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Batum '99% Sure' in Draft, Koponen Shines

Batum '99% Sure' in Draft, Koponen Shines
Apr 08, 2007, 10:04 pm
Batum '99% Sure' In Draft

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After a strong performance in the Nike Hoop Summit over the weekend, there was plenty of speculation as to whether French small forward Nicolas Batum would try his chances with the NBA Draft in 2007. The 18 year old forward was the game’s leading scorer with 23 points on 9/13 from the field, and his appearance in the game was highly anticipated by the NBA scouts in attendance. His agent Bouna NDiaye informed DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony that if the decision is in his hands, he is "99% sure" his client will enter the 2007 draft. Batum and NDiaye must sit down and discuss the decision with his mother before making it 100% official, though.

After the 2006 Hoop Summit, Mouhamed Saer Sene used a strong performance to catapult himself into the top 10 of the draft. As a result, the annual game became a much more desirable destination for international prospects, and many people were surprised to see a big name like Batum on the roster for the World Select team. NDiaye was the agent for Sene last season and had an important role in helping the Senegalese center weigh his options regarding the draft.

After the final practice for the international team (and before the actual game), Batum told DraftExpress that he would not consider entering in 2007. “I don’t want to go to the NBA this year,” Batum said on Saturday. “I just want to continue to work and we’ll see in 2008.” Despite the comments, it seems he may have to rethink his position after outshining 10 of the top high school players in the United States.

According to NDiaye, NBA executives he speaks with think that Batum is “draft ready”, and ready to contribute right now rather than down the road. Since international players can enter and pull their name out of the draft pool twice, entering this year is a “no risk” proposition according to NDiaye. On top of that, Batum’s contract (which expires at the end of 2009) can be bought out for the very NBA-friendly price of just $500,000.

Physically, Batum appears to be ready to play in the NBA, measuring out at 6’7.75” inches without and a whopping 7’1” wing span. The young Frenchman also has a well developed, NBA ready body as well as an explosive vertical leap.

“The NBA people I've spoken to have him ranked as the best wing player in this draft after Durant and Corey Brewer,” says NDiaye enthusiastically.

Over the weekend, Batum displayed a plethora of skills that will compliment his physical features nicely at the next level. Defensively, he has the potential to be an absolute force in the NBA. In both the practices and the game, Nicolas Batum used his length well to contest shots and create steals, and nearly every player he faced struggled to score at one time or another.

Offensively, Batum’s jumper will need further consistency, but he does have solid mechanics and good elevation. His range will potentially extend to behind the three point line as he showed in the Hoop Summit, knocking down 3 of 5 attempts from behind the international 3 point line. The small forward can finish very creatively at the basket and has the ability to create his own shot.

With LeMans in the French ProA league this season, Batum has only received 13.7 minutes per game off the bench. Though the lack of minutes may be viewed as troubling, there is an argument to be made that his game could very well be more suited to the NBA style of play. The ability to run the court and finish will help Batum greatly when it comes to the up-tempo pace of the NBA game. With LeMans, they expect him to operate exclusively out of a slow paced, half court offense with the point guard dominating the ball.

Nicolas Batum will likely attempt to become the second prospect in two years to use a strong performance at the Hoop Summit as a catalyst to the NBA. Currently, Batum holds the 12th position in the latest edition of the DraftExpress Mock. It’s unknown how much Batum will be able to contribute in his rookie year, but his upside is clearly that of a high quality starter down the road. With Batum’s name now in the mix, and Julian Wright reportedly entering yesterday, the class of 2007 continues to gain strength by the day.


Koponen Establishes Himself as Legit Prospect

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Coming into the 2007 Nike Hoop Summit, point guard Petteri Koponen had a large task at hand. A 6’5” point guard out of Finland, he was faced with the task of grabbing the attention of the various NBA scouts in attendance, while proving he could play against more athletic competition. Koponen succeeded at both tasks, displaying the ability to run a team and making his way past more athletic players throughout the game.

Born in 1988, Koponen plays for a team called Honka Espoo. Honka currently ranks 2nd in the Korisliiga, the top league in Finland. While many players in his age group struggle to gain minutes, this hasn’t been a problem for Koponen. The Korisliiga ranks as one of the weaker leagues in Europe, and can probably compared to the leagues in Sweden and the Czech Republic in terms of competition level. While the league isn’t the strongest, it is probably safe to say that Koponen would likely receive at least some minutes in most of the stronger leagues in Europe.

Koponen reportedly plays 30-35 minutes per game with Honka as their started point guard, and has enjoyed recent success in Korisliiga playoffs. In a recent game, the young lead guard lead his team to a victory while scoring 27 points and shooting 7 of 9 from behind the three point line.

What makes Koponen impressive isn’t his scoring, but rather his command of an offense at such a young age. He perfectly fits the mod of the new age point guard with ability to see the court and break down the defense, in combination with his height and the way he moves on the court. During the Hoop Summit, his ability to see the floor and work the ball around the perimeter led to 6 assists and only 1 turnover in the final box score.

Due to the impressive play of Petteri Koponen, Memphis Grizzlies GM Jerry West made the trip to Finland this year with the sole intent of watching Honka play.

Both before and after the Hoop Summit, Koponen stated he’d potentially look into testing the waters in 2007 by placing his name on the early entry list. The fact that he reportedly has no agent makes the situation all the more interesting. He clearly stated after the game on Saturday that he’d move to a higher level of competition next season, citing the NBA as a preference, but mentioning a higher league in Europe as another potential destination.

Though Koponen plays a polished game for an 18 year old, he could clearly boost his draft stock with a good season against better competition in Europe. He will still be a relative unknown should he decide to declare this year, and it would be wise of him to pull his name out unless he receives a promise in the late first or early second round.

No matter what Petteri Koponen decides to do, he has clearly established himself as a player for NBA draft enthusiasts to follow. His combination of size, decision making, and shooting ability will give the soon to be 19 year old a chance to succeed in the NBA, whether he decides to make the jump this year or in the future.

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