Breakout Candidate: Damir Markota

Breakout Candidate: Damir Markota
Jul 27, 2005, 02:00 am
Despite being only 19 years old, Damir Markota (formerly Omerhodzic) has been known for quite some time already as one of most talented young forwards in Europe. Up until this summer, though, he was also known as a player that hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations of such a dynamic young player who showed such great potential at a young age. Part of that had to do with the situation he was in, playing for Cibona Zagreb, a team with a long history of success at all levels that has always been considered a powerhouse team in Europe and Croatia, up until recently. In the last two seasons with the Euroleague team, Damir logged 67 DNP’s in 99 games. Coach Drazen Anzulovic didn’t show much faith in Markota and Cibona was even trying to shop him at one point last season according to sources. Fortunately for them, nobody was ready to pay their asking price, as Markota now looks ready to have a breakout season and be a major contributor for them.


Markota had a strong showing this month at the U-20 European Championship in Russia, leading the competition in both points (18.5) and rebounds (11.0). He also finished 8th in assists, averaging close to 3 per game. Although Croatia failed to reach the quarterfinals, Markota was one of the biggest stars in Moscow, and certainly one of the top NBA prospects. He used his athleticism and size to be a force in the paint, while complimenting that by showing a nice touch from outside as well. Those are characteristics which the Croatian senior National team is lacking, and Coach Neven Spahija surprised everyone last week by announcing that Markota is one of the 16 players who will compete for a spot on Croatia’s Eurobasket (Men’s European Championships) roster in Serbian & Montenegro this September, alongside some current NBA players like Gordan Giricek and Zoran Planinic, and future prospects such as Roko Ukic and Marko Tomas.

This caused quite a stir in Croatia due to the fact that some steadier players, like Euroleague big men Sandro Nicevic (who had a great season last year with AEK) and Tomislav Ruzic (ASVEL), didn’t get invited over Cibona’s young benchwarmer Markota. Coach Spahija explained his decision by saying that “Markota is the only power forward on the roster, and that’s the biggest problem of our team.”

All of Croatia’s frontcourt players are mainly low post threats, and Spahija feels like he needs a big man who could play facing the basket as well. Markota is a good shooter along with being a better athlete than any other player on Croatia’s roster.

After training camp, which starts on August 1st, Coach Spahija will choose 12 players who will participate in the Eurobasket competition in September. Markota, on paper, seems to have very little, if any chance to be on the final roster. But on the other hand, is Spahija going to cut his only power forward?

Regardless, Markota should be happy to be able to prove himself in training camp, where he will face players like Maccabi Tel Aviv center Nikola Vujcic and Orlando Magic center Mario Kasun, along with the NBA guards Giricek and Planinic. He should be able to take advantage of it and improve his game in the process.

Damir was always known in the past as a player who has problems getting along with his coaches and teammates, but now seems to be a different person as he has matured with age. You’ll no longer see him in Zagreb’s night clubs at 5 a.m. and isn’t the type that will start fights during practice anymore. Damir seems to be eager to develop his game and take advantage of his exceptional physical gifts.

Damir Markota is a perimeter oriented forward with very good athleticism and size, reminiscent of Seattle Supersonics combo forward Vladimir Radmanovic. His physical attributes are currently his best assets. He is a very mobile player and runs the floor like a guard. Listed at 6-10 (although he looks closer to 6-11) Markota has the size, skills and athleticism needed to play either forward position, along with the versatility you get when you combine a European skill-set with NBA caliber athleticism. Damir is considered an explosive European prospect thanks to his quick vertical leap and his ability to play above the rim. He also shows solid footwork on both sides of the floor.


Markota prefers to play facing the basket. He is a very good shooter with range out to the international three-point land. This is complimented by the fact that also has a very solid first step and could be good slashing threat in the future, but his ball-handling skills are still poor and he doesn’t yet feel comfortable putting the ball on the floor. Markota has very soft hands, which along with his height and athleticism help him get his hands on a good number of rebounds. Damir occasionally shows good intensity on the defensive end of the floor, but still needs to work on this aspect of the game to make it at the NBA level. His defense has improved significantly over the past season, though, and he’s not exposed on the defensive end as he used to be anymore. He rarely has a chance to show it at the senior level, but Markota also possesses very nice court vision and passing skills for a power forward, as witnessed by the 3 assists per game he averaged in Moscow.

Despite the fact that he has seemingly been on the radar for years, Markota has yet to turn 20 years old and won’t for another five months. His best days are definitely ahead of him, and time is definitely on his side.

Markota’s biggest knock for the NBA level as far as his future position goes seems to his below average wingspan. Like many European prospects, his arms are very short, and it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see his wingspan measuring out smaller than his size. Right now he struggles at times playing at the senior level because of his lack of bulk. He is a skinny player at this point and therefore gets pushed around in the post by players that are older and stronger than him. This also makes it difficult for him to finish around the basket with contact. Speaking of contact, he does not seem to be a huge fan of the physical game and often will rather settle for the outside shot than do the dirty work inside the paint. If Markota is serious about being a first rounder this year or next, it would be in his best interest to continue working on his body in the weight room along with continuing to compliment his excellent perimeter game with some real low post skills.

Markota is an accurate shooter, but his mechanics are not a thing of beauty. His shot looks rather awkward at times and he’s surprisingly poor from the charity stripe. Markota’s work ethic will be tested by how consistent of a shooter he can become in game-time situations and the range he can develop through the hard work he will have to put in over the next year or two. This is mainly a matter of repetition and dedication for him as all the raw skills are already in place.

What is definite is that his lateral quickness is not good enough at this point to guard perimeter players in the NBA. In Europe he is athletic enough to stay in front of the power forwards he goes up against, but his defense is average or below average whomever he guards due to his body. He gets outmuscled on a regular basis trying to guard players in the post, and uses his hands too much on defense guarding the perimeter, so he is often in foul trouble. Damir too often bites on pump fakes and tries to contest almost every shot, risking his defensive and rebounding position for his team.

Offensively Markota has no in-between game due to his limited slashing abilities. His ball-handling must improve for him to be considered a true prospect at small forward for the NBA. That involves creating his own shot and making his way to the basket as well as scoring off the dribble from different parts of the court. As a power forward in Europe, his back to the basket game is still a work in progress, and he’s not a real scoring threat in the low post at the senior level.

Mentally is where Markota has been questioned the most over his short career so far. He was widely known in the past as a short tempered player who had serious issues getting along with teammates and his coaching staff, while his work ethic was considered a strong point of his. Reports over the last year or have consistently indicated that that has begun to change, to the point that his Coach at Cibona has publicly expressed his satisfaction with the work Markota has put in both on and off the court. The fact that he’s made a full circle and been invited to Croatia’s training camp for the European Championships are a good indication that his career is on the right track. It is quite possible that the 19 year old Markota has matured as a person and finally realized how hard he will have to work to reach his vast potential. According to his agent in the States Marc Cornstein, it was the summer he spent in America in 2004 preparing for the NBA draft and working out for teams (before eventually withdrawing) that was the turning point in his eyes. “I don’t think there was ever a question in anyone’s mind about Damir’s talent, it was his attitude that always was the key,” said Cornstein. “He’s matured a lot over the past few years, and you can see that things are starting to pay off for him. The summer he spent here in America was a great learning experience for him, making him realize just how much dedication it will take for him to make the NBA.”

Damir will probably have to pick one position on the court for the NBA at some point and stick to it in order to master the many skills needed to cut it at that spot. Considering his below average wingspan and the fact that he’s an excellent athlete and long-range shooter, his future in the league might be at the 3. Therefore the two things he needs to work the most on are his ball-handling skills and perimeter defense, along with showing the ability to be virtually automatic when he is asked to knock down long range shots. Complimenting that with some low post skills to add to his versatility will certainly help his cause.

DraftExpress’s Jonathan Givony spoke to an NBA scout that has been following Markota throughout his career so far, to get his professional opinion on where Damir stands in the eyes of the NBA. Because of the rules regarding what employees of NBA teams are allowed to say about players who are not yet eligible for the draft, this conversation was conducted off the record. This particular NBA scout just got back from the U-20 Junior Championship in Moscow, where he saw Markota lead the tournament in both scoring and rebounding and had this to say: “It’s obvious that Markota has matured a lot since he entered the draft a little over a year ago. He shot the ball very well in Moscow and was extremely aggressive, especially rebounding the ball. He’s an athletic player who has very good speed for a guy who is 6-11, including good feet and good legs. His off the ball movement is good and he showed a quick release on his jump shot which is crucial for him. To me what really kills him is the fact that he has really short arms, practically no length. I think he has to be a 3 for the NBA, but I think he can do that. I compare him to Peja Stojakovic a little, because he has the same height and is starting to develop the same complete game. He’ll have to play like a big guard to really have a chance, and that means making shots when his team gets him the ball. He came to work out for us in ’04 when he first declared for the draft, and he really got beat up in that workout. He was more of a 4 back then. He used to be a little crazy, but it seems like he is a lot more under control now, like you said, he’s matured. In terms of Markota and the NBA, we will have to see. He definitely has his work cut out for him, with plenty left to prove. He’s in a great situation for sure and it will be very interesting to follow him. I want to see him playing in the Euroleague next year to really see his progress.”

After returning from his NBA draft summer experience, last season was up-and-down affair for Markota. He officially changed his name right before the season started, from Omerhodzic to Markota, in honor of his mother (who raised him) and her maiden name. In some games he started, while in others he warmed the bench all game long. Even when he was in the starting line-up, he didn’t always get a lot of playing time, often leaving the game for good after opening in the starting five in the first quarter. Markota was never a big factor in Cibona’s offense anyway, most of the time just setting screens and hanging around in the post. There were no plays called for him and he did not seem to be Cibona’s star PG, Marko Popovic’s favorite player, rarely seeing the ball from him even when he was open on the three point line. His defense was also inconsistent. In some games he struggled mightily, while is others he shined. For example one of his best performances was against Partizan Belgrade when he guarding the MVP of Adriatic league, Dejan Milojevic, known as the “Serbian Barkley.” Milojevic was noticeably bothered by Markota’s size and athleticism on both ends of the floor.

Next season looks more promising for the young and athletic power forward in terms of production and playing time. Cibona VIP currently has only 5 players under contract and is facing financial problems so it is unlikely that they will be able to bring many more good players. Under these circumstances, Markota should see a big increase in playing time and could have a great chance to prove himself in the top European competition– the Euroleague. As of right now, Cibona only has Marton Bader and Josko Poljak in their front court next to Markota. Both are 7 footers that play more as centers than as power forwards.

After winning 10 straight Croatian titles, Cibona began to struggle in the past few years and has only won one trophy in the last 3 seasons. That, along with a lack of fan support pushed sponsors away from the club. However, Cibona will be playing in the Euroleague at least one more year and that’s a great opportunity for Markota to show people what he can do against the strongest competition outside the U.S. Fran Vasquez earned himself a lottery spot with a pretty strong showing in the Euroleague last season, can Markota do something similar?

Being a member of the Croatian National Team will certainly help Markota earn a better reputation amongst his teammates, referees and maybe even his coach. He should get more shot attempts next season, which will help to determine whether or not he can score on his own in senior competition the way he does in the junior competitions.

Cibona doesn’t have a great track record of developing young talent, Talented former Zagreb swingman Marko Tomas (now at Real Madrid) refused to go there, as did Toronto draftee Roko Ukic, even when they weren’t that interesting for European powerhouses or NBA clubs as they are today. Some of the bigger Croatian talents in past drafts, like Zoran Planinic and Dalibor Bagaric for example (both first round picks) were forced to declare for the NBA because of the lack of playing time they saw at Cibona. Bagaric was out of the league after his rookie contract expired, and Planinic is on the same track.

Josip Sesar (selected in 2nd round by Boston) was even more talented, but after coming to Cibona from KK Zagreb, his development as a player seemingly stopped. Another example is Dubravko Zemljic, once a top European talent, who is now pretty much an unknown player.

Cibona now has a chance to change their reputation and make Markota the exception to the rule. We’ll have to see how things play out this summer.

Two year ago after putting on a great show under the eyes of NBA and European scouts at the junior Euroleague Final Four (the same competition where Yaroslav Korolev came out of nowhere to earn his lottery selection at) Markota was considered a potential lottery pickl by many NBA scouts. Since then his draft stock has taken a big hit as he has struggled to live up to the expectations he created for himself quick enough, to the point that if he would have entered the draft this past year he probably would have been a 2nd pick at best. Today Markota seems to be back on his way to the first round, where based on his potential and tremendous athletic ability he should be. Markota was an early entry candidate back in the 2004 draft, but decided to withdrawn his when he couldn’t get a first round promise.

The first round is what he’ll be seeking once again. In order to get there, Markota needs to have a breakout year and show development in the crucial aspects of his game described above. Being super athletic with a nice jump shot is no longer enough to get European teenagers into the first round anymore. If there is anything we’ve learned from the draft a few months ago, it’s that NBA scouts and executives want to some of that potential turn into actual ability first while playing against grown men. Markota (along with all the other internationals) will have to have a productive season for his team to be taken seriously in the 2006 draft.

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