European Dispatch: Getting to Know Timothe Luwawu (+Full Interview)
February 15, 2016
Jonathan Givony went on an 11-day trip through seven countries to evaluate most of the top NBA draft prospects in Europe. On the final day of the trip, he visited Zagreb, Croatia, to watch projected first-round pick Timothe Luwawu.
Luwawu, 20, is part of a wave of French players who left their home country for Serbia in search of playing time, development and exposure. He grew up in Antibes in southern France and spent many years in the youth system of the local club there, earning his first pro minutes in late 2012 at age 17. The club bounced back and forth between the second (Pro B) and first (Pro A) divisions, and after helping the club earn a promotion back to Pro A last June, he elected to terminate his contract and join Mega Leks in Belgrade, Serbia.
Mega Leks is a very unique club in Europe, as almost their entire rotation is built around players under the age of 22. Every player (as well as the coaching staff) is also represented by the same agency, Beobasket, who essentially built the club from the ground up as a means of developing their young talent, providing them with minutes, opportunity and all the off-court resources they need to reach their full potential. The results have been very quick to come, as the club had three players drafted in 2014 (including rookie sensation Nikola Jokic), and is in the midst of a spectacular season, currently sporting a 16-7 record and being just one game out of second place in the Adriatic League (behind two Euroleague clubs), which is shocking considering their budget and lack of experience.
Averaging 76 possessions per game, Mega Leks plays at one of the fastest paces of any team in high-level European basketball according to our database, aided by their full-court pressing style. Their head coach, Dejan Milojevic (a budding star in his own right now), borrows quite a bit from NCAA basketball he told us, as he elected to implement a “Pack Line” half-court defensive scheme similar to the one employed by Tony Bennett at Virginia.
Luwawu has benefited tremendously from this wide-open style of play, as he's been one of the biggest breakout performers in European basketball, going from averaging 7 points per game in France's second division to 15.5 points (second best in the league), 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals while shooting 39% for 3 in the Adriatic League.
In his Own Words:
“It is very very very nice on this team. Everyone is young, everyone is on the same page. We have very good chemistry. And that's the fact on the court. We all improve each other together. Everyone is on the same page. By ourselves we made the hierarchy. By myself I am taking leadership. I think I also improved this year. I am playing a lot. I have responsibilities and time to spend on the court. For me it's the best. I am improving in practice. It is very nice. Here I have more responsibilities, and you can make mistakes. In France it's not the same, I was a young player, and if I made a mistake I needed to go to the bench. Here I am one of the oldest players. I have more responsibilities. In the beginning of the season I made mistakes, some turnovers, but I stayed on the court. Now I improved and I don't lose so many balls. Every young player needs to think about Mega Leks.”
Luwawu has pretty much everything you look for in a two-way role-playing NBA wing. He has strong physical attributes for a shooting guard or small forward, standing (in his words) 6'7 without shoes, 205 pounds, with a 6'11 wingspan, and excellent athletic ability. He is very smooth and fluid, and can play above the rim with ease, sometimes in highlight reel fashion.
Luwawu has made huge strides as an outside shooter, upping his 3-point percentage this season from 29 to 39%, while tripling his total number of attempts. He's been extremely reliable shooting the ball with his feet set this season (43% in catch and shoot situations according to Synergy Sports Tech), and has also shown some flashes of being capable of coming off screens. He's also developing his ability to pull-up off the dribble, something he has the freedom to experiment quite a bit with at Mega Leks.
Luwawu is also a very good passer, demonstrating strong court vision, and the ability to distribute with either hand in drive and dish situations. He can operate at different speeds, has a powerful first step and long strides as a driver, and thus has strong potential in the pick and roll and attacking closeouts.
Perhaps Luwawu's most NBA ready attribute is his defense. He showed the ability to stay in front of point guards, shooting guards and small forwards in the game we attended, thanks to his quick feet, long arms and ability to get over screens. Mega Leks likes to utilize him at the top of their full-court press, and Luwawu has wreaked quite a bit of havoc in the Adriatic League this year with his very quick hands.
In his Own Words:
“I improved everywhere this season, passing, shooting, going to the basket with contact, without contact, defense also. I improved everywhere, and I think everybody sees it.”
Luwawu is still working on his ball-handling ability, as he's struggled at times utilizing advanced moves and being forced to react to changing defenses on the fly. He's very reliant on his jump-shot, and is not finishing around the basket at a great rate this season, at least relative to his physical tools, posting a fairly underwhelming 43% 2P%, partially due to his inconsistency as an off the dribble shooter. His feel for the game is still catching up to his natural ability, as he suffers from mental lapses at times and can be somewhat turnover prone. His awareness on both ends of the floor leaves something to be desired as well, although part of this can be attributed to his lack of experience at the highest levels of professional basketball.
While he's been shooting the ball extremely well this season, and shows fluid and consistent mechanics that should lend to strong results, this hasn't always been the case throughout his career. Luwawu is just 138/419 (33%) from beyond the arc in all competitions we have data from historically, so there are some question marks about whether he can keep to shoot the ball at such a blistering rate when he doesn't have the same type of green light and breakneck pace he's enjoying this season.
In his Own Words:
“What I need to improve is not committing turnovers. My pull-up shooting after dribbling. I can improve everything, but in particular this.”
Luwawu already entered the draft last year, but didn't get much love from NBA scouts, as he was very lightly scouted in Pro B, and thus forced to withdraw. The fact that his season ran extremely late, up until mid-June, and he was unable to attend the adidas EuroCamp to showcase himself didn't help matters. Luwawu actually had a plane ticket in hand to fly to Treviso, Italy to conduct a private workout in front of an army of NBA scouts on an off day from the Pro B playoffs, but was forced to cancel it due to the fact that his ID had expired and he was not let through airport security.
That was likely a blessing in disguise, as the phenomenal season he's had in the Adriatic League seems to have catapulted his stock well into the first round, to the point that he will likely be getting looks from teams drafting in the lottery this June.
In his Own Words:
“Of course my goal first is to go to the NBA. I want to be the best French player there. And why not become an all-star in the NBA.”
Scouting Report by Jonathan Givony, Video Analysis by Mike Schmitz
A year ago, virtually no one in his home country of France, even in the basketball community, knew much of anything about then-18 year old Timothe Luwawu. He had never played for any of France's various youth national teams, and he saw only 23 mop-up minutes in Pro A with his hometown team, Antibes, which was on the verge of being relegated back to the second division after only having been promoted that season.
Instead, Luwawu was biding his time in France's junior (Espoirs) league, which plays its games a few hours before the pros suit up on match-day every weekend. Luwawu's strong performance in the Espoirs league (18 points [52% 2P%, 34% 3P%], 6.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.5 steals in under 30 minutes per game) eventually earned him an invite to the France's U20 national team which competed in the European Championship last summer, where he played a minor role on a team that finished in 8th place.
Part of the team's preparation for the U20s was a series of games at the adidas EuroCamp in June, and Luwawu perked his head up just enough in the last two games (scoring 25 points in 46 minutes, including 5/7 for 3) to get noticed and likely earn some attention from the many NBA scouts in attendance.
This season started much like the year before, coming off the bench, this time in Pro B, but Luwawu played well enough in the first two months to earn the trust of young head coach Julien Espinosa and land himself a spot in his team's starting five, and he's mostly held onto that over the last ten games. Antibes has won 6 of their last 7 games, and finds itself just two games out of second place now, as they attempt to put themselves in position to get promoted back to Pro A next year.
Luwawu (who sometimes go by the name Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, or even just Timothe Cabarrot, using his mother's maiden name) stands out as a NBA prospect not so much for what he is now, but more for what he can become in the future.
Standing 6-7, he has long arms, big hands, a good frame, and excellent athletic ability. He's a versatile player who shows a nice framework of skills in virtually all facets of the games, be it with his ability to create off the dribble, find the open man, make shots from the perimeter, or defend a few different positions.
Luwawu's strong first step and ability to attack his man off the dribble with either hand, allows him to operate smoothly in transition or make plays in the half-court in a straight line. He shows flashes of being able to play at different speeds, but still isn't a strong enough ball-handler to fully take advantage of his athleticism and emerge as a more proficient shot-creator. He also could still stand to get stronger and improve his ability to finish around the basket in traffic, as he tends to shy away from contact at times, which is likely in part due to his youth and lack of experience.
Nevertheless, Luwawu has good court vision and is more than willing to make the extra pass and find the open man. He rarely overdribbles and shows a solid understanding of knowing how to make proper reads and contribute to his team's ball-movement.
Luwawu is a capable outside shooter, making just under one 3-pointer per game on average despite only playing 17 minutes on average. He has a compact, repeatable stroke with solid shooting mechanics, which suggests he has plenty of room to grow as a perimeter threat as his career moves on. He's making 78% of his free throw attempts on the season, which is a good sign. He can still stand to improve his balance and not dip the ball upon the catch as he tends to do at times, and isn't anywhere near as effective shooting off the dribble as he is with his feet set at the moment.
Luwawu's best skill at the moment, and possibly his most attractive NBA attribute long term, is the versatility he offers on defense. His combination of size, length and lateral quickness gives him the ability to guard up to four different positions at the Pro B level, and it's not difficult to see him developing into a big SG/SF type who can capably guard either wing position in the NBA and can occasionally be slotted onto guards as well. Luwawu has quick feet, great closeout speed, and very nice instincts jumping in the passing lanes, as he's shown averaging between 1.8-2 steals per-40 minutes in each of the last two seasons.
Luwawu has already indicated he will be putting his name in the 2015 NBA Draft, and his very small contract and buyout will likely make him an attractive option to teams looking to bring him to the NBA right away, or stash his rights in Europe for a couple of years.
In a draft that is looking stronger than many initially thought, there is a great deal of debate at the moment about which internationals should be considered the best prospects after the likes of Kristaps Porzingis and Mario Hezonja. Over the last 10 NBA Drafts, 47 international players (excluding those who attended US colleges) were drafted in the first round, or 4.7 per year on average, meaning there will likely be a few international players who will emerge as first round candidates for the 2015 Draft. The question is who. Luwawu is the first to throw his hat in the ring. There will surely be others.
Luwawu's framework of skills makes it easy to envision plugging him into a Danny Green, C.J. Miles or Thabo Sefolosha-esqe "3 and D" role in the NBA. A strong second half of the season will surely go a long way in fortifying his candidacy in this year's draft, as will an invite to the Nike Hoop Summit, which he is reportedly lobbying for behind the scenes. The fact that his team has secured a spot in the Finals of the French Leaders Cup Pro B (to be played prior before the Pro A French Cup in Disneyland Paris) should help his exposure as well. [Read Full Article]