2009 U-20 European Championship Review: Bigs

2009 U-20 European Championship Review: Bigs
Oct 07, 2009, 09:00 pm
By Nico Van den Bogaerd

We finish up our look back at the U-20 European Championships in Rhodes with a report on the best players seen in the competition, concluding with the big men.

2009 U-20 European Championship Review: the Wings.
2009 U-20 European Championship Review: the Guards.

KEVIN SERAPHIN, PF-C, 6’9”, France, 1989
11.8 PPG; 5.7 RPG; 0.3 APG

Another French player that we surely couldn’t leave out of this section is Kevin Seraphin. We’re talking about a chiseled athlete with good hands and explosive leaping ability, extremely quick off his feet and very agile as well, which shows up most notably in his ability to finish on the pick and roll.

On offense Seraphin can be dominant in the post, however only in flashes at the moment. Regardless of whether he scores or not, it is very difficult for defenses at this level to prevent him from making a strong move at the rim, due to the extreme physical advantages he enjoys. Combine that with his improving ability to gain position in the post, as well as show some intriguing spin moves and jump hooks, and we’re talking about a pretty interesting prospect.

Seraphin is capable of finishing with his left hand, also and can even put the ball on the floor from time to time. His touch around the basket is pretty solid, and his shooting mechanics (featuring a nice, high release point) leave plenty of room for optimism regarding the future, especially with his ability to use the glass. With that said, he understands that his main value is in the post, and thus he doesn’t overdo it with his perimeter jumper. From the free throw line he was solid as well at 69%.

Over the past two years Seraphin’s progress has been huge. As he’ll continue to develop, his general awareness will become better, hopefully resulting also in better passing and less turnovers (2.6 per game in 23 minutes, compared with 0.3 assists).

Where Seraphin can improve even more is on defense. He got into early foul trouble in several games, limiting his playing time and production. He shows a decent effort and nice toughness, but it would be nice to see him turn up the intensity level from time to time another notch. Once he learns how to play more efficient defense (with less fouls), and considering the physical potential he enjoys, he could become a much better shotblocker (0.4 per game only). The 5.7 rebounds he averaged wasn’t bad for the minutes he averaged, but is still another aspect where he can improve on in a major way. He has to start boxing out his match-up better and pursue loose balls with more desire. As it is, he can be quite a presence in this area, particularly on the offensive glass.

On the whole, Seraphin had a strong showing in this tournament, showing good potential to continue to improve in the future, but also showing his limitations as well. We’ll have to see how he performs against professionals in the French league this season, but there’s no question that he’s a player that NBA teams will need to look heavily at.

GEORGIOS BOGRIS, C, 6’10”, Greece, 1989
14.6 PPG; 5.9 RPG; 0.6 APG

Greece’s starting center Georgios Bogris was probably the most consistent player of the tournament, reaching double figures in 8 of the 9 games he played. Searching for an MVP of this tournament from the winning squad, Bogris would have been a pretty reasonable choice.

Bogris is a technically sound inside player who is not very agile or mobile. He has a strong frame with a good upper body and decent balance. Even if he doesn’t have the softest touch, his hands are solid and he’s able to finish with either one around the basket.

Over the last year he has gained confidence in his offensive post skills, where he moves with good awareness, showing nice jump hooks and attacking the rim assertively. He knows how to establish position in the post and has the toughness to stand his ground. Bogris is really a classic inside player, he is slowly developing his mid-range jumper, but is not yet reliable with it at this point.

In pick and roll situations you can count on a solid pick and a decent job to continue towards the basket. He’s not a skilled passer, but nonetheless intelligent enough to limit turnovers to a minimum (0.9 only). As already indicated, during this Under 20 championship, he showed good scoring initiative, playing in a focused manner and being aware of his limitations away from the basket (54.6 % 2FG’s). He also shot a promising percentage also from the charity stripe at 69.4%.

On the other end, Bogris is just an average rebounder, coming up with 5.9 boards per game. He wasn’t even team leader in that category, mainly caused by his limited physical tools. He does manage to block more shots than you would expect considering his average athleticism though. Overall he’s certainly a reliable defender, intense, tough when required, committing fouls when necessary, but without getting disqualified from any of the games.

Georgios Bogris is a typical center who will fit in perfectly with the rhythm of the Greek league, where we can expect to see him for many years to come.

NIKOLA VUCEVIC, C, 6’11”, Montenegro, 1990
15.5 PPG; 10.8 RPG; 0.8 APG

While the jury is still very much up in the air regarding his long-term outlook, it cannot be ignored just how big of an impact Nikola Vucevic made game after game, coming up with six double-doubles in his first seven contests.

Vucevic has a strong and solid frame with decent body balance and hands. On the other hand, he’s not incredibly athletic, showing average agility and mobility getting up and down the floor. He definitely needs to play with more intensity and become tougher overall. Although he was the tournament’s leading rebounder (10.8) and shotblocker (1.9), he still has room to improve in these areas, as his numbers at the junior categories rely heavily on his superior size, positioning and timing.

Offensively he was a clear go-to-guy for his team in the low post, where played very confidently and showed intriguing potential. He knows how to establish position down low, converting an impressive 59% of his 2-pointers, and showing nice passing skills out of the paint as well. As far as his face-up game is concerned, he showed solid ball-handling skills, but was very inconsistent with his mid-range jumper. That didn’t stop him from attempting a surprising amount of 3-pointers, of which he converted only 21%.

Looking at his all-around performance in Rhodes, Vucevic was a very consistent presence for his team as both a scorer and rebounder. It will be interesting to see how his production will translate back to the college setting, as USC will need him to have a big impact this season considering the depth of their roster.

SEMEN ANTONOV, PF, 6’8”, Russia, 1989
15.6 PPG; 6.6 RPG; 1.3 APG

Undersized power forward Semen Antonov made a very good impression in this tournament, being a consistent scoring presence for his Russian team and coming up with several truly excellent games.

Antonov shows a very strong and developed frame, not being a great athlete but still being capable of making plays around the rim. He runs the floor pretty well and does a good job of getting the most of his physical tools, even if he may not be the most agile player in the world. He’s fairly limited in the low post if he needs to create shots for himself, but finishes at a good percentage inside (58% 2P) thanks to his good hands and balance.

The best part of Antonov’s game comes when he can receive the ball close to the basket and go up with a power move. He also possesses a reliable shooting stroke, especially from the mid-range area, even if he can also step out and knock down 3-pointers. He attempted almost three shots per game from beyond the arc, converting on a streaky 33%. He did a good job knocking down his free throws as well at 76%.

His passing skills aren’t at that same level unfortunately, resulting in him accumulating three turnovers per game. Nonetheless, he appears to have a good feel for the game, and generally looks to be aware of his limitations. As an added bonus, he sets very good screens.

Antonov is an above average rebounder at this level of competition, even if there is room for improvement if he’d be willing to box out all the time. On defense he can’t rely on great footspeed, but he does bring toughness and intensity, which helps him compensate much in that area. Still he’s not much of an intimidator around the rim, and his excellent strength should allow him to do a better job defending in the post. Sometimes he got backed down too easily instead of trying to hold his ground on the block.

Antonov will really need to work hard to overcome his limited size. If he can improve on some of his other weak points, he should have a very nice future ahead of him at the professional level.

MAMADOU SAMB, PF, 6’10”, Spain, 1989
11 PPG; 7.1 RPG; 0.4 APG

Senegalese born, but naturalized as a Spaniard and the brother of former Detroit Piston and Denver Nugget Cheick Samb, Mamadou Samb is an athletic player with a tremendous wingspan. He shows average hands and passing ability but is reasonably quick and agile despite showing a thin frame. His lack of strength is currently one of the main things holding him back as an interior player on both ends of the floor.

Samb is not shy about doing the dirty work, which is a very nice sign. He did a good job going after loose balls and crashing the offensive glass, indeed finishing second in that category with 2.9 per game. He also sets good screens and emerged as one of the best shot-blockers in the tournament.

His defensive awareness is generally okay, especially in the low post. On the perimeter he still has to improve both his ability to guard the pick and roll and make better weak-side rotations to cut off driving lanes. He does do a nice job contesting shots around the rim, thanks to his excellent length. He’s working more and more on boxing out for defensive rebounds, but here he’s also affected by his lack of strength. He still came up with 7 rebounds per game, which is pretty solid for the 25 minutes he averaged.

Offensively, he shows a very nice shooting stroke with range out to the 3-point line, even if his release is not terribly quick. Although he will occasionally hit a jumper off the dribble, he’s most valuable in catch and shoot situations. Although he’s not bashful about taking perimeter jumpers from the mid-range area, he only attempted nine 3-pointers over the whole championship. The 22% he shot from there isn’t an exact indication of his potential here, as this appears to be a part of his game that he can continue to hone significantly over time, especially as his shot-selection improves.

Samb doesn’t show much of a dribble-drive, and generally doesn’t draw a great deal of fouls. However he reads game situations quite well to choose the appropriate moment to cut to the basket from the weak side. His right hand is more reliable than his left, but he shows basic ability to finish and handle the ball with both. In the low post he needs to continue to add polish and increase his repertoire of moves. Turnaround jumpers and a basic right jump hook are his main forte at the moment. He did a solid job running the court and finishing fast breaks as well.

Samb played a relatively consistent tournament, without really standing out in a notable way. He’s not a player who imposes himself on the offense right now, looking comfortable fitting in with his teammates. He shows nice potential as a face the basket big man, which will always earn him a paycheck in Europe at the very least. He’s made a lot of progress over the past two years, which is a very encouraging sign. Right now his rights are owned by Barcelona, where he shares time with the second division team they are affiliated with, Cornella.

VLADIMIR IVLEV, PF-C, 6’9”, Russia, 1990
12.5 PPG; 10.1 RPG; 1.5 APG

The second Russian standout among the big men is Vladimir Ivlev, one of only two players averaging a double-double throughout the championship. His rebounding was especially impressive, ranking second overall in this category.

Ivlev has a slender body frame with long arms, as well as good leaping ability, mobility and agility. He runs the floor well and shows solid hands and quick feet. Offensively he’s still very raw and limited in the low post, but when his teammates can find him close to the basket, or cutting inside, he showed to be a great finisher. Ivlev converted on an outstanding 72.2% of his 2-point field goals, leading the tournament by a wide margin. He was able to compensate for his lack of pure strength and coordination with good intensity and toughness, allowing him to really make his presence felt around the basket at times. Although he can hit the occasional mid-range jumper, his outside shooting isn’t his strongest point. He may have more potential here than he was able to show, though, as he did convert on an impressive 79% of his free throws. His ball-handling skills also show signs of potential. He’s not a guy who turns the ball over too often, even emerging as a solid passer for his team at times.

Ivlev shows a strong effort on defense, not being shy of contact despite his lack of strength. He did lack the bulk to be effective against some of the stronger opponents he matched up against, though. His length and athleticism did not necessarily translate to the shot-blocking category, which he averaged just .6 per game.

Although the success rates of Russian talents is anything but stellar judging by the last few years, there is reason to be optimistic about Ivlev’s chances. We will have to see how he continues to develop over the next few years.

MIRO BILAN, C, 6’11”, Croatia, 1989
13.7 PPG; 7.0 RPG; 0.9 APG

This was somewhat of an inconsistent tournament for Croatian center Miro Bilan, even if he had four really strong games. Bilan has a strong frame, but is just an average athlete, lacking great quickness, not running the floor particularly well, and not showing great balance. Nevertheless, his post skills are quite good, both facing and with his back to the basket, and he’s able to finish with both his right and left hands. Unfortunately he lacks the toughness to be a bit more efficient down low. He doesn’t always show the best hands, but this was often caused more by a lack of intensity and concentration. He actually enjoys quite good ball-handling skills, combined with nice court vision and passing skills, particularly out of the post. When he’s really a part of the game, he’s capable of drawing quite a few fouls too. Facing the basket, he shows potential with his mid-range jumper, but he still has plenty of room to improve in this area.

Defensively he suffered occasional foul trouble and isn’t much of an intimidation threat. He’s quite soft defending the post, often neglecting help side position and showing average awareness off the ball, even if he gave a better impression now than he did a year ago. He does get his share of rebounds, but here also it could be much better with an increased effort, particularly on the defensive glass.

Considering his physical gifts and skill-set, Bilan will always be a coveted target for teams in Europe.


LAURIS BLAUS, PF-C, 6’8”, Latvia, 1990
11.4 PPG; 9.0 RPG; 1.4 APG

The third and last Latvian player who performed well enough to earn a spot in this section is their inside reference, Lauris Blaus. He was particularly effective on defense despite being undersized, doing a good job blocking shots and assuring defensive rebounds. He boxes out well and pursues every ball, especially on the offensive glass, where his 4.6 rebounds per game made him the tournament leader in that aspect.

Blaus offered reasonable consistency on offense and isn’t a bad passer either. He moves his strong bulky frame pretty well, enjoying solid hands and balance. Even though he doesn’t always give the most consistently intense effort, he’s a decent runner. His agility and athleticism are okay, but certainly not great. Still he’s capable of making plays around the rim and shows decent footspeed.

On offense he still has quite a bit of work ahead of him. Both his shooting and post skills are relatively raw, although he definitely has possibilities to make something of it. At this point you can not expect more than the occasional mid-range jumper out of him. He’s not a good shooter and he realizes it—with the 57.5% he shot from the foul line being a pretty good indication of that. He did make a couple of strong moves facing the basket, putting the ball on the floor confidently. He is limited as well in the post, with most of his shots coming around the rim created by teammates, as well as from putbacks off the offensive glass. He sets good screens, but his offensive awareness and positioning in the half court is improvable.

PABLO AGUILAR, PF, 6’10”, Spain, 1989
12.5 PPG; 5.3 RPG; 1.5 APG

Spain’s Pablo Aguilar was injured for most of the tournament, sitting out the first five games. In the remaining four matches he managed a couple of decent performances. In the semifinal against Greece he had his personal scoring high of 16 points, but only on 6/18 shooting from the field.

Aguilar is able to contribute consistently to his team as both a scorer and rebounder. He has nice shooting mechanics and touch facing the basket, but struggled to find his rhythm here in this tournament, possibly due to some average shot-selection. He’s clearly much better as a catch and shoot threat than trying to create shots off the dribble.

Aguilar is a nice athlete with long arms and a quite lean but strongly built body frame. He has solid hands and is a pretty good passer and ball handler. He runs the floor very well, consistently giving a good up and down effort. It would be interesting to see him improve his ball-handling skills and take more initiative attacking the basket as well, as he is agile with fairly quick feet too. Improving his ability to finish strong around the basket would also benefit him.

Defensively he again gives off a strong impression, showing solid lateral quickness when he needs to step out and defend the perimeter, being able to stay in front of most forwards. He’s even attentive in the passing lanes, coming up with a couple of steals every game. He’s also tough and intense enough to hold off his opponent in the post, not being the type to back down. His weak side awareness and positioning seems to have improved, being a real factor with his 1.8 blocked shots per game. Still he might lack a bit of size to guard some power forwards at the higher levels of competition. As a rebounder he also does a good job, even if he doesn’t greatly pursue the offensive glass, he definitely takes care of boxing out his opponent and usually secures the rebounds that are in his area.

Aguilar is certain to become an important ACB player for years to come--he already averaged 20 minutes per game with Granada this past season. With further development to his ball-handling skills and frame, it’s possible he could reach an even higher level than that.

DONATAS MOTIEJUNAS, PF, 7’0”, Lithuania, 1990
7.2 PPG; 4.0 RPG; 1.7 APG

Of course we couldn’t leave Motiejunas out of this section, even though he really didn’t do much to deserve any accolades. Still, the tremendous potential he shows is enough reason not to simply neglect him.

Everything about his terrific physical attributes and skill-set has already been said here at DraftExpress, and is still very much there lurking in the background. The great combination of size, length, quickness and pure basketball talent makes him a really special player and clearly the tournament’s top NBA prospect.

Motiejunas is a very good ball handler, thanks to his great speed, agility and terrific skill-level. He’s a 7 footer who loves to slash to the basket using his great first step, which causes serious mismatch problems facing the basket. He’s also a decent passer, even if he was a bit too turnover prone, often due to a lack of concentration. Even though his long arms give him an important advantage, he still misses better strength, toughness and body control to be a more dominant finisher around the rim, only converting on 43% of his 2-point attempts. He’s able to execute spin moves very smoothly, but still needs to work on polishing his moves in the low post. It was nice to see him improving his ability to use his off-hand (right), both to release jump hooks and put the ball on the floor. Facing the basket, he shows terrific potential as a jump-shooter, even being capable of knocking down shots off the dribble.

Motiejunas is still unable to consistently make his presence felt on the game and show the type of leadership on the floor you would expect relative to his status on the team. The numbers he put up during this championship were very, very modest for a guy with his quality and the high expectations created around him. Likely somewhat tired from playing in the U-19 World Championships in Auckland just prior to this tournament, his poor effort and intensity level did not make him much of a threat as a rebounder or defender relative to his physical tools. His attitude left a lot to be desired as well.

Whenever Donatas Motiejunas will decide to keep his name in the NBA draft, he’ll be a very high pick thanks to the tremendous potential he enjoys. Still, he can’t afford to have many more showings than this if he wants to maintain that status, as there are already question marks about his mentality and mental toughness.

TIBOR PLEISS, C, 7’0”, Germany, 1989
7.7 PPG; 6.0 RPG; 0.8 APG

German big man Tibor Pleiss didn’t have an exceptional tournament, but is still worthy of mention in this section. He didn’t enjoy the most regular playing time (just 17 minutes per game), and during this limited time on the court his production was very irregular. Pleiss has a nice frame with a big wingspan and he runs the floor with good speed. Although he’ll never be a real powerhouse, his body has filled out significantly over the last two years. This has certainly affected his quickness, but he still shows good mobility and footspeed. Athletically he has nice potential, which further adds to the intrigue considering his size.

Still lacking bulk and great body control, However Pleiss had major problems finishing around the basket in this tournament (36% 2FG’s). He’s not much of a threat facing the basket either, although he does show a reasonably decent stroke, complete with a high release point, connecting on 71.4% of his free throws. His technical skills look promising, being able to put the ball on the floor and execute quick spin moves. In the low post he can make jump hooks with both hands, but any little bump is usually enough to throw him off-balance.

On defense Pleiss shows nice potential, even there is plenty of work still to be done, particularly with his awareness off the ball. Regardless, he managed very productive averages of 6 rebounds and 1.5 blockshots a game, in only 17 minutes. Based on what he showed here, he should be able to become a productive post defender if he continues to add strength and toughness to his game.

Pleiss is someone that NBA teams will need to keep an eye on thanks to his combination of physical attributes and a budding skill-set. He still has a long ways to go in every aspect of the game, but probably isn’t close to being done developing.

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