Donatas Motiejunas, 7-0, PF/C, Zalgiris, 1990
Motiejunas is a fairly narrow power forward with decent lower body strength but plenty of work to do on his upper body. He shows really nice quickness putting the ball on the floor and spinning towards the basket aggressively, and is terrific getting off his feet going after offensive rebounds and emphatic dunks. Offensively, his touch is very good on his jump-hook or turnaround jump-shot, and he has range on his shot that extends all the way to the 3-point line (although this is not his best strength yet). He can create for himself nicely from the perimeter thanks to some nice ball-handling skills for a player his size, and will dunk the ball with ease anytime he gets the opportunity to off a cut or in transition. Once very much left-hand dominant, hes beginning to show more and more skills with his right hand every time people see him.
If all these skills sound extremely impressive from a guy who will surely top out at over 7 feet by the time hes done growingthey surely are, even if they are only shown in spurts. The problem is that he also shows a certain disdain for taking contact at times, a somewhat questionable attitude around his teammates, and definite problems defensively and as a rebounder. Motiejunas already has a bit of a prima-donna attitude with the way he complains to the referees and hangs his head when things dont go his way, which is pretty worrisome coming from a kid who is that young. He must improve his body language and do a better job hitting the glass and taking his responsibilities as a defender more seriously. If he can get himself on track (everyone who saw him last year said his attitude was 180 degrees different), the sky is really the limit as far as his potential is concerned.
Zygimantas Janavicius, 6-3, Point Guard, Zalgiris, 1989
A 6-3 guard with very nice physical attributes and a pretty complete all-around game at this stage, Janavicius is the kind of player that is hard not to fall in love with. Hes tough as nails and a fiery competitor, showing outstanding leadership skills and a winning attitude.
Janavicius has good body control and a very nice first step that he loves to use to put pressure on the defense and get into the lane. He can change gears quickly and is extremely aggressive creating offense for himself and others, and shows nice vision off the dribble to find open teammates on the drive and dish. He could stand to improve his ball-handling skills to a certain degree and can get a little bit wild lowering his shoulder and bullying his way into the lane with a full head of steam, but you have to admire the toughness he shows taking responsibilities on himself.
Although there is nothing technically wrong with his shooting mechanics, Janavicius still has some work to do improving his range and accuracy, something that will likely come in time as long as he continues to put the time and effort in. And while he can certainly make plays for himself and others, he still has to learn the fine nuances of consistently running an effective half-court offense like a true playmaking point guard is expected to. He shows nice potential in this area, though, so it could just be a matter of time and experience.
Defensively, Janavicius puts a lot of pride into this part of his game. He does a great job getting into the passing lanes, and is capable of playing tough-nosed pressure defense when the situation calls for it. His size, quickness and instincts all serve him extremely well here.
Right now, Janavicius is way ahead of the curve compared with his peers. The key will be to continue to improve on his weaknesses and begin to carve out a niche for himself at the senior level. He has definite NBA potential as long as he keeps getting better.
Vaidas Cepukaitis, 6-10, Center, Zalgiris, 1989
Cepukaitis shows a nose and desire for the rebounds. He always throws both arms up high in the air searching for the ball and enjoys good hands to grab it. On defense, his wingspan is pretty annoying for his rivals, while he displays accurate lateral quickness for a big man. Offensively, hes a very limited player that usually settles for mid-range jumpers. He looks soft and extremely unpolished in the low post, suffering from very poor footwork. Also, he doesnt show any ball-handling skills to speak of.
The most concerning part about his skill set is that he doesnt seem to have improved much in the last two years, as he displays similar strengths and weaknesses than he displayed in the 2005 U-16 European Championship. At this point, chances are he will evolve into a good complimentary player; he would need to make dramatic strides in his game to emerge as a serious offensive threat.
Milan Macvan, 6-9, Power Forward, FMP, 1989
In Athens he again eventually played some point forward, taking the ball up the court and distributing it. Macvan is a terrific passer both from the high post or the low post. He easily finds his teammates regardless of whether they are under the basket, far on the weak side, or cutting in motion. His versatility is again exhibited in his shooting stroke. Although hes not a very consistent player, he does enjoy three-point range and a guard-esque ability to shoot off the dribble from the mid-range area. In the low post he simply outmuscles his rivals with his width and strength to easily score under the basket. If hes a bit further out, he often settles for turnaround jumpers, often high-arched and/or in fade-away fashion. Of course he can put the ball on the floor to attack his match-up, although he usually tries to take advantage if his opponent is unbalanced; otherwise, he doesnt enjoy the quickness to beat him on a regular basis.
On defense hes mostly about intelligence and positioning, as well as again his huge body, which means that hes usually very effective at the junior stage regardless of his relative lack of lateral quickness. Milan enjoys terrific hands, which paired with his size, make him an effective rebounder.
This wont be the last time were raving about Macvans performance in the youth categories, but as much as he dominates, its hard to envision great NBA potential in him. Sure, he will be a fine European player, but his heavy feet and general lack of athleticism really hurt his upside.
Dejan Musli, 7-0, Center, FMP, 1991
Featuring great height and a body that most 21 year old big men (European or not) would love to sport, Musli definitely stands out from the pack on first sight. Hes got nice wide shoulders and excellent lower body strength to boot, meaning that adding strength to his frame will likely never be an issue. Unfortunately, his athleticism does not compliment his NBA ready body, showing fairly slow feet running the floor and not being very explosive getting off the ground to finish around the basket.
Muslis biggest strengths at the moment lie in his ability to change the game defensively with his terrific size and strength. He has excellent timing going after blocks, and knows how to position himself to utilize his physical attributes. On top of that he has very nice hands and an inclination to get after the ball, meaning hes also a very solid rebounder at this level. Even though he was two years younger than most of the players here, you got the feeling at times that Musli was a man amongst boys, being very reliable both on team defense and man to man.
Offensively Musli has a long ways to go at this stage, lacking any real post moves and not knowing how to use his body well enough in the post to capitalize on his strength advantage. He didnt finish very well around the basket, showing average touch, reacting slowly at times, and not being aggressive enough going up strong from close range. He did do a nice job passing out of double teams and igniting the fast break with an outlet.
All in all Musli has a decent package to build off of at such a young age, but cant be considered a phenomenal prospect due to his average athletic ability and lack of scoring ability. Well have to track how he continues to progress over the next few years.
Filip Covic, 5-10, Point Guard, FMP, 1989
Very small, actually excessively so and also with a limited wingspan, Covic is a quick playmaker with a notable ability to rack up assists. Hes very effective getting by his match-up in the set offense to attract defenses and feed the open man in the paint for an easy basket. He displays good ball-handling skills, a very nice first step, and the body control to slalom between rivals. He also shows nice court vision dishing the ball off in transition. However, he sometimes gets out of control, over-handles the ball and makes bad decisions. Covic has three-point range on his jumper and can shoot the ball off the dribble, but hes extremely inconsistent right now.
Very quick on defense, he gets away with a number of steals, especially thanks to his great timing attacking his opponents dribble. Anyway, his poor size and shooting struggles basically means that he has little to no NBA potential at the moment, and its still not clear at all that he will manage to establish himself in a strong European league either.
Filip Kruslin, 6-5, Shooting Guard, Cibona Zagreb, 1989
Semen Shashkov, 6-8, Small Forward, CSKA Moscow, 1989
Still, his performance was just as inconsistent as some of his characteristics are intriguing. He was flat-out awful in the first two games, only to emerge in the third with a solid stat line and some spectacular plays. Shashkov has little experience in big tournaments (hes yet to play with the Russian National Teams and couldnt make it to the LHospitalet Junior Tournament due a small injury) and the pressure to perform well in this setting might have been too much for him to handle.
Shashkov is still learning the ropes of the game, but he shows solid fundamentals to work with. He was active enough to display promising mechanics with his jumper, which looked extremely inconsistent from behind the arc and a bit more effective from the mid-range area. He gets rather nice lift, and his release seems pretty fluid. Semen also appeared capable of dribbling with both hands and nicely passing the ball off the dribble, although he came away with mixed results whenever he decided to attack his match-ups, partially because he could really use an extra-degree of quickness while driving the ball.
He can also take advantage of his size to post-up his opponents and finish with a turnaround shot. Obviously its easy for a guy with his length and athleticism to finish around the basket and play above the rim. Actually, in the last game against Olympiacos, Shashkov easily finished a couple of alley-oops in spectacular fashion well above the rim. He enjoys all the tools to emerge as a very good defender, and already is very productive rebounding at these youth stages, and even comes away with a few blocks. Anyway, he will need to become more aggressive, competitive and tough playing the game at both ends of the court. But hes easily one of the most intriguing players of his birth year, which is unfortunately not saying that much.
Maxim Zakharov, 6-5, Shooting Guard, CSKA, 1989
Zakharov did a good job shooting the ball here in Athens despite his average shooting mechanics, mainly thanks to his excellent touch that compensates for his inconsistent release point. When he gets into a rhythm and is able to step into his shot, hes usually money, but all too often he rushes things and ends up off balance.
Also a solid ball-handler, Zakharov was extremely aggressive creating offense for himself and others with some nice spin moves getting into the paint and finishing with contact. Like his teammate Denis Polokhin, hes a fiery guy with nice toughness and the inclination to take responsibilities on himself. Zakharov shared some minutes at the point guard position at times, although its clear that his future as a pro is on the wing.
The main thing that is holding Zakharov back from being a super intriguing prospect is his lack of freakish size or athleticism at his position. European guards have to really stand out in some area or another to get noticed over their American counterparts, and at this point Zakharov doesnt.
Other names to keep under the radar
Leon Radosevic- a 6-8 Croatian big man, born in 1990, with great size and a nice frame who is very reactive and shows nice athletic ability and a decent mid-range jumper, but has very limited offensive skills and virtually no post game to speak of at this point.
Sarunas Vasiliauskas- a 6-2 and quick 1989 born Lithuanian combo guard with nice ball-handling and passing skills who needs to improve his long-range jumper.
The 15 year old Branislav Dekic, a very raw and very young 1991 born 6-9 forward with a promising frame and some emerging skills, who saw limited playing time.