Player of the Week: Nikola Pekovic
Although I dont 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 States rotation, and Peja Drobnjak is back in the ACB, Pekovic has become the main reference in the paint for his team.
A fairly peculiar player, Pekovic is one of the purest finishers you will find in international basketball. Hes all about gaining position, receiving and scoring. Hes direct, automatic in the look for the basket. Hes not a dancer in the paint, not a ball-handler, hes 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 (hes truly built like a house) with notable explosiveness. Hes a tough guy that easily takes contact, so its 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 Partizans victory.
Taking a Long Look at Nicolas Batum
It makes sense. Its no secret that Batum enjoys a god-gifted physical-athletic profile, but also hes a very skilled guy with a natural talent to play the game. Its a killer combination thats beginning to work with increasing consistency. After a couple of so-so games, hes 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. Hes 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 hes 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. Hes 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, its 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, its 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, its 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 hes sometimes not particularly aggressive trying to make things happen. However, we do have to stress that hes 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, hes getting excellent production and is greatly helping his team.
Batum is not only about offense--hes also doing a pretty good job on defense as well. Hes 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 thats a luxury you cant afford when the guy distributing the ball for the rival team is Nikola Vujcic. Anyway he almost always has a positive impact. Hes playing good team defense, is working the passing lanes, and you can even see him flying to block some shots. For a backcourt player, hes just a force in the rebounding department; hes actively working the glass and can virtually grab the ball off the roof.
Its difficult to picture any significant change in Batums game for the near future. Hes not depending on any real momentum (a good shooting run, for example); its 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 years draft.
State of the Prospect: Whos Hot
Joe Ingles is enjoying a pretty good campaign so far, but we cant 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, hes struggling when it comes to shooting inside the arc (not being able to improve on that 44%), especially because hes 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 hes 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: Whos Not
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 hes 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 isnt helping him to deal with opponents; he doesnt feel comfortable on court as he suffers from all types of contact. Also, he didnt look good with his perimeter stroke, although his few attempts were rather forced shots, while its pretty clear that hes not the greatest athlete around. Preldzic lacks some explosiveness, although he could gain some as his body matures.