This is the question that the leading weekly French Basketball magazine Basketnews asked recently. They discussed this point in a long story out of which europeanprospects.com will report you some extracts.
Thomas Heurtel (1m84 – Guard – 1989 – SIG Strasbourg) has been voted best young player of the French ProA for the season 2008-2009 and signed afterwards a four year contract with ASVEL Villeurbanne. The team owned by Tony Parker paid a buy-out of 100.000€ to get in their hands one of the most talented guards in France. However, the plan was built on the long term as Villeurbanne loaned Heurtel to SIG Strasbourg. Back in October 2009, Vincent Collet, head coach of ASVEL gave the following explications for this move.
He can not be the starting PG for a team like ours. It would have been suicidal and I don’t know if he has the capabilities right now to be a perfect back-up, at least not on the level of Aymeric Jeanneau.
When he arrived in Strasbourg, the head coach of SIG Fred Sarre told Basketnews the following.
He is still young and out of control. We will try to let him progress in toughness, game speed management and control.
The French magazine turned back to the two coaches to see what the situation of Heurtel is now, seven months later. Heurtel has gained 3-4 kilos of muscle as he follows as specific strength program set-up jointly by the athletic coaches of both teams. For Sarre, this strengthening was at the base of Heurtel’s development in toughness and in defense.
He showed some progress, especially in the defensive placing. But he needs to work hard on his attitude and toughness which he does not show at every moment.
Vincent Collet, who follows Heurtel from a distance, speaks clearly out how he sees the situation.
Defensively, it is still insufficient, both individually and collectively. Even if he is now more concerned on the placing in relation with the weak side, it remains a weakness in his game.
Next to the defense, the second point to improve was the real playmaking skills and game tempo management. Having played more or less “a freestyle game” (dixit Heurtel) the previous season, the PG says that he has developed a more controlled game, to think first team than himself. Even if he remains among the best passers of the league (5.0 assists per game), he is still very turnover prone (2.7 per game). Vincent Collet sees it like this.
He does some great plays which would place him among the best PGs of the league, but on the next play comes an error of a very inexperienced player. In the risk taking decision process, he is still in trouble.
Fred Sarre confirms what the ASVEL head coach already advanced.
In terms of leadership, Thomas is still far away from where he should be, especially in the capacity of running the team while taking his own responsibilities. It is true that we have a tough team to manage, at lot more difficult to run as for example Cholet or Orléans. This makes it even tougher for him. He is not a verbal guy, he needs to force himself to speak and communicate. He needs to go to the other players with an open mind and not being distrustful or scared. His age plays of course a role here but it’s also his character.
Thomas Heurtel is aware of this but he does not see himself in the role yet to be the team leader. He thinks that this is something to be done by the older players.
But next to working on his deficits, Heurtel has improved his forces too. He confirmed his potential as great passer and improved his long distance shot. He is now shooting 42.9% from behind the arc after turning at 38.6% last season. Heurtel is one of the few French PGs to be able to score on the drive in traffic. He is the second best French PG scorer just behind Steed Tchicamboud. Here emerges the question if Heurtel is really a PG or if he would excel even more when he plays SG? His team mate Steeve Essart opens the discussion on this with a comparison to Juan Carlos Navarro as Heurtel likes to pass and attack the rim in a similar way to “La Bomba”. Last season already, Claude Bergeaud at Pau-Orthez named Navarro as reference model. His size would limit him probably to play SG though but to take away the PG mission and let him gain more experience with less pressure is an option that is discussed. Vincent Collet refuses this possibility.
He is a Point Guard, but he has still a long way to go. He needs to learn to control the tempo of the game, to create for his team mates. In the role of “meneur de jeu” (the French word for Point Guard, meaning literally “game leader”), there is the word “meneur” which means leader. He needs to be the link between the coach and the player, having a good relationship with his team mates. His age gives him a large potential to improve in this area. But there are young players who fulfill this role already, Rubio does it, Antoine Diot too. It is not all about the age.
Of course, the comparison with Diot emerges. While Heurtel dominated him during the vote for the best young player in the French League last season (63 – 9 votes), the situation right now has changed dramatically. Both played together this summer with the French U20 National Team where they won the Silver Medal. With the U20, Diot and Heurtel shared a lot of minutes together on the court with Heurtel playing a role as second guard. However, Antoine Diot is a real team leader as explains Fred Sarre.
Antoine is a vocal presence on the court, a real leader. Thomas has certainly a better scoring potential, he is better in ball handling and more creative. But on the rest, he needs to progress.
Collet confirms what the SIG head coach is saying.
Even if Antoine had some crazy moments, he displayed leadership right from the start. The other thing that differs is defense. Diot is more concerned, active at any moment and a lot tougher.
So remains the question where Heurtel will play next season. The Basketnews article was published before it was known that Heurtel enters his name to the NBA Draft 2010. So the main discussion was about him going back to Villeurbanne or not. The two times he faced ASVEL during the regular season were not crowned with success as he had twice a very bad game. Vincent Collet is very clear when it comes to the future role of Heurtel in the ASVEL roster.
We won’t start our recruitment process with Thomas. He is not the starting point of our process to build the team for next season.
Heurtel does not see himself in the back-up role to play 10 minutes either, he wants and needs playing time. So the option of a return to Villeurbanne seems blocked. Everything looks like he is going to get loaned another season, unless a 1st round Draft pick comes into the game and would change some plans. But this is still way ahead and right now, it does not look like Heurtel will end up among the 30 first picks, this summer at least.