After four games into the season and just before the clash at home with Brose Baskets Bamberg, it is about time to make an analysis of the main young prospects in the Serbian roster. Four players are clearly stepping up their game this season so let’s check how they did so far in the toughest competition of the continent.
The surprising move of the French PG Leo Westermann from ASVEL to Serbia can already be considered as a big success story from an individual point of view. The 1m98 tall guard plays fulltime at the point for Dule Vujosevic’s team and he is averaging 10.8ppg and 3.0apg in the season. These numbers are better than those he had with ASVEL in the French League last season which might be explained by his increased minutes on the court. But on the other hand, you can clearly see the progress Westermann had made with his move to Partizan where he landed in an environment driven by Basketball understanding and less athletic opponents. This is exactly the conditions Westermann needs to excel. The 20 year old point guard is more and more considered as the legitimate successor of Antoine Rigaudeau, even if he lacks the shooting skills of the former “Roi” of Bologna.
Westermann, despite the language barrier as he speaks no Serbian, is the clear leader on the court for his team, giving instructions to his team mates where to position in the offense. Doing a good job in setting up Pick and Roll situations either at the top or at 45 degrees, Westermann has shown that he is now a serious danger from three-point territory out of the dribble. He has stabilized his shooting balance on the jump shot and his release looks quicker than what I remember. Small spaces are now sufficient for him to get up and nail the 3 pointer after the pick. When attacking the basket, he likes to go for the dish if the help comes but Westermann makes too many dangerous jump-passes. In these situations, he can lose the control of the situation if he does not find the open man and the risk for a turnover is there. He reads well what the defense gives him though and he is not afraid to go for the difficult behind the back bounce pass with the left hand in order to feed a popping player after having attacked to the wrong side.
He controls the game speed nicely, even under pressure, and is a big match-up problem for most of the Euroleague PGs. Against CSKA for example, Sonny Weems was used to defend Westermann during stretches as Milos Teodosic had some problems when the French guard goes for the post-up at moments. He needs to become better in this part of the game though as he went on some of the low-post situations for tough shots or kick-outs only as he has no specific back-to-the-basket game. In the fast break situations, Westermann likes to push the ball hard and go for the quick decisions. With his improving footwork and increasing confidence on this level, the former French Youth National Team player has developed a good scoring potential on the drive as well as he can finish with either hand in traffic. His athletic limits however will put him in trouble against more athletic defenders as he can not beat them with a great first step. Nevertheless, his understanding of the game and fundamentals are major assets in these situations.
The move to Partizan was a great decisions so far for the Haguenau-born Westermann. It is a great place to work on his game and become a Euroleague-caliber PG. With another year of NBA Draft eligibility, it would not be a surprise to heard his name as an early-entry candidate in 2013. However, the NBA might not be the right environment for him in the short term. But if he can confirm his level with Partizan throughout the Euroleague season, it would not be a surprise if a bigger team will try to sign him already in the upcoming summer.
The “parcours” of Dejan Musli is quite different to Westermann but this season looks to become the break-out of the ex-future Serbian National Team Center. The 1991 born Musli spent the last two season in Spain, Italy and with Mega Vizura but he was not able to get major minutes except when he was back in his home country. This summer, he signed a three-year deal with Partizan and he is now one of the most productive big guys in the early season of the Euroleague. The 2m13 tall big guy is averaging 8.5ppg and 5.5rpg after the four first games which is a big step forward after the two last seasons. Musli rocked the NIJT events when he was still in the U18 category but it looked like he was not capable of making the step to the professionals but he is showing all of his critics wrong right now.
Not used as a primary offensive target in the system of coach Vujosevic, Musli gets a lot of touches but rarely plays them on his own. When finding his position in the low post, he is transferring the ball well to his team mates as he showed some improving passing this season. His back-to-the-basket arsenal of moves remains a bit limited and he mainly scores on jump shots from around the key, offensive rebounds or layups on help situations. Musli does not look to be in perfect shape at the moment, so that he has to use good fakes in order to avoid the defensive threats. Playing a lot of Pick and Roll situations, Musli is very active on the court. He gets used also as passer in high-low situations but he needs to adjust his passing a bit more in order to avoid too many turnovers.
The area where Musli has become a good factor this season is on the defensive end. With his good positioning and long arms, he can close the door on different help situations well and he is not doing too many stupid fouls. Still not a great shot blocker, Musli will need to work on his athleticism in order to be able to become a more intense player on both ends of the court. He runs the floor well but in long strides and seems to be unable to change directions quickly in order to get open. This season is really a big step forward for him and he can bring his name back on the table for the NBA Draft 2013. Certainly not a first round talent at the moment, he will certainly see some looks in the second round if he can confirm his current playing and improve his physical shape in the next months.
Going into his third season with Partizan Belgrade, Bogdan Bogdanovic has made a huge step forward this year by becoming the main scoring option on the wing for the Serbian team next to Vladimir Lucic. With his aggressive playing style, Bogdanovic averages so far 8.3ppg and 2.7rpg in the first three games after having had to sit out with a slight injury last week. The 1m98 tall Small Forward likes to handle the ball and attack the basket from the wing. With his improving ball handling and good athletic abilities, the 1992 born player is able to beat his defenders on a good first step and finish close to the rim. His fundamentals allow him to be dangerous with either hand showing even a slight preference for going on his left.
His athleticism and quick reactions make him an interesting player as he is capable to play multiple positions depending on the defensive match-ups. At some moments, Bogdanovic was brining up the ball when Partizan wanted to post up Westermann in match-up situations. He is also going hard to the offensive glass and reads well when he has the chance to grab a ball here or there. In a specific play, he grabbed the offensive rebound after being blocked very quickly and could transform a potential possession changer into a basket for his team. The Serbian forward is not only a strong finisher at the basket, but he has a good shot and is also nicely effective in the mid-range area. He can score the step-back jumper from 4-5 meters with precision but has a clear preference for the drive though.
Defensively, Bogdanovic is an interesting player as his lateral speed allows him to stay in front of his man. His positioning of the defensive end is good and strong but he needs to be a better defensive rebounder in the future. After two years of constant progress with Partizan, the production of Bogdanovic was though a bit surprising so far. He needs to confirm this over the next games in order to stay in the focus but he seems perfectly capable of doing so.
Finally, Davis Bertans is another scoring option for Partizan coming from the bench. The Latvian forward is mainly used as a shooting Power forward and this with great success so far. Bertans hit 9/17 three pointers so far in the Euroleague to come at a respectable 7.8ppg. However, this is the main part of his production so far as he is not very present in rebounding or on the drive. His shot though is very quickly executed. His long arms give him a great release point and his technique allows him to arm without needing to control the ball in front of his body first. After a high catch, he can shoot immediately which gives his a great advantage in some situations. The Latvian forward needs to become more versatile in his production in order to be a factor outside of his shooting. He is capable of doing so like he has shown in the different youth selections but it is now the moment to do the next step on the professional level in a favorable environment like Partizan Belgrade.