2008 Reebok Eurocamp in Treviso, Days Three and Four

2008 Reebok Eurocamp in Treviso, Days Three and Four
Jun 10, 2008, 04:48 pm
Days Three and Four of the Reebok Eurocamp provided a number of memorable highlights, including a phenomenal lecture/clinic by Euroleague champion Ettore Messina, the arrival of potential lottery pick Nicolas Batum, the bulldogging play of fellow newcomer Goran Dragic, solid outings by Vladimir Dasic, Henk Norel and Alexey Shved, and more.

Day three started off once again with an early morning session, this time dedicated to continuing to work on the chemistry of the individual teams and their half-court sets, shooting stations, and a highly entertaining transition drill. It was here that we got to see Nicolas Batum at probably his best, attacking the basket, getting in the passing lanes, and showing off his phenomenal length and athleticism on some terrific finishes.

Around noon we were treated to a very concise and incredibly informative lecture by legendary Italian coach Ettore Messina, which became much more of a clinic for the players due to the hand’s on nature of the lesson.

Messina focused primarily on what he describes as the most important fundamental in basketball-passing. He reiterated to the young prospects that their teammates are much more likely to do things like rebounding and defending if they are getting touches, as players who are just standing around offensively watching others play by themselves will quickly lose their motivation to do anything that requires too much energy on the opposite end of the floor.

Rather than just explain his philosophy in theoretical terms, Messina helped the players visualize his many points by pulling a number of current or former CSKA players (Artem Zabelin, Nikita Kourbanov, Alexey Shved) up and using them to demonstrate his points. He started with the art of the post-entry and transition pass, showing with a series of examples why a bounce pass is almost always a superior way of feeding a big man for an easy finish in rhythm than a lob. He continued with an-depth look at the importance of timing to a team’s ball-movement, explaining why and how much more easily a player (and thus his team) can gain an advantage on his opponent if he receives the ball before his defender arrives, nullifying the importance of whether the player is fast or not.

Messina urged the players to look at one thing and one thing only when they have the ball in their hands—the reaction of the defense. He stressed the different types of passes the player should make depending on how a defender responds to a screen, displaying how important it is to feed your teammate at the exact right moment. “Great players are not just great athletes, they also have great fundamentals,” Messina says. He talks about how much more attractive and valuable a player who averages 8 points and 4 assists is over someone who averaged 16 points and zero assists.

Like a true coach, he tried to get the prospects to understand how important it is for young players to listen to instructions and immediately internalize them, so they would not have to be told the same things over and over again. He brought up two former pupils of his—Antoine Rigadeau (present here as a counselor) and Manu Ginobili as examples of players who became great because they were able to “quickly put things in their computer [head].”

He finished up with a stern warning that prospects of every nationality should hear and internalize—“This is an extremely important time in your career right now…Your coaches will tell you things once, twice, and then the third time, if it keeps going in one ear and out the other, they will give up. You are like Angelina Jolie right now, everyone wants you, and everyone wants to help you get better, but if you don’t listen and won’t continue to work on your game, after a few years, they will find someone else. They won’t send you flowers, and they won’t call you.” It’s extremely important for players to hear this from someone like Messina, as they very rarely realize how quickly the hype around them will die down if they don’t improve on their weaknesses.

After a quick break, we got to watch three games featuring some of the new arrivals (Nicolas Batum and Goran Dragic) as well as all the others once again. The last game featured the Ukrainian national team and a group of “all-stars” picked to represent the camp against them. The strength and depth of the camp was shown as the players (by no means the best here) managed to defeat a tough, physically imposing and very experienced (although not very talented) bunch of grown men—the Ukrainian senior national team. For the sake of brevity, we decided to include our observations from the final day as well, in order to cut down on redundancy.

Player Evaluations

Nicolas Batum

Batum started off his first and only game at the Reebok Eurocamp in very strong fashion, hitting a spot-up 3-pointer right off the bat. He handled the ball a bit in transition, grabbed some rebounds and went coast to coast, and played very aggressive defense. His excellent pull-up jumper from mid-range was falling for him at a really nice rate, and he quickly racked up double digit points early in the second quarter.

As the game went on and things got slower and more congested in the half-court, though, Batum’s well-known flaws started to show. He struggled trying to create his own shot from the perimeter off more than a few dribbles, and then began to settle excessively for his long-range jumper, which just wasn’t falling today (1/7 from behind the arc). He looked visibly frustrated after being blocked emphatically at the rim by Serge Ibaka and even missed a dunk at one point, as he surely was putting a lot of pressure on himself knowing that this was going to be the only game he’ll play in.

It’s pretty obvious that at this point in his development (as we’ve stated before) Batum is not going to be any type of go-to guy for any team he plays for, and thus needs a great point guard and a real system to take advantage of his excellent tools, things you aren’t going to typically find in this type of setting.

At the end of the day, teams know what Batum brings to the table as a prospect (length, athleticism, tremendous versatility, a huge upside) so this probably won’t affect his stock that much either way. He certainly deserves props for not being afraid to come out here and show himself, and the thing that was widely considered to be his biggest weakness—aggressiveness—was surely not an issue today.

Vladimir Dasic

The third day of the camp resulted in another very solid outing by Vladimir Dasic, surely one of the players whose stock benefited the most by his performance in this year’s EuroCamp. Dasic went for 17 points (6/11 FG, 2/5 3P) and 10 rebounds in 27 minutes, as his jumpers continued to fall and he showed very nice activity on the court at the small forward position. Vladimir showed good shooting rhythm, with a very nice release, having even connected on some of his off-the-dribble attempts with a pretty natural flair. He also crashed the offensive board on a regular basis seeking for rebounds and second chance opportunities, usually enjoying a physical advantage over his opponents. Still, he’s not a greatly skilled ball-handler for a perimeter player, as he showed trying to get off the dribble by an opponent who was standing in front of him in the open court, exposing some troubles to change directions at full speed.

Serge Ibaka

Ibaka hasn’t been able to reproduce the superb impression he drew in the first day of the camp, but it makes a lot of sense when we consider how visibly tired he’s getting after an exhausting season for him. The schedule of the camp isn’t helping him either, as he played twice the second day, twice again in the third, while he had to go through a private workout with the Seattle SuperSonics during the lunch break (“private” gets all its significance here, as not even his agents were allowed to attend it—although the Spurs were). It’s no surprise that he didn’t play in the final day of the camp.

Serge had 12 points (5/11 FG, 0/2 3P), 8 rebounds and 2 blocks, although 5 turnovers as well, during 29 minutes of the first game of the third day, while he settled for 10 points (5/8 FG) and 4 rebounds in 14 minutes against Ukraine.

One of the positive things we’ve seen in Treviso from Ibaka is his willingness to mix it up inside and play off contact. He had gained a certain reputation among some people concerning his aggressiveness on the offensive end. His lack of polished low post skills and his ability to shoot jumpers, even with some fade-away moves, lead some people to believe that he was avoiding contact. In Treviso we’ve seen him going towards the basket and, if he didn’t have space to dunk, seek his rival’s body to get the upper-hand when it comes to finishing around the rim. Also, the few times he decided to play in the low post, he looked pretty physical.

More positive things came from the short-to-mid range area, from where he looks pretty reliable connecting on his high-released jumpers, sometimes launched after reverse moves. In the end, with his leaping ability, it’s pretty easy for him to gain enough balance in the air to stay accurate. On the negative side, he struggled putting the ball on the floor, being called for travelling several times as he moved his pivot foot before taking the first dribble. The good news is that, if he ends up staying in Spain the next season, he will have a private coach to work on individual skills, something his game is begging for. If he decides to stay in the draft, he looks like a realistic first round pick regardless of the rawness of his game.

Jonas Jerebko

The Swedish forward ended up having a very nice camp here, showing more offensive versatility and all-around potential than we were able to see at times in Biella this season. He’s added a great deal of weight to his excellent frame, completing a pretty intriguing physical package at the small forward position if his perimeter game continues to progress, as he is a very good athlete with great size for a 3.

Skill-wise, Jerebko looked comfortable putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim at this camp, showing plenty of confidence and aggressiveness getting to the basket, and even some nice moves adjusting his body to avoid oncoming defenders in mid-flight. He showed a lot of toughness holding his ground inside the paint when bigger players tried to post him up, and displayed decent lateral quickness staying in front of wing players on the perimeter. He’s a fairly tough guy who doesn’t seem afraid to mix things up.

Jerebko’s long-range jumper remains the final piece to the puzzle needed to make the transition to being a full-time perimeter player. His release is fairly slow and even though he can hit shots from behind the arc, it’s too streaky to count on consistently at this point. Regardless, he showed more tools than most of the players at this camp, particularly when long-term potential is taken into consideration, and is someone that teams will look at closely next season in the Italian league to decide if he’s draft-worthy.

Goran Dragic

- Like Batum, Dragic made a lone appearance here in Treviso after finishing off his regular season in Slovenia. In his one game, he managed to leave a very strong impression, one that could very well have pushed his name back into the second round, possibly into the mid-portion of it even.

Dragic played spectacular defense on whoever he was guarding, mainly Rudy Mbemba, who’s terrific speed did not faze him in the least bit. He got right into his man’s grill on every possession of the game, fighting through screens admirably, showing excellent length and lateral quickness, and getting his hands on countless number of balls. It got to the point that players were just afraid to put the ball on the floor when Dragic was in the vicinity, as more often than not he would find a way to poke it away and bust up plays. He got his team into transition time after time, and made very good decisions once there, finishing strong and intelligently around the basket and getting to the line seven times.

As a point guard, Dragic did a better job than we anticipated based on the up and down season he had. He showed a lot more creativity than we’ve given him credit for in the past, making good reads and finding cutters slashing to the rim or shooters spotting up on the wing after slashing to the basket himself. His court vision probably isn’t spectacular, but if he continues to see heavy minutes in the Euroleague, he’s bound to improve his playmaking skills.

On the downside, Dragic’s shot remains his biggest weakness, which he showed by bricking a couple of ugly pull-up jumpers. Teams in the Euroleague completely took him out of his comfort level by backing off him this season and forcing him to beat them from long-range, and the players here foolishly took the opposite approach (thinking they are playing good defense by pressuring the ball), which played right into his hands. That’s why it probably isn’t too smart to get overly excited off what he showed here, but it definitely still leaves some room for optimism regarding his future development. Some team will likely draft him in the second round and see how he continues to progress over the next few years while competing at a high level in Europe, as he clearly still has upside left to tap into.

Jaka Klobucar

One of the most solid performers in the EuroCamp, Klobucar perhaps doesn’t enjoy big-time potential, but he should evolve into a very nice shooting guard in the European scene. For starters, he’s an excellent shooter. Left-handed, he’s really fast in the release and shows beautiful mechanics, really consistent in the form. He’s nicely effective in the catch and shoot, either from standstill positions or coming off a cutter, or pulling up off the dribble.

But even if we could label him as a shooter, he’s not strictly a specialist, but can put the ball on the floor with decent handles, passes the rock pretty well and shows a very nice understanding of the game. He’s just a smart player who knows how to play the game. Enjoying nice size for his position and decent athleticism, he just needs to get some strength to easier operate on the floor, although he could also use an extra degree of aggressiveness on defense. He shined in the final day of the camp, especially in the first game he played, collecting 15 points (4/9 FG, 3/6 3P), 4 rebounds and 3 assists, delivering also in the match against the French U-20 squad with 13 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists, although he struggled with his accuracy (4/12 FG, 2/7 3P).

Alexey Shved

There likely isn’t a player who showed more potential at this camp than Russian combo guard Alexey Shved, and he did a great job translating that into actual production as well over the last few days. He pumped in 26 points in 28 minutes in the final game of the camp in fact, knocking down 8 of 15 3-point attempts. He also scored 13 points in 24 minutes the game before that, making some nice drives and dishes in transition, hitting his open shots, showing off his trademark pull-up jumper from mid-range, all while handling the ball on a string.

Shved’s athleticism, skill-level and all-around talent are a cut above anyone else here, and he’s done it despite his noticeably skinny frame while being two years younger than many of the other camp participants. Shved will have to work on his body and especially improve his defensive intensity and technique (he doesn’t even get into a stance at times) if he’s going to try and make a run at next year’s draft. It will be difficult for him to see major minutes at CSKA Moscow, so it will be interesting to see where he ends up.

Anton Ponkrashov

Ponkrashov played better in the last two days than he did in the first two, but the final impression remains fairly murky regarding his NBA potential. He didn’t seem very prepared mentally or physically for what he wanted to show here, often forgetting to display his usually excellent playmaking abilities, which is what made him a draft prospect to begin with. He played a bit selfishly at times and made some poor passes when he did move the ball around, leading to turnovers.

Ponkrashov’s shot was falling for him at a much better rate here to close off the camp, going 5/9 over his last two games. It’s not the prettiest jumper you’ll find, but it went in for him at a decent rate both in the games and especially in the drills, where he led everyone by hitting 75 of 100 attempts.

Considering his limited physical tools and the fact that he just hasn’t gotten that much better over the last three years, there’s a chance that Ponkrashov could go undrafted, although someone could definitely take a stab at him in the late second round.

Henk Norel

Norel has completed an excellent camp, proving to have a lot to offer beyond his physical limitations. Scoring 14 points (6/9 FG, 2/2 3P) and grabbing 4 rebounds, he shined again in the last day, showcasing his offensive versatility. The Dutch big man cashed in on his very nice touch from deep positions in standstill fashion, emerging pretty reliable from the arc. You can see how solid his mechanics are, and actually it has been one of his main weapons all through the season (especially from the mid-range area).

Meanwhile he produced from the low post showing solid footwork and nice ability to finish with his off hand. Very active as usual, restlessly fighting regardless of his strength disadvantage, showing good positioning at both ends of the court, his length, talent and basketball IQ offer some serious long-term potential that he should be able to start fulfilling as he fills out his still thin body. He’s for sure one of the most intriguing big guys in Europe right now, and might develop into a NBA player down the road (meaning, he’s several years away). For the moment, he’s a very likely second round pick in the draft.

Semen Shashkov

The final day of the camp finally brought a strong performance from Shashkov. Ironically, he’s showing some serious consistency in his perennial inconsistency. He usually goes almost completely unnoticed, but in every single tournament or event he takes part, he just erupts for one really strong game. This time he saved the best for the closing day, starting to make some noise late in the first game he played, going for 9 points (4/9 FG, 1/3 3P), and caught fire in the first half of the second against the French U-20 team, ending up with 14 points (5/7 FG, 4/6 3P), 6 rebounds and 5 steals. In his good showings, he looks like an excellent gunner from long-range and standstill positions, enjoying nice mechanics in the release. He also delivered a couple of remarkable slalom drives, where his footwork and decent handles stood out. However, he looks a bit of a soft player, always avoiding contact and not being particularly aggressive in his game, which would nicely explain some of his inconsistency. Notably sized for a small forward, pretty athletic, with a nice frame that he still needs to fill out, even if he doesn’t look like the smartest player around, there’s no wonder he has some very serious tools to play this game, but it’s not clear if he enjoys the mentality to go along with it.

Artem Zabelin

The Russian forward kept drawing some serious intrigue in the final day of the camp (20 points with 8/13 FG and 3/6 P, and 7 rebounds in the first game of the journey), especially thanks to his superb shooting stroke. He showed great consistency from deep positions, with excellent mechanics and, considering he’s a seven footer, remarkable ability to gain balance in the air when releasing the ball off motion. Showing great activity as usual, taking advantage of his length at both ends of the court, still he was eventually outmuscled and sometimes struggled making plays. Anyway, his skinny body and, particularly, his very narrow frame remain a huge concern, which likely severely damages his NBA potential.

Marko Keselj

The camp has been a lot keener on Keselj this year. In this edition he showed up after enjoying solid playing time in Germany, and the rustiness he showed the past year was gone. Left was his solid perimeter stroke, his excellent combination of size and athleticism, or his ability to run the floor. He needs to improve his ball-handling skills and his lateral quickness on defense if he wants to firmly establish himself on the perimeter as a legit small forward, but especially, he doesn’t look like the smartest player around, perhaps lacking court awareness and basketball IQ to keep up with his physical gifts. Still, there are a lot of tools to work with here, especially for European basketball.

Nicolo Melli

Also present here was 1991 born Italian Nicolo Melli, who had quite a bit of hype coming into this camp after an excellent final game in the playoffs of Lega Due (16 points and 15 rebounds). Unfortunately for him, he barely managed to show anything going up against players mostly 4-5 years older than him, looking very tentative and even apologetic on one occasion when he accidently knocked a player to the ground. He put the ball on the floor a few times with either hand, knocked down a 3-pointer in the final game, but for the most part tried to stay out of people’s way, not really seeing a great deal of playing time, but not exactly showing much to prove that he deserves more when he did step on the court.

Melli has a mature frame, and good size at 6-9 if he ever will be able to make the transition to the small forward position, but he didn’t show a great deal of athleticism or incredible upside to perhaps backup the strong reputation the preceded him. Then again, he’s only 17 years old, so clearly, time is on his side.

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