Euroleague Preview: NBA Draft Prospects (The

Euroleague Preview: NBA Draft Prospects (The
Oct 27, 2006, 01:38 am
Continuing with our preview of the Euroleague season that kicked off this week, we turn our attention to the NBA draft prospects we find on the various rosters that are making their debut. After first focusing our attention on the “veteran” Euroleaguers, we bring you the seven most interesting “rookies” to be found here. Nicolas Batum and Ricky Rubio lead this crop.

Euroleague NBA Prospects Part One, the “Veterans”

#1 Nicolas Batum
6-8, Small Forward, 1988, Le Mans (France)


Luis Fernandez

After blossoming in the youth categories over the past few months (earning MVP honors in the European Junior Championship this summer), the timing couldn’t be any better for his team Le Mans to make its debut in the Euroleague. It will be a perfect scenario for Nicolas Batum to showcase his excellent abilities and terrific potential. We should be able to see him enjoying already regular minutes despite his youth, not only considering the limited talent that Le Mans enjoys, but also because Batum is already a useful guy for this team.

If we combine his skills and physical set, Batum has little competition among international prospects. He’s a long and very athletic wing, still a bit skinny, but who enjoys a very nice frame. At 6-8, he’s even capable of playing in the backcourt, although he seems better suited for the small forward position.

Most of the stuff Batum does on the court seems to come effortlessly. He’s a very fluid player, fundamentally sound, able to find good solutions in most situations thanks to his very complete skill set. A nice ball-handler, Nicolas can take the ball to the hoop showing a good first step, footwork and quickness, and finishes near the basket either with layups or dunks, taking advantage of his athleticism and body control while in the air. Batum is a solid passer who also shares the ball after splitting defenses and shows criteria moving it in the offensive flow. He’s a smart guy with nice basketball IQ. Not the best shooter around, he is at least a very decent one and enjoys really solid foundations nevertheless. Showing good mechanics and the ability to shot off the dribble (with a move that’s really hard to stop), he will likely become a very productive player in this area.

Defense is not a problem for Batum either. Perhaps he can eventually get outmuscled at the Euroleague level, but he has terrific tools to match up against his rivals, as he’s a quick guy in terms of lateral movement, is really long with an excellent wingspan that can be very annoying for his rivals, and shows the right attitude.

The biggest point of concern for Batum revolves around his coolness on court. He tends to disappear too often. He can enchain a bunch of spectacular plays and then go completely unnoticed. He’s not the most active guy on the basketball court when it comes to taking responsibilities. However, it’s not that much of a problem at this level, as he won’t be asked by any means to assume a very significant role. He only needs to play good defense (which he usually does), be smart on the offensive end (not a problem for him), commit as few mistakes as possible (he’s quite a reliable player) and take advantage whenever he has a good scoring opportunity (we’ll see how he fares here).

Alongside Ricky Rubio, he’s perhaps the player with the biggest potential in the Euroleague.

#2 Ricky Rubio
6-3, Point Guard, 1990, Joventut (Spain)


Luis Fernandez

Fresh off his 16th birthday just a few days ago, Ricky Rubio will make his debut in the top international league at a stunning young age and with an even more shockingly significant role on his team DKV Joventut. Rubio has managed to surpass Marcelinho Huertas in the point guard rotation, and is basically splitting minutes with veteran starter Elmer Bennett. His coach Aíto García-Reneses is well known in Spain for having trusted other gems early on such as Juan Carlos Navarro, Pau Gasol or Rudy Fernández.

While his coach might not be afraid of playing youngsters (he’s obviously not), Rubio has earned his minutes with surprisingly solid outings. Ricky is a player with an incredible feel for the game. Everything comes natural to him (except the shooting), and he has some kind of special relationship with the ball. He can perform some unbelievable stuff, like crazy dribbles or flashy passes, but he’s also a super smart kid that perfectly knows what his place is at Joventut. It’s just as impressive how quickly he has adapted to a distributing role, playing very sober basketball, not abusing the ball at all, while perfectly knowing when he can ignore the script and try something different by himself, usually attacking the basket to enrich his team’s offense and make it less predictable. His self-confidence seems off the charts at this point.

Rubio has the tools to stay on a Euroleague court. He’s a skinny player that will surely grow into his body, but he’s ripped for his age and not afraid of contact at all. He has terrific ball-handling skills to keep himself ahead of the rivals that try to take advantage of his tender age. He’s also a very decent defender, superb if we take into account his youth, showing good lateral movement and an incredible ability to steal the ball. Nobody is safe dribbling near him; he has a great wingspan (reportedly around 6-9) and very quick hands to come up with the ball. Keeping the ball and being able to defend his assignment are minimal requirements for any point guard to play, but he brings more to the table.

A great passer, as mentioned, Ricky takes very calculated risks, which means that for the most part he sticks with the distribution game trying to make the ball flow with easy passes. Sometimes he’ll attempt show off his excellent court vision, and from time to time he tries something more vertical, looking for the definitive pass, or using his slashing skills to split defenses and feed the open man. It’s remarkable how he drives in traffic, looking like a snake in the water.

Rubio’s shooting is the biggest question mark. He can regularly knock down short-to-mid open jumpers, even in off-the-dribble fashion, but these are difficult to come by. From the perimeter, things get a lot uglier, and his inconsistency is exposed. To make things worse, his team Joventut actually lacks perimeter shooting, which doesn’t help his cause. Also, he suffers finishing around the rim, as he still misses an extra degree of strength to get up off his feet after his slashing slaloms. This all means that scoring is not what he will consistently deliver this season.

Anyway, if he manages to keep his current rate of playing time throughout the season, it will already be a major success. What else could we ask from a kid like this?

#3 Rudy Fernández
6-5, Shooting Guard, 1985, Joventut (Spain)


Luis Fernandez

When Rudy Fernández decided to withdraw from last year’s draft, besides the low chances he had to land somewhere in the first round, an important factor was the possibility to play in the Euroleague after his team DKV Joventut earned its spot by reaching the semifinals of the ACB League. Well, the moment has arrived and he should be prepared to make some noise. But is he?

Rudy is coming off a magical summer after having conquered the World Championship in Japan while enjoying an important role off the bench for the Spanish squad. Still, he wasn’t a difference-maker, and his prominence decreased as the rival’s level increased. The beginning of the ACB league has brought us quite a similar Rudy to last season’s. He’s yet to make that definitive jump that should make him the clear-cut go-to player in Joventut. However, he seems to have taken a few more responsibilities, while he remains that heady and complete player that helps in all departments of the game, truly one of the most important pieces on his team.

A quick and quite athletic shooting guard, Rudy is also a fundamentally sound player who displays the basic skills of the game and a high basketball IQ. A solid ball-handler, he can easily slash towards the basket even if his first step is a bit average. Also a nice shooter, he enjoys three-point range and shows good consistency shooting in static situations, but still struggles whenever he needs to get his shot off under pressure or in off-the-dribble fashion. His mechanics are actually pretty good, and he still can become a much better shooter. Considering that he’s a wing, Rudy is also a remarkable passer, either in slashing situations, on the fast-break or just in static settings. A very solid defender, he shows quick lateral movement and the right attitude, even if his limited strength sometimes hampers his effectiveness. That’s one of his biggest problems when we think about a hypothetical NBA future: he’s still a rather skinny guy, while his playing level is not on a high enough point to make up for it.

However, Rudy is a smart young player still with some serious potential to fulfill, and nothing should motivate him more than playing in the top European competition with Joventut.

#4 Anton Ponkrashov
6-7, PG/SG, 1986, CSKA Moscow (Russia)


Luis Fernandez

Everything is going rather fast for the young Anton Ponkrashov. Virtually unknown a couple of years ago, he’s now playing for one of the biggest European powerhouses and is expected to see regular playing time, even in the Euroleague. It shouldn’t come as a surprise given the limited depth of CSKA’s perimeter and the relative maturity that Ponkrashov enjoys despite being a 1986 kid.

Anton will surely take advantage of CSKA’s perimeter versatility, because he’s not a typical player. Standing 6-7, he’s a true playmaker on the offensive end, but still doesn’t make the cut defensively against quick points given his average athleticism. However, with the very quick combo-guard J.R. Holden, the small shooter Trajan Langdon and Theodoros Papaloukas (a kind of superstar version of Ponkrashov himself), all organized by the privileged basketball mind of coach Ettore Messina, Ponkrashov can find a place.

We’re talking about a very talented player, a skilled guy who plays with poise and coolness. He’s a pass-first guard, and a pretty nice one indeed, even sometimes to a fault, eventually wasting some good scoring opportunities to instead feed his teammates. A nice ball-handler, he’s a very left-handed player when it comes to putting the ball in the net, and actually doesn’t feel comfortable at all driving with his right unless its to pass, which makes him quite predictable. Even using his left hand, he still doesn’t take full advantage of his size to finish his layups (like his teammate Papaloukas does, for example). He has a promising shooting stroke that already shows nice range and some consistency, although it’s still improvable. All in all, he’s not much of a scorer at this point.

What Ponkrashov can bring to the table right off the bat is nice decision making. He’s a smart guy with good experience already in the increasingly demanding Russian SuperLeague. He’s also an intense player that tries to make up for his athletic shortcomings by delivering very nice effort. Still, even if we’ll surely see him on the court in the Euroleague, we shouldn’t expect him to have any significant impact given that he plays for one of the top two title contenders.

#5 Milenko Tepic
6-8, Small Forward, 1987, Partizan Belgrade (Serbia)


Kristian Hohnjec

One of the best players of his 1987-age group, Tepic was leader of the Under-20 Serbian National team that won the gold this summer, and is a now regular part of Partizan’s starting lineup after being brought over from Vojvodina. Milenko is one of most versatile players in the Adriatic league, being capable of doing virtually anything on the court.

Tepic has intriguing potential - being 6-8 with nice athleticism and the ability to play all perimeter positions. He has a good first step and solid leaping ability, but his biggest strength relies probably in his lateral quickness, since he is able to cover all perimeter matchups at his size. Considering his length, athleticism and work ethic, Milenko has the upside to become a lockdown defender at the European level at the very least.

He is very team oriented player, doing all the little things that doesn’t show up on the boxscore, but are much appreciated by a coach and teammates. Tepic plays as a PG for the most part, since Partizan is not satisfied with the performance of former Golden State Warrior Vonteego Cummings. As a playmaker Tepic shows good distribution and passing skills, always looking for his teammates first and foremost. He is very unselfish, to a fault at times, finishing by himself only when there is no other available option. Tepic’s shooting ability has improved some, but he is still not very confident in his perimeter stroke. There is a good reason for that, as he’s shooting a terrible 26% from the field and 18% from behind the 3 point line in the Adriatic league so far.

Tepic is an excellent rebounder for his position, crashing the glass on both sides of the court. He is also a very intelligent player, always making the right choice and showing impressive calm and patience for a youngster.

Entering his rookie Euroleague season, Tepic will be counted on for heavy minutes in the backcourt. It will be interesting to see how he fares defensively against some of most dangerous scorers in Europe, and whether he’ll be able to find the balance between passing and scoring himself.

#6 Yannick Bokolo
6-4, Point Guard, 1985, Le Mans (France)


Bokolo is playing in the Euroleague for the first this year. He will be automatically eligible for next year’s draft, so this is his last time to shine at the top European level for the NBA scouts. Bokolo was heading into the season as the starting point guard of LeMans, but a bad start in the French league for his entire team showed the need for a more experienced playmaker. LeMans signed Tyson Wheeler and gave him starting duties for now.

Bokolo spent his summer with the French national team, getting a much bigger role than initially planned once Tony Parker broke his finger and left the team. He showed that he can get past almost any defender at the International level this summer, but also that he still has a hard time finishing near the rim, especially after contact.

Bokolo has only one year of playing full time point guard underneath his belt. He is not yet your typical point guard who is able to set the tempo every time down the court, but he is getting better in this aspect game after game. Offensively, he is mostly a slasher at this point in his career, struggling badly with his outside shot. Defensively, Bokolo uses his great length and lateral quickness to play solid defense every time he steps out on the floor.

He has been inconsistent early on in the season, and it will be interesting to see how much playing time he’s able to get.

#7 Mirza Teletovic
6-9, Power Forward, 1985, Tau Vitoria (Bosnia)


Luis Fernandez

Mirza Teletovic will get his first taste of top European competition this season with Tau Vitoria, but he seems ready for the task. A very strong power forward, he’s mature enough to contribute and sneak into the very competitive inside rotation, which he has already proven in the opening rounds of the ACB League, taking advantage of several injuries among big man in Vitoria to showcase his abilities and consistency on court.

The Bosnian power forward is a very strong player, quite athletic, even explosive, who isn’t afraid of contact at all, but at the same loves to hang around the perimeter. And that’s basically because his main scoring weapon is the 3-point shot. He’s surprisingly reliable firing from behind the arc, showing pretty good form and a very quick release. It’s almost always a static shot, not showing off-the-dribble skills. Actually, even if you eventually will see him doing it at times, he rarely puts the ball on the floor to attack his rival despite enjoying nice quickness. If he’s not shooting treys, he’s usually playing without the ball in pick-and-roll situations (that actually most times finish with him rolling outside for a pick-and-pop set) or looking for spaces near the basket.

Teletovic is not a very skilled low post player. He can do basic stuff, but he’s not particularly comfortable there and suffers trying to score over bigger rivals if he can’t outmuscle them with his physicality. He’s a 6-9 player, which isn’t bad, but still isn’t great, and indeed it’s a bit of the same story on defense, as he suffers trying to stop low post players who are taller than him once they receive the ball. He uses his body quite well trying to keep them far from the basket, but it’s not always enough. His lateral mobility is also a bit average, especially for an athletic guy like him, but in general he’s not a defensive liability at the European level, showing the right effort and trying to cash in on his strengths.

Mirza knows what he has to deliver to be effective. He sticks to what he does best, which is actually the only way he will get playing time on a team that features the likes of Luis Scola, Tiago Splitter and Kaya Pecker in the frontcourt. If he keeps working hard and plays serious basketball this season, he will certainly have a shot at the second round come draft next June.

There are other young players who are considered NBA prospects participating in the Euroleague. Some of them won’t be enjoying much playing time if at all, and others just aren’t considered as interesting as the 13 players profiled in this two part series. Other players include:

- Alexis Ajinca
- Ludovic Vaty
- Luka Bogdanovic
- Manuchar Markoishvili
- Pape-Philippe Amagou
- Jonas Maciulis
- Nikita Kourbanov
- Oguz Savas
- Engin Emre Bayav
- Baris Ermis
- Boris Bakic
- Semih Erden
- Dusan Sakota

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