Part One: U-18 European Championships Prospects: Point Guards
Its time for the wing players in this player-by-player recap of the 2006 European U-18 Championships. This edition hasnt been too prolific in terms of promising shooting guards; thats why well deal with both wing positions together in the same article. Still, the small forward spot features some of the most intriguing prospects seen in the tournament (even with top-prospects Gallinari and Keselj out of the competition), all led by tournament MVP Nicolas Batum.
France, SF, 6-8, 12/14/1988; 14.3 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 1.9 apg
It all starts with his impressive physical and athletic set. At 6-8 and enjoying a nice wingspan, hes quite long for a wing player. His frame is excellent; he already shows good strength, in line from what is expected for a 17-year-old player if not more, but theres also room for a lot of development. Its obvious that he has improved his body from last year, but hes not done by any means. In terms of athleticism, hes an extremely gifted guy. Hes quick, but especially a remarkable leaper, being able to perform some jaw dropping dunks.
But the real intrigue hits when you match that physical and athletic profile with his splendid skill set. Hes very fundamentally sound, dominating the basics of the game. Almost unstoppable going one on one, Batum enjoy excellent ball-handling skills and a very good first step, while he easily reaches the paint with his quickness and nice footwork, including fakes or reverses. His athleticism and body control allows him to easily finish around the basket, either with layups or dunks, while sometimes using physical contact with his rivals to gain room. He also has the ability to effectively dish the ball off his drives, showing nice court vision and good decision making, as he very rarely forces his actions.
Batum didnt show the best accuracy shooting the ball in this tournament, but you can see he has the mechanics and the touch to be productive in this area. He enjoys three-point range, can easily shoot off the dribble, and shows a high release point that is quite difficult to contest. His wide offensive repertoire also includes some low post skills, nothing too fancy, but solid enough to cash in near the basket off smaller defenders.
On defense, he has all the tools to be more than effective: athleticism, lateral quickness, length, reactivity and some strength. He just should join the list of terrific defenders that France is producing lately. As a side note, he did deliver a few spectacular blocks, on the help and also in defensive transitions. He also did work in the rebounding department, staying aggressive in the offensive board.
All in all, its an extremely intriguing package of physical exuberance and abilities that should allow him to consistently dominate games. Still, it doesnt happen. Batum is not a selfish player at all, sometimes to a fault, and for some stretches you might not even feel his presence on the court. He did try to take over the game against Iceland, but it was late and the difference too big to swallow. It was like a last-try effort, as France had miserably failed anything they tried to come back in the score. In other difficult situations, he didnt show up as much as desired. Its something Batum should work on; hes a guy that should emerge in a more prominent role, not necessarily taking more shots, but taking more decisions with the ball.
Under contract with Le Mans for three seasons, we will be able to see Batum this upcoming campaign competing against the cream of international basketball in the Euroleague.
Spain, SF, 6-9, 08/30/1988; 14.4 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.3 spg, 1.3 bpg
Claver symbolizes like anybody else in the Spanish team the excellent work done by the coaching staff regarding mental preparation, and indeed some of that preparation was specific for him. For our loyal readers, it was no secret that they guy was a very talented player with excellent potential, but there were always doubts about his competitiveness, aggressiveness, and character on court. A good example was his defense. Before this tournament, he had never looked really intense and aggressive. Particularly his team defense was rather poor. In Greece, besides his nice man-to-man defense showing good lateral quickness, he has been very active chasing his matchup, helping his teammates, staying alert to the passing lines, even if he sometimes struggled a little bit defending the low post against true inside players.
After all, Claver has played all tournament long as a power forward, were he took advantage of his ridiculously superior quickness and impressive first step. Enjoying nice ball-handling skills, he just blows by his defender attacking with either hand to look for the basket. He doesnt like to force his slashing attempts, and usually waits until the ball movement unbalances his defender, but he can beat perimeter guys in pure one-on-one settings. Once hes in motion towards the basket, there arise some possibilities, always considering his limitations. These limitations are a poor use of his left hand to finish around the basket (indeed, if he attacks his rival from his left, he will try to change directions to regain the right), little creativeness with his right hand to perform anything else than a rather orthodox layup and some certain problems to properly release the ball after contacting a rival. So, his usual options are to look for the rim with his right-handed layups or with remarkable dunks (a guy of his size and athleticism looks quite spectacular attacking the rim). He can also search for a teammate if he doesnt see a clear option to go all the way to the basket, showing nice passing ability and decision making, something that he also delivers moving the ball in the perimeter.
Another possibility, not frequent though, he has in his slashing repertoire is to release an off-the-dribble mid-range jumper. Claver has quite a solid stroke with good range, out to the international three-point range, although hes not an automatic shooter. He is capable of fading away a bit in order to gain room for the shot, although he loses almost all his accuracy with a rival right by him. His mechanics are nice, although with average quickness releasing the ball.
Also in this tournament we saw him take advantage of his size in the low post against smaller matchups, just with simple moves to release the ball over his rival. This was a glaring miss for him in previous events, but a very useful skill for a 6-9 small forward.
Claver has now a three-year deal signed with Pamesa Valencia, reportedly worth around 1 million euros, and he will play in the ACB League next season. We dont expect a big impact; the setting is too demanding and Claver might not be the type of player with that fearless attitude in order to shine so soon surrounded by veteran established men on a demanding team. However, the talent is there and so is his apparently more aggressive character (was it a midsummer nights dream or will we keep seeing that new character in the future?), so anything is possible.
Israel, SF, 6-8, 06/22/1988; 21.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.9 spg
He now looks like much more of a natural perimeter player than last year. He might still not be a top-notch athlete, he might still suffer defensively against quick wings, but his skill set has evolved in the right direction. Its really remarkable his ability to step into the lane dribbling past his defender. Showing very nice ball-handling skills, including a very effective crossover move, he gets by his rival after unbalancing him. But he also shows a nice first step and very good footwork to approach the basket, while his size, strength, body control and ability to convert layups do the rest. Those skills wouldnt mean that much without the confidence and aggressiveness he shows (he eventually looks for contact penetrating), which make him succeed on a regular basis attacking the basket.
Although still inconsistent, his jumper is another source of consistent and versatile production. Casspi enjoys a wide array of releasing options, including range out to the three-point line, off-the-dribble skills, fade-away fashion, nice catch-and-shoot ability coming off a cut or the step-back jumper. However, and especially when shooting from the perimeter, his mechanics still could use some more consistency that would significantly help his accuracy. From mid-range distance, he sometimes knocks down shots so confidently and well-executed that you think he could never miss. He can eventually take advantage of his size and good strength in the low post against smaller defenders, even showing a decent semi-hook shot.
A smart player with a good feel for the game, he easily finds his teammates on the court beyond finding his own scoring options. Intense, aggressive, he shows plenty of character playing the game. He works well on defense and stays alert to the passing lines, although his lateral quickness is just average for a small forward, drawing concerns about his ability to stay in front of quick wings. A nice rebounder, he uses his length, strength and athleticism well. All in all, hes a guy willing to do the little obscure things. Pair these characteristics with his skill set, and we have a guy set to succeed at least at the European stage.
Croatia, SG/SF, 6-7, 04/18/1989; 8.8 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.3 apg
Regardless of that average quickness, he has some decent athleticism, showing a solid vertical even if he lacks some explosiveness. After all, hes still a bit skinny, although shows a nice frame in a body that looks potentially perfect for a shooting guard, perhaps even accurate for a small forward.
Anyway, its not his body that he primarily uses to display his game. Indeed, Bogdanovic is not too effective at the moment when attempting to draw contact from a rival. Instead, he uses excellent footwork to drive in traffic without bumping into rivals, while he enjoys a good first step and the ball-handling skills to beat his matchup. He has nice ability to finish near the rim, especially using the glass, although he rarely releases the ball with his left hand. Bogdanovic has a decent stroke with range out to the three point line. Although his mechanics might need some refinement (they are not steady), you get the feeling that he might evolve into a solid shooter in the future.
Bojan is more of a scorer than anything else, but still he passed the ball a little better than expected, particularly in drive and dish situations. On defense, he shows solid lateral quickness, although he probably cant keep up with quicker shooting guards at the moment.
A first-year player at the U-18s, his performance wasnt that bad considering his youth. Next year he will be able to showcase his abilities against his peers. Meanwhile, despite having his rights owned by Real Madrid, he will play on loan for another season given his youth.
KEEP AN EYE ON:
We have already dealt with both Martynas Gecevicius and Chavdar Kostov deep enough in the championship reports, but we still have two other guys we would like to mention here.
Hes not a very skilled guy, but he already shows a reliable jumper from the mid-area, although his range is clearly limited. A decent ball-handler, he still needs to improve in order to beat his matchups consistently. All in all, he seems to understand the game and shows very nice potential.