Roundup: Claver Flying Over the ACB Playoffs

Roundup: Claver Flying Over the ACB Playoffs
May 22, 2007, 01:35 am
Victor Claver is one of the top stories in this year’s ACB Playoffs. His growing impact in Pamesa Valencia (decisive to enjoy a provisional 1-1 tie against Real Madrid) and his spectacular above-the-rim plays are generating great buzz in Spain these days, easily earning Player of the Week honours for this week’s roundup. Another unexpected eruption happened in the Lithuanian Finals, where Martynas Gecevicius delivered a 22-point performance with a perfect shooting exhibition.

Player of the Week: Víctor Claver

It had been a very quiet season for Víctor Claver. As we predicted last summer, he wasn’t bound to have a sudden impact in the ACB League (unlike players such as Rudy Fernández or Sergio Rodríguez in recent years) considering the strength of the league and his team, his position on the court and his character. Seeing only a few sparing minutes of playing time, he couldn’t score his first point until April the 1st. But it wasn’t April Fools Day for him; the very next weekend he led an unbelievable fourth-quarter comeback against Akasvayu Girona after Pamesa’s starting power forward Dejan Milojevic fell injured. It was a real turning point for him: he proved his coach to be capable of contributing right away and a spot in the rotation opened up for him.

In the following games he kept on leaving drops of his talent and potential, but it wasn’t until the playoffs when Víctor emerged as a real force for Pamesa. He needed only 14 minutes to score 12 points in the opening game against Real Madrid. It was a thriller, full of questionable calls. Two of those calls resulted in four points for Real Madrid, off supposedly illegal blocks by Claver. Actually, both were legal rejections that could have added a three-block total to his stat-line. He rounded out his acrobatic show with a terrific one-handed put-back dunk.

This is excellent production for a limited tenure on court, and well reflects the unexpected aggressiveness and activity Víctor is showing. That was the primary concern about this supposedly timid player, a certain lack of self-confidence and aggressiveness on court. Last summer we already saw a new Claver, a guy who played hard on both ends of the court and was more committed than ever to claiming victory. You would always think it was temporary behavior, helped by a great coaching staff and an easy-going group of teammates, but the consistency of this improved attitude points towards a maturation process.

Just like he did last summer with the Junior National Team, Claver is playing full-time power forward. Remember, he’s a 6-9, athletic and multi-skilled player adaptable to the small forward position, where Pamesa had been developing him, but right now he’s more productive at the four, where he feels more comfortable taking his frontcourt match-ups to the perimeter to light them up with his quickness, while he avoids having to keep defensively up with wings through picks and screens.


Claver improved in the second game to a career-high 18 points and 2 rebounds, playing 27 minutes this time. He made some very important plays for the final (favorable) outcome. Particularly, the way he dunked a ball after receiving it wide-open under the rim while being fouled by Axel Hervelle (who arrived too late to have any chance of stopping him), just brought the house down and somehow changed the game’s momentum. Claver even challenged Hervelle, staring at him with a malicious smile, bringing out again that competitive character we’ve talked about. He also scored a key three-pointer in the last minutes to put Pamesa on Real Madrid’s heals.

We’re seeing similar stuff to what he showed during the summer. His quickness in the slashing move remains ridiculously superior to his match-ups, although he saves his efforts for clear options. He has scored from downtown, but still needs to gain consistency with his jumper. He’s not looking very prolific from the mid-range area, a distance he could really use. Víctor is resulting very useful on defense, being able to switch opponents with most of his teammates, annoying his rivals with his length, and intimidating with his blocks. He’s a reactive guy who is easy to get off his feet even from a standstill position. Although banged around from time to time, for the moment he isn’t a serious liability defending the low post. However, he has eventually suffered defending the perimeter, sometimes lacking a bit of lateral quickness, usually getting burned too easily on screens, something that should be sorted out as he grows stronger and tougher.

Anyway, we’re dealing with major potential here. Perhaps it would be more interesting to keep developing Víctor on the perimeter and after a few years just use him in the position where he results more effective. According to his coach Fotis Katsikaris (in statements published by, “when I arrived to the team, Claver played as a three, but had problems to defend faster players than him. He’s a four, what the Americans call a forward. He’s a four who can evolve on the perimeter to shoot and plays facing the basket”. Obviously we have to consider also Pamesa’s own interests and the fact that he somehow still plays on the perimeter, although facing big match-ups. Still, it seems pretty clear that he enjoys good enough tools to end up as an NBA small forward.

Taking a Long Look at…

…Martynas Gecevicius, who delivered a near perfect game in the Lithuanian LKL Finals against Lietuvos Rytas’ archrival Zalgiris. Played at Vilnius, it was the fourth game of the seven-games series. With Zalgiris leading 2-1, it was an extremely important game to keep Rytas healthily in the competition. After five minutes into the game, Rytas was trailing 2-9, and that’s precisely when Martynas Gecevicius came off the bench to ignite his scoring show. In 23 minutes of playing game, Gecevicius scored 22 points, staying perfect both from the floor and the free-throw line. He just netted everything, and rounded out his performance with 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals.

Although not too serious of an NBA prospect, Gecevicius is a well-known youngster, a very promising shooter for the international scene. Actually we featured him when he earned all-tournament team honors in last summer’s U-18 European Championships, helping Lithuania to conquer the silver medal. He looked like a rather mature player there, ready to fill a role in a veteran team. He started this season in Sakalai, which is a mid-level team by Lithuanian standards, but a weak squad considering the whole European scenario, providing solid production from the perimeter. Lietuvos Rytas recruited him mid-way the season, and he has been given spare playing time, even in these Finals.

Why is this Lithuanian performer not intriguing NBA material at this point? It all comes down to Gecevicius showing a poor physical-athletic combination given that he is an undersized shooting guard at 6-4 who doesn’t enjoy much athleticism, even if he’s relatively strong for his age and displays a nice wingspan.

Instead, Martynas is a smart player who’s forced to survive by relying on his excellent skill set. To put it in a few words, he has the manners of a potential world-class shooter. His jumper is a beauty to watch, from the preparations (either cutting without the ball or driving away his defenders, usually relying on picks), footwork, balance, elevation, mechanics and quickness in the release. Gecevicius scored 3 three-pointers in this game, looking extremely fluid off-the-dribble. One of them came from NBA-range, as he was left in a mismatch with a bigger defender who was waiting for him on the three-point line.

We could also see Gecevicius driving towards the basket, always taking advantage of a favorable situation to start moving. Although decently quick, he’s not that explosive to beat his match-ups on a regular basis in pure one-on-one settings. Still, he’s a nice ball-handler, and he delivered a couple of slaloms to end up dishing the ball, once because he had forced a defensive rotation so a teammate was alone near the basket, but on other occasion he just didn’t feel able to finish against opposition given his size and lack of athleticism. Anyway, he’s a very nice passer who recognizes opportunities for his teammates. Martynas was also very productive in transition, running the court very well, with and without the ball, to catch defenses off-guard.

Where Gecevicius struggled the most was on defense, as he exposed his average lateral quickness that was occasionally exploited by his rivals.

He might never be able to step into a NBA court, although you can never say never (he’s probably less quick than both, but there you have/had Arvydas Macijauskas and J.J.Redick). Anyway, in a few years, you might as well hear his name as he bombs to pieces some NBA-based US squad in summer competition.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Hot

Uros Tripkovic boosted for a 29-point performance this past week, leading his team Partizan over Vojvodina to keep the leadership in the Serbian SuperLeague. He delivered an excellent shooting exhibition from beyond the arc, netting 7 out of 11 three-point attempts. He also added 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals.

Renaldas Seibutis kissed the season goodbye with a very strong showing against Panathinaikos in the second game of the quarterfinal round. He fought through foul trouble to score 22 points in 26 minutes of action. As we reported a few weeks ago, the Lithuanian shooting guard looks very improved from the three-point range, and just solidified that impression with an splendid 4/5 clip in this game, even if all were spot-up jumpers. He was also active playing without the ball, producing off cuts towards the basket and transition plays. Although we still miss some physical presence to help him in the defensive end, and some explosiveness and athleticism to easier get by his match-ups, we shouldn’t completely rule out that Seibutis gets called in the draft next June.

Ricky Rubio is making a great impact in the Spanish ACB playoffs for his team DKV Joventut. He wasn’t statistically very productive in the first game, but his superb defense over the red-hot Jimmie Hunter in some stretches of the last quarter was crucial for his team to turnaround the game. In the second episode of these quarterfinal series, Rubio had 12 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. He was incisive, fearless in transition, provided dynamism, good decision making and aggressiveness. He even scored a nice spot-up three-pointer. With him on the bench, his team was outscored by 16 points; while on court, Joventut rolled over Gran Canaria by 25 points.

Luksa Andric was a do-it-all man for Cibona this weekend: consistently shot from mid-range distance, knocked down a three-pointer, posted up and slashed, while also cleaned the glass effectively. He delivered his best performance this (disappointing) season with 23 points (10/14 from the field), 10 rebounds and 2 assists, leading his team to the victory over Cibona’s biggest rival for the Croatian title, Zadar.

Tiago Splitter dominated the paint in the opening game of the ACB quarterfinal series. Scoring 17 points and grabbing 8 rebounds, he toyed a decimated Unicaja’s frontcourt with some excellent low-post moves, showing his nice soft touch, ability to finish with both hands and increased footspeed. Splitter post game looks everyday more refined, he needs less space to operate and keeps gaining reliability.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Not

We had missed in previous roundups the disappointing final run delivered by Marco Belinelli in the Italian League. Probably lacking any kind of motivation as Climamio Bologna was out of contention for the playoffs, he couldn’t reach double-digits in scoring in the last five games of the regular season, which is like a huge backlash for a scorer like him. Marco is yet to secure a spot in the first round for the next draft, and he can certainly use the Reebok Treviso EuroCamp, where he’s provisionally inscribed, to improve his currently damaged stock.

Rounding Up…

We’re hearing plenty of Sergi Llull lately. He was one of the pre-playoffs signees in the ACB League, joining Real Madrid for the remainder of this season and two more. He’s also in the Reebok Treviso EuroCamp provisional roster published a few days ago. A 1987-born point guard, in the last three years he has really made great strides, developing both physically (has grown up to 6-3 and gotten bigger) and solidifying his game.

Still, we’ll see if Llull can make it to the Camp, because Real Madrid has a good chance to advance deep in the playoffs, and the kid is receiving some playing time, even if in very small doses. In a mirror situation is Víctor Claver: if it’s Pamesa Valencia advancing over Real Madrid, his attendance to the Camp will become almost impossible. The two other top names from the 1988 generation, Danilo Gallinari and Nicolas Batum, have their issues too: the Italian is a key piece for Armani Jeans Milano playoff run, and just a long semifinal series (a very likely scenario) would leave him out of the Camp; meanwhile Batum will have to decide between Treviso and the Douai Tournament, where France will send its U-19 squad to prepare the World Championships. Sure to miss the EuroCamp is Nenad Mijatovic due a serious injury that should keep him sidelined for some months.

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