Roundup: Small Big-Engine Pellin

Roundup: Small Big-Engine Pellin
Dec 11, 2007, 04:52 pm
We had plenty of strong performances this past week in the European scene. Omer Asik, Nikola Pekovic and Danilo Gallinari shined brightly, but we have chosen Marc-Antoine Pellin as our Player of the Week after his superb back-to-back outings in the Euroleague and the French championship. Although he’s a very small guy, he’s a powerful engine from the point guard position for his team Roanne. We also devote a long look at Serge Ibaka, one of the most intriguing players for this upcoming draft.

Player of the Week: Marc-Antoine Pellin

It was finally this week that Roanne broke a five-game losing streak in the Euroleague, and the guy pulling the strings for that to happen was no other than Marc-Antoine Pellin, whose impact on the game goes beyond that 5-7 body he showcases at the top European competition. Guys of his size are not supposed to play high-competition basketball, but Pellin is a real engine that runs the show for his team. He had only 7 points, but also a whopping 13 assists that set the pace for his team to route Lottomatica Roma. He continued the exhibition in the French League, paving the way for the victory against Vichy, with 13 points, 7 assists and… 8 rebounds! Not bad for a 5-7 guy.

Let’s see first what Jonathan Givony, who had the chance to catch some action from last week’s Euroleague game, has to say about Pellin’s performance.

”Roanne just went nuts pushing the ball and scoring in transition. This is a team that wants to play free and open basketball and keep the tempo high in order to make up for their lack of talent at the Euroleague level, and Pellin was the key to that in this game. He was just too quick for anyone to stay in front of, and he did a great job making decisions and staying under control despite the speed of which the game was played at. He's also really strong, so when he decided to put pressure on the defense by putting the ball on the floor in the half-court, he was able to draw a decent amount of fouls. Defensively, he can sometimes look like an absolute pest. This doesn't turn him into a great draft prospect by any stretch (I didn't get to see him shooting at all) since he's even shorter than I am, but you have to give him a lot of credit for helping his team absolutely destroy a pretty good team from Rome that is currently in 2nd place in the Italian league, and just finished mopping the floor with Fortitudo Bologna only a few days before.”

Pellin fills the bill very well when it comes to what an orthodox playmaker is suppose to do on a basketball court. He distributes the ball, involves his teammates in the game, pushes the tempo when necessary, stays under control, and takes shots only when there’s a fair opportunity for him to score. Of course there are drawbacks, but in European basketball, that’s a damn good start for a young playmaker to have a chance to hit the court.

Although pretty athletic, Pellin is not freakish in this department. Besides, he’s not a guy who heavily relies on his quickness to play his game, he’s not a ball-hog who tries to outrun everybody else, but a player that shares the ball any time he has the chance, and actively helps the fluidity of the offensive flow. It’s not the most usual thing to see him attacking his opponent in pure one-on-one settings, but he often tries to take advantage of screens to split defenses. He’s really effective dishing the ball off the dribble, either in pick-and-roll plays or just as he penetrates and punishes a defensive rotation with the pass.

Actually, Pellin is a pass-first playmaker, especially because he’s aware of his physical shortcomings and the subsequent limitations he suffers in order to finish again any kind of opposition. In the end, many of his points come in fastbreaks generated after steals, fully open layups or perimeter jumpers. He’s a solid shooter with three-point range and off-the-dribble ability, but he needs a lot of space to be effective.

Pretty quick on his feet, Pellin is capable of putting nice pressure on the ball, but he’s not always equally intensive and aggressive. In line with what his team Roanne shows as a whole, there’s often not much emphasis on the defensive end. Being so small, it’s pretty easy for him to come up with steals attacking his opponent’s dribble, especially in defensive rotations. On the other hand, he struggles mightily contesting shots or in any kind of post play, while his presence provides some relief to the opponents’ passing lanes.

Probably not a serious draft prospect, still born in 1987, Pellin could make a very nice living in Europe. In an age where size is becoming a trend at the point guard position (Papaloukas and Diamantidis rule in the Euroleague, while Rubio and Teodosic are the most promising youngsters), he certainly has things to offer despite his lack of size.

A Look at… Serge Ibaka

We had the chance to take another look at Serge Ibaka this past weekend, as his team faced Plus Pujol Lleida. The African power forward had a so-so game, eventually enforcing our previous opinion on him. His statistical effort was in the line with what he’s used to deliver, in the neighborhood of double digits both in points and rebounds. 9 points and 10 rebounds this time (he averages 10.1 points and 8.4 captures in 26 minutes per game), although he went bananas in the shot-blocking department, with 7 rejections.

The sick athleticism that Ibaka enjoys is well known at this point, but still his leaping efforts leave your jaw on the floor every time he tries at full intensity. Several of those 7 blocks came after amazing take-offs, often coming from behind a guy who was trying to finish near the rim (like in the photograph below). With his reactivity and length, he’s a constant menace for his opponents. But it was not only a matter of flashy efforts, as he did a good job on his match-up. Ibaka’s lateral quickness is not outstanding (certainly not enough for a hypothetical SF future that doesn’t seem probable at all), and even if he gets surpassed by a rival, he annoys him with his length, so he ends up being pretty effective. On the other hand, he needs to work on his team defense, improving his decision making when it comes to playing in the half-court. But still, you can eventually see him going for a rotation and flying back to his match-up in time to contest a shot that looked open a second before. All in all, his defensive potential is excellent, and we’re not necessarily talking about just the long-term future.


On the offensive end it’s another story, and Ibaka’s limitations become much more evident. For starters, he’s living off his jumper, which is not even that consistent at this point. His mechanics are not very orthodox, lacking some fluidity and quickness on the release. He can keep roaming after setting a pick or just wait until his match-up goes for a defensive rotation and leaves him open, usually firing from the 13-19 feet range. Still, he does enjoy three-point range, and actually he scored in this game one of the lone two treys he has netted so far this season. Besides, his low-post game is usually resolved also with a jumper, in turnaround fashion. His footwork is visibly limited, and he doesn’t seem to enjoy any kind of reliable jump-hook.

We’re yet to see him attacking a match-up off the dribble. In this game, he did penetrate once, but only after his match-up gambled for a steal and left him open to go inside; he was about 26 feet away from the basket, and only needed one dribble to leave a layup right over the rim. Anyway, his ball-handling still don’t look ready to be seriously contested.

Given Ibaka’s style of play, his movement without the ball becomes very important in order for him to be productive on the offensive end. However, he’s not the most active guy in this department, especially deep into the game, and neither is he the brightest. It’s not common to see him gaining his opponent’s back, cashing in off a defensive rotation near the basket or receiving the ball after a pick-and-roll play. He doesn’t seem to display the best timing filling spaces on the court.

A good rebounder, he relies heavily on his athletic gifts and length, but still could make some strides with better work on the ground, while also better measuring the tempo of his efforts. Anyway, he also gets some scoring production just by attacking the offensive glass in search of put-backs.

It’s easy to figure out that there’s still a pretty long way for Ibaka to go. He’s still a player in the making, while it’s not that easy to predict how quickly or successfully he will be able to overcome his flaws. Draft-wise, his physical-athletic profile alone will draw very serious attention even in the short term. As long as he can defend and intimidate, knock down open shots and score some garbage points, he’s almost a lock for the first round. But in order to become a big-time prospect, he will need to show something more, and probably to remain in Europe for a bit longer.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Hot

Omer Asik made a very serious run at the Player of the Week nomination with his monster game against Efes Pilsen: 25 points, 14 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals to lead Alpella over the Turkish powerhouse. Impressive.

Nikola Pekovic was another runner-up after his terrific performances in both the Euroleague and Adriatic League. 26 points and 6 rebounds in a painful home loss against Fenerbahce, and 33 points, 11 rebounds and 2 assists in an expected victory against Split, complete an unmatched statistical effort.

Danilo Gallinari is delivering go-to performances for Armani Jeans Milano on a regular basis, and this past week he led his team to two consecutive victories. In the Euroleague, he had 15 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists against Le Mans, in a performance already glossed over by Jonathan Givony. Gallinari continued in the Italian league with 22 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks against La Fortezza Bologna. He currently ranks 6th in efficiency in the domestic competition.

Anton Ponkrashov emerged as the hero in the very tough ULEB Cup game that pitted Khimki against Pamesa Valencia. Not only did he score 24 points, staying almost perfect from the field, also with 2 rebounds and 4 assists to add to his stat-sheet, but he connected an incredible buzzer-beating three pointer that brought the victory to his team.

Nicolas Batum redeemed himself in the domestic league after his disappointing Euroleague showdown against Gallinari. He played the full game against Nancy to end up with 25 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists and lead Le Mans to the victory. Again, check Jonathan Givony’s blog for more details on the game.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Not

Nikita Shabalkin has combined for only 10 points and 4 rebounds in the last four games he has played in the Russian Superleague and ULEB Cup. He currently averages 4 points and 1.4 rebounds in 10 minutes of playing time in the ULEB Cup, going for 4.8 points and 2.1 rebounds again in 10 minutes in the domestic competition. That’s certainly very far from his excellent production last season with Samara, nothing to do for example with the 22.5 points and 7.3 rebounds he averaged in the FIBA EuroCup Challenge. But of course, Samara is far below the level of Khimki (which also reflects the disparity you can find in the Russian Superleague), and the EuroCup Challenge has nothing to do with the ULEB Cup. Still, it’s disappointing coming from a guy who made the Russian National Team (although it also tells you how shallow the current pool of Russian players is.)

Rounding Up…

It’s not every day that you see a 16 year-old (not named Ricky Rubio) having any kind of significant role in a high-level competition. This past week Toni Prostran showed up for Zadar with 12 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in just 15 minutes of playing time, making his modest contribution to an easy victory in the ULEB Cup against Strasbourg.

Prostran, a tiny and very active point guard standing around six-feet tall, blossomed this past summer in the U-16 European Championship, clinching a spot on the all-tournament team along with the likes of Dejan Musli, Nicolo Melli and Alberto Jodar, and becoming the best scorer of the competition, especially thanks to his perimeter stroke. He’s a pretty good shooter with nice range and off-the-dribble skills. It was his long-range shooting that provided Prostran with his points for Zadar, as he connected on 4 out of 5 attempts from the arc.

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