Year after year, Milenko Tepic continues to improve. Going into his third Euroleague season, and seventh professional campaign overall (despite being just 21 years old), he's finally taken over the reigns as his team's go-to guy, following the departures of the highly productive Milt Palacio, Dusan Kecman and Nikola Pekovic.
Although Partizan is as young and inexperienced a club as you'll find in this Euroleague, they currently are in second place in their group (tied with Efes Pilsen and ahead of deeper and much richer clubs such as Real Madrid, Armani Jeans Milano and Panionios), while still standing undefeated (6-0) and in first place in the local Adriatic League.
The biggest reason for that has clearly been the play of Milenko Tepic. The 6-8 versatile swingman spends heavy minutes as his team's defacto point guard, and has been stuffing the stat-sheet in virtually every game he's played thus far. Tepic's team fell behind by 22 points this week in the Euroleague at home against Milan, but managed to rally to victory in large part thanks to his 11 point, 8 assist, 6 rebound performance. Tepic currently ranks sixth in the Euroleague in assists with 4.7 per game, and sports a sparkling 7 to 1 assist to turnover ratio.
The biggest key to Tepic's improvement over the past few seasons has been the improvement he's shown in his perimeter shot. He's more than doubled his rate of makes thus far (he's 18/44 or 41% in 9 games thus far this season) while maintaining a steady accuracy rate. His jumper is not the prettiest shot you'll find in Europe, mostly flat-footed, lacking some arc, and still streaky off the dribble, but he's become very reliable with his feet set, which is key considering how good his shot-selection is.
Tepic's biggest appeal as a prospect has to do with the under control nature in which he plays, along with the versatility he brings to the table. He is extremely patient and unselfish, always staying within his limitations, rarely making mistakes, and never looking to be in a rush. He executes Partizan's extremely methodical half-court offense impeccably, doing a great job making the extra pass and finding the open man, which is how he racks up most of his assistsin simple fashion. The fact that he's 6-8 gives him a great advantage in this area.
Tepic has improved as a ball-handler over the past few seasons as well, to the point that he looks much more comfortable bringing the ball up the floor and taking his man off the dribble as well, using both hands effectively and doing a great job reading the defense and finding open seams. His first step is pretty underwhelming, and he often lacks the explosiveness to finish around the basket, but he's extremely under control with his drives and really knows how to find open shooters spotting up on the wing off the dribble.
Defensively, Tepic has some clear strengths and weaknesses. One on hand, he plays extremely hard, has great timing, is very fundamentally sound, and really understands the scouting report, but on the other, he lacks a significant amount of lateral quickness, and often looks very upright in his stance, which makes it quite easy for very athletic wing players to beat him off the dribble at times. Tepic is an outstanding team defender, but is just average in man to man, which will raise some question marks in the eyes of NBA talent evaluators since he's already lacking in some other areas.
Unlike a Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez or even a Nicolas Batum, Tepic is rarely going to blow you away with anything he does on the court, as he's quite a conservative player. At at the end of the day, though, his style of play is highly effective and very much conducive to winning games. He looks far better suited for playing European basketball, and would probably only be able to thrive in certain systems in the NBA, such as San Antonio, Utah, Boston or other slower paced, defensive oriented teams. With that said, there is definitely some appeal in a highly intelligent 6-8 swingman who can shoot, pass, not make mistakes and compete on every possession defensively.
Similar to his teammate from last season Nikola Pekovic, Tepic does not look to be as enamored with the idea of playing in the NBA as some of his European counterparts. According to sources, he's likely to follow Pekovic's lead and sign a large multi-year year contract with a European powerhouse before the draft, with an NBA option after two years. He will very likely not be coming to the States for private workouts, and will heavily attempt to discourage teams from considering him in the late first round, as he will need the flexibility of a second round contract (without the restrictions of the rookie scale) and a significant financial investment on the part of the team drafting him down the road if he's ever to make it over the Atlantic.