We've spoken to a few scouts and there seems to be mixed feelings about this edition. On one hand, we're all missing some first-round material for the upcoming draft, although that's a rare commodity to see in pre-draft camps these days, and some still might reach that status down the road. On the other hand, the average level has been pretty solid, and the camp scored a great success by bringing over Joel Freeland. Virtually nobody knew the English player in advance besides a few Spanish scouts (there were many of them in Treviso), and Freeland in turn emerged as legit draft material.
Personally, despite not liking this kind of meat market that somehow betrays the spirit of what a competitive sport is (I know, I'm a romantic), I must admit that I've somehow enjoyed the experience and found it quite useful to keep track of many youngsters.
Treviso Strikes Back Against Italy
This last day featured a significantly smaller amount of scouts, while the camp roster kept shrinking due to players leaving (such as Halperin, for example). Likely concerned about yesterday's blowout against Croatia, the camp directors changed the plan for the last day, playing a five on five on five transition drill setting instead of the regular games between the camp teams, while resting the players chosen to face Italy, a crop that wisely included Ponkrashov, Shabalkin or Eliyahu.
It did work, and the camp team easily got the victory against a disappointing Italy squad where only Luigi Datome and Luca Vitali did something. Datome took the scoring load of the team, showing some of his excellent shooting touch, with good range and even effective in shooting off the dribble from mid-range. He looked as athletic as always, and pretty quick with lateral defense. Datome will probably be one of the youngsters making some serious noise next season in Europe.
Meanwhile, Vitali showed his excellent skill set, particularly concerning ball-handling and passing. Despite committing many turnovers, he took rather good decisions distributing the ball, being a smart kid who sees the floor really well. He was inconsistent shooting the ball, as usual. And of course, his biggest knock is still his limited athleticism that makes it hard for him to get by other guards. Luca is coming off an excellent season in Premiata Montegranaro (coincidentally, Marquinhos former team in Italy) in Lega Due, helping them earn the promotion to the first division for the next season. All in all, he should develop into a very nice player for Europe.
There's no better way to describe the general impression that Marcus Vinicius Vieira de Souza left in Treviso than our own questioning, in hindsight, of the pertinence of devoting a permanent space to him in these Eurocamp reports.
Nevertheless, his performance in the last day of the camp was pretty solid. His perimeter stroke is nowhere to be found, and he keeps unnecessarily fading away on every shot, but he managed to produce coming closer to the basket, whether with his pull-up mid range jumpers or through slashing moves, where he's looking very quick beating his matchups. Still we miss a bit more of aggressiveness in his game or better team defense.
Rounding Up The Camp
Here are some final comments to complete our coverage of the Eurocamp. You'll need to read all four pieces to get the (our) complete picture.
There were a large group of big men projects in the camp, still so far away from becoming decent players (and with such limited chances) that we'll save our readers the tall-but-soft-and-skinny-good-shooter-and-raw-post-player litany.
The Player of The Camp: Anton Ponkrashov
Our initial intention was to highlight different players everyday in "The Player of The Day" section. That plan went to hell, because Ponkrashov was hands down the best player the final day and overall in the Eurocamp.
After the debacle against Croatia, it was hard to believe in a victory for the camp squad against Italy. But the addition of Ponkrashov was probably one of the biggest difference makers of the so-called Reebok All Stars (besides Italy's own weakness). Suddenly, a bunch of players who had been together for only four days were playing like a real team, benefiting immensely from the impressive passing ability and decision making of the Russian wonder. It was one good decision after another. And he performed an unbelievable array of passes, off the dribble in slashing moves, feeding a cutter, feeding the post, taking the ball out to the arc, coast-to-coast, side-to-side, one-handed, two-handed, straight, bounce passes, over the head, with back-spin, behind the back,... In the words of an NBA scout, watching Ponkrashov in a game equals to a passing clinic.
It's all about mind and execution. Anton visualizes the pass incredibly fast and has the ability to get it done no matter how difficult the situation is. For example, when he's under pressure or double-teamed, he creates separation between himself and his defenders to release a long two-handed pass over his head and over his rivals that always goes to the right place (usually an open man on the other side of the offense). Besides, he's not a ball-hog that just dribbles and dribbles until finding a chance to exhibit themselves in the pass. When Ponkrashov slashes, which he does very well, it's with a defined purpose that will likely mean an advantage for his team.
If I didn't know the guy at all and someone asked me which position does he play just looking at his physical set, I would say power forward. He's that strong and has such a wide frame. But it works for him because he's surprisingly quick and just takes advantage of his strength and size to make things easier. As we said the first day of the camp, he will suffer against quicker guards, but he has been stubbornly proving us that he's not a bad defender, being intense on the ball, moving his feet remarkably quick and wisely using his superior length to come away with some steals. This final day wasn't his best when it comes to shooting the ball, but he has showed us that he's a reliable guy with nice range in his jumper.
It's difficult not to feel skeptical about how well a guy like Ponkrashov can translate his game to such an athletic league as the NBA. He's a heavy-footed player when it comes to getting off the ground, and after all, very few big point guards become really successful. Still, with his skills, strength, intensity and smartness, we shouldn't rule out at all that he makes it to the first round in the following years.
For the moment, he should start getting big-time action for the Russian National Team in its senior version. J.R.Holden and Petr Samoylenko can't really distribute the ball and create game for the team; they are not real playmakers. Ponkrashov is the answer to the Russian pledges, and he's more than enough mature to compete at that level.