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The European Junior (U-18) Championships: The Point Guards

The European Junior (U-18) Championships: The Point Guards
Aug 15, 2005, 05:02 am
Last year, in Zaragoza, we saw the Junior Championship tyrannized by Sergio Rodríguez, a player who displayed most of the best playmaking virtues seen there. On the contrary, and for our pleasure, this year we had a very nice bunch of true distributors whose game went beyond the typical drive and dish movement, a skill from which many current points can’t escape.

More coverage from Belgrade:

European Junior Championships Recap One

European Junior Championships Recap Two

European Junior Championships: The Centers

European Junior Championships: The Power Forwards

European Junior Championships: The Small Forwards

European Junior Championships: The Shooting Guards

All photos provided by FIBA Europe’s excellent official website


ALEKSANDAR UGRINOSKI
Croatia; 1988; 6-4; PG; 29.5 mpg, 11.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 4.9 apg


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While there are no sure things in the 1988 crop, among this class Ugrinoski could very well be the most talented player seen here. Enjoying awesome skills for a playmaker, he features the physical tools to eventually deal with a high level of competition. At 6-4 he has the right size, while displaying good enough athleticism and particularly nice quickness.

Once we stop worrying about his physical gifts, what separates Ugrinoski from your everyday playmaker is his awesome ability to pass the ball, unmatched if we talk about kids seen in Belgrade (he was second only to Ohayon in this department statistically, although first in assists per minute). Perhaps where he stands out more is driving and dishing. He has good handles and the quickness to beat his matchup, forcing a defensive rotation and feeding a teammate to perfection. Besides, he can also see the pass from the perimeter without having to necessarily dribble past his defender first, finding the open man or rewarding a cutting movement from a teammate. It’s a bit of the same story in transition, showing a natural ability to find a good pass.

There are shortcomings too, of course. Aleksandar is a streaky shooter. He fails to nail his jumpers on a regular basis, although he shows good mechanics, range and the ability to deliver his shots off the dribble. Indeed, there’s nothing significantly wrong with his jumper, so there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to improve in this department with the proper work.

However, the biggest issue Ugrinoski has to face is his general consistency. He doesn’t always make the best decisions available to him, sometimes falling to establish the right offensive pace or forcing plays to the point that a few times his team fared better with him on the bench. Considering that he’s very young, a 1988 player, you shouldn’t expect a kid like him to play like a veteran, and he certainly has time to learn. Also, he doesn’t look particularly skilled finishing around the basket against opposition, also not looking too comfortable using his left hand in those situations.

It doesn’t matter that much. If Ugrinoski is serious about the game and works hard enough, he should develop into an excellent playmaker who is ready to step onto any basketball court, no matter the level.





MILOS TEODOSIC
Serbia and Montenegro; 1987; 6-5; PG; 28.3 mpg, 8.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.1 spg


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Teodosic is another member of the great 1987 Serbian generation that astonished the audience in the European Cadet Championship in Rivas at the U-16’s two years ago. Last year, he saw his mates Aleksandrov, Labovic, Mijatovic and Tepic being called for the junior team while he was left out. This year he was back as one of the team leaders.

Milos is a tall point guard with excellent distributing skills and a dangerous perimeter stroke. He shows a special poise in his game, as if he has everything under control. He proved to be a very good passer, creative, rewarding cutters and finding the open man anywhere, even with awesome vertical dishes in the set offense. He indeed finished the tournament third in assists. Still, in a few situations he was a bit too creative, risking the possession in the hunt for an extremely complicated passing angle. Anyway, his court vision is remarkable, being able to see the pass very quickly, which allows him to enjoy an excellent tempo in his dishes.

Unlike many point guards, he’s more of a perimeter distributor than a drive-and-dish guy. Milos is not particularly athletic, not showing great quickness, and despite featuring nice ball-handling skills, he doesn’t beat his defenders off the dribble as easy as some of his playmaking colleagues do. He usually tries to take advantage of screens or situations when his defender is unbalanced, which he can get with the mere threat of his outside shot. This is one of his biggest flaws when talking about his NBA potential.

That’s a big reason why the three-point shot is his main scoring threat. In Belgrade, Milos shot beyond the arc almost twice as much as he did from inside. It’s not only a matter of showing a great stroke from downtown; he has the ability to fire off the dribble without losing too much accuracy and in a fairly quick movement as well. He enjoys good mechanics and it looks like the jumper is going to be an extremely important weapon in his future career.

The quickness issue is translated to the defensive end. He suffers keeping up with quicker guards, sometimes being assigned on defense in this tournament to guard wing players instead.

However, as concerning as his weaknesses might look, we have in Teodosic a real basketball player, a guy who knows the game and features skills which are becoming rarer every day (as strange as it might sound) such as shooting or passing, while displaying a great mind playing like a vet on the floor, taking care of the game’s rhythm or assuming responsibilities down the stretch. Besides, being 6-5, perhaps near 6-6, he can be used as a combo guard.

Next season, with last year’s starting point guard Bojan Popovic out of Reflex, he should enjoy many chances to prove himself in senior competition, sharing the floor with fellow young teammates Nemanja Aleksandrov and Dragan Labovic.





NENAD MIJATOVIC
Serbia and Montenegro; 1987; 6-4; PG; 26.4 mpg, 9.4 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.6 spg


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Lights and shadows for Mijatovic in this tournament. He did a nice job in the first games, but unfortunately got injured in the quarterfinal round, remaining sidelined for the rest of the championship. For Nenad, the worst thing is that Serbia and Montenegro didn’t miss him, actually delivering their best games without his participation. However, he did play at a good level in this tournament, even if he hasn’t evolved too much towards the more distributing playmaking model he should be chasing.

With Mijatovic you have an excellent physical and athletic profile. At 6-4, he’s a tall and very quick point guard who shouldn’t have troubles in this department at any level of play. But when it comes to his playmaking skills, it’s another story. Nenad is a scoring type of guard rather than a distributor. Indeed he played shooting guard in many stretches of the game, whenever he shared the court with Milos Teodosic.

His offensive virtues rely on improvements in his shooting ability and especially in his one-on-one game. This allows him to be a nice slashing threat, although where Mijatovic really excels is in transition, being almost unstoppable in this area, as he knows how to effectively finish himself using his quickness and athleticism, and is also capable of passing the ball if necessary.

Going back to his set-offense strengths, his jumper is gaining consistency, which seems logical considering his good mechanics, and he can make it off the dribble. This skill is rather important for him considering his ability to beat his matchup, using his quickness, solid ball-handling skills and good first step, and generating in the process many shooting opportunities in the mid-range area which he can use with a fair chance of success.

If we talk about passing the ball, it’s using his slashing game where he finds the best options. Otherwise, he’s rather a discrete passer. Not a true distributor, neither is he a floor general for his team at the moment, although he’s playing more under control than he used to, making better decisions when they come to him.

Defensively, he was perhaps the best point guard of the tournament. His quickness is perfectly translated to his lateral movement, keeping his body really low and close to his matchup, annoying him. He’s a hard defender to beat.

Mijatovic still looks like an intriguing prospect, but needs to start addressing his distributing flaws. However, his skills might look more NBA-friendly than other better playmakers; for example, his teammate Teodosic himself. Milos probably looks like a much better bet for Europe at the moment, but Mijatovic likely features more potential for the American league. Hopefully, he’ll enjoy an important role next season in Buducnost, now that Koljevic is out of the picture, which will give Mijatovic the chance to learn from experience playing at a high level.





YOGEV OHAYON
Israel; 1987; 6-2; PG; 35.4 mpg, 11.9 ppg, 5 rpg, 5.1 apg, 2.1 spg


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Most basketball fans, and you can count me among them, greatly value players who are capable of creating offense for their teammates. It’s the beauty of this game, a team sport where the strength of a squad should be greater than the simple addition of the individual members. Ohayon is a perfect example of a distributing point guard who is capable of making that kind of equation possible. It was becoming rarer in basketball to see players developing in this direction for a while, but a bit en vogue now that Steve Nash is showing what this kind of player can mean to a team.

Being a left-handed player that shows a special flair and poise evolving on the court, sometimes reminding style-wise a bit of other lefties such as Pepe Sánchez, Yogev Ohayon is an excellent ball distributor, a consummated passer with great court vision and good decision making skills. The kind of player you want running your team’s offense. He topped the assist rank in Belgrade.

Perhaps Yogev isn’t the quickest or most explosive player seen here, but the decent athleticism he features is maximized with his excellent footwork and ball-handling skills. He’s able to beat his matchup off the dribble and easily reach the proximities of the rim, using direction changes, even reverse movements in traffic, and a low dribble which he always keeps balanced. Once the opposing team’s defensive structure is broken, he easily feeds the open man, or delivers a mid-range jumper. Even if this is his specialty, he’s not only an off-the-dribble creator, as he can find a good option from the perimeter as well. He’s equally reliable on the break, always looking to secure the two points with simple, but effective passes.

He’s more limited as a scorer. Not enjoying great size, he has trouble finishing near the basket against opposition. Perhaps he lacks a bit of a soft touch to try more elaborate layups. Besides, he’s still not reliable shooting off the dribble, increasing his accuracy significantly in static situations. Anyway, his mechanics are pretty nice, even if his release is a bit slow.

On defense, he features rather good lateral mobility, although perhaps he lacks a bit of explosiveness in the first reaction, which makes him suffer at times against the quickest guards.

All in all, he’s not the prototypical player that a league like the NBA looks for, as the first cut is usually made based on certain physical and athletic requirements that Yogev may be missing at the moment. For the European competition, he seems to have a bright future, and his talent could carry him even further with the proper work and development.





ARTUR URAZMANOV
Russia; 1987; 6-1; PG; 29.3 mpg, 9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.9 apg, 2.3 spg


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It wasn’t a bad tournament for this very athletic point guard, as Urazmanov looked more under control than he did in L’Hospitalet. It’s pretty logical, though. He’s a guy that loves to perform flashy moves and leave the audiences mouth open, and with CSKA’s dictatorial domination in that tournament, it was just for what he devoted his game. But here was a totally different story, with very serious rivals, and Artur focused on doing the basics.

It’s pretty obvious that Urazmanov is not the best distributor around. On the contrary, his athleticism is what makes him special among the international playmaking crop. Urazmanov has explosive legs that he translates into very good quickness and an excellent vertical leap. Otherwise, we would be talking about a rather limited player, as his size isn’t particularly remarkable.

Featuring nice handles, better with his right, a big chunk of his skills are delivered off the dribble, as it’s quite difficult to contain him given his quickness. It’s in these situations when he feels more comfortable handing out a good pass, or delivering a mid-ranger with some accuracy. Further, from the perimeter, his jumper is still very inconsistent.

On defense, he shouldn’t have problems given his athleticism, but he didn’t always deliver his best effort in Belgrade, and was eventually beaten by some rivals.

Something you could miss in Artur’s game is more leadership on the court, more ability to take his team’s offensive game on his shoulders when it’s needed. Russia was a volatile team at times, and not being able to make the semifinals for a squad as talented as this one can’t be considered anything but a failure. In these circumstances, when things got ugly, Urazmanov wasn’t able to step up and assume more responsibilities to lead his team back to the games. Although inconsistently, his teammate Korolev was more successful here.

Being 6-1, Artur will clearly need more than athleticism to become a top player at his position.





Honorable Mention:

Zydrunas Kelys, a 6-2 point guard with good wingspan, deserves mention. The first thing that catches your attention in this Lithuanian is his impressive quickness, which was unmatched in this championship. To go along with this intriguing characteristic, he delivers quite a wild style in his game, rarely playing under control. He has nice ball-handling skills, so he’s obviously very hard to contain for his defenders. Not featuring remarkable court vision, he’s not a bad passer either, being able to dish off the dribble but also aware of his options from the perimeter. However, his poor decision making skills limited his production here. He can also shoot the ball with good range, but he’s not consistent at this point.

Despite being several steps behind the best point guards seen in Belgrade, Kelys could make huge strides if his game matures to minimize his flaws. Physically, he’s still rather underdeveloped, showing quite a skinny body even for his age. All in all, Kelys is clearly a name to keep under the radar for the moment.

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