Zaragoza, The Best of the Rest: Frontcourt

Zaragoza, The Best of the Rest:  Frontcourt
Sep 09, 2004, 01:00 am
Draft City concludes our look at the best prospects seen during the European Junior Championships at Zaragoza. Aleksandrov, Andriuskevicius, and Petro were not the only frontcourt players impressive enough to merit our attention. Here are some other guys about whom we might be hearing in the future.


Viktor Sanikidze
(Georgia; SF; 1986; 6'8; 35 mpg, 17.6 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.6 spg, 3.6 topg)

The absence of Andris Biedrins left Viktor as the only NBA draftee of the tournament. Sanikidze is a long small forward with good wingspan and promising athleticism and skills, although he is still quite raw. Physically, he is very skinny, and despite good quickness and a good vertical, he needs to improve his explosiveness. He gets knocked around the post and needs to learn how to fully translate his quickness to lateral defensive movement.

He shoots with good range and mechanics but is inconsistent and uncomfortable spotting up. Near the basket he abuses his right hand to finish. He shows capable handles, but like the majority of Georgians, he has a tendency to over-dribble. He sees the floor quite well and makes good decisions when passing the rock. In general, Sanikidze displays a good attitude on the court and is quite an active player, as his rebounding production attests.

The San Antonio Spurs made a smart play by drafting this kid in the second round. He is raw, still several years away, but he could very well develop into a first-round caliber player.

Souarata Cissé
(France; SG/SF; 6'5; 25.3 mpg, 10.6 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2.1 topg)

One of the best athletes revealed at the tournament, Souarata was a key component of the Bronze winning French team. Given his strength, explosiveness, quickness, and leaping ability, his 6'6 frame looks like the prototypical body for an NBA wing in the making. What is quite uncommon about him is that he combines his wonderful physical profile with a very nice perimeter stroke. Cissé is a consistent shooter behind the arc, better than the 34% clip on threes he shot in Zaragoza would make you think. He shows little in the way of a midrange game, but when he doesn't opt for the trey, he will look for penetration. Surprisingly, his first step isn't significantly better than average right now. Further, he is not a superb ball-handler, especially with his left hand. But he finds ways to succeed, often thanks to long strides that make it hard for his defenders to keep him under control. Defensively he is very solid, making use of his superior strength and athleticism.

Cissé is a player with some great characteristics, mostly physical, and therefore, with good potential, even for the NBA. He has played small forward in Zaragoza, but I think he will evolve into a shooting guard. He has the tools; now he just needs to polish some skills. He is not the kind of guy who looks as though he was born playing the game: his movement is a bit mechanical, and he lacks some fearlessness and basketball instincts. But he's a player to watch for the future.

Yaroslav Korolev
(Russia; SF; 1987; 6'9; 17.6 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 2 apg)

This Russian small forward has tremendous potential, perhaps among the most seen in the tournament. His combination of athleticism, size, and skills is just wonderful. But in Zaragoza he played poorly, far from the expectations he raised last year in Rivas at the Europan Cadet Championships. He appeared unfocused, as he made some bad decisions against the older and more physical competition. His disappointing performance is even stranger considering this past season he enjoyed some minutes with Avtodor Saratov of the Russian league and at the FIBA European competitions (his father Igor is the coach of Avtodor and was assistant coach of the Russian team in Zaragoza). I was expecting a more mature kid than the one I saw.

But we're still talking about a 6'9 kid with nice quickness and vertical leap, and one who plays some point forward. He likes to play far from the basket and loves to lead the transition using his good handles. He sees the court very well, whether on the break or in the offensive set. He can penetrate toward the basket, but his first step is not outstanding, and he is a bit timid when it comes to attacking the rim, preferring instead to simply pass the ball. I think he's a little bit soft right now. His jumper is pretty good, but he struggled from the field here. Like Sanikidze, he favors his right hand even when he should finish with his left. On defense he needs to work on his lateral quickness, which is just average right now.

Korolev's limitless potential could carry him all the way to the NBA. But as we learned in Zaragoza, he has an awfully long way to go.

Luigi Datome
(Italy; SF/PF; 1987; 6-8; 19.1 mpg, 9.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.1 bpg)

The first thing you notice about this guy's game is his great instict to score. Indeed, he was last year the top scorer at the European Cadet Championship. Datome has played a lot of power forward given the lack of big men in the Italian Team, but he looks completely like a three. He's athletic, showing nice quickness and vertical leap, and loves to run the court. With the ball in his hands, he will look first to shoot or to penetrate. He has a consistent mid-range game, including great free-throw percentajes, and can also make treys, although he's rather streaky from that distance. He likes to shoot off the dribble, although he fires from static positions too, specially from the three-point area. In Zaragoza, being defended frequently by big (therefore usually slow) men, he tried many times to drive to the basket. He has a decent first step and handles enough to do it by both the right and left side, although he feels much more comfortable going to the right. Then, depending on the situation, he can stop midway to go for the jumper, or try to reach the basket, or feed a mate given the chance. Despite being a shoot-first pass-later player, he doesn't force situations, passing the ball decently. You still can see his power forward instincts by the way he looks for the offensive rebound and his nice timing blocking shots. His long arms are a good help. On defense, he usually had to fight with bigger men, trying his best in one-on-one defense, although being a little bit lazy on rotations. With their small line-up, Italy played also a lot of zone defenses. So in the end, I'm not sure about his ability to stop quick wing players with his lateral defensive movement.

Anyway, Datome is an interesting player. He has very nice upside, but nothing out-of-the-charts in my opinion. He was one of the youngest players among the tournament, and you could notice by his thin body. He's the kind of guy you can see easily develop into a very good Euro baller, but beyond that, the odds are considerably lower.

Carlos Suarez
(Spain; SF; 1986; 6'7; 32.9 mpg, 20.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 1.9 spg, 2 topg)

What an outstanding tournament for this kid! There were very few players in Zaragoza as focused and hard-working as the Spaniard, and he was a big reason for his team's success. So in the end, his selection to the all-tournament team came as no surprise, the right reward for his amazing performance.

Carlos is the perfect role player. He is a great defender, especially team-wise: he is one of those guys who seem to be everywhere on court. His activity and good positioning allow him to grab a great amount of rebounds, too. On the offensive end, he took full advantage of playing alongside Sergio Rodríguez. They are teammates in Estudiantes and, as you might supposse, they understand each other very well. Besides, Carlos is particulary good moving without the ball. Suarez has also quite a reliable jumper, up to the three point range. His release is quite fast because he doesn't need a full shooting movement, being able to realease his shot while barely bending his arms. He's the kind of player who scores a lot more points than you notice during the game.

The biggest knock on Carlos is his athleticism. I think he's faster than it seems, but still not fast enough. He lacks explosiveness. He probably will not be able to create his own shot at higher level. Summarizing, I don't see NBA potential in him, although he will probably be very good at European level.


Dusan Sakota
(Greece; SF/PF; 1986; 6'10; 37.8 mpg, 18.6 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.5 spg, 3 topg)

Dusan is the son of Dragan Sakota, former Serbian player and current coach in Greece. And it doesn't come as a surprise when you observe his more refined skills. Sakota's main strength is undoubtedly his shot. He is a consummate gunner, capable of realeasing his jumper from any position as soon as he recieves the ball. He never needs to draw a precise route for the ball to leave his hands. For example, he can recieve the ball over his head and simply throw it from there. It makes him really quick and hard to stop, especially when you consider that he's 6'10. A 40% clip from behind the arc with nearly 9 tries a game is a great percentage.

Beyond his shot, there is nothing really outstanding about his game. He can put the ball on the floor using some nice handles, but he is rarely able to light up his defender. He is not all that quick (he isn't slow either, just average), although that seldom gets him into trouble, as he passes the ball quite well against pressure, even when double-teamed, to find the open man on the other wing. Right now he doesn't seem to be a player capable of creating his own shot at the next level, at least not on a regular basis. Despite his 6'10 frame, he is not a post player. If he finds himself with the ball in the low post he usually looks for a turnaround fade-away shot. He doesn't seem to like the contact too much.

And that is at the heart of what I dislike the most about his game: his lack of aggressiveness. He is too cold on both ends of the court. He gets knocked on defense, which is quite logical considering he is still rather skinny, but sometimes it looks like he is not even trying. Offensively, it's too much of a shooting one-act, and he doesn't show passion in his game. Having said that, it deserves mention that he is a player who doesn't hide when it comes to taking the decisive shots. He's very confident and makes many of them.

So, Sakota is a most intriguing player when you consider his stroke and his fairly athletic, 6'10 body, but he leaves many questions up in the air. Will he play small forward or power forward? In Zaragoza he played the four position, but he lacks aggressiveness to defend the paint. From the wing he is too slow at both ends of the court. NBA potential? Sure. But he doesn't look like the kind of guy capable of fulfilling it.

Dragan Labovic
(Serbia & Montenegro; PF/C; 1987; 6'9; 22.9 mpg, 10.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2 apg, 2.5 topg)

The Serbian big man had amazed last year at the European Cadet Championships with skills resembling such players as Vlade Divac and Zoran Savic. A matter of concern then was his apparent physical maturity and growth potential for a guy just 6'9 tall and not particulary athletic. This year he has responded with considerable flashes of his great talent for this game, but he has also confirmed those concerns, as he doesn't look improved at all, and his physical profile impresses less as the competition gets older.

Labovic is fundamentally sound, excelling in several skills. He has a very good shot out to the international three-point line. The good mechanics are there including a nice, speedy release. He prefers to shoot while static, though. His post-up game is remarkable, boasting great footwork and very good footspeed. He passes well from the post and facing the basket. He handles the ball nicely and runs the floor pretty well. He also can penetrate using his decent first step. And he's quite intense on defense. But above all of this, it is the way he understands basketball, how easy he makes it look, that makes him such a great ball player. He definitely has a feel for the game.

Nevertheless, the concerns arise when you recall that he is just 6'9 and probably won't grow anymore, and that his athleticism is average at best for a power forward. So, where does all of this leave Dragan? Probably playing in Europe at good level. But being such a talented kid, I won't rule out anything.

Engin Emre Bayav
(Turkey; PF; 1987; 6'10; 25.4 mpg, 11.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.5 bpg)

Bayav is a very long power forward and a nice athlete. He might not show blazing quickness, but for a 6'10 player with very good wingspan, he is rather fast running the court, and he displays a good vertical leap. Those gifts and his decent timing make him a good shot-blocker. He's also skinny—awfully skinny.

Engin likes to play on the perimeter, facing the basket to shoot treys or pass the ball. He sees the court well and usually chooses the best option. He is a decent shooter from behind the arc or from the midrange, but mainly from static positions, not showing off-the-dribble skills. He has a long way to go toward a reliable post game. For the present, he prefers shooting turnaround jumpers to anything else down low. Besides, although he is an able handler, he rarely looks to penetrate and get inside. Defensively he has to work on his lateral movement if he wants to defend smaller power forwards and needs to bulk up to gain consistent presence in the paint.

Bayav is still quite raw. He needs to polish his skills, to expand his game and, especially, to physically develop his body. But he hints at nice potential, especially considering that he's a 1987 guy.

Jose Angel Antelo
(Spain; PF; 1987; 6'8; 31.9 mpg, 19.3 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 1.3 spg, 1.1 bpg, 3 topg)

A scoring and rebounding machine at the youth level, Antelo seems to have a god-given instinct for those purposes. Indeed, he was the best player born in 1987 in both statistical categories. When he rebounds, it is as though his hands were magnetic, and, of course, he displays a great sense for positioning. When it comes to scoring, he loves the jumper. Despite peculiar mechanics, his shot is reliable. If his defender will not allow him to shoot over the top, he will try to break him down and beat him. For a power forward, he is quick and handles nicely, but he abuses the dribble and gambles too much, and he also tends to favor his right to the point of predictability. He is a fearless player, always willing to assume offensive responsibilities. On the other hand, he has little post-up game. His decision making is questionable, and he's not always consistent on defense.

Antelo's potential draws some serious concerns. At 6'8 he is undersized for a power forward and lacks the athleticism to make up for it. He's too slow for the small forward spot. He would have to grow at least a couple of inches before we could start talking about NBA potential. While still young, he seems not to have enough growth left to make such a leap.


Ian Mahinmi
(France; C; 1986; 6'10; 20.6 mpg, 7 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg)

One of the most pleasant surprises of the tournament was this 6'10 French and very athletic paint player. His vertical leap is simply amazing for a guy of his size. He can jump out of the gym to grab a board or to block a shot. 7.4 rebounds and 1.8 rejections are not bad at all for 20 minutes of playing time, although he needs to improve positioning and timing. He is extremely raw, but he already shows some incipient movement in the low post and -what's really important- a very good attitude. This kid works very well without the ball to position himself under the basket. As yet he shows neither midrange nor, obviously, perimeter skills.

Physically his body is quite skinny and underdeveloped, not common at all among the French ballers. For that reason he suffers on defense getting banged around the low post. His lateral quickness is more than sufficient for his position, though. Given his physical profile, he's a guy to keep an eye on for the future.

Semih Erden
(Turkey; C; 1986; 6'11; 21.4 mpg, 6.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1.5 bpg)

Like his countryman Bayav, he's a very long, athletic, and skinny big man, but even rawer while also one year older. Erden's game seems more oriented to the paint, showing some budding movements in the low post, but there remains a lot of work to do there. A great wingspan means his is a solid shot-blocker, too. His jumper is downright horrible, looking sometimes like he is throwing a brick. His sub-50% free-throw percentage is indicative of his ability. He needs to improve his mechanics because he doesn't follow through, and so he loses control over the ball. Despite his decent athleticism and speed, it seems as though he is the kind of player who arrives a little bit late to all the action, and that is a product of his physical immaturity. He needs to gain explosiveness.

This guy's all about potential right now. He doesn't transmit a great feeling for the game. But a big, athletic body like his always draws attention.


Some other players shined brightly in the paint, but as in Antelo's case, they don't look like NBA prospects. All-tournament team selection Nikita Kourbanov from Russia is the best example, a tough, physical player, too much for most of his competitors, but at 6'7 he's vastly undersized for the power forward position, and he shows no aptitude for the skills and athleticism of a small forward. His countryman, Nikita Shabalkin, was probably the most skilled big man of the tournament, possessing a great post-up game and deep range, but he's only 6'8 and would face athleticism issues at the wing. The same goes for Deyan Ivanov and Kaloyan Ivanov, the Bulgarian twins with relatively poor combinations of size and athleticism. Turk Oguz Savas is another highly skilled player and is possibly the most intelligent big man seen in Zaragoza, but he is way too slow and too poor an athlete. Even if he keeps improving his conditioning I don't see him getting anywhere near where an NBA prospect should be.

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