Zagreb Prospects Old and New Make Early Impact

Zagreb Prospects Old and New Make Early Impact
Oct 11, 2005, 01:46 am
Yesterday a very interesting game draft-wise was seen at Trnsko in Croatia as Cibona easily beat Zagreb 87:73 in the first round of the Adriatic league. Damir Markota played perhaps his best game ever in a Cibona jersey and was the team’s best player on the floor along with former Ohio State star Scoonie Penn. Ante Tomic opened in the starting lineup for Zagreb’s senior team for the first time ever in his young career. Three new guys on the block also introduced themselves in Kruno Simon, Luksa Andric and Ivan Papac, all showing that they have a lot to improve on before they'll get serious consideration for a draft spot, but displayed some intriguing size and potential regardless. Aleksandar Ugrinoski didn’t get off Cibona’s bench.

Here is what we saw:

Damir Markota, 6-11 SF/PF 1985 Croatia, KK Cibona (26 minutes, 16 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, 1 turnover, 6/9 FG, 1/1 FT)


It was truly a great game for Damir Markota who is looking much better than last season. Even during the warmups you could see that he has much more confidence in himself then before, Coach Spahija’s call-up to the National team and a good performance at the U-20 European Championships apparently had something to do with that. Markota was hot almost immediately after missing a dunk and being blocked by Ante Tomic, starting his show by scoring 11 points in the first 8 minutes of the game. He hit two-three pointers with authority with his mechanics looking smoother than usual. Another five points came after the counter-attack, where he showed his tremendous speed in the open court and a good vertical leap by throwing the ball down strong inside the paint. His off the ball movement was exceptional and he truly was putting in a great effort.

Unlike last season, Markota was getting many touches on the offensive end and was playing a lot of pick and roll with Scoonie Penn. His lower body strength looks improved, although his upper body still needs quite a bit of work. You can tell that he has been hitting the weight room, but the results will be tougher to come by because of his narrow frame.

Defensively he was guarding Tomic pretty well, disrupting him from establishing position in the post and contesting many shots. Damir moved his feet well and was often helping his perimeter oriented teammates with good results. He rebounded well as he can simply jump a bit higher than anyone else on the floor thanks to his excellent athletic ability. Markota also came up with one monster block on Zagreb’s point guard Ozren Misic. Coach Anzulovic replaced him with Luksa Andric with 2 minutes left in the 1st period and Markota stayed on the bench until 5 minutes to go in halftime. When he came in again he made another three-pointer that capped off an excellent first half for him. In the 2nd he didn’t get nearly as many touches and came away with just 2 points off a beautiful hook shot after a spin move under Zagreb’s basket.

Markota plays on offense more like a small forward, showing great speed and shooting touch, but at nearly 7-foot he can’t guard perimeter players with much success, so adding some more post moves and bulk might be a priority for him. If he continues to play like this Markota could very well be one of hottest international names for the 2006 NBA draft.

Perhaps the biggest improvement has come in Markota’s attitude as he is now playing with great effort and is looking very motivated to prove himself at this level. The good news for him is that his main competition at power forward, American Bennett Davison, is injured and will be out for the next 2-3 weeks.

Ante Tomic, 7-2 PF/C 1987 Croatia, KK Zagreb (22 minutes, 6 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 3 turnover, 3/8 FG, fouled out)

Tomic had pretty decent stats, but the overall impression wasn’t so good. Still, when you consider that he has never played that many minutes at the senior level then you get a slightly different impression from what was seen here..

His skinny body jumps at you as by far his biggest weakness currently. He is very narrow, especially in the lower body with his rail thin legs. He was completely outmuscled on both ends of the floor, struggling to establish position in the post and being exposed in man-to-man defense. You can’t deny that he put in the effort and fought hard, but he simply has no body to play in the post as of right now. He has a great motor and is very quick for someone this tall, though. Tomic’s vertical is also good as he picked up his fair share of rebounds despite struggling to box-out at times. His lateral quickness is also above average and Ante definitely has potential to be a good defender down the road as he gets stronger. On the offensive side he couldn’t do much in the post, but managed to show flashes of his remarkable skill-set regardless. His ball-handling is exceptional, just like his court vision, and he passed the ball accordingly extremely well for most of the game to finish with 3 assists in 22 minutes. His court sense is pretty rare for a 7 foot center, reminding at times of his countrymen and Maccabi Tel Aviv star Nikola Vujcic is this department. He didn’t take any jumpers in this game, but during warmups you could see that he can knock down shots from mid-range with regularity, showing smooth mechanics in the process. All of his points came from easy layups so there isn’t much else to speak off in terms of his offensive game. He would have played even more if he didn’t pick up two silly fouls early in the 2nd half before fouling out. Zagreb will obviously give him a great chance to prove himself and we are looking forward to following his development, as his potential appears to be huge.

Ivan Papac, 6-10 PF 1986 Croatia, KK Zagreb (23 minutes, 14 points, 4 rebounds, 5-12 FG, 3-4 FT)

Papac raised some eyebrows with his play yesterday and we definitely have another player to follow for the time being. He has good size for a power forward and is a quick player on top of that. Unsurprisingly he is skinny just like Tomic and prefers to play facing the basket. His finishing around the basket was better then Tomic’s, though, as he plays with more energy and aggressiveness. Papac is a good athlete with good speed and quick feet, although his vertical leap is not the charts. He can get off the floor, though, as well as finish above the rim.

Offensively his main weapon is his shot, he has a quick release and is rather accurate with range out to the international three-point lane. Papac doesn’t seem particularly skilled at this point in his career and will definitely need to work on his body and defense. Still, he has three more years before losing draft eligibility and Zagreb is one of the best places for developing talent.

Luska Andric, 6-10 PF 1985 Croatia, KK Cibona (17 minutes, 1 point, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal, 0/3 FG, ½ FT)

Andric’s entry was a nice surprise yesterday, because he wasn’t expected to see much if any playing time. Coach Anzulovic decided to use him instead of the more experienced Ivan Perincic. Andric was backing up Markota and did it reasonably well. He has a well built body for a European player his age and a nice frame, although some additional pounds wouldn’t hurt. He was impressing in defense with his size and athleticism contesting many shots, getting deflections and two nice blocks in the process. He is not as quick as Markota or Papac, but is a decent athlete with good footspeed in the post. He was especially good in man to man defense when he stayed in front of his man rather easily and disrupted him to get his shot off.

Papac is a good rebounder who boxes out better than most youngsters, while showing good body control and soft hands. Offensively he didn’t do much as there aren’t and probably won’t be any plays called for him, while he isn’t skilled enough at the moment to create his own shot. He has range on his jumper out to three-point land and his mechanics are good, but in this game he didn’t try to shoot from outside except for on one occasion. Cibona’s roster is pretty loaded so when Davison comes back Andric might see only garbage time, which is a shame for him as he could probably play major minutes in some of the lesser quality clubs in the Adriatic league.

Kruno Simon, 6-5 PG/SG 1985 Croatia, KK Zagreb (36 minutes, 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 turnover, 6-11 FG, 3-4 FT)

Last year Simon was firmly in the shadow of Marko Tomas and Damir Miljkovic, but now with those two gone he becomes the go-to-guy of a very young Zagreb team. Listed at 6-5 he is a bit undersized for the SG spot, while his athleticism isn’t off the charts either. Kruno has very good bulk for a SG and won’t need to add any more pounds.

Simon can create his own shot with his speed and good ball-handling skills at this level. He can play some point as well, as his court vision is above average and is an adequate passer. He could find himself in this situation frequently this season, being that the only other PG on his team is TJ Ford’s former teammate at Texas Kenny Taylor, who doesn’t really excel in getting his teammates involved. In this particular game Simon was the main scorer and ball-handler for his team. He is fairly good at both shooting and penetrating. He has a quick release, but his jumper can be a bit streaky. Defensively he gets into the passing lines, often risking his defensive position in the process, but it would be nice to see him being more aggressive on this side of the floor. He has decent footwork and can stay in front of his man, while also helps a lot in the rebounding department. Simon is also the captain of this team which should tell you that he has some leadership skills. His chances of making it to the NBA one day aren’t big, but we’ll have to wait and see what he can do in his new role this season. The main problem with him is that he does everything well, but nothing great.

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