Roundup: Pekovic, Euroleague Week One MVP

Roundup: Pekovic, Euroleague Week One MVP
Oct 31, 2007, 03:22 am
When the Euroleague opener for Partizan came to an end, FC Barcelona’s interior defense was nowhere to be found. Nikola Pekovic had torn it to shreds with an outrageous scoring outburst that won him MVP of the week honors in Europe’s top competition. Obviously, he’s also our Player of the Week. Making less noise but equally effective, Nicolas Batum is steadily becoming the leader of Le Mans, showcasing his amazing all-around game.

Player of the Week: Nikola Pekovic

Like a devastating tornado, Pekovic exposed the fragility of AXA F.C.Barcelona’s interior defense in the first game of the Euroleague with a superb performance. He was unstoppable, scoring at will from the paint. He collected 29 points, going an almost perfect 13/14 from the field. He was that unstoppable.

Although I don’t think anybody could possibly have predicted this kind of scoring outburst, it was pretty clear that Pekovic would step up this season. He was already very productive for Partizan last year whenever Kosta Perovic was sidelined due to injuries, and now that the Serbian center is battling for a spot in Golden State’s rotation, and Peja Drobnjak is back in the ACB, Pekovic has become the main reference in the paint for his team.

[c]Photo: Euroleague[/c]

A fairly peculiar player, Pekovic is one of the purest finishers you will find in international basketball. He’s all about gaining position, receiving and scoring. He’s direct, automatic in the look for the basket. He’s not a dancer in the paint, not a ball-handler, he’s not any special passer out of the post, or a long-range shooter-- he basically moves without the ball in order to receive it in the best possible position to attack the basket. Meanwhile, has a nice physical set to get the job done, as he perfectly combines an extremely strong body for his age (he’s truly built like a house) with notable explosiveness. He’s a tough guy that easily takes contact, so it’s not easy for his opponents to stop him.

Barcelona had a good taste, as Pekovic displayed his entire repertoire on them: jump-hooks with both hands, mid-range shots, turnaround jumpers, layups and dunks after gaining the position under the basket, dunks in transition, put-backs after offensive rebounds, Nikola is a high-percentage guy, but he had one of those days when everything just went in. He also did a nice job on defense, staying physical on his opponents. All in all, he was the building block of Partizan’s victory.

Taking a Long Look at… Nicolas Batum

It took Nicolas Batum just a few games to gear up and become arguably the best player in Le Mans this season. That’s right, the French swingman is showing an excellent level lately. It’s often impressive how many different and positive things he can do on the court for his team in relatively short spans of time.

It makes sense. It’s no secret that Batum enjoys a god-gifted physical-athletic profile, but also he’s a very skilled guy with a natural talent to play the game. It’s a killer combination that’s beginning to work with increasing consistency. After a couple of so-so games, he’s averaging 17.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in the last three games of the French League. Meanwhile, he also shined in the Euroleague opener against Maccabi Tel Aviv, delivering an all-around performance with 9 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists and 6 steals. For some stretches, he was all over the court.

Filling a similar role to the one he enjoyed in the French U-19 National Team, Batum is emerging as an important catalyst in Le Mans. He’s the guy generating opportunities for his teammates with the most consistency. Extremely difficult to contain given his ball-handling skills, quickness and first step, he usually gains advantages for his team just by attacking his opponents off the dribble, while he’s showing excellent decision making and nice court vision to pass the ball as well. Actually, this is often his first option, and unless he can go all the way for the dunk, or finds himself clearly open for a short shot, chances are he will first look for a teammate. He’s still managing to produce points at a good rate, but never forcing the issue. He just takes advantage of clear slashing situations, second chance options after attacking the offensive glass (looking really active here), knocking some perimeter jumpers here and there, being pretty energetic in general, and usually in the right place.

His erratic long-range shot might be the main factor slowing him down. With a consistent stroke, it’s scary to think the impact he would have on the game. How would you deal with a (likely) 6-9 very athletic shooting guard who is so hard to stop off the dribble and finds his teammates so easily, if he could also knock down his perimeter shot? Actually, it’s really difficult to prevent Batum from releasing the ball from behind the arc given his size and ability to create separation from his defender, so whenever he eventually finds regularity there, it’s going to make some serious noise.

Anyway, back to reality, we should not forget the “character” issue. Batum is well known for his mental struggles when it comes to staying competitive all game long. He tends to disappear and he’s sometimes not particularly aggressive trying to make things happen. However, we do have to stress that he’s looking pretty active in the last games, and even if you wish he were a bit more incisive and fearless looking for the basket himself, he’s getting excellent production and is greatly helping his team.

Batum is not only about offense--he’s also doing a pretty good job on defense as well. He’s spending long stretches at the shooting guard position, and his ridiculous wingspan and athleticism become really annoying for any opponent. He might sometimes trust his length and athleticism excessively, and his ability to quickly reach any part of the court, and therefore not also maintain complete attention on his opponent, also conceding him more room than he should. Against Maccabi, he was caught off guard a couple of times, and that’s a luxury you can’t afford when the guy distributing the ball for the rival team is Nikola Vujcic. Anyway he almost always has a positive impact. He’s playing good team defense, is working the passing lanes, and you can even see him flying to block some shots. For a backcourt player, he’s just a force in the rebounding department; he’s actively working the glass and can virtually grab the ball off the roof.

It’s difficult to picture any significant change in Batum’s game for the near future. He’s not depending on any real momentum (a good shooting run, for example); it’s just a product of his gifts and work. Only some issues with his confidence could hurt him at this point. On the contrary, chances are he will keep looking better as the season advances, especially if he gains some steadiness with his shot. Therefore, barring a big surprise, we can probably consider him a near-lock for the lottery if he decides to declare for next year’s draft.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Hot

Joe Ingles is enjoying a pretty good campaign so far, but we can’t say the same about his team. The South Dragons started the season with six consecutive losses, right until this past weekend, when the young Aussie wing delivered 24 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals to lead them in victory over the New Zealand Breakers. Ingles is averaging 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5.9 assists this season. He has solidified his position as a catalyst for his team, and nicely combines his perimeter shooting (44% from the three-point line) with his terrific slashing game. However, he’s struggling when it comes to shooting inside the arc (not being able to improve on that 44%), especially because he’s not the best finisher around the basket against opposition, a direct product of his lack of strength.

Goran Dragic is off to an splendid early run in the Adriatic League. He has scored in double digits in all six of his first games except one, while he’s dishing the ball with consistency. He is averaging 13.5 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.2 steals, and this past weekend he led Olimpija over Buducnost with 17 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals. Now he just needs to settle down in the Euroleague after his so-so debut against a very tough Montepaschi Siena team.

Vladimir Golubovic is delivering a strong season start. The Serbian center scored 21 points and grabbed 8 rebounds this past weekend in the loss against Slovan, and averages 14.6 points and 9.3 rebounds during the season. Golubovic is a big center with a strong frame, but possesses limited athleticism and is not the most skilled guy around.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Not

Uros Tripkovic has looked more disappointing with every season that goes on, and the current one is not any exception. He goes unnoticed on the court, doesn’t show any kind of fire in his game, and he struggles with his best weapon, his perimeter stroke. His inconsistent shooting might very well have something to do with some lack of mental strength and self-confidence. His early run in the Adriatic League shows a surprising evolution. After scoring 8 points in his first appearance facing Zagreb, he has managed to reduce his scoring production in every single game, going scoreless this past weekend against Hemofarm, despite spending 20 minutes on the court. Almost a perfect countdown.

Rounding Up…

Emir Preldzic might be moving to Alpella soon, Fenerbahce-Ulker’s farm team, in the near future. The Turkish team is in great need of a real point guard and his departure would make room for a new (foreign) signing. The Slovenian small forward has been actually receiving some consistent playing time, showcasing some of his intriguing skills, but also his physical immaturity. For a Euroleague team that wants to challenge Efes Pilsen in the Turkish League, Preldzic might still be a bit raw.

We had a chance to take a look at him in the game Ulker played against Real Madrid. It was a rather easy victory for the Spanish squad, only looking closer in the final score because of a late comeback. Precisely the lack of playmakers resulted in Preldzic officiating as point forward for several minutes, something he’s capable of doing, and showcasing some of his nice ball-handling, promising slashing skills and off the dribble passing. However, his lack of physical maturity isn’t helping him to deal with opponents; he doesn’t feel comfortable on court as he suffers from all types of contact. Also, he didn’t look good with his perimeter stroke, although his few attempts were rather forced shots, while it’s pretty clear that he’s not the greatest athlete around. Preldzic lacks some explosiveness, although he could gain some as his body matures.

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