Finding a Niche for Paulao Prestes

Finding a Niche for Paulao Prestes
Jun 02, 2010, 02:45 am
Largely slipping below the radar of our draft coverage, there is little doubt after reviewing his game footage from this season that Paulao Prestes has much more to offer as an NBA prospect than we’ve given him credit for.

Prestes played his first season of basketball in the ACB this season, but he is already seeing major minutes. He has emerged as one of the most productive centers in Spain, in a league widely considered the best domestic competition in the world outside of the NBA.

His per-40 minute numbers are excellent. He’s averaging just under 15 points and 12 rebounds (which ranks him as the most prolific rebounder in the league at age 22) and converting 57% of his field goal attempts. By all accounts, Prestes’ productivity is phenomenal considering his lack of experience and the level of competition he’s playing at.

With that said, Prestes is not someone you would describe as being a particularly talented player. There’s really nothing attractive about his style of play. He’s not exceptionally clever or lively, and much of his utility isn’t appreciated by the casual observer.

“Useful” would probably be the best way to describe him.

He does have one thing going for him though: his tremendous physical profile. Standing a legit 6-10, with a massive frame and a wingspan that could very well be in the 7-3 range, Prestes could be mistaken for a long-lost Brazilian relative of DeMarcus Cousins.

Another area that Prestes has an advantage in is his unique skill set. He does two things exceptionally well: rebound and score with his back to the basket, both of which are among the most rare and coveted skills in basketball.

As mentioned, Prestes is the No. 1 per-minute rebounder (second per-game) in the ACB. He’s most effective crashing the offensive glass, where his wide frame and terrific strength allow him to move opponents around in the paint and achieve excellent position for loose balls. His huge wingspan and extremely soft hands take care of the rest, to the tune of nearly five offensive rebounds per-40 minutes pace adjusted.

Prestes has also improved his ability to score with his back to the basket; he ranks as one of the most efficient players in the ACB in post-up situations, according to Synergy Sports Technology, having converted an excellent 56% of his attempts. Prestes doesn’t have an exceptionally wide arsenal of moves or much of a finesse game, but he can establish himself deep position in the paint at will.

Usually receiving the ball a few feet from the basket, Prestes can continue to dig farther into the post with his outstanding base and improved footwork. This allows him to turn to either shoulder and flip the ball into the basket with a reasonably soft touch. He’s not afraid of contact and looks pretty comfortable in the low post. He does not appear to have any misgivings about the type of player he is.

You can count the amount of players in this draft who can score in this fashion on one hand. And the fact that he’s doing it against grown men (rather than against immature college teenagers) in a physical and athletic league such as the ACB is something that simply cannot be dismissed.

Prestes is also a solid presence on the pick-and-roll. He sets big, wide screens and presents himself as an excellent target in the paint after rolling to the basket with his huge hands outstretched.

Far from a finished product, Prestes still has plenty of room for improvement. He is not a cinch to fit into the hyper-athletic, and often undersized, style of today’s NBA game. He’s a below-average athlete, for example, who has problems finishing above the rim, and he doesn’t have a great understanding of how to draw fouls.

He also doesn’t show any type of perimeter shooting ability at this point, converting just one jumper all season according to Synergy Sports Technology. He does convert a solid 66% of his free throws, though, leaving room for optimism in this regard.

Defensively, Prestes is capable of putting a body on pretty much any traditional back-to-the-basket center an NBA team will throw at him, which makes him a rare and coveted commodity. His terrific wingspan and exceptional strength more than compensate for the inch or so he lacks in prototypical height and on top of that he’s very physical.

His lack of experience guarding high-level European big men gets exposed at times on isolation plays in the mid-post, as Prestes’ fundamentals and effort level leave something to be desired. There will certainly be a learning curve for him over the next few years as he continues to improve in this area--whether it’s playing high level basketball in Europe or in the NBA.

On the perimeter, Prestes is fairly limited. He has slow feet and looks lethargic at times hedging screens and closing out on shooters. This will make him a potential target for opposing NBA coaches. Watching him get caught on a switch against the likes of Monta Ellis or Aaron Brooks won’t be a pretty sight. For that reason, he will likely be more of a situational player: very effective against certain teams and matchups, but not capable of playing more than a few minutes at a time against small-ball-loving coaches like Mike D’Antoni and Alvin Gentry.

Prestes is also not quite as prolific a rebounder on the defensive end as he is offensively. He does a solid job in and around his area, but he’s not going to go the extra mile to pursue every loose ball he’s capable of snagging. He’s also not what you would call a leaper by any stretch of the imagination.

Despite his flaws, there is still room in the league for a player of Prestes’ nature--as Brendan Haywood, Jamaal Magloire and Erik Dampier can tell you. So why isn’t there more buzz around his name?

For one, NBA talent evaluators who know and like him are surely in no rush to tell the world how good he is.

Second, he’s not what you would call a prototypical NBA athlete, given his plodding style of play and the workmanlike fashion in which he gets his numbers. He’s not Ricky Rubio--no one who sees him on first glance will be jumping up and down in excitement about his NBA upside.

Third, Prestes suffered an untimely ankle injury in early April that ended his season. This is precisely the period in which NBA teams (particularly executives and high-level decision makers) do their heaviest scouting of the European landscape--right as the NCAA season comes to a close. There’s a good chance he hasn’t been seen by a single NBA general manager (the person ultimately responsible for deciding who his teams drafts) all season long, although we have no way of actually verifying this.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that Prestes has received zero exposure this season at the Euroleague or EuroCup level, the competitions that are most heavily scouted by NBA teams. He plays for CB Murcia, a team that competes strictly in the Spanish league and is ranked last in the ACB, which also limits his exposure.

Fourth, Prestes has not had the benefit of playing for his country’s national team, one of the main places that a young international prospect makes his name in NBA circles. Having the misfortunate of being born a few years after Brazilian centers like Anderson Varejao, Nene and Tiago Splitter, Prestes’ services were simply not needed.

He did make a major impact at the U-19 World Championships in 2007 in Novi Sad, Serbia, though, averaging 23 points and 15 rebounds on 59% shooting in nine games, and leading his team all the way to the semifinals. Unfortunately that was three years ago.

Finally, while Prestes has had his rights held by Spanish powerhouse Unicaja Malaga since being brought over from South America in 2006, the team was unable to find a spot for him on their ACB roster for four years. That is because Prestes is Brazilian, putting him in the restrictive category of players without a European Union passport. The Spanish league is the most stringent in Europe in regard to their rules about import players. In order to use Prestes, Malaga would have had to have him occupy one of two valuable roster spots normally reserved for Americans.

Since he was never going to beat out the likes of Marcus Haislip and Daniel Santiago for playing time (at least not at age 20 or 21), Prestes played in just three of Malaga’s ACB games in the past four seasons. Until this season, he was toiling away in the Spanish second and third divisions, biding his time while continuing to draw a paycheck from the team holding his rights. He put up gaudy numbers while he was there (17 points and 9 rebounds in 07-08, and 15 points and 9 rebounds in 08-09), but those were easy to dismiss considering the level of competition he was facing.

On top of that, Prestes simply doesn’t seem to be promoted as heavily to NBA teams the way other prospects are.

NBA GMs need to have a certain comfort level with the players they are considering in the draft. They want to conduct a physical with the player, review his medical history, see his game footage, meet him face to face for an interview, watch him in the combine, conduct a psychological analysis and do a host of other things--especially working a player out in their home facility, in front of their coaching staff. At this stage, it’s questionable whether NBA teams will be able to do that with Prestes (especially because of his untimely injury), which will surely hurt his draft stock.

Regardless of the unknowns, NBA teams would be making a mistake not giving Prestes serious consideration in the second round of the draft. Players with his physical attributes and skill set are extremely difficult to come by, particularly outside of the first round. NBA GMs pay backup centers with marginal skills and athleticism tens of millions of dollars to play the role he’s capable of playing. He could end up being a huge steal in terms of the value he provides relative to his salary.

Even if he doesn’t come over right away, he’s a guy whose draft rights a team should want to have for the future.

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