Roundup: Balkan Intrigue

Roundup: Balkan Intrigue
Feb 06, 2007, 01:14 pm
This week we have quite a Balkan-influenced roundup, as Zoran Erceg is our player of the week, with Stanko Barac and Nenad Mijatovic escorting him as our highlighted guys. Although not really a glamorous prospect, Erceg managed to deliver both in the ULEB Cup, in an extremely important game in the eight-finals, and the Adriatic League, where FMP remains strong.

Player of the Week: Zoran Erceg

It was a very important week for FMP, particularly on the European front, and Zoran Erceg stepped up to improve his already nice recent showings. The excitement has already begun in the ULEB Cup with the eight-final series. FMP was relatively lucky with the bracket, but the first rival was a strong one, the Spanish team Gran Canaria. Playing in the Canary Islands, Zoran stayed on court for all but 4 minutes to finish with 18 points and 7 rebounds, while FMP prevailed by 4 points, a small but valuable margin to take advantage of in Belgrade. In the Adriatic League, Geoplin Slovan gave more troubles than expected, but still FMP won the game comfortably following Erceg’s 21 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals. He has scored in double digits in the last seven games of the Adriatic League, averaging 15.9 points and 4 rebounds in that span.


Erceg, a 6-11 skilled and skinny power forward with average athleticism, is not what you call a top prospect, and he could even end up going undrafted this upcoming June. However, we shouldn’t underestimate him. He’s having a notable season, and is a guy who still has potential to fulfil. His combination of size, basketball IQ and skill repertoire looks fairly intriguing. The physical development he surely has ahead of him will likely make him a significantly better player, although it’s fair to stress that his frame is not the best around to add weight, as his shoulders are a bit narrow.

Anyway, he’s a player with a nice combination of face-up and low-post game, although inside the paint he often suffers from his lack of strength. He has some troubles establishing good position to receive the ball and still doesn’t feel confident to play much in one-on-one situations down low, likely due to his inferior physical profile (actually, his moves are decent and he can finish with both hands near the basket), preferring many times to send the ball back to the perimeter-- and showing nice decision making in the process, by the way. Facing the basket he can either shoot the ball with very nice mechanics and (still inconsistent) three-point range or put the ball on the floor, not a usual option for him at this point. Besides, he moves pretty well off the ball to get open looks near the basket. On the defensive end, he’s not much of a factor, being eventually outmuscled, showing average lateral quickness and not being the most intense guy around. This is an area where he needs to put more effort and work.

Again, not a very glamorous project, not really very NBA friendly (size aside), but who could evolve into a very nice player down the road. For the moment, he was already called by the Serbian National Team last summer, although he was left out of the final 12-men roster despite shining in some preparation games (against the World Champions, Spain, for example).

Taking a Long Look at…

…Stanko Barac, who has since this past summer emerged as one of the most interesting prospects in the Balkans, fulfilling the expectations we had from him (at least for this season) after watching him shine this past summer in the U-20 European Championship. He’s a bit of a late bloomer, since he’s a 1986-born player and it hasn’t been until this season that he's managed to get significant production for Siroki, which isn’t precisely one of the strongest teams in the area. This weekend he delivered another remarkable performance with 17 points, 15 rebounds and 2 blocks. He averages 11.9 points and 7.1 rebounds so far this season.

Barac is a very skilled center with deceptive athleticism. At first sight he looks like a slow and heavy-footed player, but then you see him taking his man off the dribble from the three-point line with surprising quickness (nice first step, long strides), and you have to reconsider your opinion on him. He lacks some reactiveness, that’s true, while he’s not a very active guy and shows questionable stamina. But once in motion, he’s capable of decent athletic efforts, always considering he’s 7 feet, one inches tall. In terms of strength, Barac displays a nice frame to work with. Actually, he’s not your typical skinny international big, just a nicely-built guy who still needs to get stronger.

Skill-wise, Stanko displays the abilities of the two biggest frontcourt positions. As mentioned, he’s a surprising slasher who shows very nice ball-handling skills and is capable of attacking his opponent with both hands. However, it’s not the most common thing to see him do. When facing the basket from the perimeter, he usually settles for static jumpers. He’s quite an orthodox shooter with three-point range (he credits a respectable 38.7% from behind the arc). Besides, he also enjoys a nice post game, showing very interesting footwork in the paint and the valuable ability to finish with both hands, sometimes with a jump-hook. Still not a great defender, Barac gets eventually pushed around by stronger opponents, showing average lateral quickness and not always being active enough from the weak side. But he’s already a decent intimidator who is willing to use his nice wingspan and decent timing to block some shots.

We’re growing optimistic about his draft chances in the future (most likely, the 2008 draft). He’s big, he’s skilled and he should become strong enough; considering the usual policy of NBA teams in the second round, it’s hard to find a reason why he should be left out. But there’s more: if Barac manages to take his game to a higher level next season (and he likely has the potential to do so), the first round is not out of question.

…Nenad Mijatovic, red hot for Buducnost lately. This weekend he netted 20 points, grabbed 2 rebounds and had 3 steals helping the team from Montenegro to beat Split. In the last four games, he’s averaging 18.7 points, although his season average drops to 11.6. Still not bad at all for a 1987 player, starting at the point in a team that is unexpectedly challenging the top squads in the Adriatic League (Buducnost currently ranks fifth, only three games behind the leader Cibona).

Mijatovic belongs to that phenomenal 1987 Serbian generation that early-on was led by Aleksandrov and won the European Championships in all youth categories. He’s basically a scoring type of point guard, a player capable of consistently stepping into the lane and showing the ability to create his own shot (and knock them down). At 6-4, he displays a nice physical and athletic profile, as he’s fairly strong, shows a good frame and possesses nice quickness. Chances are this department won’t be the one slowing him down.

As we have been reporting for some time now, perhaps the biggest issue about Mijatovic is his distributing skills, not the most outstanding around. He’s improving, but still needs to settle his game down a little bit. Beyond his low assist numbers (he only averages 1.2 per game), Nenad tends to overdribble, abusing his nice ball-handling skills and ability to play off the dribble, sometimes forcing situations, and not always recognizing the best options. He has average court vision; being capable of finding the open man fairly easily in drive-and-dish situations, although he often tries to finish himself taking advantage of his size and quickness. Scoring is his speciality. Enjoying a pretty solid perimeter stroke, Mijatovic loves to shoot off the dribble, and remains fairly effective even in aggressive moves to create separation from his defender (he's 41.5% from behind the three-point line), which obviously makes him capable of creating his own offense.

Although his characteristics and the fact that he plays both backcourt positions in Buducnost might lead to think about a combo guard, he’s more of a playmaker than anything. Even playing the shooting-guard position, he’s often the one leading the creation from his team on the perimeter. Anyway, he’s an intriguing guy to keep following very closely. Right now it looks like he will hear his name in a future draft, although the stock of point guards tends to be a bit volatile.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Hot

Marco Belinelli’s scoring show in the Italian League continues. This weekend he poured 17 points on Whirpool Varese, although Climamio again couldn't come away with the victory. He’s averaging 20.4 points in the last seven games of the domestic competition, clearly a step forward towards the first round in the draft.

Nihad Djedovic led Bosna to an overtime victory over Zagreb with a career-high 22 points. This comes right after matching his previous career-high with 14 points in his previous game. Let’s remember the kid is only 17 years old.

Danilo Gallinari scored a career-high 21 points leading Armani Jeans Milano to keep the third position in the Italian league with a road victory against Livorno. He also added 3 rebounds and 2 steals, while he was the player who spent the most time on court for his team with 34 minutes.

Nikita Shabalkin erupted for 35 points, 8 rebounds and 2 assists while showing the way for Samara en route to victory against Spartak VGUES in the Russian SuperLeague.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Not

Yannick Bokolo hasn’t been able to complete his point guard impersonation. At some point during last year it looked like he could become a decent playmaker, which would have boosted his stock pairing that ability with his terrific athleticism. But it hasn’t happened. Last summer he was selected to compete with the French National Team as a reserve point guard at the Worlds, and begun the current season as the starting point guard in Le Mans, but the horrible results forced the team to sign a veteran playmaker, Tyson Wheeler. Bokolo hasn’t been distributing the ball effective, is struggling controling the tempo of the game, has played way too out of control and too often hasn’t made good decisions. He averages 3.1 assists in the Euroleague, but it doesn’t really reflect the quality of his game creation; most of them coming off drive and dish situations where he took advantage of his quickness. In general, Yannick doesn’t seem to be a particularly gifted player in terms of basketball IQ. Besides, he’s not a remarkable scorer (4.6 points per game in the Euroleague), basically due to his great inconsistency shooting the ball. Unless he shows some improvement over the remainder of the season, he could easily go undrafted.

Rounding Up…

Although there’s still not any official announcement on the international team for the Hoop Summit, a few days ago it was made public that Emir Preldzic had received an invitation to participate in the event. It’s a nice pick since he’s relatively unknown (he didn’t have his coming out party until last summer at the U-20 European Championships), and he’s delivering a nice season with Geoplin Slovan. This past weekend, Preldzic celebrated the news with a terrific all-around performance in the Adriatic League. He posted 16 points, 6 rebounds, 11 assists and 3 steals, and even if his team couldn’t beat the FMP, they give the strong Serbian squad a run for their money.

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