Petro or Andriuskevicius, Andriuskevicius or Petro? That has been one of the hottest topics amongst the crowd during the European Junior Championships played in Zaragoza last week. Both came with a good amount of hype surrounding them, especially the Lithuanian, both come from countries that are recognized as basketball hotbeds for their own unique reasons and both declared and withdrew from last year's NBA draft.
Therefore everyone was very eager to see them in action, to see for themselves witness first hand their supposed greatness and infinite potential. The comparisons between the two were constantly ongoing throughout the tournament, as unfair as it can be sometimes. But it was definitely a good chance to get a taste of their games as they matched up in similar situations.
Considering his physical and athletic characteristics, it wasn't surprising at all to see him leading the tournament in both rebounding and blocked shots (13.4 rebounds and 3.9 blocks). He's not just as long as an NBA regular season, he also shows nice timing, so you can see him getting boards and handing out rejections while skying almost to the roof. Furthermore, he has the agility to jump very quickly off the floor several consecutive times while fighting for a rebound. For a 7-3 guy, that's pretty impressive stuff.
The strong impression kept getting better as you watch him shooting near or even from behind the arc with very good mechanics and a nice stroke. After all he IS Lithuanian. Some developing moves in the post and the ability to put the ball on the floor complete a decent set of skills for this youngster.
So what's the deal? You have to wonder how a guy with his physical presence and abilities can't dominate the game. It's unusual for his Lithuanian team not to advance to the quarterfinals, especially while playing in the weakest group and featuring a player like Andriuskevicius surrounded by the habitual bunch of nice wing players that always takes part in this national team, as much as the absence of a reliable point guard may have hurt them.
Andriuskevicius simply doesn't take advantage of his size enough. To start with, his post-up game is still poor, showing limited post moves that aren't really fluid, so it's not as easy for him as you would think to translate a decent position in the paint into an easy basket. He needs to work on his footwork and expand his arsenal to finish near the basket with more diverse skills; he barely uses semi-hooks, often settling for turn-around jumpers instead. At a junior competition that's okay, as the height differences are huge, but at the next level it would be really useful to have a wider array of options. Even more important, he gets pushed around too easily. In Zaragoza, gaining a good position in the low post seemed to be too much of an unusual accomplishment for him. On the defensive end he faces the same problems, as shorter and usually stronger match-ups can outplay him physically.
He's still very young, though, and his body is quite raw too. He needs to bulk-up and gain strength, but there should be no special hurry considering his youth. He has a nice frame to put weight on, and he shouldn't have problems doing it while hopefully maintaining his athletic ability. What's perhaps more concerning is a slight lack of aggressiveness on his part. He's not as intense as you would hope for on defense and he would benefit from being more active and showing a killer instinct around the basket (I would like to see him try to take the ball up strong after every offensive board he picks up near the basket). What all of this means is that he needs a lot of work still, both physically and skill-wise. Otherwise, he won't be playing consistent minutes at top European level anytime soon.
Martynas needs to realize that he probably won't be a power forward (or god forbid a small forward like some have suggested) on the next level. I think his future is set at the center position inside the paint where he should make a good part of his living. He's not that quick for an NBA power forward and he rarely penetrates from his frequent perimeter position facing the basket. His handles are average because of his height which makes it hard to keep the ball low while dribbling against smaller defenders. He has quite good defensive lateral movement, but again, perhaps not good enough for a forward. He's a 7-3 guy, and as useful as it is to have a good jumper, he won't fulfill his immense potential unless he takes advantage of his size near the basket.
I also think that on the court he acts a little bit too much like a star. He will sometimes yell at his teammates, not in an exaggerated fashion, but I'm not sure he has earned that privilege on the court yet. On the other hand, it shows that the kid has some character, which is not a bad thing at all.
Of course, I'm opting for a critical approach to his game. We are talking about a player who hasn't played with Zalgiris' first team yet and was rumoured to be expecting a top 5 promise from some NBA franchise in the past draft in order to not withdraw. Naturally, it didn't happen, as the Tskitishvili example is too fresh in the NBA's memory for something like that. But we are talking about a guy with enormous possibilities as a basketball player here. The sky's the limit for him and that saying has rarely ever been more true.
He's still really raw when it comes to scoring. He shows limited post moves near the basket; basically some simple spins, nothing too fancy, generally to finish with a semi-hook, almost always using his right hand. He has a certain soft touch near the basket, but he's not money in the bank inside just yet. His footwork is very poor at this point, and needs big improvement. This isn't very far from what Andriuskevicius offers in the low post, maybe even less than the Lithuanian. The big difference between them rests in Petro's strength, which allows him to be more comfortable playing there. Besides, he's very quick, explosive we could say. If he has the chance to score without fierce opposition, he's hard to stop near the basket. On the other hand, he could take better advantage of his body while working harder to establish better position in the paint. At this level he benefits from a superior physical profile, but he will need more than this to play consistent minutes at the Euroleague level.
There's not much more to say about his offensive game. His jumper isn't there at the moment. He may eventually hit some mid-range jumpers, but that's not one of his main strengths, and he will need to work on his mechanics if he wants to hit them consistently. He doesn't show especially good handles either. He's not a remarkable passer, although he can make it from the high post, and when he's double-teamed on the low post he's usually smart enough to look for a safer option. To summarize, his offensive array of weapons is limited and pretty raw for now.
Defensively, he's more consistent than Andriuskevicius, in spite of the fact that he averaged less than half as many blocks as Martynas. Three inch height differential aside, this stat can be misleading, as Johan gambles less looking for the block, instead focusing on stopping his match-up and working on rotations. His speed and lateral quickness make him very reliable in those rotation situations, being able to make up ground against smaller and quicker players in certain situations. His body helps him again to be very valuable down low, making him a defensive presence that's hard to beat.
On the other hand, I don't think he's always as intense as would be desired. You might often have the feeling that he could do much more with his skills on the court than he's offering. I'm not talking only about his defense and the number of blocks he made, it's about his game in general. He looks lazy running the court or, as I've said before, working without the ball to get good positioning. Perhaps he needs to start facing tougher competition.
Petro's physical presence and ability to play a more specific role in a team (a big athletic body in the paint, the ability to intimidate, change shots, rebound and to score garbage points) is what makes him more valuable for the next level than the Lithuanian right now. But he's not ready either.
Neither of them were really stunning. With their particular virtues and flaws, both share incredible potential as well as great rawness. Neither of them dominated, but the truth is that Petro left the better impression, as he looked a little more ready. His inclusion in the all-tournament team is the better proof. He's more consistent defensively, has a defined role and right now makes his presence felt better around the basket.
In terms of potential, the edge goes to Martynas, though. Not only because of those 3 extra inches that could make him an intimidation machine, but also because he left the impression of being more capable to develop a complete and versatile offensive game. Anyway, some really hard work is waiting for both of them if they want to fulfill their potential.