One of the youngest players in Europe seeing consistent minutes at the highest levels of competition, 17-year old Nikola Ivanovic has steadily emerged as a productive and reliable point guard for Buducnost in his native country of Montenegro. Playing a solid 15 minutes per game in both the EuroCup Top-16 and Adriatic League, Ivanovic's role seems to be increasing week by week, up to 22 minutes per game in his team's last four contests.
Ivanovic does an excellent job of mixing up his scoring and his passing, not looking as shy or deferential as most young guards making their first steps in European basketball. He shows impressive confidence for a player his age, taking responsibilities on the court assertively like all teams expect their point guard to.
Standing around 6-3, Ivanovic has good size for a point guard, even if he's not particularly long or athletic by NBA standards. He sees the overwhelming majority (140/209 possessions charted this season by Synergy Sports Technology thus far) of his offense in pick and roll situations, where his creativity and aggressiveness really shine.
Displaying choppy footwork and excellent ball-handling skills, Ivanovic changes speeds impressively and shows good body control once in the lane. He gets into the paint at a very nice rate, at times changing directions with the ball and using a crafty Eurostep move. Ivanovic finishes at the rim much stronger than you'd expect a 17-year old to at this level of competition, getting to the free throw line at a very nice rate in turn. He still needs to get stronger and increase his explosiveness, but he's not afraid to put his body on the line, which is a good sign early on.
Capable of passing with both hands, and in a variety of different ways, Ivanovic reads the floor nicely and moves the ball effectively around the court, showing a very good feel for setting teammates up with easy baskets. He doesn't turn the ball over very often (just 24 times in 376 minutes this season, or 2.55 turnovers per-40 minutes), displaying impressive poise and maturity for a player his age.
Where Ivanovic probably needs to improve the most at this stage is as a shooter, as he's converted just 18 of the 77 jumpers he's taken this season. He's struggled badly to make shots with his feet set in particular, which is a bit odd seeing that he has very good mechanics on his jumper as well as a quick release. Ivanovic's pull-up jumper has been falling a little more consistently this season, especially lately, and the way he elevates off the floor and creates separation from defenders shows lots of promise.
On the defensive end, things haven't looked quite as encouraging for Ivanovic just yet this season, which is perhaps not a surprise considering his age. He doesn't have the length or strength to be much of a presence at this point, even if he does put a decent effort in. Going up against players who are at times twice his age, Ivanovic's technique needs plenty of work, as he's prone to getting out of his stance quickly, and will gamble excessively at times in the passing lanes. Not crafty, athletic or experienced enough to recover when beat, Ivanovic's lateral quickness is not terribly impressive at this stage.
While the early results have been mostly very impressive thus far, it will likely take a couple of years to fully evaluate the extent of Ivanovic's upside and determine how good he might become down the road. He likely hasn't reached his full potential both physically and athletically, and surely has room to improve his skill-level as his role on the floor evolves from backup to starter. Nevertheless, Ivanovic will be a very interesting player for scouts to follow as his career progresses, as he's obviously extremely talented. Right now, he's not even NBA draft-eligible, and can't be until 2013 at the earliest.