Zaragoza, The Best of the Rest: Guards

Zaragoza, The Best of the Rest:  Guards
Aug 20, 2004, 01:00 am
There was more to Zaragoza than its celebrated stars. Many players showed enough skills, talent, or potential to deserve at least a few lines about what type of players they are. This latest installment in Draft City's coverage of the European Junior Championships takes a look at the standout guards from the tournament in Zaragoza.


Nenad Mijatovic
(Serbia & Montenegro; PG; 1987; 6'4; 21.4 mpg, 7.1 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.6 spg, 2.3 topg)

It was a bad tournament for Mijatovic. He did not enjoy consistent minutes until the last couple of games, when Serbia was out of the medals fight and he was given the starting job for good. Armed with that confidence and under less pressure, he showed the same brilliance in his game that was so appreciated a year ago in Rivas at the European Cadet Championships.

Nenad looked again unstoppable on the break. With him commanding the offense, Serbia played a more dynamic game. He is still the same scoring guard who lacks distribution skills within the set offense, but his off-the-dribble game is as good as always, as he creates some good passes out of it. And he is no ball hog. His quickness, explosiveness, and athleticism in general keep shining at junior level, and he uses all of those gifts defensively. He seems not to be adversely affected by playing against older competition.

Confidence was a big issue for Nenad in Zaragoza, and he struggled to find his rhythm, especially with his shot. We cannot forget that his 1987 birthday is a year younger than most of the competition, and yet he still showed flashes of spectacular playing. Perhaps I am a bit biased, but for some reason I love the way he plays and the feeling his game transmits. In my opinion, Nenad Mijatovic was the second best point guard prospect seen in Zaragoza, behind only Sergio Rodríguez.

George Tsintsadze
(Georgia; PG; 1986; 6'4; 31.3 mpg, 13.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 4.6 apg, 3.1 spg, 4.6 topg)

Although he had a bad tournament, the Georgian showed some promising skills. George is a 6'4 point guard with nice athleticism, which includes excellent quickness and quite a good vertical leap. While he is a creative playmaker, he wasn't able to organize the mess that was his team throughout the tournament. Tsintsadze was one of the major reasons for that mess because he is not a ball distributor and does not seem to control the tempo of the game. He shared the point guard duties, playing some combo guard, but I still think he was most responsible for his team's direction (or lack thereof).

Tsintsadze's greatest asset at point guard rests in his ability to create off the dribble. He flourishes playing one on one. He usually puts the ball on the floor and then tries to beat his match-up, creating more space by means of lightning-quick changes of direction and excellent body fakes. His handles are very good. He is a bit of a ball hog, but that command of the ball is the way he usually creates for his teammates, by driving and dishing, showing good court vision in those situations. His decisions are questionable. He risks too much looking for the flashy pass that will get him the assist, but he lacks adequate control over his passes to allow himself this luxury. To put things in perspective, George Tsintsadze is no Sergio Rodríguez. His shooting displays good mechanics, although he is rather streaky. He can be an intense defender and has the physical tools to be reliable, but he looks too much for the steal, risking his defensive position.

George needs to work on his game, but keep an eye on him. He has nice potential, even for the NBA, but he has a long road ahead of him.

Hakan Demirel
(Turkey; PG; 1986; 6'2; 15.5 mpg, 4.1 rpg, 4.6 apg, 3.3 spg, 2.9 topg)

Demirel was one of the best players in this tournament, hands down. His all-tournament team honor was well deserved after leading his team into the final. He also has the honor of making 's All-hey dude, you look older than 18 Team. As you might infer from that, he is very physically mature for a kid of his age, showing nice athleticism with an especially strong lower body. He has already played consistent minutes in the first Turkish division league with Tofas.

His maturity extends beyond his physique to the manner in which he runs his team. Demirel is a true playmaker. There is no questioning his ability to run his team's offense. He controls the tempo of the game and utilizes a variety of skills to make life much easier for himself and his teammates. The most evident of these skills is his fantastic handles. In Zaragoza, we saw him performing some jaw-dropping reverse moves in transition that were executed with amazing quickness and body control. His typical offensive move is to create off the dribble, beating his match-up and dishing to the open teammate or just shooting the ball, and he excels in this role. He has the court vision, the decision making, the shooting mechanics, and the stroke to consistently and effectively produce. His touch from behind the arc is a little bit streaky, becoming more reliable as he gets closer to the basket. He is also a nice defender with good lateral quickness.

As a very mature player, I think his upside is limited. He can be really good in Europe, but I am not so sure about his NBA potential at this point. For the moment, rumour has it he is considering the NCAA as an option next year, particularly Gonzaga.

Igor Milosevic
(Greece; PG; 1986; 6'4; 37.3 mpg, 18 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 4.9 apg, 2.6 spg, 3.7 topg)

The Serbian native Milosevic and teammate Sakota were the main scoring threats of the Greek team that advanced to the quarterfinals. That's what Milosevic is, a scorer, a shoot-first point guard. Like many guards seen here, he loves to play off the dribble. He is fairly quick, but among some outstanding athletes he shows average athleticism, so he relies mainly on his very good handles to beat his match-ups. He finishes near the basket efficiently, often using the elevated lay-ups favored by Tony Parker. He shoots nicely off the dribble, often after a couple of crossovers, but he is a bit streaky here. It remains to be seen if he will be able to create shots for himself as effectively against superior competition. We do have positive evidence from his significant minutes with his Greek league team Iraklis, including a game in which he tallied 29 points. This speaks volumes about his ability to adapt his game to the next level.

The biggest knock on Igor's game in Zaragoza was the poor directing skills he showed while trying to lead his team. He does not see the floor particularly well. His playmaking skills are mostly limited to driving and dishing, or playing the pick-and-roll, but these he does quite well. The 4.9 assists per game he registered were only possible because he hordes the ball. I think he plays too much for himself instead of being the kind of playmaker that makes his teammates better.

Milosevic is talented, but his average athleticism and uninspiring point guard skills cause concern about his potential. One thing is very intriguing about him: he seems to find a way to score, no matter the competition level.

Edgars Jeromanovs
(Latvia; PG; 1986; 6'2; 36 mpg, 15.7 ppg, 8 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2 spg, 4 topg)

The absence of Andris Biedrins made Jeromanovs the lone leader of the decidedly weak Latvian squad.

Edgars is a very strong and fairly quick point guard. He takes advantage of his mature body, as evidenced by his average of a whopping 8 boards per game at Zaragoza, by far tops among guards. He loves to attack the rim. Such an adept penetrator is he, in fact, that there were games where this was the Baltic team's primary offense for virtually the entire 40 minutes. It is not only his strength and quickness that help him, as he also exhibits good ball-handling skills, including a nice reverse move.

As we have seen with most of the playmakers in Zaragoza, his passing skills are focused on the drive and dish play. He is not always smart on the court, sometimes making bad decisions with the ball. Nevertheless, he averaged 5.3 assists (second overall), and that is a credit to his fearless nature and his willingness to share the ball. With regard to scoring, Jeromanovs struggles with his shot. It is almost never the first option for him, which reflects that he is not comfortable enough shooting yet. On defense, he is rather reliable thanks to his quick feet.

All in all, he is an interesting player who stood out against the backdrop of the thin Latvian roster, but he is not an NBA level prospect. Despite his good athleticism, he is not a freak, and his talent is not enough.

Luca Vitali
(Italy; PG; 1986; 6'7; 28 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 4.3 apg, 2.1 spg, 2.9 topg)

A 6'7 point guard is always intriguing, and Vitali is just that: a 6'7 point guard. He is a nice player with pretty good handles (although he abuses his right hand), and he takes advantage of his superior height to see the floor over his defender. He was one of the few players in Zaragoza who could actually make an assist from the perimeter, though not, of course, as expertly as Spaniard Sergio Rodríguez.

Vitali's game has one fatal flaw: he is too slow and generally too poor an athlete to play the point. On the offensive end he struggles to penetrate and create space. On defense he gets beaten by quicker guards, a problem that is accentuated because he doesn't defend aggressively enough, anyway.

His talent is mediocre as well. He is not a scorer. His shot is very inconsistent, and his mechanics are average at best. He shows no special ability to score while driving to the basket. He fails to take advantage of his height by regularly posting-up his defenders.

As I said, a 6'7 point guard is always intriguing, but Luca seems to have too many weaknesses. Let's remember his name, just in case.


Marco Belinelli
(Italy; 1986; SG; 6'6; 31.4 mpg, 16.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 2.1spg)

It wasn't the best tournament for this young Italian star, a far cry from the 26 point per game effort in the Challenge (qualifying) Round. He struggled from the field in most of the games and played poorly in the decisive ones, taking a large share of responsibility for keeping Italy from getting into medal contention. Still, he left us with some samples of his great abilities.

Belinelli is a complete shooting guard: skilled, athletic, and already experienced against top European level competition with Skipper Bologna in the Italian League and in the Euroleague. He can score from anywhere on court. He has a very quick release on his jumper, and he is good from a static position, off the dribble, turning around and fading away, catching and shooting, etc., etc In Zaragoza, he shot a horrible 37% from the field to average just 16.4 points per game, but past performances tell us that he is better than he displayed here. Being the star of his team made him try to do too much, too often. He attempted a lot of shots while not open enough, so he was extremely streaky during the tournament. The truth is his attitude wasn't always the best, as he was demanding the ball too much and became visibly frustrated if he didn't get it.

Impressive quickness, a nice first step, and very good handles enable him to drive with relative ease. He will slash if he has the chance, as he showed Petro in the Bronze medal game (see FIBA Europe videos), where he performed a spectacular move for which the French center had no answer. Indeed, his vertical leap is quite remarkable; he even jumped in the tip-off for Italy a few times in the tournament. He sees the floor very well and knows where to put the ball, and when. It is not rare to see him make a spectacular no-look dish off the dribble; in fact, it looks easy for him. Many times it is not for the assist but to spread the floor. He is most definitely an excellent passer. On defense, he has the athleticism to do well and is quick for the steal.

I think Marco is a truly special player, the kind of guy who feels the game. Not only is he already one of the best wing players in his age group in Europe, but there is more room for improvement. He still doesn't look completely developed physically, neither his face nor his body. He has first round NBA potential.

Uros Tripkovic
(Serbia & Montenegro; SG; 1986; 6'5; 30.6 mpg, 13.4 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 2.9 apg, 2.3 topg)

Tripkovic was perhaps the most elegant player at Zaragoza. In every situation on the court, no matter how difficult a play might look, he seems balanced. But beyond style, Uros is a very complete shooting guard. Another inch wouldn't hurt with his 6'5 size (maybe 6'6 in shoes), but he possesses fine athleticism, showing quickness and great leaping ability.

The most obvious skill he demonstrates is his picture perfect jumper. It is a pleasure for the eyes. Like Belinelli, he can make it static, coming off the dribble, or off a screen to catch and shoot. When he's in motion, he has the body control to use his horizontal momentum to create a marvelous vertical jump shot in one fluid movement. He is completely balanced in the air when he releases his shot, generally from very high point. All this is executed very quickly, and it gives Uros the tremendous advantage to take any shot comfortably. In Zaragoza, he was streaky, hitting only 32.6% from behind the arc, but with his mechanics I'm sure he will become a most reliable gunner in the future.

His skills are not limited to shooting. Tripkovic has some aptitude to play point guard as well, including a great handle and nice court vision. He is especially good at driving and dishing. With his quickness, first step, and dribbling ability, he penetrates with ease. He works very well without the ball, always cutting to find open looks. On defense he benefits from his strong lower body, although he was no stopper at the tournament. But he has the tools, to be sure.

Uros is a very nice prospect with a chance at the NBA. Consistency on his shot and defense are needed areas of improvement, but I think he will become a very good shooting guard. You can't rule out him playing point guard, either, but he looked to me like a full-time off guard. If Zaragoza was any indication, he seems comfortable at the two. It was not so easy to tell considering how difficult it was for the Serbian players to shine individually on a team so obsessed with systems and team ball.

Martynas Pocius
(Lithuania; SG; 1986; 6'4; 28.4 mpg, 18 ppg, 3 rpg, 2.3 apg, 2.7 topg)

Pocius was a pleasant surprise in this tournament. He plays high school basketball in the U.S., and that shows in how strong and physically developed he looks. He is remarkably explosive compared with the other guys here. But the best thing is that he's also quite skilled. He finished the Championships with some amazing performances.

Martynas's game is presently built around shooting and slashing. His perimeter stroke was solid and reliable in the tournament (43% in treys). His mechanics are not perfect, but they look okay. He has a fast release and has no problem making it while stationary or off the dribble. He makes use of his nice ball-handling skills, especially with his right hand, for a good penetrating ability. His preference for going right is noticeable, but he is fast and fearless when attacking the rim; if given the chance he'll dunk it. The explosiveness he possesses appears all the more spectacular on account of his height. He can pass the ball while penetrating with fairly good accuracy, but he tends to hog the ball a bit. He spent too much time dribbling on the perimeter looking for a chance to penetrate. The absence of a good point guard on the Lithuanian squad didn't help in this matter. With his physical skills, Martynas is a naturally able defender.

Pocius's biggest shortcoming is, appropriately, his height. At 6'4 he is undersized for the shooting guard position. His great play was due in large part to his superior physical development, so his upside seems a bit smaller than most of the elite players at Zaragoza. NBA potential cannot be ruled an impossibility, but he is a long shot unless he grows another inch or two.

Manuchar Markoishvili
(Georgia; SG; 1986; 6'5; 35.7 mpg, 17.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.6 apg, 2.7 spg, 2.6 topg)

Another member of 's All-Hey dude, you look older than 18 Team, this Georgian shooting guard is well known in Europe. More than a year ago he was already playing for Benetton Treviso in the Euroleague Final Four—at age sixteen! Needless to say he looks beyond his years both in physical maturity and skills.

He is quite athletic, a quick player with good legs. He can shoot from anywhere on the court and in many ways. You can see him coming off a screen, receiving the ball, turning to face the basket, and releasing a well balanced jumper in the blink of an eye. He can also create his own shot with the dribble. Streakiness is most definitive of his shooting, though; he is not a pure shooter. He handles well with both hands and utilizes his quickness to penetrate. He is a good passer, especially off the dribble. He abuses the ball a fair amount, though. His status as the star of the Georgian team may be the reason. As good as he is, he could not rescue the Georgian team from an awful showing here.

To summarize, he is an accomplished player for his age, but his upside seems limited. I think he will do fine in Europe, but I'm not sure about his NBA potential.

Cenk Akyol
(Turkey; SG; 1987; 6'6; 31.6 mpg, 12.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.1 apg, 3 spg, 2.8 topg)

Akyol is fundamentally sound. He won't jump out at you with freakish athleticism or skills, but he has good size (featuring a long wingspan) and some quickness, and he does a little of everything and almost always very well. He reveals his high basketball IQ by making good decisions with confidence. He never hides when it comes to taking responsibility.

Cenk was the leader of the Turkish team that won the silver medal in last year's European Cadet Championships. Back then he was playing many minutes as a point guard, so it comes as no surprise to see those skills come to play in his game, especially his ball handling and court vision. Shooting is not his strength, and although his mechanics are good, he usually struggles behind the arc. He has a nice first step to penetrate and knows how to drive to the basket, even in a crowd. Defensively, he holds his own.

He's not a player that makes you think about the NBA, but he might be the kind of guy who quietly develops into an interesting prospect. As one of the few players born in 1987, he enjoyed a very good tournament while helping Turkey to the silver medal.

Vasily Zavoruev
(Russia; SG; 1987; 6'5; 28.5 mpg, 13.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.6 spg)

Zavoruev is one player with a clear scoring instinct. His perimeter shooting is his main weapon right now. He averaged nearly 7.0 three-point attempts per game. That was perhaps a few too many, for he was not always open. His mechanics are excellent, though, whether shooting statically, off the dribble, or catching and shooting off a screen.

But Zavoruev can do more things. He is a fairly quick player who flashes good ball-handling skills, giving him the possibility of penetrating the defense. In those situations he can dish off to his teammates quite well. Also, he knows how to move without the ball.

Being just 6'5 is not as asset. He is rather athletic, but not a freak of nature. He's another 1987 guy and so was facing older competition in Zaragoza. There is room for growth, though, and Zavoruev is a talented kid.

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