Euroleague Final Four: Nike International Junior Tournament

Euroleague Final Four: Nike International Junior Tournament
May 08, 2009, 04:56 pm
A recap of the top prospects seen at the Nike International Junior Tournament played parallel to the Euroleague Final Four in Berlin last week. FMP Zeleznik, led by Dejan Musli and Nenad Miljenovic continue to crush any competition they face at the junior level in Europe, winning the tournament for the third consecutive year. Lietuvos Rytas' Jonas Valanciunas and Gran Canaria’s Bakary Konate were also standouts.

For a recap of Nenad Miljenovic's play, see Luis Fernandez's article here.

Jonas Valanciunas, 6-11, Center, Lietuvos Rytas, 1992

Likely the prospect with the most overall upside as far as the NBA is concerned, the Lithuanian national team frontcourt appears to be in excellent hands for the future with the emergence of Jonas Valanciunas and Donatas Motiejunas—two big men that appear to complement each other extremely well.

Only born in 1992, Valanciunas is still a somewhat raw player, mostly due to his lack of strength, but he possesses a frame that should fill out and an incredible wingspan that allows him to make a huge impact in the paint at this level on both ends of the floor. He’s a fairly mobile big man who runs the court well and can get off the floor with ease, particularly for impressive dunks around the basket. His hands are both soft and extremely big, making him a very reliable presence as a pick and roll finisher, and the extension he gets around the rim allows him to finish everything.

Although he’s clearly an inside oriented player, Valanciunas can face up from 8-10 feet and put the ball on the floor for a dribble or two, possibly mixing in a shot-fake and then a crafty pivot move. His lack of strength makes it difficult for him to finish every play that’s created for him, and he may lack just a degree of toughness and feistiness that hopefully he’ll develop further down the road. Valanciunas is an unselfish player who operates fairly impressively on the court, although he clearly lacks experience and a great feel for the game, which is not a shock considering that he’s still only 16 years old. He seemed to disappear for stretches, and clearly needs to work on his conditioning level.

While possessing nice touch from the free throw line, Valanciunas didn’t show anything resembling a mid-range jumper, something he’ll probably be working on in the future considering the gene pool he comes from.

Defensively, Valanciunas can be a presence as a shot-blocker coming from the weak-side, as he possesses solid timing and terrific length as mentioned, but he tends to struggle in man to man defense in the half-court due to his lack of strength. He got moved around in the post quite a bit and was outmuscled trying to crash the defensive glass, although he was quite a force as an offensive rebounder.

While it’s probably too early to make any definitive statements, Valanciunas is clearly one of the most talented players in his age group, and will generate quite a bit of interest from NBA scouts over the next few years depending on what route he decides to take.

Dejan Musli, 7-0, Center, 1991, FMP Zeleznik

Although he absolutely dominated this tournament from a statistical standpoint—being nearly unstoppable in the paint when he truly put his mind to it, Dejan Musli generated very little excitement from what we can gather from the NBA scouts we spoke to, as he appears to have changed very little from last year.

Still a mountain of a teenager at just 18 years old, and likely upwards of 260 pounds, Musli’s body looks slightly better than it did last time we saw him, and he’s also running the floor a little quicker as well. He still tends to play below the rim, though, and relies almost exclusively on the incredible strength advantage he possesses against the extremely underdeveloped kids he faces at this level of competition.

Most of his points therefore come just off brute force, as he bullys his way around the basket. It helps that virtually his team’s entire offense revolves around getting him the ball directly underneath the rim. The fact that he has excellent hands and knows how to use his body to his advantage should not be discounted, but it’s still a bit difficult to see this style of play translating to a higher level of competition, which is why Musli will need to diversify his game in the future. He has very nice touch from the free throw line and can step out and hit a mid-range jumper every now and then, although it’s clear that he is at his best operating inside the paint.

Beyond that, we miss a little bit of passion or character from Musli at times, as he gives off a very cold impression, as if he doesn’t really enjoy playing basketball. His passing skills are average, and he struggles to defend out on the perimeter if forced to step out and hedge the pick and roll. He is an incredibly prolific rebounder, though, as no one can really stand in his way when he decides to go get a ball coming off the rim, particularly on the offensive glass.

Musli isn’t likely to convince his NBA detractors that he’s capable of translating his production at the junior stage to a higher level of competition until he actually does it, so it will be important for him to start seeing minutes and producing in the Adriatic League with FMP next season.

Bakary Konate, 6-9, PF/C, Gran Canaria, 1993

One of the younger players seen at this tournament, 16-year old big man and Mali native Bakary Konate did a very nice job acquainting himself with the European and American scouts in attendance.

Konate is very undeveloped physically as you can imagine considering his age—he possesses a poor lower body (with very skinny legs) that may limit his ability to develop moving forward, but does have a nice upper body. He’s a fairly mobile player who plays extremely hard and possesses a very nice feel for the game—three things that leave significant room for optimism regarding his long-term future. He is a very good rebounder and appears to have decent touch around the basket and when facing up, even showing some limited ball-handling skills in transition. His hands do not appear to be that great, but there is still time to work on this part of the game. Defensively he got pushed around quite a bit by the more physically mature players he went up against, and also showed his lack of experience on this end of the floor. Considering how young he is (he really does look it too), Konate is definitely a guy to keep an eye on for the future. The fact that he also plays for one of the best teams in all of Europe in terms of developing young talent is a big plus as well.

-Brazilian Augusto Lima was somewhat up and down over the course of this tournament, but he was potentially one of the more intriguing prospects around due to his excellent physical profile. Lima has good size at 6-9, to go along with an excellent wingspan and nice athleticism, which evolved first and foremost on the offensive glass, where he was a force at times. Offensively, he’s not terribly skilled or smart, but he does run the floor well and looks comfortable facing up and attacking the rim from 8-12 feet. His perimeter shot looked inconsistent and he was fairly hit or miss on the defensive end, appearing to lack some awareness on this end of the floor. He’s a fairly limited guy at the moment, but considering that he’s only 17 years old, he still has plenty of time to develop.

-Lithuanian wing player Dovydas Redikas had some nice moments over the course of the week, showing a fairly advanced ability to create offense off the dribble thanks to his strong ball-handling skills and solid athleticism. He’s got a strong frame and seems to have nice scoring instincts, showing decent perimeter shooting ability, even if his jumper wasn’t always falling for him. He’s only 6-4, but was almost two years younger than most players here, as he won’t turn 17 until December.

-Fellow Lithuanian guard Augustas Peciukevicius made the tournament’s all-first team, more-so thanks to his competitiveness and team spirit than an incredibly high skill-level. Peciukevicius is a real fighter, looking extremely aggressive in every moment he was on the floor. He’s a streaky shooter and a bit wild at times with his ball-handling skills, but plays outstanding defense and is an excellent passer, making you wonder whether he can develop into a point guard down the road. At 6-3, he’ll probably need to.

-Serbian Nikola Vukasovic of FMP was his team’s starting point guard until the much younger Nenad Miljenovic stole his thunder somewhat later on in the tournament, but he did show some intriguing characteristics himself. He has a good frame, long arms and appears to be a solid athlete, although his lack of strength does limited him somewhat. He’s a good ball-handler, looking very solid creating with either hand, playing pick and roll and finding the open man on the drive and dish, and is an especially solid post entry passer. He looks fairly limited as a scorer, though, being mostly relegated to shooting the ball with his feet set, and possessing fairly ugly mechanics on his jumper. He doesn’t seem to be all that interested in scoring from what we could tell, being very deferential at times and probably lacking some confidence. Still, he’s an interesting player that could develop into an interesting prospect in time.

-Also playing for FMP was Aleksandar Ponjavic, who didn’t see a ton of playing time, but does seem to have the potential to develop into an intriguing player down the road. Ponjavic is a wing player with excellent size at 6-6 to go along with solid athleticism. He seems like a fairly talented player, able to create his own shot off the bounce and pull-up off the dribble from mid-range while also looking fairly scrappy defensively taking charges. He isn’t much of a long-range shooter at all, which is probably the thing he needs to work on the most.

-Despite being the most experienced player at this tournament, with some heavy Euroleague minutes underneath at age 17, Mirza Sarajlija really looked quite average here, which probably had something to do with the fact that he was just returning from a knee injury. He basically shot the ball every time he touched it, showing a quick release and impressive mechanics, but wasn’t all that accurate when his team needed him most. Out of the 35 field goals he attempted in the three games here, only 5 of them came from inside the arc, which tells you quite a bit about his shot-selection. He showed very little in the ways of point guard skills, and turned the ball frequently as well. Sarajlija probably doesn’t share the upside of some of his counterparts seen here, but he’s likely a much better player than he was able to show in Berlin.

Spanish point guard Oscar Alvarado was the engine of Gran Canaria’s offense here in Berlin, looking like an excellent prospect for European basketball for the coming years. He’s a true point guard who can distribute the ball with either hand and does an excellent job running the pick and roll, where to likes to find teammates off the dribble. His quickness and aggressiveness allow him to get to the basket at will at this level and make a living at the free throw line, although his wild style of play sometimes makes him very turnover prone. His shooting mechanics need work, even if he is capable of making jumpers. Defensively, his lack of size, strength and length limits his potential on this end somewhat. He does seem to have excellent leadership skills and a real flair for running a team confidently already at his young age. His upside is not off the charts, but he looks like a pretty safe bet to develop into a solid professional player.

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