Scouting the NBA Free Agents at the 2008 Copa del Rey

Scouting the NBA Free Agents at the 2008 Copa del Rey
Feb 20, 2008, 03:59 am
Scouting the NBA Rights-Held Players at the 2008 Copa del Rey
Scouting the NBA Draft Prospects at the 2008 Copa del Rey

Marcus Haislip, 6-10, Power Forward, Unicaja Malaga, 1980

Jonathan Givony

Although his team made a quick exit after losing in the first day, the glimpses Marcus Haislip dropped were probably enough to show once again that we’re looking at an NBA player playing in Europe. Freakishly athletic, and getting more versatile offensively by the day, Haislip is incredibly talented, and still seemingly has room to continue to improve over the next few years. He has excellent physical tools—long arms, a nice frame, excellent quickness and amazing leaping ability—combined with a very intriguing package of offensive skills.

Haislip put a great deal of pressure on the defense with his overwhelming quickness in the post, which helps him draw plenty of fouls. He can put the ball on the floor from varying distances, being extremely difficult for power forwards to stay in front of due to his terrific first step. He can also shoot the ball relatively well, either stepping out from behind the arc, or pulling up off the dribble—elevating off the floor like a wing player, which when combined with his extremely high release point, makes him very difficult to contest. He can also get points in transition, cutting off the ball, or by making a simple catch in the post and exploding off the ground from a stand-still position and emphatic jam.

With that said, there is surely a reason why Haislip had to take the route he did-- from being a lottery pick out of college, to a complete bust in the NBA, to playing in Turkey over the past two years, to here. His decision making skills and overall feel for the game still haven’t caught up with his terrific physical tools, even if the gap has clearly narrowed over the past few years. He’s not the most fundamentally sound player in the world (again, often relying excessively on his athleticism)—his back to the basket skills are underdeveloped, his shot-selection is poor (particularly from the perimeter in the form of wild and untimely pull-up jumpers), he’s not much of a passer, and he is prone to mental lapses on the defensive end. He’ll follow up two spectacular plays with a bone-headed one, and obviously needs to play with a great point guard (preferably an up-tempo one) to fully maximize his skill-set.

With that said, there are plenty of players in the NBA who we can say the same exact things about…and most of them aren’t 6-10 and freakishly athletic like he is. Look for some smart team to step up to the plate this summer and offer him a deal starting somewhere around the lower level exception.

Felipe Reyes, 6-8, Power Forward, Real Madrid, 1980

Luis Fernandez

A very solid inside presence for Real Madrid as usual, the hustling Reyes couldn't become a big factor for his team in order to help them win it all.

Usually matching-up against taller guys, Reyes is an extremely physical player who constantly pushes and battles to gain the position he wants on court. He's a pretty good player off the ball and understands where he needs to be in order to provide the most damage to the opposing team. He's an insatiable rebounder, as he proved in the semifinal, who displays the positioning and desire to come away with plenty of captures on a daily basis.

It's a pretty difficult task to make Reyes feel intimidated. We saw him throwing himself against two seven-footers in the low post during the semifinal, using his body as a sort of screen in order to release his right-handed jump-hook. Anyway, he did struggle a little bit to remain effective against the opposing towers. He's a bit predictable in the low post, usually looking for the right side to finish with his right hand. But he’s the kind of guy with a knack to find the way to get the job done. Against much bigger opponents, he likes to take them outside the paint with mid-range jumpers, an ability he has nicely developed for some years now, and that he put on display in the Copa, although perhaps not as much as in past occasions. He’s very effective setting picks and rolling towards the rim, attacking the basket rather aggressively.

On defense he's, again, a physical guy who also shows excellent mobility, but he often suffers from his size disadvantage, especially since he spent many minutes playing center in this Copa.

A potentially useful player in the NBA, Reyes is already a star in the ACB League, and nobody will match the kind of money he can make in the Old Continent.

Marcelo Huertas, 6-1, Point Guard, Bilbao Basket, 1983

Jonathan Givony

This season has been somewhat of a coming out party for the former draft prospect and Brazilian national team point guard, stuck as a backup for the past few seasons in Joventut, but now in the midst of a renaissance as the catalyst of the most surprising team in the ACB. Huertas had one of the best individual performances over the entire weekend in a win against Barcelona, and then had a much weaker showing in the semifinals against Tau. It’s very clear that Bilbao only goes as far as he’ll lead them, as everything starts and ends with him offensively, which makes their terrific record this season (currently tied for second place in the league) that much more impressive.

Huertas is a small and skinny point guard, with solid quickness, excellent ball-handling skills, and the ability to change speeds on the fly and get to the basket at a very nice rate. Once known as a fairly wild player (like many Brazilian guards), Huertas has matured over the last few years, and now looks much more patient and under control, making excellent decisions on the pick and roll in particular, getting everyone on his team involved unselfishly (in a variety of ways), pushing the ball up the floor well, showing excellent court vision, and also being able to score the ball himself when things broke down offensively. He has a nice mid-range game, and is a decent shooter from 3-point range, nothing spectacular (his release is not very quick), but enough to keep defenses honest and prevent them from going underneath screens on the pick and roll.

Defensively, Huertas struggles to a certain extent, as he lacks great physical tools in this department, with his average size, skinny frame, and extremely short arms—which hurts his upside as far as the NBA is concerned. His lateral quickness is not the best either, and he seems to struggle in particular defending the pick and roll, as he lacks the strength to fight through screens at times.

Huertas is likely in the right spot in the ACB as far as his talent is concerned. If he continues to improve at the same rate next season, he might be able to reach an even higher level (ie: the NBA) down the road, but that might not be very realistic. Joventut apparently still owns his rights, and it wouldn’t surprise us to see him back there next season.

Mirza Teletovic, 6-8, Power Forward, Tau Vitoria, 1985

Mirza Teletovic was on the verge of becoming the hero of the Copa. A superb run of 11 points (including three treys) in the last five minutes of the final, right when his team was struggling the most against the Joventut’s zone, kept Tau alive in the game until the very last second, and Mirza himself even had a winning shot in his hands, but missed it. Ironically, without this final effort, we would be talking about a completely forgettable performance.

With James Singleton injured in the preseason, Teletovic has seen his role on the team and his playing time significantly increased, and he has answered with a much more consistent playing level than he had delivered in the previous season. Improved in rebounding, trying to come up a bit more versatile and aggressive on the offensive end (with cuts towards the basket, and some low-post production), we missed all these ingredients in the Copa. The Bosnian was again the same limited power forward that hurts the defensive rebounding effort of his team (only 4 captures on his own board during the 75 minutes he played), and settles excessively for three-point shots (27 out of his 36 points came from the arc).

On defense, Teletovic also struggled defending the low post, as he’s a bit of an undersized frontcourt player, and doesn’t always work hard enough to keep his opponents out of the lane.

He’s a nice player for Europe, but performances like the one delivered in this Copa make you wonder if he’s really good enough to start for a team as demanding as Tau. Anyway, if Singleton manages to come back in good shape, he will be likely be relegated back to the bench.

Boniface NDong, 7-1, Center, Unicaja Malaga, 1977

Jonathan Givony

Boniface Ndong is just another in a long line of examples showing that some players just don’t start to scratch the full surface on their full potential until much later in their careers compared with others. At the tender age of 30, Ndong is playing the best basketball of his career, and looks like an incredibly useful player to have on both ends of the court. We’ve followed him with a lot of interest after he seemingly came out of nowhere and had a terrific showing in the Vegas Summer League in 2005, and he only seems to be improving every year ever since.

7-1, with a skinny frame and super long arms, N’Dong is a mobile big man who uses his physical tools to the fullest. He brings great energy to the floor with his excellent activity level, capable of changing and blocking shots in the paint, either on the ball or off it, and always looking to make a positive impact for his team. He’s no offensive juggernaut, but still has some basic skills on this end—a nice turnaround jumper, some simple moves in the post (nothing extraordinary), a solid looking jump-hook, and even a mid-range jumper he can hit all the way out to 18 feet. He’s a team player, not incredibly fluid or coordinated, but still smart and energetic enough to get the job done. His lack of strength hinders him from being a great finisher around the basket, though, and he’s not terribly quick defending the pick and roll out on the perimeter.

With his size, length and the variety of things he brings to the floor, Ndong could easily be a backup in the NBA, if he so desired. The problem is that it’s not quite clear how much sense that would make for him, considering that he’s making much more than the NBA league minimum, and is also doing so living in paradise (Malaga), while contributing heavily to a solid Euroleague team.

Igor Rakocevic, 6-3, Shooting Guard, Tau Vitoria, 1978

The perennial offensive spark for Tau, Rakocevic is always ready to take over the scoring load of his team, although he’s not always equally successful in the process. In the Copa, he came up as the most consistent scorer, showcasing his ability to put the ball in the net.

An undersized shooting guard, Rakocevic relies on his quickness and his off-the-dribble shooting skills to get the job done. He enjoys a pretty effective pull-up jumper he that he releases from a high vantage point thanks to his leaping ability, which paired with his quickness (he enjoys a very good first step), allows him to fairly easily create his own shot at this level. He’s pretty incisive and rather aggressive in his offensive approach, using his long strides (he’s almost like a triple jumper) to split defenses in search of the basket, while he can get really hot from the field. Although he didn’t display any huge scoring outbursts in the Copa, he delivered his usual amount of shots and moves. On the negative side, Rakocevic doesn’t enjoy a great basketball IQ, ending up forcing situations and hurting the global offensive flow of the team.

Despite playing on strong teams ever since coming to the ACB League in 2004, he’s yet to win any significant title, and this Copa was been no exception for him.

Will McDonald, 6-10, Center, Tau Vitoria, 1979

Jonathan Givony

This was not a great weekend for Tau Vitoria big man Will McDonald, who is stuck sharing minutes at the center position this season with one of the best big men in Europe in Tiago Splitter.

McDonald is an old-school, back to the basket center—a rare commodity in Europe these days. He has a big body, excellent hands, terrific touch, and plenty of moves in the post, where he gets most of his production. He can pass the ball out of double teams fairly well, and can also step out and hit a 17-foot jumper. He seems to be a solid rebounder as well, going out of his area on a few occasions.

A below average athlete by NBA standards (his quickness and leaping ability are nothing to write home about), and also somewhat undersized for the center position, McDonald is probably right at home where he is in the Euroleague at the moment. He doesn’t seem to be in the greatest shape either, and that hurts his ability on the defensive end as well. He struggled getting out to defend the perimeter, and his heavy feet don’t do him any favors trying to rotate over in the post or stay in front of quicker big men playing man to man D.

With that said, there’s a lot to be said for having a big man on the floor who you can throw the ball to inside and ask to create offense, which is exactly what McDonald can do. That’s why he’ll always draw a nice paycheck in Europe, and will likely continue to do so at the very highest levels. Could he play in the NBA for the league minimum? Probably, since he isn’t any worse than a Marc Jackson or someone similar who did so for years.

Mario Kasun, 6-11, Center, Barcelona, 1980

After last year’s struggles in F.C.Barcelona, the Croatian center seems to be faring a little better –although never free of great inconsistency- now that he has a real distributing point guard –Pepe Sanchez- on his side. He’s much more of a finisher than a guy capable of creating his own opportunities, so he badly needed someone to set him up for good position facing the basket in order to take advantage of his excellent abilities finishing around the rim.

The Copa didn’t come in the best moment for him. He had a heart problem a couple of weeks ago and this was his initial comeback. Besides, with Bilbao displaying an excellent defense that never allowed the ball to flow for Barcelona, Kasun didn’t find many chances to produce, anyway failing a couple of continuations with his left hand. Of course, he didn’t miss his usual rendezvous with foul trouble, collecting a couple in the 4 minutes he spent on the court.

Gabe Muoneke, 6-7, SF/PF, Tau Vitoria, 1978

Jonathan Givony

Gabe Muoneke came off the bench to give Tau Vitoria some solid minutes in all three of their games here, only recently having joined them after being bought out of the D-League. He plays the power forward position primarily, and seems like a nice piece for them to have, even if they don’t give him much of a chance to show off his offensive ability. He made some big plays for them in the quarterfinals against Malaga especially, hitting an important 3-pointer on one end with 1:30 left, then taking a big rebound on the defensive end, and knocking down both free throws after getting fouled.

We’re talking about a solidly built combo forward--long, extremely physical, decently athletic, who does good work banging inside, is a terrific rebounder for his size, and can also step out and knock down a 3-pointer. He’s a smart player, unselfish in his passing—he seems to have adapted to European basketball fairly quickly, and to his credit, did not take any bad shots. He’s also a pretty good defender (mostly guarding PFs), even if he sometimes gets carried away on this end of the court.

Muoneke walks a fine line between hustling and provocation, and he got called for one momentum swinging intentional foul in the final that ended up as a 4 point play that really hurt his team when it was all said and done. His body language seems a bit questionable at times, questioning his teammates with his gestures, dismissing the referees, getting very down on himself after missing a shot, and generally looking pretty unpredictable. He’s a solid player for Europe, but probably not enough of a true small forward for the NBA, as his ball-handling skills are average, and his lateral quickness probably not good enough to defend the perimeter.

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