Two of the most heralded international prospects coming into the year, Tiago Splitter and Uros Tripkovic, somehow disappointed with their poor playing during the first few months of the season, damaging their draft stock as we told you here at DraftExpress. Nevertheless, both might have passed their seasons turning points through a much more consistent and productive game.
UROS TRIPKOVIC, MAKING THE TRANSITION TO THE POINT?
However, since returning from the last injury about a month ago, Tripkovic looks like a completely different player. He is averaging 15.2 points and 2.4 assists in the last 8 games he has played in both the Adriatic League and Euroleague. His shooting touch is back, even exhibiting his excellent skills netting complicated jumpers lately. Hes firing against opposition in difficult situations, fading away or with a man in his face off the dribble, while always looking very reliable whenever hes open for the catch and shoot. Its clear that his confidence is back.
Perhaps part of the reason for this is due to his new role in the team. With the departure of point guard Gerald Brown, hes not only the main guy in the backcourt, but also hes spending heavy minutes at the point guard position.
Tripkovic belongs to an excellent European shooting guard crop that also includes Rudy Fernández and Marco Belinelli, characterized by being slightly undersized both bulk and size wise as far as the NBA is concerned, with nice athleticism, a good shooting touch, remarkable passing abilities and a high basketball IQ. Many NBA people would probably like to see these guys become point guards, and indeed they are sometimes listed this way regardless of how are they looking right now, as they likely feature the basics to be able to make that transition with some chances of success.
While Marco Belinelli and Rudy Fernández developed strictly at the off-guard position, where they still feature excellent potential, Uros Tripkovic might be going in a different direction. He had previously flirted with the playmaking spot whenever his team needed him to, but currently hes the main point guard of the team.
It remains to be seen whether this is a temporary situation (perhaps until Partizan signs another PG) or a real bet on Tripkovics future at that position. Right now, hes learning the ropes of playmaking. For example, he still looks uncomfortable taking the ball up-court even against minimal defensive pressure from his match-up, making it difficult for him to keep good sight of the entire court. Still, he doesnt lose the ball too often in these situations, but he tends to act hastily as soon as he get rids of that pressure, committing unnecessary mistakes. Also, he sometimes picks up his dribble without having established a clear passing angle, which can get him and his team in trouble. Being a nice ball-handler for a shooting guard, he could use some improvement for the point guard position. He certainly lacks that rhythm and feel of having everything under control that the good playmakers display.
This is why despite the possibility of delivering an excellent scoring run from now until the end of the season, it could be really interesting for Uros to wait another season before declaring for the draft if Partizan is serious about playing and developing him at the point. If he manages to properly learn how to play there (he will obviously need more than half a season), and he certainly has some nice skills to do it, he could see his draft stock skyrocketing.
TIAGO SPLITTER, STARTING ROLE
Unlike Tripkovics case, the summer market was not as kind for Tiago Splitter. Tau lured Peja Drobnjak from the NBA to complete a tremendous frontcourt that already featured Kornel David, Luis Scola and the young Brazilian. With new coach Pedro Martínez taking control, he saw himself losing ground in the teams rotation and even barely seeing the floor in some games, despite coming off a spectacular performance in the Tournament of the Americas during the summer.
For Tiago, the turning point probably started right when Pedro Martínez was fired in late November and Velimir Perasovic took over the coaching job. The Croatian coach soon increased Splitters minutes on court, but most importantly, made them consistent. However, it wasnt until last month when the effects became more visible, right when coach Perasovic decided to give him a starting spot in the paint alongside Luis Scola. In the last four games he played, whether in the Euroleague or ACB League competition, the Brazilian has averaged 14.5 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals.
What is clear is that Splitter looks more comfortable now, easily scoring thanks to his very good off the ball movement and improved ability to finish around the basket. He also displays better intensity chasing offensive rebounds, getting as a result a few put-backs and in general, more second-chance points. These improved performances are coinciding with what is likely the best playing level shown by Tau Vitoria this season. Weve said it from day one: the defensive intensity and reliability that he brings to the floor, combined with his solid offensive skills make it very hard for anyone to keep him out of the game.
As always, were missing a bit of one on one scoring and above the rim play from him. Besides, the teams he faced during this good run are rather weak, which is his specialty when it comes to increasing his scoring production. Nevertheless, there are good enough reasons for him being Taus starting center, leapfrogging Kornel David in the rotation and relegating Predrag Drobnjak to the depths of the bench. Well have to wait and see if it lasts. For now hes continuing to solidify his lottery status.
ANOTHER ASIAN SENSATION?
As much as the brightest lights of international scouting point towards Europe, we shouldnt forget other places where basketball is quickly growing in popularity and quality. For example China, where theres life beyond Yi Jianlian, even if hes the clear-cut best NBA prospect in this emerging country (should he declare for this upcoming draft, he would likely be a first round pick). A generation mate of his (assuming that Yi Jianlian was actually born in 1987), Yi Li is one of the CBA youngsters that shows the best potential right now.
Theres a huge knock on him, though. Yi is extremely skinny, thin as a rail. If Chinese players usually lack strength, Yis case is off the charts, looking a bit like a starving kid. Of course his body is completely underdeveloped, but to get over this flaw will be a very difficult task considering his very poor frame. Right now hes outmuscled every time he touches a rival, often becoming a defensive liability for his team. Thats why its rather surprising to see him placed at the power forward spot and many times having to defend paint players. This is at least a good way for him to add some toughness while battling against the bigs.
Therefore, take this just as a small introduction to someone who might develop into something interesting down the road, but is still light-years away from being considered a real NBA prospect.