The European Junior (U-18) Championships: The Shooting Guards

The European Junior (U-18) Championships: The Shooting Guards
Aug 18, 2005, 05:02 am
More coverage from Belgrade:

European Junior Championships Recap One

European Junior Championships Recap Two

European Junior Championships: The Centers

European Junior Championships: The Power Forwards

European Junior Championships: The Small Forwards

European Junior Championships: The Point Guards

All photos provided by FIBA Europe’s excellent official website

Turkey; 1987; 6-6; SG; 33.3 mpg, 18 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 3.9 apg, 2.9 spg


We already said it in our previous reports: he was the true MVP of the championship for us. Nobody here featured such a magnificent combination of skills, decision making, character and leadership. Akyol is an extremely fundamentally sound player that knows the game as well as anybody, a finesse player with highly polished skills. He’s a shooting guard with the soul of a playmaker, a stylish big combo guard who is a pleasure to watch.

Not the greatest athlete, Akyol makes up for his relative lack of quickness (let’s stress relative) with amazing footwork, and somehow compensates his average athleticism with the fact that he can be a true playmaker on the offensive end at 6-6. In this tournament, we saw him starting games numerous times at the shooting guard position, only to later fully assume the playmaking duties whenever the situation required an offensive spark for Turkey, while being the man in charge in every clutch situation.

He was the clearest example of go-to player seen in Belgrade. For some stretches of the games, virtually all the offensive flow of his team was in his hands. Curiously, these were often his most effective moments, because if there’s something you can miss in his performance, particularly for those who weren’t in Belgrade, it’s a higher degree of accuracy in his shots. However, what looks awful in the stat sheet, looked totally acceptable on the court, and highly effective in the end.

So despite what those stats tell, Akyol is a fine shooter, with the right mechanics and quickness to be effective, although a bit streaky from the perimeter. He was among the best in Belgrade firing off the dribble, and even has the ability to use the fade away movement. To be able to create his own shot is a crucial skill in his game, as he took advantage of this threat to beat his matchups and generate an important offensive flow from there. Cenk is a great decision maker, and with the defensive structure broken, it’s just a piece of cake for him, opting between feeding an open man, shooting a mid-ranger or going all the way to the basket to deliver a layup. He has the resources to score against opposition here using his soft touch for complicated layups, or elevating for short attempts while in motion.

His decision making couldn’t be nearly as good as it is without his remarkable court vision. Just as the top point guards of the tournament, he is also a very good creator from the perimeter. Indeed he was statistically the fifth best passer of the Championship.

Sometimes he was impelled to force too much in certain situations, not only because of his leading role and freedom to play, but especially because his team needed him to make things happen in the offensive end. That meant taking the initiative, attracting defenses and opening up the game for his mates. This is a big reason for his bad percentages. It was especially obvious in the semifinal and the final, games where he was constantly over-defended, but his team needed him to run the offense, and that included some shooting.

On defense, he’s decent. He’s not athletic enough to be a defensive stopper, but his knowledge of the game helps him in terms of positioning and effectiveness, usually coming away with a nice amount of steals in his bag (ranked first in Belgrade in this department).

To summarize, Akyol is an awesome player and the guy who arguably showed the most varied array of skills in Belgrade. I’m confident he will reach the elite in Europe. NBA-wise, it’s harder to predict. It’s rare to see a guard with average athleticism succeeding in such a demanding league (particularly a shooting guard). It takes an amazing collection of skills and smartness playing the game. However, Akyol might be capable of delivering them.

Russia; 1987; 6-5; SG; 34.4 mpg, 18.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.3 rpg


Earlier in the year, we reported from L’Hospitalet about a certain feeling of disappointment with the evolution of Zavoruev’s game, that hadn’t developed as much as other’s, such as teammates like Yaroslav Korolev or Maxim Sheleketo, while raising doubts about how he would fare against superior competition. Well, although still a junior, this was actually superior competition for him, and sharing the leader spot in Russia with Korolev, Vasily was one of the best scorers of the tournament (fourth overall) and surely a bright presence on court.

Arguably the best shooter in Belgrade, no player featured such a magnificent stroke from anywhere on court, while still remaining consistent gunning off the dribble. Indeed, he perhaps abused his jumper at times (he tried more treys than two-point shots), but who could blame him? His accuracy speaks for itself: 60% in two pointers, 40.7% in three-pointers. If he decides to shoot, it’s not easy to stop him, as he enjoys a fairly quick and high release of the ball, also with NBA range. He doesn’t feel intimidated having a rival close to him, just proceeding with his good mechanics. His poor free-throw percentages are highly surprising, though. You would expect that this kind of player would be automatic from the line.

Zavoruev is also effective putting the ball on the floor to penetrate. He has a nice first step and good footwork to drive in traffic. However, I still think he may suffer trying to finish this slashing plays against top competition, given his size and less than stellar athleticism, although he knows how to dish the ball to an open mate, as well as stop mid-way towards the basket to release a mid-range jump-shot. All in all, I think there are good chances that he becomes more of a shooting specialist once he starts playing against men.

On defense, he’s rather quick in the lateral movement department, so he doesn’t have too many problems at this level.

Zavoruev is bound to become a very good player in Europe, and very few people have any doubt about that. However, I still don’t see his NBA future crystal clear. He’s slightly undersized and not a freak athlete. He looks like the kind of player than will need to prove his value in Europe before getting great consideration from the American League.

Latvia; 1987; 6-8; SG; 32.9 mpg, 22.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1 apg, 1.5 spg, 1 bpg


The best scorer of the Championship ended up being this little known Latvian wing that has made a name for himself in Belgrade (he has since reportedly signed a multi-year contract with Benetton Treviso). He was clearly not a classic example of style and finesse on the court, but he surely got the job done, being the go-to guy in his National Team, and successfully leading team short on talent into the quarterfinal round. Although likely at a higher stage of development than most of his rivals, you don’t see an extremely mature body in him. He’s not as physically or athletically superior as some of the other star players here, but his intensity and fearlessness using those attributes make the difference, not to mention his very nice size to go with it.

But again, he has his fair share of interesting skills. To start with, Kalve terrified the rival defenses with his jump-shot, becoming one of the top shooters of the tournament. It wasn’t only a matter of accuracy, but also of being capable of creating his own shot, firing off the dribble, with pretty good range out to the three point line, and even knocking down some wild jumpers. He’s not a pure gunner a la Zavoruev, and his mechanics didn’t seem to be the most elegant featured here, but his effectiveness can’t be overlooked. Like the Russian, his free throw percentages were pretty forgettable, although I don’t think it should be a matter of concern. These type of players usually end up being very reliable from the line.

Kalve is not a terrific ball handler at this point, perhaps a bit slow with the ball in his hands, but it didn’t stop him from being a constant off-the-dribble threat, whether shooting or slashing. His aggressiveness and insistency paid dividends even at the cost of eventual over handling. Of course, it won’t work that well against superior competition, so it’s an issue to address.

Not a great passer, he can sometimes find a teammate while driving, but more creativity when it comes to helping out his team would greatly round out his game. Defensively, he’s a solid player with the necessary tools and attitude to be effective.

Kalve is an interesting player, perhaps not as intriguing as his production would make you think, as he featured a superior degree of maturity compared with most of the other players, but still with nice potential.

Serbia and Montenegro; 1987; 6-6; SG; 31.5 mpg, 11.9 ppg, 5 rpg, 1.1 apg, 2 spg


Just like two years ago in Rivas, at the Cadet stage, Tepic emerged again as a key player for Serbia and Montenegro, being the player who spent the most time on court for his team. However, just as his teammate Mijatovic, he hasn’t shown too much evolution in his game during this time. Tepic is a very good athlete (although he doesn’t stand out as much as before) from the wing that excels slashing towards the basket. Indeed, I think we can easily say that he was the purest slasher of the tournament. But offensively there’s not much more to tell beyond that.

His main weapons for the penetration are a very quick first step and great footwork to move in traffic, making it hard to keep him out of the lane, while he has a soft touch to get the work done near the basket. He does feature quite an interesting skill, having the ability to create his own shot. He fakes a penetration, taking advantage of the chaos it creates for his rivals, easily gaining enough space to shoot with a simple backwards movement separating himself from his unbalanced defender. However, these shots didn’t look consistent at all. Tepic feels much more comfortable in static situations, enjoying three-point range, although his accuracy is still improvable.

Milenko is a clear example of a finisher, a player with serious skills to put the ball in the hole and little team creativity. That’s something you miss in his game, more passing skills, more versatility. Nevertheless, he’s far from being a me-first player, as he usually waits for a good option to score, not forcing situations or abusing his ball-handling skills.

Tepic is serious about the game, and that notion is supported on both ends of the court. He’s a very reliable defender that takes advantage of his athleticism, and indeed was assigned many times assigned to the most dangerous perimeter rival.

Contrary to what is usually the case with most other European players, Tepic’s potential seems much more limited by his skills rather than by his athletic gifts. Better shooting and more versatility in general would be really useful for him in order to be considered a top prospect.


After Kalve, the most interesting Latvian player was Krists Piternieks, a tall and skinny combo guard. He didn’t astonish anyone in Belgrade, but whenever you see a 6-8 kid playing some point guard, you have to take him into account, particularly if he features decent athleticism. He can put the ball on the floor and attack his matchup with rather good quickness, while also showing a decent, although still inconsistent perimeter stroke, some solid defense and a good head making decisions. He’s not a real playmaker, though. His court vision isn’t great, but he could make a very nice off-guard player. He was the best rebounding guard with 6.6 captures per game.

Just like in L’Hospitalet, Igor Smyghin suffered from Russia's depth, and particularly sharing the squad as Vasily Zavoruev. He played only 13 minutes per game, not enough to shine and allow us to evaluate his game the way we would like, but he still left signs of his skills. At 6-6 he’s a nice athlete at the shooting guard position, and he seems pretty solid in many departments of the game. He’s a good shooter, showing the right mechanics and the ability to make it off the dribble.


Not a bad ball-handler, he’s a pretty able slasher, making good use of his quickness. He also showed some decent moves playing without the ball, generally looking like a player who knows the game pretty well. Finally, he’s also reliable on defense, using his athleticism. Perhaps he lacked some consistency, but again, with 13 minutes per game it’s difficult to be consistent.

To finish, we find in the very deep Serbian team another interesting player. He’s Nenad Zivcevic, and he perfectly fills the bill in terms of athleticism and his physical set. He’s a 6-7 wing with long arms and enough quickness and skills to play shooting guard. He can do many things on the court, although you can summarize his game with the word “inconsistent”. His shot looks good, both in terms of execution, quickness and mechanics, including his release shooting off the dribble. He has also nice handles to put the ball on the floor and beat his matchup using his quickness. He can pass the ball and could become an able defender. He just needs to focus and settle his game down a bit. He could develop into a very intriguing player.

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