An American Perspective on Europe: the Forwards (Part One)

An American Perspective on Europe: the Forwards (Part One)
Jun 24, 2005, 11:51 pm
The biggest challenge in ranking players accurately in a draft like this is the fact that it’s nearly impossible to actually watch all of them with your own eyes, considering that many of them play thousands and thousands of miles away in cities that most people have never heard of, nor can they pronounce. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of people that will regardless, relying on box scores and 2nd hand reports from people with obvious agendas. That’s not the way we do things here at DraftExpress, which is why we worked hard all year long to collect footage on all the European (and in this specific article, South American too) prospects that we thought had a decent chance of declaring for the draft, in order to feel like we could accurately rank these players next to the high school and NCAA talent that we’ve already seen plenty of. This is merely brought to you as a way to compliment our terrific international coverage, which is brought to you in-depth by scouts who live in the same countries as the prospects and watch them on a weekly basis. Or as the title suggests…to give you an American perspective on Europe.

The first part in this series, scouting the European guards in this draft and beyond, can be found here. The second part, dealing with the European centers in this draft and beyond, is right here.

Fran Vázquez, 6-10, PF/C, 1983, Unicaja Malaga


Considered by most to be the top European player in this draft, Fran Vázquez is a guy that has upped his stock considerably over the past 18 months from being a player who almost no one had heard about outside of Spain to a likely lottery pick on draft night.

Watching him play and comparing him with players his size in this draft, it’s not too hard to figure out why. Thanks to his physical attributes and the fact that he starts and puts up numbers for a Euroleague team, Vázquez is in a class of his own when it comes to big men in this year’s class. Standing at a legit 6-10 and with an outstanding wingspan, the automatically eligible Vázquez looks the part of an NBA Power Forward and most definitely has the athleticism needed to play the position in the NBA. He is a fluid player who moves very well up and down and the court and possesses an explosive vertical leap. Vázquez gets off the floor quickly on both ends of the court to challenge shots defensively and finish strong with an emphatic dunk every time he receives the ball around the basket. He rotates quickly and elevates with purpose to challenge many shots in the paint area, in fact leading the Euroleague in blocked shots on the year.

Offensively, Vázquez knows his role and does a very good job sticking to his strengths. Almost all of his offense revolves right now off setting screens and either opening up for the catch and shoot mid-range jumper or moving to the right spot, catching and finishing strong around the rim. The fact that so many teams run heavy doses of the pick and roll should play into his favor as this is a play that he understands well and really excels at. You don’t see him try to do much more than that, which is a good thing considered that he is pretty limited besides those two things. His mid-range jumper is easily one of the best things he brings to the table right now, if he’s open on the perimeter there is a very good chance it’s going in. The mechanics on his jumper look good, and he gets good lift on as well. It’s not hard to tell that he’s worked very hard on this part of his game, and he’s recently begun to expand his range even farther out, to the point that he can hit the European three. Vázquez’s off the ball movement is very solid. He really knows how to pick his spots well and present himself to catch the ball, shoot it fluidly if he’s on the perimeter or dunk it aggressively if he’s inside the paint. Those two things on the offensive end, along with the fact that he is a weakside shot-blocking threat defensively thanks to his wingspan and athleticism will give him a few areas in which he can help an NBA team out with right off of the bat. That should give him a defined role and solid minutes on most teams (especially the needy ones drafting from 5-15) in the NBA right away, something that should be attractive to a team drafting in his area who are looking for an elusive big man to add to their rotation.

In terms of weaknesses, he has his fair share. The debate seems to be right now whether or not these flaws will be magnified playing in the NBA, where everyone is bigger, stronger and more athletic, or whether the NBA game is better suited for him because of the increased spacing that big men enjoy, the emphasis on athleticism over skill, and the fact that he’ll have a very defined role that he will be asked to execute.

The thing that sticks out most about Vázquez is that despite the fact that he is an automatically eligible 1983 prospect, he is not a very polished player for his age. His frame is rather narrow and this clearly hurts him on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he struggles to establish any type of real back to the basket game besides catching, turning around and dunking, and the fact that his footwork is rather poor does not do him any favors here either. Adding strength (especially upper body) and developing some better post moves is something that should be considered a priority for him once he makes the league. He’s the type of player that really needs a solid playmaking PG next to him who can help create offense for him. His ball-handling is limited to dribbling the ball once somewhat awkwardly with his head down before pulling up for an unpolished pull-up jumper. Dirk Nowitzki he’s not, but I’m not sure if that’s something you want to hold against him considering his position and role on the floor.

Vázquez appears to be fairly content being a role player, and he is indeed always the 4th or 5th option on his team, although this is normal for a young player on a strong team in Europe. He will go through large stretches where he’s not very active offensively and he won’t even look for the ball.

Defensively, he struggles at times to hold position in the paint against stronger players, being muscled around a bit, especially in man to man defense. Just like on offense, he needs to improve his footwork and lateral movement in order to become a better man to man defender. Too often he will get torched guarding someone his size, which is not something you would expect to happen to a player with his athletic gifts. Learning how to use the angles better will help him cover more ground quicker, something that should come with time and experience.

In terms of rebounding, his lack of bulk hurts him a little bit here, although once again his size, wingspan and athleticism usually make up for it against European competition. Vázquez needs to improve his positioning for rebounds, as sometimes he’ll be caught not boxing out his man and relying too much on his outstanding physical gifts. He too often risks his position on the blocks for a rebound or leaves his man wide open for an easy basket after coming to help out for a weak-side block.

In general, his feel for the game is not off the charts and his decision making therefore suffers in the process. It’s not rare to see him bite on pump fakes and overcommit by leaving his feet too early. The mantra about him being the most polished European player in this draft is a meaningless statement, even if it might be true. The problem is that that doesn’t say anything in a draft like this. I’m still trying to figure out who was the most polished European player in last year’s draft or the year before, and exactly how much that helped his stock or NBA career. Even though it sounds good, that’s really not a way to describe a player like Vázquez and it most certainly wouldn’t be a legit reason to draft him.

The reason Vázquez will be drafted somewhere between 5-15 in this draft is because he is a physically gifted player that has some very real translatable NBA skills that he can take advantage of right off the bat. His weaknesses are all things that hopefully he can get better at. The fact that he seems to have a good work ethic and attitude towards the game lead you to believe that he still has the upside to improve on those weaknesses. The question “to what degree?” can he improve on those is what will ultimately decide whether he becomes a starting caliber PF or just a solid big man in someone’s rotation. We need to keep in mind that he’s a late bloomer who wasn’t even really considered an NBA prospect by most until midway through the season last year. NBA teams have their work cut out for them since Vázquez will not be conducting any private workouts with teams to help them figure him out. Watching both play almost side by side, he reminded me somewhat of a more explosive current version of Antonio McDyess in the role he’s been playing for the Pistons in the NBA finals so far.

Mickael Gelabale, 6-7, SF, Real Madrid, 1983


One interesting prospect who no one seems to be talking about in this draft is Mickael Gelabale from Real Madrid, another 1983 prospect who is automatically for this draft. The book on Gelabale seems to be fairly short, as he has never played in any international competition with the French national team and was never really considered a high level NBA prospect until this year. Ever since he moved to Real Madrid that began to change, though. Gelabale has firmly worked himself into the Euroleague team’s rotation, to the point that he is a consistent starter. He averages more minutes than any other non-American player on the team and has been relied on heavily all through the Spanish playoffs, to the tune of 25 minutes per game. Gelabale’s team is currently in the finals of the ACB league playoffs, which means that he will not have an opportunity to come over to the States to participate in private workouts. Rumor has it that in between playoff games in Spain Gelabale did make at least one quick hop over the ocean to visit an interested NBA team for a day to showcase his skills. The Knicks (before trading for Quentin Richardson) are rumored to be the ones who benefited from seeing him in person a few weekends ago, although like most prospects' first workout, it wasn't a great one for Gelabale.

One of the main reasons there has been very little buzz around Gelabale is the fact that he just does not really stand out in any particular area. He’s just a cool, calm and reliable role player who does what’s asked of him and not much more beyond that. He has good size for the swingman position at 6-7 (maybe even possibly 6-8), with long arms and very solid athletic ability. While he is not an athletic freak compared with your average NBA wing player, he is fairly quick, has good footspeed and a very nice vertical leap. All these physical attributes make him an excellent man to man and team defender, and a very pesky one at that, which appears to be his biggest role on the floor while he’s playing for Real Madrid. He is tough and has quick feet and hands, rotating well and not being afraid of getting dirty on the defensive end if that’s what’s needed of him. In the numerous tapes I saw of him, he showed that he can successfully guard three positions at the European level, thanks to his toughness, lateral quickness and above average wingspan. These same attributes (replacing the lateral quickness part with the fact that he gets off the floor vertically very quickly) make him an above average rebounding threat at his position, particularly on the offensive end.

Offensively, he is a bit more limited and does not seem to take too many chances on this end of the floor. He has a good looking jump-shot complete with a high release, especially from mid-range, but judging by his FG% (58% in Spain, and an astounding 69% in the Euroleague) you can tell that he does not really use it unless a good shot is really presented to him. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that he is somewhat bashful offensively, something that might hurt his NBA potential in the eyes of some scouts. This is a big reason why he’s played so many minutes for a really solid team in Europe, though, as a player of his age will almost always be expected to be the 4th or 5th option offensively in his time on the floor. That might be the reason why his coach shows so much faith in him, something that’s almost unheard of for a player his age in the toughest domestic league in the world outside the NBA. It's quite possible that there is much more to his game that we just haven't seen out of Gelabale yet because he is really not one to force the issue. His personality is most definitely one of a team player, someone who will never stop the ball movement and will be willing to sacrifice his own stats to come up with the win.

In terms of weaknesses, besides the fact that he may be looked at by some as suffering from the Boris Diaw unselfishness syndrome (although I don’t believe it’s nearly as bad), he has three things he needs to improve on quickly if he is going to stick in the NBA. One is his body, which looks extremely frail at the moment. His frame is fairly narrow as well, which makes you wonder just how much potential he has to put on weight, and just how much this will make him a tweener in the eyes of NBA scouts.

The reason for that would be the fact that he is not a great ball-handler or shooter, two things that every NBA shooting guard must have down at least to some degree to play that position offensively. His ball-handling is a bit shaky and that limits the effectiveness of his first step, which looks fairly average right now in it's current state. He has improved somewhat here and also in the perimeter shooting department, shooting 21/63 (33%) this year in 47 ACB league games so far and 7/21 in 19 Euroleague games, all from the European three point line. That’s below average compared with other players at his position, though. Those two flaws (shooting and ball-handling) make you think that he is definitely a small forward offensively for the NBA. The only question is whether he is tall and strong enough to handle the 3 spot, and how much can he improve on his weaknesses over the next few years considering his age? We’re not talking about a homerun pick here in terms of unlimited upside, that’s for sure. A team that is looking for a steady, solid, athletic backup swingman who can come in and play minutes right away (although we’re not sure about his buyout) should give him a good hard look in the 25-35 range. Anything past that and he’s a steal. Think about a poor man’s Josh Childress if you are looking for an NBA comparison. His feel for the game is only adequate, but he does a great job sticking to his strengths. As you may have noticed, he has played a season (66 games) that isn’t far in length to what NBA players play in one season, so there should be no concerns there at all.

Mile Ilic, 7-1, Center, 1984, KK Reflex


It was somewhat surprising to see Ilic on the early entry list, and even more surprising to see him not pull his name out of the draft on the deadline on June 21st. We didn’t take him too seriously when he put his name in initially and decided to leave him off the Centers article a few weeks ago entirely. Ilic staying in forced us to scramble a bit to get footage, but we lucked out a bit and two tapes of him from this past season fell right into our lap. Even though this is an article about European forwards, we decided to squeeze Mile Ilic in because of the fact that people need to know a little bit more about this little known 7 foot prospect from Serbia & Montenegro who is being talked up as a potential first round draft pick in an extremely deep draft.

For starters, Ilic has outstanding size at at least 7 feet tall, sitting on a pretty nice frame, with an excellent wingspan to boot. Like most European players his age, he is a skinny player, but his overall build leads you to believe that he will fill out once he comes over and starts hitting an NBA weight room. In terms of size, he might remind you of Nenad Krstic a little bit, but that’s where the comparisons between the two end, as Ilic is a little more gifted physically but not nearly as far along skill wise compared with Krstic at the same age. The biggest thing he brings to table has to be his athletic ability for a player his size. Ilic runs the floor fluidly and is usually one of the first players down the court in transition as he has good speed in the open floor. Even more impressive is the quickness in which he gets off the ground, showing a nice vertical leap, which gives him a lot of potential in the shot-blocking department when you take his size and length into consideration, not to mention the fact that he appears to have pretty decent timing.

Ilic is a fairly aggressive player that plays the game with purpose and understands his role on both sides of the floor. He moves well off the ball and will ask for the ball in positions he feels comfortable creating offense from. He appears to have an effective, although very ugly, jump shot which he can use effectively to score from 15-18 feet out, although not consistently quite yet. Inside the post, his go to move appears to be a baby hook shot that he can get off as long as he isn’t being challenged physically too much. That appears to be the extent of his game right now, as he’s still a pretty raw player that is also considered a late bloomer compared with other players in this draft.

In terms of weaknesses, once again we are talking about a player that is yet to fill out completely and visibly lacks strength on both ends of the floor. He has very little back to the basket game right now as his footwork is below average and he just doesn’t have the strength to establish and hold a spot in the paint. This lack of strength hurts him in the rebounding department as well, a problem that is only compounded by the fact that he doesn’t box out that well and doesn’t seem to have the best hands in the world either. His size, length and athletic ability make up for things here, as does the fact that he puts in a good amount of effort here.

Defensively, he gets backed down by stronger players than him, although he does a decent job trying to fight back. As with most raw seven footers, foul trouble is an issue for him at this point. Too often he’ll bit on pump fakes or leave his feet early to come up with a blocked shot. If he can improve his footwork on the defensive end and learn to use his lateral quickness better, he has some potential as a shot blocking threat. His feel for the game is just average, though, and he still needs to do a better job of maintaining a consistent intensity level for every minute he is on the floor. At times he will play with a lot of intensity and make his presence felt in many different ways, while in others he’ll lose his focus for a period of time and look completely out of it.

To his credit, Ilic got better and better as the season progressed and finished off very strong with a 24 point, 10 rebound game in the semi-finals of the Serbian playoffs. In the Adriatic league, he scored in double digits in 10 of his last 11 games, overcoming a very slow start which saw him reach double digits only once in his first 15 games.

All in all, considering his size and athletic ability and the history of the NBA draft, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Ilic get drafted somewhere between 25-35 or so. He could make at least make a very solid backup for someone down the road, and that alone might warrant a pick. He reminds of a slightly more athletic Rasho Nesterovic. There will probably be more talented players on the board where he is picked, as he’s not the most skilled player in the world, but his physical attributes and the fact that he’s still far from reaching his full potential could make a team decide to bite on him somewhere in that area. We couldn’t get a clear cut answer regarding whether or not Mile Ilic will make it over to the States next year or not, but we did find out that his buyout is yet to be finalized. His agent Marc Cornstein claims to have an excellent working relationship with his team, KK Reflex, so according to him that should not be a major concern.

Erazem Lorbek, 6-11, PF/C 1984, Climamio Bologna


Fresh off an Italian league championship and being named the Under 22 MVP of the Euroleague, the one time Michigan State Spartan big man Erazem Lorbek decided to keep his name in the draft despite having one more year of eligibility before turning 22 next season.

Lorbek has slowly been progressing in his game over the past two seasons to the verge of becoming one of the best young centers in all of Europe. He clearly has a future in the old continent as a European superstar, but is now looking for a team to draft him somewhere in the 2nd round and hold on to his rights before trying his luck in the NBA.

We’re talking about a prototypical European big man here. Lorbek has outstanding size at 6-11 and a wide array of skills which make him a really interesting high post threat on one of the best teams in all of Europe. He is a terrific shooter for a guy his size, possessing excellent form, a quick release and range out to the NBA three point line. He’s a very coordinated big man who is at his best on the pick and roll, thanks to his outstanding off the ball movement. If he gets the ball in the high post and his shot is not there, he shows a nice handle for a guy his size and can put the ball and the floor and make his way to the basket. He’s not the most athletic guy in the world, but still runs the floor well and plays actively and with a lot of energy. His basketball IQ is high and this really comes to play in his ability to fit into a half court offense and especially pass the ball. He’s an unselfish player who understands the game and fit into his role extremely well this year for long stretches in the Euroleague. You can tell that he comes from a basketball family as he clearly has the instincts of a basketball player. He’s become a much tougher player since his days at Michigan State, not looking afraid to bang at all and always giving all he has down in the low post.

His biggest deficiency and really the only thing holding him back from being a first round lock and maybe even a top 15 pick is the fact that his athleticism is well below average compared with power forwards in the NBA. His footspeed is poor and this really hurts him especially on the defensive end where he will most likely be a liability in his first few years should he stick. His lateral quickness both in the post and on the perimeter just aren’t good enough, while his vertical leap extremely average, barely being able to get off the ground to challenge shots. This hurts his ability to finish around the basket on the offensive end in Europe as well, as the way he takes the ball up soft at the rim is something that just won’t fly in the NBA.

With that said, Lorbek probably would have been a star had he played on any other team in Europe that isn’t as deep and as talented as Climamio Bologna, the Italian league champions as mentioned already. Lorbek will have to decide at some point whether he wants to be a star player in Europe or just another rotation big man in the NBA. He’s got all the talent and skills in the world, it’s just a question of how well his game translates to the NBA. Someone is going to take a chance on Lorbek in the 2nd round. He can only hope that it’s a good team who knows how to utilize his strengths and put him in a system where he can excel.

Stefano Mancinelli, 6-8, SF, 1983, Climamio Bologna


Another 1983 prospect in this draft who will be getting some looks based off his physical attributes rather than his skill level is Italian small forward Stefano Mancinelli. Mancinelli also plays for Italian league champions Climamio Bologna and had a pretty big role in their success at times this past season. He’s your classic utility player, a jack of all trades, master of none type who is looking to get drafted mostly off the fact that he’s an NBA caliber athlete who plays and contributes for one of the best teams in Europe. What makes Mancinelli intriguing is the fact that he’s really an explosive player who really came on over the past year and a half as he started moving his game to the perimeter. His vertical leap is excellent and he has a very nice first step which he can use to blow by his man and dunk all over him. He was responsible for a good portion of the Italian league’s top 10 highlight plays if you exclude the Americans in that league, becoming a fan favorite along the way and someone that Italian league fans will surely have a hard time parting with.

Mancinelli is more than just an athlete, though. He’s a tough, confident and hard nosed player who knows his role on the floor and embraces it. Every time you see him come off the bench on tape you can clearly see the intensity level rise on his team as he tries to do all the little things needed to endear himself to his coach and help his team win games. He does this mainly in the defense and rebounding departments right now, but began to show some life offensively this year as well, especially with his passing. His perimeter shot clearly needs work, but the 32/82 (39%) shooting total he showed from behind the arc this year in the Italian league and Euroleague (60 games combined) is definitely a step in the right direction for him. As of right now he is strictly a catch and shoot type player, showing very little game off the dribble and even less ability to create his own shot consistently even at the European level. Mancinelli will continue to hone his game from the perimeter over the next season or two in Europe, especially working on his ball-handling skills and really just his all around game, in hope to make a team that drafts him in the 2nd round very happy with their investment down the road. Someone could come away with an Andres Nocioni type steal in a few years if they are patient enough. He’s a late bloomer so the question here obviously is how much upside he has left to improve. If teams think that he is already maxed out then he could very well go undrafted. If they look at his steady improvement over the past two years and the fact that he has a good work ethic and even better attitude towards the game, he could see himself picked in the early-mid 2nd round. He’s really a beauty in the eye of the beholder type prospect. Mancinelli has stated numerous times that he will stay in Italy for at least another season. This has been confirmed to us already by his agent David Bauman.

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