19-year old Ante Zizic has been considered a major prospect in European basketball since a very early age, already seeing his first pro minutes in the Croatian league at the age of 16. He is a member of the golden generation of 1997-born Croatian prospects which includes the likes of Dragan Bender, Ivica Zubac and Nik Slavica, who are all considered NBA prospects.
Zizic was an easy player to identify, not just due to his size and mature frame, but mainly because his brother Andrija, who is 17 years older than him, was an important player in Europe in his own right. He played over 100 Euroleague games with the likes of Barcelona, Olympiakos, Panathinaikos and Maccabi Tel Aviv, and participated in many tournaments with the Croatian National Team at both the junior and senior level. Today the Zizic brothers are reunited back in Croatia playing for historic club Cibona Zagreb, where Andrija has played over 200 games dating back to 2003. He primarily comes off the bench now backing up his little brother now, who is dominating the Adriatic League in a way few players his age have since its inception in 2001.
Ante's 25.7 PER in the Adriatic League is the second highest in league history since 2001 for a player under the age of 21. He is leading the league in rebounding, and scoring over 20 points per-40 minutes on tremendous efficiency (68% true shooting percentage). While the Adriatic League is not considered the strongest competition in Europe, it has produced over 50 NBA draft picks throughout the years, so it is obviously a league the NBA takes seriously.
In His Own Words:
I started to play basketball because of my older brother Andrija. He is 17 years older than me. When I was a kid he started his professional career. I watched all his games, sometimes live, sometimes on TV. After a few years I started to play at a local club, but basketball wasn't my first choice. At first I started with soccer, because that's what my friends played. But because I was pretty tall I started to play basketball. It was a logical choice.
For me playing with my brother was part of my dream. He was the main reason I started to play basketball. One day I hoped to be able to play on the same team. This year comes and we are together. He is helping me a lot. He teaches me a lot on and off the court.
Now, I am going step by step. Working a lot, working hard, and waiting for my opportunity. When coach gives me a chance I show what I can do, so for me this season is normal. It's what I expected.
Zizic fits the profile of a modern day center, both in terms of his size as well as the role he looks capable of playing. He has ample size at 6'11, with a 7'3 wingspan and a 254 pound frame, and is a strong athlete as well, running the floor with purpose and showing strong leaping ability as well.
He gets quite a bit of his offense rolling and cutting to the basket, where he has excellent timing, hands and touch and will often finish plays above the rim emphatically, which he seems to enjoy doing. His effort on the court might be the best thing he offers, as he is incredibly physical, runs the court with reckless abandon, and is constantly crashing the glass on both ends to come up with loose balls (over 12 rebounds per-40). He gets to the free throw line at a very high rate for that same reason, nearly 9 times per-40 minutes, and converts 74% of his attempts once there.
Zizic's skill-level is not particularly polished at this stage, but he occasionally shows small glimpses of being able to step out for mid-range jumpers or put the ball on the floor in a straight line.
He's also a willing and competitive defender, being more than happy to put a body on opposing centers and working hard to contest shots around the rim and on the perimeter. His length and mobility offers some hope that he can continue to improve his versatility in this area, particularly when it comes to stepping outside of the paint and guarding quicker big men.
In His Own Words:
I am a type of modern center. I run the floor very well. I can finish with strong dunks. In defense I can close down the paint. I have the ability to block shots, collect rebounds. Effort is something you must have. It's like other basketball skills. It is something natural. I was born with it.
Zizic's production comes mostly off his energy and intensity-level, but that might not be enough to get the job done in better leagues where the centers are much bigger, stronger and more athletic and skilled than the ones in the Adriatic League. He needs to continue to improve his offensive polish, particularly in terms of his footwork, awareness and ability to use countermoves when his initial attempts are cut off. Continuing to improve on his shooting range and ball-handling skills will also help.
Along those same lines, Zizic is a below average passer, dishing out just 15 assists on the season, compared with 66 turnovers. The fact that he almost never gets in the passing lanes (6 steals in 756 minutes) lends credence to the belief that he does not possess particularly strong court awareness and is mostly relying on his physical tools and hustle to get the job done.
Considering that he's only 19, this is obviously not a major surprise, especially since most of the big men he's going up against are 5-15 years older than him, and possess significantly more experience.
In His Own Words:
I am 19-years old, so I am still a young player. I can work on everything and can improve every part of my game. For some things I need time, and for some things I need a lot of practice. I practice very hard and I try to watch older and more experienced players. I think I am going on the right way.
Zizic has burst onto the NBA radar relatively quickly, already putting up outstanding numbers in his first year of being draft-eligible. His productivity and physical tools make it very easy to project him playing a backup/energy role in the NBA, but that might be limiting his ceiling somewhat considering he's only 19. The success that other highly productive Adriatic League big men, such as Nikola Pekovic, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic, are having in the NBA right now should help his draft stock, as he's been similarly productive to those three at the same age. It's still not known whether he will enter this year's draft or not, and he does not have a buyout in his contract with Cibona this summer, but regardless, he could be a very interesting draft and stash candidate for NBA teams to consider in the bottom of half of the first round should he decide to make himself eligible.
In His Own Words:
My dream is playing in the NBA. I still have a contract with Cibona, and I will see. I don't know yet (if he will enter the draft). I think I am ready for the NBA, but I must work a lot. I need more experience to play on a higher level, like the NBA.
Scouting Report by Jonathan Givony. Video Analysis by Mike Schmitz.
Across the landscape of international basketball, it's difficult to find a draft prospect who has been more productive this season than Cibona's Ante Zizic. Zizic currently ranks as the best rebounder in the Adriatic league, despite turning 19 only a few weeks ago, and is also pumping in over 20 points per-40 minutes on a stellar 65% true shooting percentage. Considering he's doing that against physically mature and highly experienced big men who are 5-15 years older than him on any given night, that's pretty impressive.
The following chart explores who the most productive under-22 players in European basketball have been thus far (minimum 10 games, 15mpg+). The fact that Ziziz leads this group in PER, despite being the only player on it not born in 1994 or 1995, is certainly eye-opening.
Zizic has solid physical attributes for the center position, standing somewhere between 6'10 and 6'11, with a long wingspan, and an outstanding frame that will likely continue to fill out in time. He is a good athlete on top of that, running the floor fluidly, having very nimble feet, and being capable of playing above the rim in space.
Zizic's game is predicated off his physical tools, but also off his sheer aggressiveness. He does everything with maximum effort, be it sprinting the floor, setting screens and rolling to the basket, or using his strong frame to carve out space inside the paint for entry passes. That's demonstrated quite nicely in the way he gets to the free throw line, over eight times per-40 minutes.
It also shows up in his rebounding ability, which might be his best asset now as a prospect at this stage. He is a tough guy who relishes contact, doing a great job of boxing out opponents, tipping balls to himself, and going well out of his area on both ends of the floor to track down loose balls. He is pulling down over 12 rebounds per-40 minutes on average in both of the competitions Cibona plays in (Adriatic League and FIBA Europe Cup). That figure is the second highest rate in Adriatic league history among players under the age of 20, trailing only Jusuf Nurkic.
Zizic sees a decent amount of his offense with his back to the basket, where he possesses a basic, but effective, post game. He uses his strong frame and works hard to establish deep post position, flashing solid footwork, soft touch, and the ability to turn to both shoulders and finish with either hand. His post arsenal isn't terribly refined, as he has a tendency to play too fast at times, and is still working on his ability to utilize fakes, counters and advanced moves when he doesn't have great post position.
Zizic also gets quite a few touches operating off the ball, be it as a cutter or roll man. He sets big, wide screens and dives to the rim with real purpose, showing excellent mobility and timing in the pick and roll. His long arms and soft hands make him a very effective weapon in these situations, and with a running start, he is capable of playing above the rim with authority.
While almost all of Zizic's offense comes in the direct vicinity of the basket, and there are certainly some questions about how his skill-level might evolve over time, he does show nice touch from the free throw line (73%), and has demonstrated some flashes of an effective mid-range jumper that could possibly be polished into something over time.
That's important, because as he makes the next step up in the level of competition, be it to the Euroleague or the NBA, where the big men are significantly taller, stronger and more athletic than the somewhat weakened Adriatic League, he won't be able to rely as heavily as he currently does on his strength and sheer aggressiveness, and will likely be forced to develop a more versatile skill-set.
Zizic's lack of finesse is perhaps most notably demonstrated in his passing ability, which is extremely unrefined to say the least right now. He looks like a bull in a china shop at times, dishing out just 14 assists in 629 minutes on the season thus far, or one every 45 minutes he's on the floor. Compare his paltry 4.9% assist percentage with his very high 19.5% turnover rate, and it's safe to say he is somewhat of a black hole at this stage of his development. The game moves a little too fast for him at times offensively, and he can be very predictable with the way he telegraphs his moves and spins right into traffic.
Defensively, Zizic is more than willing to compete, and he does a good job of putting a body on opposing big men, and working to contest shots all over the floor. You'll see him switch out on ball screens at times and stay in front of smaller players, using his solid wingspan, nimble feet and excellent motor to deliver some hope of being able to develop in this area down the road.
With that said, it's clear that his fundamentals and technique are still a work in progress, which is not a shock considering his age. He doesn't cover ground exceptionally well, having a tough time with experienced big men who can operate facing the basket in particular. He's too aggressive closing out, and will get caught in no man's land on pick and rolls at times, which makes sense as someone who just turned 19 playing in a grown man's league, but is something he'll have to clean up over time. While he does a nice job of elevating off two feet and staying vertical around the basket to contest and block shots at times, it's difficult to see him evolving into a major rim-protector in the NBA, since he does not have elite physical tools.
NBA teams may wonder what it is that separates Zizic as a starting caliber prospect, as there is nothing extraordinary about his size, length, athleticism or skill-set, even if there's nothing particularly deficient about any of those areas either. Considering his seemingly average feel for the game and mechanical skill-level, will what he's doing offensively translate to better settings considering how down the Adriatic League appears to be at the moment?
With that said, there is undoubtedly a place in the NBA for someone with the rebounding ability and motor he displays as an energetic role-player, and it is certainly difficult to rule out a player who has been as productive as Zizic has this year, in a league that has produced countless NBA players (around 50 NBA Draft picks have been through the Adriatic League according to our database). After all, Zizic (so far) ranks #2 in PER in Adriatic League history among players under the age of 20 (see chart).
NBA teams are still learning more about this player who is just becoming draft-eligible for the first time this year, and it remains to be seen if he'll decide to put his name in the draft pool this spring. In the meantime, they will continue to monitor him closely, especially now that his team has been eliminated from the FIBA Europe Cup. [Read Full Article]