The FIBA U19 World Championships have started this week in New Zealand and we had not that many surprises so far as all the big teams from Europe and the Americas have qualified for the next round. So I chose to take a closer look at one of the intruders to the Final round that was a total unknown to me before: Kazakhstan. So far, Anton Ponomarev was the only player I knew from that country as he played an interesting Reebok Eurocamp in Treviso. He was not a member of the team in New Zealand as he was born in 1988 and this tournament was setup for the 1990 and younger players.
N.B.: This post has been written before we discovered the apparent passport-fraud of several Kazakh players. I have left it as it is here but be aware that the players described here may not be born for real in the year where they are categorized.
The first name that you want to check of course is the one of Alexandr Zhigulin who is the youngest player of the tournament. Zhigulin, who already has a Jordan Brand Classic participation in his resume is born on the 26th of April 1994 which makes him 4 years young than the competition. And when you see his face, you know that this date is not fake, this kid is really that young. However, you may be surprised how he acts on the court as he looks already pretty mature in his decision making and a major part of his game is based on positioning. He has been officially listed at 2m02 but he looks a bit taller on the court as he shows an interesting wingspan and a still very thin body which is of course a sign of his youth.
Offensively, he lives a lot from pick-and-roll or high-low situations as he plays most of the minutes on the PF position while his future probably is more as a SF. He has very good hands and he can develop an interesting 3pt shot in the future. He takes most of his offensive plays in the paint right now but he takes the occasional three when open. When you consider that he is 4 years younger than the rest of the team, you really don’t see it when he is on the court. He is so far the team’s third best scorer with 11.6ppg and 5.3rpg at great shooting percentages of 52.2%.
The most consistent player of the Kazakh team right now is the SF Alexandr Tyutyunik. The 1m98 tall player is the top scorer of Kazakhstan and the third best scorer of the tournament so far. Additionally, Tyutyunik is probably the best three point shooter of the tournament. He can fire the ball easily from three point land and has range up to 1.5m approximately behind the arc. His best shot is the catch-and-shoot like from 45 degrees on the wing. When he gets the ball and has the necessary space, he nets it with good percentages.
He can also create his own shot out of the dribble despite not being the fastest or the most athletic guy on the court. He looks pretty under control in what he does even if he sometimes tries too much to create for himself. He can drive with the basketball and prefers to go to the left where he can stop hard and go up for a perfect jump shot.
On the other hand, Tyutyunik has some trouble when it comes to play defense. He is pretty slow laterally when he tries to defend his opponent and you can see him get beat quite often. He does not look like being in perfect shape and there is probably some improvement possible on the physical part of his game. However, his feet look pretty slow and there is probably his biggest weakness when it comes to upside in his game. What is more surprising though is that he is a decent shot blocker for a player of his size. His stats so far after the first three games: 21.3ppg (46.3% FG 55.6% 3FG 100% FT), 7.3rpg, 3.0topg and 1.6bpg.
The third player I want to mention is Anton Arsenyev. He had his best game of the tournament when it was the most important; against the host in order to qualify for the next round. The 1m95 tall guard scored 27pts at 69% going for some very difficult shots and making them. Born in 1991, Arsenyev had not a great tournament until that game so his outcome against New Zealand is difficult to consider as you don’t know if this was a one-shot or if his two previous games were just mediocre.
In this game against New Zealand, Arsenyev displayed great scoring skills, especially from behind the arc. He netted some open threes in the beginning and gained the necessary confidence to try more difficult shot which he made too. You could see him go for a tough three pointer out of the dribble or cross over dribble that opened him completely to get a mid range Jumper. His shot is a bit in front of his face so that he struggles to shot over a defender despite having a really quick release. His confidence level was so high that he went for some fancy stuff too like a nice behind the back no look pass in the break that gave his team mate an open dunk.
His decision making is a bit questionable at this moment but this can be considered as the result of his great game. The thing was that despite taking some bad choices on offense, all of them turned into a basket and the negative effect of it was not there. I speak here of difficult passes or quick shots in the crunch time. It will be interesting to see how he plays the next games as the opposition will get stronger and we will see if he can continue on this level or if his game is just suited to play against smaller teams like New Zealand.
Highlights of the Kazakh Games: