Eurobasket Preview: Group D

Eurobasket Preview: Group D
Sep 15, 2005, 11:15 pm
DraftExpress’ European Championships coverage continues with the top players participating in group B at the upcoming Eurobasket tournament in Belgrade beginning September 16th. The teams are analyzed individually from a player perspective, exploring who the leaders and top stars are on each squad, and which intriguing players with NBA upside are lurking on every roster.

Group D consists of Serbia & Montenegro, Spain, Israel and Latvia, headlined by Nenad Krstic, Igor Rakocevic, Marko Jaric, Darko Milicic, Jorge Garbajosa, Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Rodriguez, amongst others.

Group D

Games will be conducted in Vršac, Serbia and Montenegro from September 16th to 18th

Read more about the Eurobasket tournament at the informative official website

The games will be broadcasted online for viewers in the United States and abroad via MediaZone. The early bird special to view the entire tournament in high quality for 19.99$ ends tomorrow.

Serbia and Montenegro

The Star:

Nenad Krstic- 7-0, Center, New Jersey Nets, 22 years old


Jonathan Givony

Helping Serbia and Montenegro try to take advantage of their homecourt advantage will be 2nd year New Jersey Nets Center Nenad Krstic. Coming off a terrific rookie season, especially considering the way he played in the 2nd half of year and the playoffs, Krstic has the potential to be a major force in the paint for the Serbians should they decide to utilize him properly. He is in a class of his own at the Eurobasket when it comes to his combination of size, mobility, skills, effort, toughness and intelligence. Although he is still a young player at only age 22, he has shown to be a terrific mismatch when utilized properly around the paint and especially in the mid-range area. If he can find a way to use his size and toughness equally well defensively and on the glass (he has been inconsistent in these areas) Serbia could be a force to be reckoned with in the post. The question is, will coach Obradovic have enough faith in the young center to use him for extended minutes and give him the touches he needs? The Serbians have shown to be extremely conservative and perimeter oriented over the past few years, and will need their top guards such as Rakocevic and Jaric to make a constant effort to get the bigs involved.

The Star:

Igor Rakocevic, 6-3, PG/SG, Real Madrid, 27 years old

Luis Fernandez

After an excellent season individually, but enjoying poor team results, this is the moment of the truth for Igor Rakocevic. He will be the clear cut offensive reference in the backcourt for the Serbian team. Very few players in this tournament will share his quickness beating his matchups one on one. Igor enjoys amazing legs and a terrific first step, being a permanent slashing threat for every moment he’s on the floor. It wouldn’t be that serious if he wasn’t such a reliable shooter, delivering a text-book jumper with quite a high release, although he lacks just a bit of quickness in the process. So Rakocevic is not easy at all to stop whenever he decides to assume the offensive responsibility.

Igor is also a pretty nice passer, particularly off the dribble, and he will likely see some minutes as point guard even if he’s not a pure distributor. He’s a good complement for Marko Jaric in the backcourt, given their size, but after him there’s a dropoff regarding playmakers, so Igor might be able to take care of the job. In a squad where Bodiroga has been the leader for several years (occasionally assisted by Stojakovic or Divac), but where the generation changeover seems close, he will also have to prove if he can be a true leader for this team.

The Upside:

Darko Milicic, 7-0, Center, Detroit Pistons, 20 years old


Jonathan Givony

Despite just turning 20 years a few months ago, Darko Milicic is actually one of the few players who can stir up enough interest here at the Eurobasket to get both American and European fans alike interested.

Milicic is an extremely mobile 7 footer with a terrific body and all the length in the world to be an imposing force in the middle. He’s very skilled in most facets of the game offensively, starting with his jumper which extends out to the 3 point line, continuing with his passing and ball-handling skills, and concluding with a good looking hook shot that is extremely tough to stop when Darko establishes position deep in the post. Defensively he can be quite a shot-blocking threat when he is motivated, using his length and terrific vertical leap to wreak havoc around the hoop, especially at the European level.

Basketball fans have been able to see very little of that over the past few seasons, as Darko has been a permanent scowling fixture on Detroit’s bench since being drafted. In the Las Vegas Summer League this past July, Darko looked extremely rusty and had serious issues both on the physical, but especially in the mental aspects of the game in everything that has to do with his confidence. The lack of playing time he’s enjoyed over the past few years is evident in everything he does, and we can only guess how much his potential has been shortened due to the way the Pistons failed to develop him through either consistent playing time or by leaving him overseas initially for another year or two. Darko’s name has become synonymous with the skepticism that now revolves around many young International players, a constant caveat for teams drafting strictly on potential for the future. Detroit GM was so eager to show that he has not given up on him that he guaranteed the fourth year on his contract months and months before he needed to, right before signing fellow 7 footer Dale Davis to a free agent contract. Nevertheless, Dumars stated that “"we have a plan for Darko to get more minutes in certain parts of the game." "This doesn't change that.”

Everyone will be watching to see how Milicic looks without the chains of Larry Brown holding him back this upcoming season, and this tournament is a great chance to get his confidence going early while sending a message that he can’t quite be considered a bust yet. He should receive the opportunities to do that backing up Nenad Krstic at Center. The question is whether foul trouble will be an issue as it has been when he’s seen extended minutes this past summer.


The Star:

Jorge Garbajosa, 6-9, Power Forward, Unicaja Malaga, 28 years old

Luis Fernandez

With Pau Gasol out of the picture, Spain losses a huge offensive reference on the court, and also its leader during the last four years. His absence will attempted to be overcome by team effort, but there are a few players capable of stepping up in the process, and Jorge Garbajosa is the most likely one. He’s a smart, hard working, but also talented player who is just in his prime as a player. He’s already the leader of a Euroleague team such as Unicaja Málaga, and given his style of play, he can be a key piece in the offensive flow. Garbajosa is a power forward who likes to play facing the basket from the three point line. He has a very nice touch from there, and takes advantage of it also putting the ball on the floor attacking the basket whenever his defender is too close to him. Jorge is a good passer off the dribble and from the perimeter, the most reliable creator in Spain’s frontcourt. A decent rebounder, his defense is another one of his strengths. Despite not being too athletic, he’s a mobile player, and he’s especially a very intelligent guy who plays with great intensity.

In the last years, he has probably been a misused player in the National Team because of Gasol and the huge amount of offensive game that he amassed, while also playing a similar position to him (although Gasol is now more of a center in international competition). And while Garbajosa is nowhere near the player Gasol is, he might manage to make up for his absence inspiring a more team oriented offense for this squad.

The Upside:

Sergio Rodríguez, 6-3, PG, Estudiantes, 18 years old


Luis Fernandez

The new sensation of Spanish basketball continues to pile on to an extremely impressive resume at his young age. After an excellent rookie season in the ACB League, the Spanish Magician Sergio Rodríguez has now made the National Team, and will be considered the top player on the wish lists of NBA scouts in attendance. Contrary to what Rudy Fernández is--a consistent player in both ends of the court--Sergio is more of a volatile guy, sometimes awesome, sometimes dreadful. It doesn’t look like the best recipe for the National Team, but the point guard situation in Spain has helped Sergio a lot. There are no creative playmakers with a minimum level to reach the National Team. The only one, Raül Lopez, has logically preferred to look after his delicate knee rather than playing in this type of physically demanding tournament. Neither José Manuel Calderón or Carlos Cabezas, the guys who’ll see the most playing time at the point, are great distributors, but more of slashing type of point guards.

So here enters Sergio in the picture, a player whose ability to deliver the ball is unmatched not only in the Spanish team, but also will be in the entire Eurobasket. This amazing court vision is paired with an excellent ability to put the ball in the basket. He’s a quick guy with terrific handles, being very hard to keep out of the lane. These gifts might be really helpful in certain moments for Spain, whenever the offensive game collapses. So Sergio would be that needed spark from the depths of the bench. Beyond that, it will be hard to see him too much time on court. His inconsistency and weak defense will likely keep him regularly in the bench. However, he’s a player whose consistency noticeably improves with playing time and confidence from his coach and teammates. Therefore, he will have a tough equation to solve here.

The Upside:

Rudy Fernández, 6-5, Shooting Guard, DKV Joventut, 20 years old

Luis Fernandez

It hasn’t been an easy year for Rudy Fernández. After an excellent rookie season in the ACB league, he was expected to show some improvement in his game. He had a slow start, and right when things started to look better for him, he had an injury that kept him sidelined for several weeks and slowed him down for the rest of the campaign, frustrating at the same time his hopes of fishing a promise in the first round of the draft. However, this 20 year old is back in the National Team after his good experience at the Olympics last year, and his role looks very important for Spain.

On a team whose main point guards are not particularly creative, nor enjoying really offensively gifted wings besides Juan Carlos Navarro (who anyway isn’t the most team oriented guy around), Rudy should step up as a real offensive threat as well as a game creator from the perimeter. He has the tools: the skinny Rudy is a very nice slasher using his quickness, a rather good perimeter shooter and a valuable passer and decision maker despite his youth. He should see a lot of playing time (sharing the wings with SG Navarro during many minutes) providing Spain manages to solve its rebounding issues up to a certain degree while not having to necessarily put SF Carlos Jiménez on court. In the end, many teams don’t feature really big small forwards, and Rudy is quite a reliable defender.


The Star:

Tal Burstein, 6-6, PG/SG/SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv, 25 years old


Jonathan Givony

Leading the very last team to qualify for the Eurobasket (via the “Additional Qualifying/Last Chance Tournament” earlier this week) is Maccabi Tel Aviv swingman Tal Burstein.

Burstein could be considered one of the most versatile and complete guards to participate in this tournament, certainly being one of the most successful coming off back to back Euroleague titles over the past two years. He is a tall guard, with the ball-handling, passing skills and all-around feel for the game to be even play PG at times when necessary. In terms of athleticism, Burstein is above average for the European level and generates most of his offense by creating off the dribble and slashing to the hoop, either to finish the play himself or find the open man. Defensively, Burstein is quite solid, and might even be relied upon to cover the opposing team’s top perimeter threat in key he stretches of the game. He has shown the ability to not only play the 1-3 positions offensively, but also on the defensive end of the ball as well.

One of his biggest weaknesses early on in his career, his perimeter shooting, has now become one a dangerous part of his game. Although he is more comfortable knocking down three pointers with his feet set, rather than off the dribble, Burstein has become quite a reliable shooter from anywhere on the court.

While these descriptions above might lead you to believe that we have a legit NBA prospect on our hands here—and indeed his physical and skill set paint quite an intriguing picture—Burstein has never really found a way to stand out as more than just an extremely versatile role player who does everything very well, but nothing great. Burstein seems to lack that killer instinct that most great players have in terms of taking a team on his back and dominating offensively, looking quite passive at times and preferring to defer to the many excellent players that have always surrounded him in his five seasons at Maccabi Tel Aviv so far.

Early on in his career he was compared to Czech guard Jiri Welsch, as both players are almost the exact same height, age, and possess similar skill sets. While Welsch played for a smaller team that allowed him to be featured more as a playmaker and offensive threat, riding a terrific Euroleague campaign into an eventual #16 selection in the NBA draft, Burstein was always more content being a role player on a strong team and doing all the little things as a swingman. Welsch is now joining his 4th NBA team in the past 4 years and could very well be on his way back to Europe if his recent form is any indication. What’s ironic is that the two crossed paths this week at the Additional Qualifying Tournament and there was very little doubt left afterwards in anyone’s mind who the superior player is at this point in their careers, with Burstein outplaying Welsch completely in all facets of the game.

Here in Serbia and Montenegro, the Israeli national team will need Burstein to be at his absolute best for them to have a chance at advancing past the first round. Playing in the same group as Latvia, Israel indeed will have a shot at doing that. With the defection of Maccabi Tel Aviv’s starting PG Sarunas Jasikevicius to the NBA, the 25 year old Burstein will be given the opportunity to continue his increased role in the Euroleague this season as well.

The Upside:

Yotam Halperin- 6-4, PG/SG, Olimpia Ljubljana, 21 years old

Jonathan Givony

Coming off the bench for Israel, if he’s lucky, will be talented, but enigmatic combo guard Yotam Halperin. Halperin was considered one of the most talented guards in his age group as a teenager because of his terrific performances in International competitions at the junior level. That potential has yet to materialize into actual high level performances at the senior level, though, for what appears to be a variety of reasons.

Halperin joined Euroleague powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv age 18 and has seen sporadic playing time since. When he did receive opportunities to shine, he often looked overwhelmed and passive. Inopportune injuries have also set back his development as a player. After receiving permission from the Israeli army to leave the country just a few months before his mandatory service was complete, he will now be joining the Slovenian Euroleague representative Olimpia Ljubljana, a team with a long and rich history that has fallen on hard times over the past few years because of their extremely limited budget compared with other teams in Western Europe. There he should have more opportunities for playing time outside of the harsh spotlight and expectations of the Israel media and fans. His rights will still be owned by Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Halperin is a tall PG with a scorer’s mentality who is equally as adept at putting the ball in the basket from short and long range as he is at finding the open man. Offensively he is extremely skilled and has consistently been a top scorer in International play in every junior category he’s played in, including a month ago in Argentina at the U-21 World Championships. Defensively he’s shown some potential as well. His ball-handling skills are good while his basketball IQ is high. His biggest weakness has to be on the mental side. Despite being named to the first team all-tournament at the World Championships in Argentina, Halperin’s performance there can’t be considered anything less than a massive disappointment. He often disappeared when his team needed him the most, showing questionable decision making skills, shying away from the ball in key moments and doing a very poor job leading his team when they needed him the most. This has been something that epitomizes Halperin’s progressions over the last three years, and it can’t be considered anything less than highly concerning.

After being a regular fixture on the national team for the past few years, Halperin was only called up at the last moment to the Israeli squad this time after an injury to one of Israel’s guards. He played only one minute in the “Additional Qualifying Tournament” and was not present for most of the preparation, leading us to believe that his playing time in Serbia and Montenegro will be minimal at best baring any injuries.

In regards to his draft prospects, Halperin is automatically eligible for this year’s draft as a 1984 prospect. He has some serious ground to make up, but an excellent season in the Euroleague and Adriatic League seems like a fantastic way to make up for that. He’ll have every opportunity to showcase his skills playing in Ljubljana, and only time will tell if he can take advantage of that.


The Star:

Roberts Stelmahers, 6-2, PG, Lietuvos Rytas, 30 years old


Luis Fernandez

The just recently decided final absence of Kaspars Kambala leaves Latvia not only without a solid low post threat, but also without its most recognizable name in international basketball. However, a player like him, who seems incapable of passing the ball, could hardly be the centre-piece of this squad. On a team where team effort prevails and there’s no huge star, we find the key player at the point. Robert Stelmahers is the foundation of the passing game that Latvia practices, a permanent catalyst of its offensive effort. All in all, the veteran point guard is the only member of this squad that plays an important role in a strong European club, as he’s the playmaker of the Lithuanian powerhouse Lietuvos Rytas, which next season will taste Euroleague competition.

Stelmahers is not the kind of guy that catches your attention on first sight. He’s apparently not awfully skilled, also far from being an athletic freak, neither is he particularly flashy, while you will rarely see him displaying offensive outbursts. On the contrary, he’s an unspectacular but effective player, a solid distributor with a great knowledge of the game, the kind of unselfish player that always thinks in terms of the team, trying to make his teammates better. Robert takes care of the ball, but never overhandles it. His passes aren’t the most amazing around, but he finds the right man on a regular basis. Not enjoying a wonderful stroke, he’s a very solid shooter, hitting his attempts when he’s open, but also displaying the ability to release off the dribble jumpers with nice accuracy. Despite his average quickness for a point guard, he can slash to the basket whenever the situation requires it, although his lack of athleticism hurts him when it comes to finishing with some opposition. He’s an average defender, but not to the point of being a liability.

Clearly this is not an outstanding profile, but this kind of player is extremely valuable, particularly in international basketball. The leadership and distribution that he brings to the court are a blessing for any team, and everyday rarer qualities these days in basketball.

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