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2009 U18 European Championship Division A: the Bigs

August 8th, 2009 · 5 Comments

After having presented the different guards and wings, today’s article will feature the big guys that played in Metz and Hagondange. In this area, there is a large number of quality talent present, so read on if you want to become familiar with the most interesting inside players of the future.

Dejan Musli (2m14 – C – Serbia – 1991)

This tournament did not really gave new hope for all those people that are not that big on Dejan Musli as he can use less and less his physical strength that made him dominator the years before as he was matched here with two other very strong inside players in Kanter and Valanciunas. However, Musli showed some development in his game and is still one of the strongest post players in Europe in Youth categories.

His game is so much based on positioning in the paint where he has nearly nobody that does it as good as he does. Once positioned in the low post and not double-teamed, he can score the ball with too much of a problem by either a jump hook, or turn around jump shots. Sometimes, you can see him face his defender and go for a jump shot but nearly never he is attacking the defense facing. His jump shot around the key falls on high regularity and he starts to net in a three pointer here and there. It would not surprise me to see him in 2 years going for one or two long distance shots per game.

A major problem that Musli is facing right now is that he sees a double team on nearly every time he touches the ball in the post. He struggles also when he is front in the low post. When the lob pass is coming to go over the fronting defender, he grabs the ball very low and needs to go down a bit in order to take his shot or attempt the dunk. This gives the possibility to the help side to recover and play the steal or at least put him in trouble to go up. You could observe a multitude of times where Musli could not come up with a good shot out of these situations and starting to complain because no fouls were called.

His lack of explosiveness is a problem for him in those situations and he seems to be aware of so that he is developing his passing skills. A multitude of times, you can see him go for opposite passes out of the post that create big gaps for his wings to take the open three pointer. On the downside though is the fact that he tries them in no-look fashion a bit too often which explains his very high amount of turnovers. Defensively, he was unable to stop Enes Kanter in the semi-finals individually; he gave him some space to bang in the post or take the open jump shot. I don’t know if that was a tactic set up by the Serbian coach but at least it looked like Musli did not really want to play defense down low. This gave him the possibility to be very present in shot blocking as he had the necessary room to make a step to get up for rejecting either Kanter’s shots or be present on help side defense.

Stats: 14.8ppg (58.3% 2FG – 50% FT), 11.2rpg, 2.2apg, 2.4bpg, 4.6topg

Enes Kanter (2m08 – PF/C – Turkey – 1992)

Enes Kanter finished the tournament with a deserved MVP title as there was anybody that dominated the game on the same level than he did. Next to his low post game, Kanter starts to develop a face-up game which will make him even more difficult to guard in the next years.

But first of all, Kanter is a low post banger. He loves to use his body to play with the back to the basket, even starting way out and backing down low. The usage of his body goes sometimes a bit too far in my opinion as he will face tougher defenders in the future but on this level it worked to perfection. He can finish those low post plays with jump hooks or turn around jump shots. When he is open in the paint, he dunks the ball very hard with two hands. He protects the ball very well and he does not come in the situations that Musli struggled with on double team situations. His large body is of course helping him in that domain too, he looks a bit more shaped and ripped too than I had him in my memories.

But when we come to the part of the game that has impressed me the most, it is his face up game where he clearly improved over the year. Not only that he can hit the jump shot around the key with a nice high shooting curve, he can eventually also hit a three pointer as his shooting mechanics in catch-and-shoot situation look perfect. His base line jump shot is very regular too and he starts even to beat his opponents of the drive which is pretty new in his repertoire.

He seems also have gained in explosiveness as he is very quick when he has to go for the offensive rebound on his own misses especially. In defense, this gain in speed helps him to play a lot of interceptions on the drives as he does not go up for the block shot every time but prefers to wait until the last moment to deflect the ball as the opposing driver does not know what to do with the ball once in the air. His lateral speed in defense is correct too as he could guard the much quicker Valanciunas on his drives.

He has also become a real team leader now despite being a very calm person in general on the court. You can see him shout at his team mates giving them instructions in a pedagogical way, firm but always in a positive way. Giving a team mate a tap on his back even after a bad decision in offense underlines this newly gained leader qualities. The education may be one of the reason for this positive attitude, Kanter being the son of a recognized Turkish Biology and Veterinary professor. You can find more on Kanter in a recent article published by True Hoop.

Stats: 18.6ppg (54.3% 2FG – 70% FT), 16.4rpg, 1.8bpg

Jonas Valanciunas (2m09 – PF/C – Lithuania – 1992)

The most impressive player of these three big guys was maybe even Jonas Valanciunas. The long Lithuanian born player may have the biggest long term potential as he combines the skill set with a highly athletic body. Additionally, he showed some very nice progress since the last time I saw him, and that was back in May only.

Not only that Valanciunas is very present in the paint, he is developing a very effective face-up game where he can go for the jump shot or for the drive. He displays very good speed on his drives and with his athleticism, he can pass his defenders combined with a good first step. A play that is still in my memory is how he posterized the French defense on a baseline drive going for a one handed lay-back dunk. His great wingspan helps him in those plays but that’s not all.

Valanciunas faces his defender nearly every time he gets the ball in the low post as his back to the basket game is not that polished right now. He uses a lot of head or shot fakes in these situations to see what the defender does and use it. He loves to drive baseline and score on layups or dunks. However, you could see him to go the other direction and scored on some floating hook shot. His jump shot looks still like a work in progress but he scored with extraordinary percentages both from 2pts and from the free-throw line. Here may be his biggest potential as he should be able to improve his shooting mechanics and develop a face-up game until the three point line.

He can right now even knock down the jump shot out of the drive when coming from the high post or pass it out to the weak side for the three point shooters. Valanciunas goes very hard to the offensive glass where he uses his great touch to tip in a lot of opportunities. If he can grab the offensive board, he holds the ball very high and does not need to go down to get the necessary power to score the layup.

On the defensive end, his wingspan helps him to be a huge shot blocker. He seems to have understood too that he can be a tremendous defender in that area and he blocks the ball so that he can recuperate the possession afterwards which is at least as important as the rejection itself. He is not afraid of contact and he even goes for blocking dunk attempts. His defensive rebounding can still be improved as he struggles sometimes to box out which is probably a combination of some concentration gaps and a still growing physical force.

However, while Dejan Musli looks already like an experienced low post player that raises his level in the necessary moment (it was him in the end that had the Gold Medal), and Enes Kanter being at the beginning of developing a game next to his great physical abilities and scoring in the paint, Jonas Valanciunas may have the biggest potential as he combines the size, the shoot and the speed and right now only starting to beef up his athletic body.

Stats: 19.3ppg (72.1% 2FG – 79.4% FT), 10.6rpg, 2.6bpg

Branislav Dekic was present when it counted the most finishing a tournament where he showed once again what a nice talent he is but also that he is still not a leader of a team. He combines a very good length with good athletic abilities and a shot that has become reliable until the three point line, especially from the top. He plays under control, makes a lot of fakes and can dominate inside when he is guarded by a shorter player. He needs to improve his passing on high-low situations with Dejan Musli but he uses his verticality in order to be very present in defense and especially in shot blocking.

Nikola Rondovic started the games for Serbia on the PF position but he was mostly used as an outside catch and shoot player than as an inside force. His impact on the team was not that big as for Dekic but Rondovic was one of the only players capable of giving good high-low passes to Musli from the top of the key. He can post up against smaller players but he does not use this that much and prefers to play out on the wing to drive or shoot the ball. He has great height though to play.

Fabien Paschal can be considered as one of the major surprises of this tournament as the skinny French PF was nearly unknown before at the international level. He was the only regular inside scoring option for France and he impressed me with his already surprisingly polished back-to-the-basket game where he scored on several different options; mostly using some kind of underhand score though. His shooting mechanics are not very stable at the moment but his speed and driving skills can make him a very versatile player in the future. Defensively, he was not always very present but when it counted the most, he used his nice wingspan and good defensive positioning to give a tough reply to the opposing more physical centers. Additionally, he is an amazing offensive rebounder as you could see him emerge on a lot of possessions for tip ins. He looks smart in what he does but inexperienced.

Vincent Pourchot was of course one of the attractions of the whole Championship as the 1992 born player was born in the region of Metz but also was the tallest player with 2m20. He showed that he actually is also a basketball player as his height caused a lot of problems to all team attacking him. Even if he may not be the fastest guy around, he can be a good low post defender against big and slower guys,he did a great job on Musli during stretches for example. Offensively, he displays already a good shooting touch and can net short shots up to 3-4 meters from the top. Additionally, he uses his length well when it comes to positioning as he can score on a some kind of slow motion jump hook.

Ignacio Llovet was one of the reasons of the Spanish run to the fifth place as the physical PF/C dominated regularly in the paint. Despite not being very tall, his already well built body helped him to overpower some of his opponents and score through physical play and mid range jump shots. He is a surprising ball handler as you could see him go for drives or even coast-to-coast plays from time to time. Defensively, he was very present as an overplay defender in the low post where he had a multitude of steals during the tournament. His offensive game is more on the floor, fundamentals based than above the rim and this may hurt his future potential. Right now, he is a beast, but in 2 years already, this dominance may have gone when his opposition has reached his physical level.

Ivan Lazarev had the same destiny than fellow countryman Pavel Antipov as injuries kept him away from displaying his game over the whole tournament. Lazarev is a fairly athletic guy who displays a nice turn around jump shot in the post. With his long arms, he is present in defense but is quite foul-prone right now. He can drive with the ball but unfortunately, I could not see more of him because of the above mentioned injury stuff. But I wanted to mention him as he looked like a very interesting prospect to me.

Dragan Sekelja was the Croatian version of Ignacio Llovet but with some additional centimeters. A physical inside player that plays more foot on the floor than above the rim. He showed a multitude of ways to score in the low post like underhand scores, jump hooks or jump shots. Most of his face up plays go however over the right hand. He can attack the rim coming from the three point area but he has no long distance shot right now. Despite having a huge body, that is however not really in perfect shape, Sekelja looks like lacking a bit of power in the paint. Maybe this is a reason why he likes to step out at times to attack the rim of the dribble.

Philipp Neumann displayed a nice potential on the German team as the 2m10 tall Center was the top scorer and rebounder of a young team. He has different offensive possibilities with either the jump shot or the powerful play in the post. For the moment, he has to polish a lot his low post game though as it is based on physical and athletic abilities and Neumann uses way too much his body right now. Catching the ball means for him that he has to score and the pass out is not option for him. He even lowers his head on those plays so that he is not even capable of seeing open team mates (only 3 assists in 8 games). Being one year younger than the competition, it will be important to see his development over the next year because if he can take away these negative parts of his games, he has the potential of being one of the best inside players in Europe of the 1992 born.

Martins Meiers was an interesting player coming from Latvia who displayed a good combination of physical presence and will to fight. Meiers is great rebounder and has also some impact on the offensive end. He has some soft shooting touch and can hit the jumper around the key. His presence on offensive rebounds gives him a lot of second chances and because he goes immediately back up after the offensive rebound, he has the necessary space to finish these plays. His ball handling is good for a player of his size and he has also a good block shot timing where he can go up very quickly to reject the ball.

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Fite // Aug 8, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    I’m curious how you see Dragan Sekelja’s game translating to major college in the United States? He will be a freshman for Baylor University- who plays in one of the toughest conferences in the NCAA.

  • 2 Christophe // Aug 8, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    @Fite
    I don’t know exactly what the level of Baylor is, but Sekelja has good size and in a division that is more focused on team play than athleticism, he can be a very important factor. He may need some time to adjust especially defensively though in my opinion. Athletically, he may suffer against different big guys, but he has international experience that he can use to get probably a lot of foul calls in his favor

  • 3 Fite // Aug 9, 2009 at 12:14 am

    Thank you for the prompt reply. Baylor plays in a very tough league- Big 12. 7 of the top 30 picks in the NBA draft next year are projected to come out of this league of 12 teams. Lots of top athletes for Dragan to play against.

    But as you have said, there is always a place for a crafty big man who knows how to play in a team concept. Baylor is very strong at the guard positions but is in need of some rebounding, shot blocking and a guy who understands pick and roll basketball.

  • 4 Living in America: Dragan Sekelja (Baylor) // Sep 24, 2009 at 8:28 am

    […] what the US Scouting website have on him, which is barely nothing. He is one of the better European big men of the 1991 generation and he will certainly have an interesting impact in a strong Big12 […]

  • 5 NBA Draft 2011: the Euro-Review // Jun 24, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    […] in Youth Competitions and had his glory days with the Turkish U18 National team in 2009 during the European Championships in France. Since then, nothing really worthy has been put on the table by the Turkish big guy. So the main […]

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