort out.

Fran Vazquez (Orlando Magic)
Winterthur F.C.Barcelona, C, 1983, 6-10


It was a strange tournament for Vazquez. He barely played 27 minutes, and only scored 10 points in 3 games, but he left a sweet final taste. How was this possible?

He hadn’t spent even 3 minutes on the court in the quarterfinal against Unicaja Malaga when Vazquez fell to the ground, hitting his head on the floor after attempting to block a shot. He left the game for good as a preventive measure. Things got even worse in the semifinal against DKV Joventut. Fran was severely outplayed while defending the low post in consecutive plays by Andrew Betts, who is far from being any type of paint dancer. It was so obvious that Joventut ran the same play again for a third time, but in this opportunity Vazquez stayed cool, wasn’t faked by any of Betts’ moves, and avoided conceding the basket. He didn’t stay on the court much longer anyway, enjoying only 8 minutes of playing time.

As if he had finally learned a lesson, his defensive effort in the final was much more efficient. He had to deal with Felipe Reyes, a very dangerous inside player who moves really well on the paint. This time Vazquez focused on staying in front of his rival, preventing Reyes from his right-handed drives, and controlling his desire to attempt to block every shot. Still, he had time to record 4 excellent blocks, most of them on defensive rotations, and showed much better criteria in terms of deciding when to attack the ball. Offensively, he took advantage of the good ball movement of F.C.Barcelona to score easy points under the basket.

Fran is still an intriguing player NBA-wise. His combination of length and athleticism is terrific. This season, he even managed to deliver a triple-double in the ACB League, recording double digits in blocks. Besides, the recent injury of Mario Kasun is helping him, as now he always shares the floor with a power forward (he feels much more comfortable playing center) and obviously enjoys more playing time. Anyway, there are doubts about his willingness to go to the NBA anytime in the future, and certainly he’s not the most endeared figure in Orlando.

Axel Hervelle (Denver Nuggets)
Real Madrid, PF, 1983, 6-9


Although a player with limited skills and abilities, Axel Hervelle is a hard-working guy who is perennially improving mode. This edition of the King’s Cup was a good test to check his stage of development.

As usual, he shined the most in everything that had to do with intensity and activity. His defense was remarkable, showing excellent positioning and staying physical on his opponents. His strength, mobility and wingspan are good tools to remain effective on a regular basis. He was also very active cleaning the boards on both ends of the court, getting as a result several points off offensive rebounds. Actually, he was one of the few guys who came alive in the massacre his team suffered in the final, recording a double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds.

Since the first game he played in Madrid, two years and a half ago, Hervelle has always showed a nice basketball IQ in defensive settings, while it’s everyday more visible in the offensive end. You can see him more integrated in the offensive flow, recognizing advantages, taking good and quick decisions or eventually trying things like penetrations to give good use of his explosiveness. Still his main offensive weapon is his perimeter shot, not that much effective in this Cup, but a nice resource to spread defenses and add points.

With the Denver Nuggets holding his draft rights, he’s a player that might eventually receive an opportunity in the NBA, possibly as soon as this summer. He could become a very decent role player there, although perhaps he lacks the tools (size, skills) to emerge into something more.

Roko-Leni Ukic (Toronto Raptors)
Winterthur F.C.Barcelona, PG, 1984, 6-5


Flashes of brilliance, perhaps more intense and numerous than usual, highlighted Ukic’s performance for Winterthur F.C.Barcelona as he helped his team conquer the Cup. Still, the Croatian point guard couldn’t get rid of some of the bad habits that have been hurting his playing level at the top ranks of European basketball. Roko’s skill level is simply jaw-dropping in many departments. The way he quickly slashes towards the basket, the quality of his reverse moves, how he get rids of his opponent in one-on-one’s all a thing of beauty. Ukic provided valuable points for Barcelona, taking advantage of his penetrations in the first two games and knocking down a couple of three pointers in the final. The wild three he netted at the buzzer to close the third quarter and bring Barcelona’s lead back over the 10-point mark again was particularly important. Roko shined as well in the defensive department, taking full advantage of his physical gifts, such as his wingspan and lateral quickness.

However, we can’t ignore how he struggles distributing the ball. Sometimes it takes him too much time bringing the ball up-court, which puts pressure on the set offense. Other times, it’s just that he overdribbles incessantly before passing it. A good point-guard doesn’t allow the ball to stop, and if he’s not going to create the advantage by himself, he looks to create the best possible offensive flow, and that means to free the ball up as quick as possible and in the best conditions. That first pass to the wing guy (in case it’s the desired option) should be automatic. This doesn’t happen with Ukic, and too often he’s just forced to play one-on-one or two-on-two to solve the possession as the shot clock is running out and he still hasn’t found a good option. Besides, he stays a bit static whenever he’s off the ball, so he rarely contributes to the fluidity of the offensive game. However, these are flaws he should be able to fix with experience and maturity.

Anyway, his more individual-oriented playmaking approach perhaps suits better with the NBA game than the European, even if improving in this regard will certainly help him wherever he plays. Still, the EuroRaptors are not precisely your typical NBA team, and it’s not clear they are interested in bringing him over at this point.


Felipe Reyes
Real Madrid, PF/C, 1980, 6-9


One of the top players in the ACB League this season is Felipe Reyes, and he was a big reason why Real Madrid reached the Cup final. Not a guy with impressive physical or technical characteristics, he’s a very tough, aggressive and super intense inside player; an excellent rebounder with an ongoing skill development. He was the anchor of Real’s paint game, providing the inside points necessary to balance the team game. In the three games of the tourney, he averaged 16.3 points and 8 rebounds.

Reyes belongs to that magical 1980 Spanish generation that includes the likes of Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Raul Lopez and José Manuel Calderón (although the Raptor PG is born in 1981), that came up victorious at the European and World stage in the junior category, eventually leading Spain to conquer the World Championship in Japan last summer. Felipe was never considered to have the type of potential some of his teammates enjoyed, but his hard work and determination has placed him amongst the European elite.

Very strong, but at the same time extremely mobile, Reyes moves pretty well in the paint despite not enjoying a very glamorous low-post game. But he can bang, and he’s quick, aggressive and quite reliable finishing around the rim. He can also attack his match-ups off the dribble, although he usually goes to his right, which makes him highly predictable. His mid-range jumper is becoming really solid while he’s expanding his range, which really helps him in order to increase his repertoire and enables him to display a more orthodox power-forward's game. On defense, he shows excellent positioning and a lot of activity, becoming a very reliable piece. As aforementioned, he’s a terrific rebounder with a great knack for the offensive boards. All in all, he’s a kind of basketball soldier on the court.

Not a super intriguing talent NBA-wise, it wouldn’t be that far-fetched to think that he could become a decent role player in the paint for some team in need of inside help. However, given his star status in the wealthy ACB League, a hypothetical NBA adventure looks like a long shot.

Nikoloz Tskitishvili
Caja San Fernando, PF, 1983, 7-0

Although he barely had any impact in the quarterfinal game that Caja San Fernando lost against Tau Vitoria, we feel forced to feature the performance of the favorite poster boy for the international bust in the NBA, Nikoloz Tskitishvili. The Georgian player arrived in the ACB league a month ago and therefore hadn’t been able to play anything more than four games prior to this event. Since his second game with the Seville team, when he spent 16 minutes on court, he has only seen his playing time decreasing. It’s certainly not a good situation for a player like him--not consistent, without experience, still somehow a project-- to arrive in the middle of the season to a very competitive league like the ACB.

Actually, it seems he wasn’t in the game plan for coach Comas, and only could hit the court once the victory looked like a distant possibility for his team, in the third quarter. Nikoloz delivered a decent, albeit inconsistent performance. On the offensive end, he basically stuck to face-up moves, missing a mid-range shot (he doesn’t seem to have the confidence to nail them down) and putting the ball on the floor to force fouls and produce from the free-throw line. He’s a quick guy who is difficult to stop once he’s near the basket thanks to his length and athleticism. Defensively, his inconsistency was even more evident, as he did a very nice job on Luis Scola (one of the top offensive bigs in Europe) in one-on-one situations, where Nikoloz’s lateral mobility, length and aggressiveness were quite effective. At the same time, he committed some big mistakes defending off the ball, getting caught behind screens due to his lack of concentration and not properly following Scola’s off-the-ball moves, which provided easy baskets for Tau. These mistakes sent him to the bench after less than 7 minutes on the court, with 5 points and 2 rebounds to his name. Tskitishvili still needs to learn the ropes of European basketball, and he doesn’t look like your most naturally gifted player in terms of his basketball IQ. Anyway, until next season we won’t be able to make a fair assessment on his success here.

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