Player of the Week: Uros Tripkovic
It has been one of the few bright moments he has delivered this season. Actually, his development in the last three years cant be considered anything but disappointing. His production has even regressed from what he had delivered in past years. Hes still a double-digit scorer in the Euroleague, but his point per game production has slightly and constantly decreased in the last three seasons (from 10.7 to 10.1 ppg), which is not what you expect from a 20 year old player. That regression is even more evident in the Adriatic League, going from 13.3 ppg in the 2004/05 season to the 10.5 ppg hes currently averaging, while also involving shooting percentages (from 47% to 43%). On the contrary, his accuracy has slightly improved in the Euroleague during these years, although always trapped in mediocrity (from 36% to 38%). Meanwhile, his assists are again down after peaking in the 2005/06 season and his turnovers have steadily decreased in both competitions.
So what is this all about? Is there any reason to explain these statistical trends that Uros has delivered these years? Well, it probably has a lot to do with his role on the team, how he seems to have evolved from a creative guard to almost a shooting specialist.
Whenever you see Tripkovic, just as had happened to us for the first time at the 2004 U-18 European Championships, his shooting mechanics stand above the rest of his game. Hes so elegant, so balanced and orthodox in the release, elevating so high with his jumper, that you always get the impression that hes on the verge of becoming a deadly shooter, even if his percentages tell another story for the moment (he combines for an average 36% this season). He can go for a simple spot-up jumper, come off a cut to receive and instantaneously elevate for the jump shot, put the ball on the floor and step back to gain space for the release, use a crossover to unbalance his rival and just shoot over him, etc. His body is always under control in the air, no matter how complicated the previous move was. Actually, hes not a player that gains so much accuracy with a wide open shot.
But Tripkovic game can go well beyond that shooting role (and actually does, although to a limited degree). Hes a fairly smart player, a guy who usually makes good decisions, is a nice passer, and a team player. He has the ability to split defenses with a solid first step and nice ball- handling skills, although he perhaps lacks some aggressiveness attacking the hoop. We can consider him athletic, particularly by European standards; hes quick, reactive, and a decent leaper, although he rarely plays above the rim. On defense, hes a solid player, but doesn't always succeed against elite wings. Actually, in the last Euroleague game he had a hard time keeping up with Rudy Fernández, even if the Spanish player had a poor day from the field. He has also gained some strength that helps him to operate on the court, even if theres still work to do in this department.
Something we miss about Uros game is more aggressiveness and activity taking decisions with the ball. Hes a guy who can virtually disappear from the court in certain stretches. He was supposed to take over the offensive load of Partizan sometime during the last two seasons, and it just hasnt happened. His scoring outburst against Joventut was a matter of getting good shooting looks and finaly seeing his long-range bombs falling, but nothing he aggressively looked for. He seems comfortable deferring to others and keeping a secondary role, which is not a bad thing by itself, but still disappointing for the kind of player we thought he could become, an effective go-to guy, at least for Partizan.
So even after flirting with the point guard position, Tripkovic is now a full-time shooting guard. The arrival of the very solid Vonteego Cummings mid-way last season not only has stuck him on the wings, but has taken a lot of creative pressure off his shoulders. So that would explain why he dishes out less assists, and why his turnovers have decreased, as he handles the ball less than he did in previous seasons. Not enjoying as much of the ball, it also would explain why his scoring has gone down, as hes not a player who aggressively looks for his shots. Regarding percentages, the obvious level differential between the Euroleague and the Adriatic League might explain the different trends. In the Euroleague, his accuracy is likely benefited lately from the better shots he takes with a more secondary role in the team, while it wouldnt be so far-fetched to think that the superior confidence he enjoyed in past seasons would make up for the worse shot selection he used to show as a combo-guard in the Adriatic League. Perhaps were reading too much into stats, but it makes some sense.
Anyway, Tripkovic is still a solid prospect for the second round, a talented guy with some very useful skills. Besides, we shouldnt rule out the possibility that he blossoms sometime in the future. Again, hes only 20 years old.
Taking a Long Look at
He was a solid piece for Efes Pilsen, despite the difficult task that coach Oktay Mahmuti gave him: Hersek, a forward, had to guard Juan Carlos Navarro whenever both shared the floor; a 6-9 guy like the Turkish going against the best scoring guard in Europe, a very quick player, a master of fakes, hesitation moves, jab steps and basically any trick you can think of. The idea was probably to use Herseks nice wingspan on the Spanish player. Still, Navarro pretty much burned Baris whenever he wanted in the first half. However, the Turkish forward showed a very good defensive attitude, and some nice capabilities, materialized later matching up against bigger guys, like Rodrigo de la Fuente. He has good enough lateral quickness to face other small forwards, shows a good level of activity, and his length becomes pretty annoying for the rival. He had a terrific block on de la Fuente behind the three-point line after a quick recovery off a defensive rotation.
On the offensive end, he stayed pretty quiet in the first half, just hanging around the three-point line in case the ball came to him. In the second half, he scored consecutive field goals, the first one with a turnaround jumper in the low post taking advantage of a defensive mismatch (as he was guarded by point guard Jaka Lakovic); in the following possession he netted a spot-up three-pointer with solid mechanics. He tried from the arc a bit later, but wasnt lucky despite looking good on the release. Towards the end of the game he gained activity, cutting and looking for positions near the basket, and ultimately converting some clutch free-throws.
After his performance in the U-18 European Championships last summer, we doubted Herseks ability to play on the wings, but he seems to be proving us wrong. Chances are were dealing with yet another super-sized small forward (he could very well stand 6-10 in shoes) coming from Turkey after the likes of Hedo Turkoglu and Ersan Ilyasova. Hes a big player, yes, and perhaps not a freakish athlete, but he shows good enough mobility on both ends of the court, as well as some intriguing skills. Physically, he can become a very powerful small forward, as he enjoys a terrific frame with broad shoulders and already excellent strength for his age. Besides what he showed against F.C.Barcelona, he can also put the ball on the floor with decent ball-handling skills, particularly with his right hand, and shoot in off-the-dribble fashion from the mid-range area, while he should be able to take more advantage of his length and strength in the low post, even if his footwork is nothing to drool over. He shows a solid basketball IQ and passing ability.
Not an elite prospect, as he probably lacks that extra degree of athleticism that would do wonders helping him to translate his abilities to the next level, hes still a guy to carefully follow, and certainly an intriguing player for the international scene.
Berzins is a skilled seven-foot center we had the chance to watch last June in the Reebok EuroCamp in Treviso. If he stood out there, it was only because of his softness; the aggressive and competitive nature of the EuroCamp exposed Kaspars biggest flaw. Its pretty obvious that the Latvian big doesnt feel comfortable going against physical defenses or dealing with contact. In the Baltic League he gets along better with this problem, but still he tends to avoid physical contact in overly relying on his perimeter skills. Actually, Berzins is a nice spot-up shooter from the three-point line; indeed he went 3/6 in the aforementioned game against Zalgiris. He has a fluid release and achieves a pretty decent 38.5% this season.
But Berzins enjoys good conditions to play inside and be an effective player there. Hes a long guy, with a nice wingspan; hes also fairly athletic considering his size, showing good mobility and some leaping ability; and he shows some strength, with a well-built body that should be able to assume more weight. Actually, when he shows good enough will, he consistently gains position in the low post to receive the ball. Depending on how physical his match-up plays him, he feels more or less comfortable operating in the paint, but he doesnt look bad, being able to put the ball on the floor, showing some moves and a nice ability to finish near the basket. He regularly enjoys clear size superiority, and hes skilled enough to cash in off that advantage. But again, its not that usual to see him asking for the ball in the paint. As a very mobile and nicely coordinated big player, Berzins has the tools to become an effective pick-and-roll player. However, you also need the aggressiveness to attack the basket, and thats not a given with him. Indeed, he often opts to roll outside for pick-and-pop opportunities. In terms of his basketball IQ, he looks just decent.
On defense, Kaspars still doesnt manage to provide a consistent display. Again his conditions are terrific for this department of the game. He has a nice body, the length to intimidate, and the mobility to provide help on different fronts. However, his struggles here are not as related with aggressiveness (even if its part of the equation) as they are with his poor decision making on the defensive end. Berzins doesnt fully control his efforts and impulses, so he gets fooled by fakes from time to time, commits unnecessary fouls (getting in foul trouble too often) or shows poor timing. Considering his length, neither his rebounding (4.8 per game) nor shot-blocking numbers (1.1 per game) look great. Besides, his defensive rotations are also rather mediocre. Still he shows decent activity and might be able to become a solid defender once he figures out how to make the most out of his physical gifts.
Born in 1985, Berzins will be automatically eligible in next Junes draft. We dont expect to hear his name called, but since hes a seven footer with some intriguing characteristics, you cant rule out anything.
State of the Prospect: Whos Hot
Tiago Splitter hasnt slowed down with the arrival of the new coach Boza Maljkovic. If Teletovic had a chance to showcase himself in the Euroleague due to Scolas absence, for Splitter it was an opportunity to take over the leading role in the paint. He did pretty well, with 18 points, 9 rebounds and 3 steals. He particularly produced from the free-throw line (10/17), as his opponents seemed to have the order to foul him whenever he had a clear scoring option. He was active as usual playing without the ball, in pick and roll situations or cutting from the baseline, but he also played some one-on-one low post situations, with fair success. With Scola back for the ACB League game, Splitter even improved to 22 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Ante Tomic had one of the best games of his career, putting up 23 points and 12 rebounds in 29 foul-plagued minutes against Cibona. His team Zagreb lost by 5 points against the Croatian powerhouse, but Ante kept them in the game on his own during the third quarter before earning his fourth foul, that left him on the bench until 4 minutes to go while Cibona managed to grab a double-digit lead. With Tomic back on the floor, Zagreb cut the deficit, but fell 5 points short of the victory.
State of the Prospect: Whos Not
Luigi Datome is yet to make an impact on his new team Legea Scafati. The Italian small forward was sent there on loan three weeks ago by Montepaschi Siena until the end of the season, as he wasnt getting any playing time in the current leaders of the Italian League. Datome started for Legea in his first two games with his new squad, but this weekend he came off the bench to play only 9 minutes, although he managed to score 5 points. Well see how he finally fares, but its a disappointing situation for a player who enjoyed some meaningful playing time last season in the Euroleague.
It was a crazy season for Faverani in Zaragoza, full of ups and downs, with impressive performances to dream about a NBA future, and forgettable showings that were unacceptable from a foreign player in a LEB team. That was part of the problem, as LEB teams can only have two players from outside the European Union, and Vitor was filling one of those two spots. For some games, he looked completely worthy of taking that foreign spot; in others, you would only want to scream at him to wake up and play with some aggressiveness. At least he was honest enough to recognize his eventual lack of effort, but this is pro basketball and a team like Zaragoza, looking for promotion to the ACB League, can only demand full effort every single game. The other part of the problem was his behavior off court.
His last week on the team was pretty representative of his tenure in Zaragoza. After weeks, even months, of gossip concerning a possible departure for Faverani, even being left at home for a few games, the Brazilian player rebounded well for an excellent performance against Alerta Cantabria, with 17 points and 10 boards. His coach Curro Segura stated then that the player had showed a good reaction and therefore they werent considering the possibility of cutting him, so he was staying with the team. A few days later, Faverani missed a practice (which apparently wasnt the first one he didnt attend this season) and the coach and the team just thought they had enough dealing with the Brazilian, so they decided to cut the player.
In the official press release published by Cai Zaragoza, they thanked Unicaja Málaga, but saved any words about the player.
Faverani is a magnificent basketball talent, a big guy with the body, athleticism and skills to become a great player in the future. Actually only Batum and Gallinari are clear-cut better prospects than him from the 1988 pool. But unless he grows up, matures and starts acting like a professional player, he will have a hard time realizing that excellent potential.
On a more positive note, Stefan Markovic is back to action after a wrist injury that had him sidelined for three months. In his comeback game he went scoreless, but delivered 5 assists in only 15 minutes of playing time in Hemofarms victory over Geoplin Slovan.