Roundup: Milenko Tepic, a Serbian Standout

Roundup: Milenko Tepic, a Serbian Standout
Jan 23, 2007, 03:15 pm
This weekend’s 20-point performance against FMP gave Milenko Tepic the edge to be named our Player of the Week, and also provides an excellent chance to take a long look at a player who is emerging as one of the most solid promises out of the Serbian pool. We also pay special attention to a couple of second-round candidates, such as Ali Traore and Marko Tomas.

Player of the Week: Milenko Tepic


It’s been a very good season for Milenko Tepic so far. After leading Serbia and Montenegro to gold in the U-20 European Championship, he’s introducing himself at the top European level while playing for Partizan in the Euroleague. Without any real spectacular performances, he’s leaving many drops of his talent and shows nice consistency playing the game. Life is easier in the Adriatic League, and there he recorded a career-high 20 points this weekend, adding 3 rebounds and 2 assists while leading Partizan to a valuable victory against a tough and direct rival, FMP.

Coach Vujosevic is taking advantage of Tepic’s terrific basketball IQ by playing him at the point guard position off the bench. Considering he stands 6-8, that’s quite an unusual situation. However, just reading his body language, seeing the way he brings the ball up the court, and analyzing how he distributes it while being pressured by his match-ups, he transmits the feeling that he’s far from being a pure point guard. Still, he probably won’t end up playing there, and regardless, it comes to show his excellent versatility. Tepic had always distinguished himself with his slashing abilities, taking advantage of his explosive athleticism. As he grew older, and the competition grew tougher, that explosiveness doesn’t look as effective, even if his nice athleticism is still there (he’s more of a fluid guy now). But he’s certainly improved in other areas of his game.

Tepic still can beat his defender off the dribble on a regular basis, but not as easily as before. Now he relies a little bit more on his ball-handling and footwork. Besides, he has gained remarkable creativeness playing off the dribble, emerging as a great decision maker. He’s also a very reliable defender who shows nice lateral quickness and solid activity using his hands. Perimeter shooting is still his primary flaw, although he also has improved there. Actually, this weekend’s unique performance was possible thanks to his shooting accuracy, netting 4 out of 5 three-pointers. If he can add consistency here, he would likely become clear-cut first-round material.

If Aleksandrov was the leader of this outstanding Serbian generation in 2003, and Labovic stepped up and earned MVP honours in 2005, now it’s arguably Tepic who leads the crop and seems to realistically enjoy the most promising future. Actually, he’s one of the most solid promises out of a Serbian pool that seems to be disappointing lately to some extent when it comes to producing star caliber players.

Taking a Long Look at…

…Ali Traore, who is lately going through the most successful weeks of the season. We had the chance to watch his 24-point performance in the French All Star Game and check his development since his showing at the Treviso Camp. Of course, an All Star game is not the best setting to evaluate a player –actually, it’s a pretty bad one- but Traore left enough hints about his current playing style to devote a few lines here.

Let’s state from the beginning that Traore pretty much looks like the same player he was in Treviso. He’s a very inside oriented big man, usually looking for production in the low post, even with more emphasis than ever. He’s a strong guy who easily establishes a good position to receive the ball, and even if his post moves are not the most polished and fancy, he gets the job done with simple spins and nice aggressiveness using his body. The good news is that he can finish with both hands there, relying on semi-hooks that work well even against bigger defenders; the bad news, that he doesn’t seem to enjoy any remarkable soft touch, particularly with his right hand. As observed in Treviso, despite being a right-handed player, he prefers to go left and finish near the rim with his left hand. Able to put the ball on the floor, he can attack his rivals from the mid-range area going for short slashing efforts, although he barely showed any of this in this All Star Game. Concerning his jumper, he looked very inconsistent shooting from mid-range. He did better playing without the ball, setting picks and rolling towards the basket, where he found good scoring options.

At the end of the day, Traore earns a living near the rim on the offensive end. Given his strength and nice athleticism, that’s fine for European basketball, but if we consider NBA potential, the fact that he’s only 6-9, not an outstanding athlete and barely shows any perimeter game, may severely hurt him. He will probably draw interest in the second round, but it’s highly unlikely anybody will invest a first-round pick in him unless he shows something else.

…Marko Tomas, steadily growing into a very solid contributor for Real Madrid, the ACB leader and one of the teams in the best shape in all of Europe. The Croatian wing enjoyed his best showing of the season this week against Dexia Mons in the ULEB Cup, collecting 22 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. It’s an isolated scoring effort in a season that hasn’t been particularly brilliant in this department (it’s the first time he goes beyond the 13-point mark), but he’s looking more confident and consistent adding points to his stat-line lately. Indeed, he has reached double digits in five of the last six games, combining the ULEB Cup and ACB League.

Marko’s efforts on defense and seriousness in his game have granted him the confidence from his coach and the necessary playing time to build his own confidence and leave behind the initial struggles of the season. Of course, the injury of Alex Mumbru, the starting small forward, has meant extra help securing plenty of action for him on court. The most important sign of this renewed confidence is exposed in his perimeter accuracy, one of his main sources of scoring production. In the last 16 games, he’s knocking down virtually 60% of his three-point attempts. He’s almost money in the bank going for the spot-up jumper when left open, but he can also release his shot off the dribble or coming off a cut with nice quickness and elevation. He enjoys NBA range, which he frequently shows as he prefers to avoid any rival’s hand on his face. Actually, he’s not the type of shooter who can consistently get his jumper off with a defender close to him. When it comes to beating his match-ups off the dribble, Tomas does not look very improved though. He’s a nicely athletic player, but not the explosive type, while he still looks a bit slow driving the ball. However, he does get some production in these slashing situations, forcing fouls, shooting over his defenders at some point (although not nearly as much as back in the Adriatic League) or eventually netting the layup. Anyway, it’s not a consistent source of production his team can count on. For the moment, he’s just a complimentary player on the offensive end who tries to take advantage of unbalanced defenses.

His defensive effort is what you can count on. He’s not a very strong guy, but he does a nice job with good positioning and solid mobility. He usually plays small forward, which helps him to keep up with his match-ups. Indeed, if we talk about NBA potential, he does not really enjoy the kind of explosiveness and athleticism you expect in a shooting guard. For a small forward, though, he’s too skinny at this point and not particularly big (he’s around 6-7 barefoot). Considering the shortcomings, his perimeter stroke alone won’t grant him a place in the draft, although he will be a candidate to sneak into the second round. His potential doesn’t look great anymore, even if he’s expected to have a solid career in Europe. As for the remainder of this season, Real Madrid has just signed Marko Milic, which might affect Tomas’ minutes on the court should the team decide to play him at the small forward position.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Hot

Danilo Gallinari seems recovered from the scoring hiatus he recently suffered for a few weeks. Already the previous weekend he had 14 points and 8 rebounds against Eldo Napoli. This last week, he improved to 17 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks leading Armani Jeans Milano to victory over Bipop Carire Reggio Emilia. As a 1988 player, these up and downs are logical, and don’t change the fact that Gallinari is delivering an impressive season.

Stanko Barac had a career high 23 points leading Siroki to the victory over Split. He also added 8 rebounds and 5 blocks. He’s delivering quite a solid season, as expected after his notable performance in the U-20 European Championship. He averages 11.9 points and 6.7 rebounds in 27 minutes per game, and only once has fallen below the 8-point mark.

Renaldas Seibutis erupted for a 26-point performance in the FIBA EuroCup against ASK Riga. Adding 6 rebounds and 2 assists, still Maroussi lost the game in the overtime. Seibutis extended his good moment with 16 points and 2 rebounds in the Greek League, although Maroussi did the same losing against Olympia Larissa. It still might not be enough for Seibutis to secure a place in the draft, though. Despite enjoying 50% three-point shooting averages, netting only one three per game doesn’t make the cut for a player like him. In order to improve his draft stock he would need to become a more dangerous perimeter weapon.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Not

Aleksandar Ugrinoski doesn’t seem to be shining much in the weak Austrian league, where he was sent by Cibona on a loan. The Croatian point guard plays near 20 minutes per game for Arkadia, which is not that bad, but averages 4.5 points and only 1.4 assists per game. For a guy whose main strength seems to be his passing ability, it’s kind of disappointing. Besides, in the last four games he only credits 2 points and 0.5 assists per contest.

Rounding Up…

FIBA Europe has named Rudy Fernández the 2006 European Young Player of the Year. Although he had strong competition in Rubio, Belinelli, Bargnani or Schortsanitis, it’s a well deserved honour. However, beyond what has been an impressive year for him, a couple of circumstances might have given him extra help. First, he’s currently the hottest youngster in Europe by a big margin, and everybody knows that recent achievements are usually weighed more heavily, even subconsciously. Second, he was the MVP of the Final Four of the top league organized by FIBA Europe, the EuroCup (a third-tier pan-European league).

Anyway, Rudy brought excitement again this weekend in the ACB League. Recording his first double-double of his ACB career with 15 points, 12 rebounds, 2 assists and 5 steals, he secured the victory for DKV Joventut against Granada with 6 points and 2 steals in the last 18 seconds of the game.

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