The tournament in Belgrade was dominated by some highly talented guards and with a pair of them coming up with a great final show. Let’s check who were the main players that excelled on the outside positions.
Aleksandar Cvetkovic – 1m85 – PG – 1993 – Crvena Zvezda
The MVP of the tournament put on an amazing show during the three days of the Nike International Junior Tournament 2011 in Belgrade. Not only that he lead his team to win the tournament, he did this in great fashion by sharing the ball with his team mates and displaying fantastic leadership skills. But next to his great soft skills showing in every game, Cvetkovic is an excellently talented player that already did a great job with the U16 National Team two years ago. When during that event, it was mostly Nenad Miljenovic that did the PG job, it looks now that with the integration to the professional roster, Cvetkovic has taken over the #1 position as best Serbian PG of the 1993 generation. It will be highly interesting to see what the Serbian Basketball federation decides for this summer, if both guards will play for the U18 National team and who will take over which job on the team or if one of them will be playing with the U19 National Team at the World Championship to have both compete on their original position.
Cvetkovic was virtually unstoppable during the tournament. No defender was able to stop him from driving, creating or doing what ever he wanted. Even when he got double-teamed or was in trouble by dribbling to far behind the basket, the Red Star player was always able to find a solution with the fake or the perfect pass to one of his open team mates. The fact that he managed to play the Final of the tournament with 0 turnovers only underlines his currently fantastic control of the game and great decision making skills.
When it comes to scoring, Cvetkovic likes to attack the basket but prefers to finish from mid range with the floater or the out of the dribble jump shot. He wants to have the ball in his hands and create either his own shot or open positions for his team mates. The 1m85 tall guard can however also come out of the screens set by his team mates for the catch-and-shoot situations. What was interesting to see is that he took 4 times more two point shots than three-point attempts. This first shows that he is not relying exclusively on his three-point shooting skills, which he certainly has, but prefers to knife past his defender and create situations. His excellent aggressiveness implies that he gets a lot of foul calls in his favor (11 per game in Belgrade).
His excellent ball handling skills allow him to go for multiple cross-over dribbles in order to put the defense out of balance and use this to pass by the defender and go up for the immediate jump shot from mid-range. Cvetkovic can also finish with the floater from the top but he rarely goes really until the hoop except if the way is totally open. His limited athletic abilities are certainly a reason for this and he often got into trouble when he came too close to the basket; situations out of which he often found a great solution in order to get at least an open shot for one of his team mates though. In addition to his individual scoring skills and creative problem-solving, Cvetkovic did an excellent job to play the Pick and Roll with his inside players. He was able to create the necessary angles to play the perfect pass out of the dribble and find his mostly open big guy as the defender had to help on himself to avoid the open shot.
The way in which he shared the ball was one of the most interesting things to be seen in his game as despite being a major scorer in the tournament, he was far from being a ball hog. In fact, Cvetkovic even shared the ball a lot and often saw his own scoring as the second option or to be used only when the time was running out. You never had the impression that he played the pass in order to make a beautiful play and take the credit for the assist but only because the pass was the best option in that particular situation. He is in fact rarely forcing a play, neither a pass nor his own shot. This absolute under control execution is stunning for such a young player and his experience with the professional team in the Adriatic League is certainly a major fact for this evolution.
But next to all these positive things, there are also some down turns when it comes to his potential. Cvetkovic is far from being a NBA-type athlete and might also be a bit undersized for the absolute top level. With being 1m85 tall, he risks to be posted up lots of times by taller guards in the future. This is something that he can work on and certainly already faces with the Red Star senior team. Speed-wise he is great but he will most likely never come up with above the rim plays. On the defensive end, he did not show anything special except some good reads to steal the ball in the passing lanes. Cvetkovic will most likely not become a defensive stopper in the future but he should be able to develop into a correct defender on the European level in the next years. The Crvena Zvezda guard might also have some concentration bumps as shows his FT percentage which is below what you could expect of such a player. However, he netted all his attempts from the Free-throw when the game was on the line.
Stats: 29.0ppg (59.3% 2FGs – 40.0% 3FGs – 68.2% FTs), 5.8rpg, 8.0apg, 3.0spg, 2.8topg, 11.0fdrawnpg, 38.8rkgpg
Nenad Miljenovic – 1m94 – PG – 1993 – FMP Belgrade
Coming into the tournament as the expected winner and MVP, Nenad Miljenovic had to suffer a difficult loss in the final where he was not only unable to lead his team to the victory but also got taken the show away by Aleksandar Cvetkovic. Already FMP miraculously escaped the elimination in the semi-final with a little help of their referee friends, the hosts need now a Wild card in order to compete at the NIJT Top8 in Barcelona. Despite these negative results, Miljenovic himself played a very good tournament and showed progress in some parts of his game that we addressed in previous reports.
Despite a still questionable shooting selection, Miljenovic could connect a lot more mid-range attempts as we remembered from the 2009/2010 edition of the NIJT. He is more in balance when taking these shots and only goes for them if they are open. That’s why he could improve to a great 60.0% from two point area compared to 48.4% he had during the eleven NIJT games he played last season and this by even increasing his number of two point attempts.
The individual qualities of Miljenovic are already well known. He displays excellent size and handlings to play the PG position and is superbly creative to find his team mates. Additionally, he can score the basketball by attacking the rim in many different ways. He is doing a good job on the offensive glass in order to create second chances as well. With his aggressiveness, he goes often to the foul line from where is extremely regular. However, he had some misses in the crucial moments of the games which can certainly be addressed in the future.
Right now, Miljenovic has still not become a major threat from behind the arc. He can hit the shot but it is not his first option as he probably knows that he is not having great percentages from behind the arc on a regular basis. Not many teams though really used this weakness on defense to give him some space so that he never had to go for a lot of long distance attempts as he could beat the defender on the dribble. When speaking about his own defense, this is still a major weakness as he is not able to hold his man in front of him. Significantly, he did not play defense on Cvetkovic during the Final and there was certainly a reason why. We might have expected that he takes the game over by starting to guard the Red Star in the last quarter but he did not. Miljenovic certainly knows that this is still a part of his game that he needs to address in the future and with the step to the next level, he will have to adapt if he wants to improve. Nothing has been decided on his future yet as the Serbian guard has offers on the table from Euroleague teams but also from some High-major Colleges.
Stats: 19.6ppg (60.0% 2FGs – 42.9% 3FGs – 80.5% FTs), 3.8rpg, 6.8apg, 2.2spg, 1.8topg, 30.0rkgpg
Nikola Radicevic – 1m95 – PG/SG – 1994 – Partizan Belgrade
Coming into the tournament, we had high expectations on Nikola Radicevic based on what we have seen last February. With a year more under his belt, Radicevic looked to be another very interesting PG prospect for Partizan Belgrade. However, his numbers from the Serbian Junior League showed that Radicevic currently is not playing very well which he confirmed during the NIJT. Next to a suspect shot selection, the PG hesitates too much on his decisions at the moment and can often not decide when to go for his own shot or for the pass.
However, Radicevic is a highly interesting player as he displays excellent size and talent level to play the PG position. He can score either from behind the arc or on the drive and has the necessary creativity to finish close to the basket with the up-and-under move or the scoop shot. He can fake the passes in order to create the open space for himself but also find his team mates on the perimeter. Radicevic showed some very good full court passes on the fast break as well but on the hand often struggled to see clearly open players out of Pick and Roll situations for example. Having another Junior year ahead, it will be highly interesting to see how he develops until then and see with what he can come up in the future.
Stats: 13.8ppg (37.5% 2FGs – 30.0% 3FGs – 81.8% FTs), 3.4rpg, 4.0apg, 2.6topg, 12.4rkgpg
Tomas Kyzlink – 1m95 – SG/SF – 1993 – USK Future Stars
A player that showed some promise at the NIJT already last season and confirmed a nice amount of talent this year was the Czech guard Tomas Kyzlink. Displaying an amazing speed with the ball in his hand (in a similar style to Sergi Llull when it comes to pushing the ball), Kyzlink was superbly aggressive attacking the basket and scoring the ball close to the rim. The right-handed SG/SF mainly used his strong left hand on which he was nearly unstoppable when putting the ball on the floor with his first step. Despite being nicely athletic, I was surprised that he did not go more often for the dunk on the drive but a recent injury might be a reason of this as he is certainly able to dunk on the defense when driving.
While going mostly over his left hand but finishing with his right, the first step looks less explosive when attacking on the right hand. The Czech player even limits sometimes his drives to the mid-range area when going right and often came up with a pass to one of his team mates. His three-point shot is there but with a rather slow execution. This is certainly a point to work on in order to become more fluid in the shooting mechanics and in his shots overall. Next to his amazing speed, Kyzlink is an excellent rebounder out of which he can start immediately the fast break. The transition offense is something where he is doing a great job pushing the ball and going for the quick score. Despite being only 1m95 tall, Kyzlink is an excellent shot blocker as well. There are already several European Team interested in him and it would not be a major surprise if he will get signed by a Western European team in the future.
Stats: 18.0ppg (47.1% 2FGs – 35.3% 3FGs – 75.8% FTs), 8.2rpg, 1.6spg, 3.2topg, 0.9bpg, 20.2rkgpg
Luka Rupnik – 1m84 – PG – 1993 – Olimpija Ljubljana (loaned from Geoplin Slovan)
When it comes to finding the open man in a stylish way, there was no one better in this tournament than the Slovenian PG Luka Rupnik. He had an uncountable number of perfect no-look passes even if for some of them, he added the look away without being really needed in typical Jasikevicius way. Next to these spectacular passes which he either played out of the drive or from the top of the key, Rupnik showed interesting scoring skills despite an out of balance shot. In fact, not only that his shot selection is sometimes questionable (this might be explained by the fact that he is not a regular member of this team), he puts himself out of balance on nearly all of his attempts by himself and in an unnecessary way. He can score the basketball and was at the origin of some spectacular scoring runs of his team but in order to become a regular scorer, he absolutely needs to find more balance and regularity in his shots in the future.
His spectacular playing style features as well a high turnover ratio which he should be able to reduce in the coming years when concentrating more on the serious pass than the show effect. Rupnik sometimes wanted to force the game too much by himself and forgot his team mates when the game was in the decisive phases. In these moments, he showed some problems in his decision making as well as on the free-throw line (0/3 FTs in money time after being fouled on a three-point shot). Being a bit undersized and not displaying a great body to build on, his upside may be limited considering the highest European level. When he can find himself a regular and sure shot from outside, Rupnik is certainly a player that we will see on the professional roster of Union Olimpija Ljubljana in a near future.
Stats: 21.8ppg (48.8% 2FGs – 32.0% 3FGs – 72.4% FTs), 5.0rpg, 9.0apg, 3.5spg, 5.0topg, 27.3rkgpg
Hugo Invernizzi – 1m96 – SG – 1993 – INSEP
This was a tournament with lots of ups and downs for Hugo Invernizzi, the strong French shooting guard. He had absolute day off against Crvena Zvezda in the group phase where he had an incredible 0/10 shooting display from behind the arc while he showed great leadership skills in the semi-final versus FMP. Despite being mainly using his three-point shot as offensive weapon (more than 2 times more 3s than 2s), Invernizzi showed some promise when attacking the basket where he finished several times close to the rim or creating opportunities for his team mates. Because of the limits of the French PGs, Invernizzi had to take over this role by playing on the SG position.
Out of the rebound, he came up with some good full-court passes and a future as combo-guard might not be the worst choice for him right now. However, he might lack the necessary speed on his first step to play a full-time playmaker position but he looks to be the best option on this position for the French 1993 generation. We will see how this goes on this summer with the U18 National Team. Because the main problem will most likely be his limited lateral speed on defense to guard faster players.
Stats: 13.0ppg (38.8% 2FGs – 28.2% 3FGs – 75.0% FTs), 4.8rpg, 4.4apg, 1.4topg, 14.4rkgpg
Next to these players, there are some other prospects that I liked particularly but who did not come up with great statistics in the tournament because they were younger or limited in playing time because of different issues. I think however that it is worth to take a look at them and I explain here why.
Boris Dallo – 1m92 – SG – 1994 – INSEP
Probably one of the players with the worst (smallest) stats ever to be featured in an article, Boris Dallo was though a highly interesting player in my eyes. Fluid, excellent athlete, lots of good ideas on the offensive end but on the other hand also lots of ups and downs in his contribution, these were the main characteristics of the French guard. With the current 1993 generation gone, Dallo should form a superbly complementary guard duo for the 94 together with Charly Maraux who missed this tournament. He is certainly a player to have on the radar for the future.
Stats: 1.6ppg, 1.0rpg, 1.6apg
Kenneth Ogbe – 1m95 – PG – 1994 – ALBA Berlin (loaned from Urspring)
Missing the first game of the tournament and having two incredibly bad statistical efforts after that, it looked like Kenneth Ogbe will go for a terrible tournament. However, the brother of current Tennessee Tech freshman Dennis Ogbe showed what he is able to do while playing for the 5-8th spot. Great athletic abilities and good size for the PG position are his physical attributes that he combines with a good drive and a solid shot who needs to become more regular though. He lacks some physical presence on the defensive end but he can compensate with his speed. Being a Class of 2012 player and potentially interested by playing College Basketball, he might get some interest in a near future.
Stats: 8.0ppg (36.4% 2FGs – 16.7% 3FGs – 71.4% FTs), 2.5apg, 3.5rkgpg
Lukas Festr – 1m85 – PG – 1994 – USK Future Stars
The left handed Point Guard did not amaze with huge statistics but overall, he looked like a very interesting player to me. Festr can change nicely the speed when attacking the basket, has a good feel for the ball and reads the gaps on defense pretty well. Athletically, he is good for European standards and is not afraid to finish among the big guys with good elevation. His three-point shot though is not really good and also rather slow. This is the main working point for the Czech guard in the future.
Stats: 12.4ppg (60.7% 2FGs – 20.8% 3FGs – 81.2% FTs), 3.2rpg, 2.2apg, 3.8topg, 8.6rkgpg
Nikola Rebic – 1m72 – PG – 1995 – FMP Belgrade
Totally undersized but most likely still in his growing phase, Nikola Rebic developed more and more into a serious back-up option on the PG spot during the tournament. The tiny but rather physical and aggressive player showed some good scoring skills with a correct three pointer and some hard-nosed defense. He will most likely take over the reign of the FMP ship next season when Miljenovic is too old for the Junior level.
Stats: 4.6ppg (61.5% 2FGs – 28.6% 3FGs), 1.2rpg, 1.6apg, 3.0rkgpg