Roundup: Belinelli Looking for Redemption

Roundup: Belinelli Looking for Redemption
Dec 19, 2006, 03:09 pm
Player of the Week: Marco Belinelli

Coming off a frustrating Euroleague showing against Le Mans, where he only scored 5 points (all in the first quarter), Belinelli rebounded for a 29-point performance in the Italian League. Still, this excellent offensive effort couldn’t be transformed into a victory for Climamio Bologna, falling against Bipop Carire Reggio Emilia and leaving the team with a negative record in the domestic competition (5-7); let’s remember that, since coming back to first division in the 1993/94 season, this club has never finished a regular season with a losing record.

However, this loss wouldn’t matter much if it meant some sort of turning point for Marco. For starters, after 19 games played both in the Euroleague and Italian Lega this season, this is the first time he converts more than 50% of his three-pointers (5/9). Needless to say at this point that the perimeter shooting is the foundation of his current game. Besides, he stayed active in other departments, for example getting 4 rebounds.


Anyway, we should underestimate Belinelli’s season by his poor effectiveness in the Euroleague (where he draws great attention from his rivals after his impressive previous season). He averages 17 points per game in the domestic front with better percentages, although the level drop that the Italian League has been suffering for some seasons now is helping him. Still, you can see how talented he is every time he touches the ball, his flair playing the game. And it’s not only about his ability to release the shot in complicated circumstances, but also about his handles, the way he sees the floor and passing skills or his movement without the ball, although his prolificacy with the long-range jumper makes his game a bit too much one-dimensional.

It’s difficult to read his draft stock at this precise moment of the season. If the campaign continues the way it has been going on so far, Belinelli could even drop to the second round (did he declare, of course). However, there’s still plenty of time for him to redeem himself off these early struggles and regain solid first-round ground. Whatever happens, don’t expect him to finish any higher than the twenties. His lottery chances, even right after his impressive showing against the US Team in the Worlds, have always been pretty slim. He simply doesn’t fit with what NBA teams search that high in the draft (regardless how high Redick might have gone last June).

Taking a Long Look at…

… Mirza Begic, who delivered his best game of the season, even though Geoplin Slovan suffered another defeat, this time against domestic rival Olimpija. Our Balkan scout Kristian Hohnjec tells all about it:

“Begic had 20 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocks in 34 minutes while shooting a mediocre 6/15 from the field, but was flawless at the charity stripe (8/8). The Slovenian center was red-hot at the beginning of the game, when he scored 12 points in 12 minutes and was keeping his significantly weaker squad in the game.

Mirza is definitely emerging as a serious candidate for the second round considering his enormous size and soft hands. Begic towers over opponents and collects rebounds with ease, often he is able to snatch the ball even when he doesn’t establish proper position. He also shows good reactivity and touch, putting the ball in the basket immediately after receiving a pass or catching an offensive rebound. This is sometimes a problem with the players of his size -reactivity and reflexes- but Begic is fine as far as that area is concerned. Overall he is a decent athlete, runs the court pretty well, has solid footspeed and is well coordinated. His upside lies in his work ethic, intelligence and feel for the game. Begic has soft hands for a big man, and he’s a decent shooter from the mid-range area, even if his mechanics are not the fastest, he doesn’t have much problems releasing his shot considering his size.

The biggest downside for Mirza is his strength and frame; it doesn’t look like he will be able to put enough weight on. He looks like a Shawn Bradley from that standpoint. Another weakness is that he needs his teammates to create scoring opportunities for him; he is good at converting, but struggles to create his own shot. If he continues to put up solid numbers for Geoplin Slovan, Begic will get serious looks from the teams drafting in the 2nd round. He can be stashed in Europe for development until he is ready to step on the NBA court.”

…Stefan Markovic, who has established himself as a solid starter for a strong Balkan team such as Hemofarm. Indeed, very few youngsters born in 1988 enjoy such a privileged situation. Markovic was a member of the Serbian junior squad that played this past summer in Greece. He looked there like the most interesting perimeter piece in that squad, a very steady and complete guy who netted his shots, passed the ball really well, enjoyed nice handles, took good decisions and played remarkable defense. He didn’t crack into our tournament reviews basically because at 6-5, and enjoying nice but not great athleticism while not looking incredibly talented, we didn’t feel he had too much NBA potential in the long run to play in the wings.

Fast forward to the 2006/07 season with Hemofarm: Markovic is playing extended minutes at the point guard position, and he does look fairly comfortable there. It’s not a full time job, since he shares the playmaking duties with other guys such as Nevojsa Joksimovic or Miljan Rakic (Hemofarm uses a combo-guard based backcourt), but he surely enjoys good action. Markovic shows the quickness and handles to deal with the position, while he usually stays very cool, looking for good options, taking good decisions, showing nice maturity, unusual for such a young kid in that position. He finds easily open team-mates, plays effectively the pick and roll, manages to involve the weak side, and particularly creates opportunities for the team whenever he slashes. He enjoys a nice ability to beat his match-ups off the dribble and he’s quite unselfish (almost by default) when it comes to score points. Indeed, he’s not shooting much (he averages a combined 6.7 points per game in the Adriatic League and ULEB Cup, shooting over 50% from the field), despite displaying a nice-looking jumper that, anyway, might need some extra consistency, particularly in off-the-dribble mode. On defense, he stays with his man and only eventually suffers against very quick point guards.

A well-built, tall and fairly athletic point guard with some scoring skills, solid passing ability, poise and nice basketball IQ, while already playing major minutes for a team like Hemofarm, surely has to draw some intrigue. He doesn’t enjoy unlimited potential, but he’s a guy to follow.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Hot

Rudy Fernández is already one of the most consistent scorers in Europe and last week’s performances only confirm it. After his 36-point outburst in the ACB previous round, he had 26 points this weekend against Gran Canaria Grupo Dunas. These offensive efforts have upped him to the scoring leadership in the ACB League with 16.5 points per game. In the Euroleague, he shows a remarkable regularity, always scoring over 13 points (he missed the mark once, but he only played 4 minutes in that game). He had 15 last week against one of Europe’s best perimeter defenses, Panathinaikos’, rounding up his performance with 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.

Ricky Rubio recorded career highs with 7 assists and 7 steals in that very same game against Panathianikos while delivering a terrific performance that helped his team to stay in the game until the final minutes. He’s consolidated his leadership in the Euroleague in steals, averaging 3.8 per game, while he has improved to the third place in assists per minute, falling only behind two masters of the dish such as Pablo Prigioni and Theo Papaloukas.

Nikita Shabalkin had 27 points and 8 rebounds in the victory against Cherkaski in the FIBA EuroCup Challenge. This is not the strongest competition around, but the regularity that Shabalkin is showing is impressive. He has scored over 15 points in every single game, averaging 19.7 points and 5.8 assists. The Russian forward is one of the most skilled inside youngsters in the Continent, although his relatively poor combination of size and athleticism limits his potential.

Dragan Labovic displayed remarkable consistency in a very unlucky week for FMP Zeleznik. Dragan had 21 points, 4 rebounds and 5 steals against Ventspils in the ULEB Cup, and 17 points and 5 rebounds against Crvena Zvezda (Red Star) in the Adriatic League. However, his team lost both games in the overtime. He’s scoring regularly in double digits, becoming one of the most productive 1987-born players in Europe.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Not

Sun Yue (see below).


For the past couple of weeks, the Asian basketball had a rendez-vous in Doha, Qatar, where the Asian Games have taken place. We’ve had the chance to take a look at a big bunch of national teams playing there and, as expected, the level displayed has been rather poor; also when it comes to young prospects. Besides Anton Ponomarev, a 1988-born kid from Kazakhstan, only China provided real intrigue, and in limited doses.

The Yao-less Chinese squad didn’t have much trouble to take gold home; only Lebanon put them some troubles in the preliminary round. Coach Kazlauskas picked quite a veteran team (for example, leaving teenager sensation Chen Jianghua at home) in order to secure the final victory.
With Yao out of the picture, Wang Zhizhi and Yi Jianlian shared the leadership on court. Yi averaged a double-double with 16.6 points and 10.2 rebounds. However, we have to put in perspective those stats, as for the most part he didn’t face strong enough opposition.

In some games, particularly early in the tournament (vs. Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan), Yi focused his efforts looking for easy points under the rim using his superior length, and many times even superior strength. With nice positioning and battling against inferior opponents, he was able to easily receive the ball and, after a simple move, dunk comfortably. As the tournament advanced, his game became more perimeter oriented, relying on his nice mid-range stroke and his transition game; Yi runs extremely well the court, and it’s a beauty to see him finishing the fast-break using his athleticism up to its potential. He didn’t show much post game beyond a few turnaround jumpers, and actually his poor back-to-the-basket skills were exposed in the game against South Korea, matching up Ha-Seung Jin: he tried a few times, but he rarely could produce from down low, showing unpolished footwork and little-to-no ability to release high-enough-arched semi-hooks. On defense, he wasn’t impressive considering the terrific gifts he enjoys. Particularly, he had some troubles trying to keep good defensive positions in the low post. Nothing comes as a real surprise, and still Yi is a legit lottery candidate for the next draft.

The other Chinese prospect in the champion team was Sun Yue.
Coming off the bench, he played the role of sixth man, although not like your typical offensive spark. He scored 41 points in the whole tournament (8 games), and actually more than half of those points were recorded against Uzbekistan. It’s not hard to conclude that Yue still hasn’t solved his scoring struggles. His perimeter shot doesn’t look good: he fires static and wide open, and still shows very inconsistent mechanics and poor results. He looked a little better shooting off the dribble from the mid-range area, but nothing to go crazy about. The most depressing part is to watch him slashing and attacking the rim: despite his great size and wingspan, he rarely dunks the ball, while his layups are not reliable, usually exposing too much the ball. As a result, he frequently prefers to pass the ball taking advantage of his nice court vision, but neither here was he brilliant. Mixed feelings in the defensive end: on one side, Yue kept his hands very active looking for the steal; on the other, his lateral quickness was exposed going against point guards. He did play some point as the tournament advanced despite being assigned to the wings in the first games. Anyway, beyond other issues as his skinny body, Yue’s lack of a position hurts him NBA-wise. It’s really hard to picture him being effective at any spot even in the long run, and therefore, his draft chances are completely in the air.

Let’s finish with the new guy Anton Ponomarev.
Being only 18-years old, he led Kazakhstan both in scoring (17.4 points per game) and rebounding (9 boards per contest), which isn’t saying much considering the strength of his own team. He’s a 6-10 power forward, still very skinny, immature, but with decent athleticism, some skills and feel for the game. You can see he’s not used to face strong competition by his great struggles playing off contact. He’s a kid easy to intimidate, even when he’s shooting jumpers. Actually, the jumper was his first and most important weapon in the tournament, probably because it’s the better way to avoid physical contact, but it wasn’t really very reliable. He settled for 35% in field goals in the tournament, pretty evenly distributed in 2-point and 3-point shots, both in percentage and attempts. His mechanics looked promising, showing a quick release and a decent form, but still they are not consistent. Also, he sometimes struggled with his shot selection, rushing things too much.

Beyond his perimeter stroke, Ponomarev showed nice handles for a big guy like him, which enable him to attack his rivals, and he was also willing to play in the low post, but he did have little success, not showing much versatility to finish there. On defense, he was regularly outmuscled, sometimes delivered poor positioning and a little bit more of hustle was missed. When it comes to the rebounding department, while he occasionally struggled to secure his own boards, he showed nice positioning in the offensive glass. Anton is a long-term project who surely enjoys nice potential. But for the moment, let’s set clear that we’re not talking about anything close to a big-time prospect.

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