In the last part of our reports on the Nike International Junior Tournament in Belgrade, we will talk today about the big guys including the tournament MVP Dusan Ristic.
Dusan Ristic – 2m10 – C – 1995 – Crvena Zvezda
The MVP of the tournament Dusan Ristic had an impressive showing during the days in Belgrade. The 2m10 tall and still more than a year younger Ristic showed great improvement over the past twelve months becoming a serious offensive threat close to the basket but also around the key. After he struggled a bit in the first minutes we saw him in Belgrade as he missed a couple of shots badly and even airballing a free-throw, Ristic improved over the games to become a really dominant player in the decisive games.
First of all, Ristic has excellent size with a correct wingspan and an already nicely filled frame for a player that young. In fact, he turns 17 only in November 2012 which made him nearly 2 years younger than some of his opponents and gives him a lot of room for physical improvement. His moves though are not very stable yet as he runs a bit in a strange shaking style while his game with the back to the basket is also still in the making. Nonetheless, his understanding of the game and scoring talent made him the most impressive big guy of the tournament as he did not only score the ball but also helped his team to win the tournament.
Ristic had excellent positioning around the basket and was always a target for his guards driving to the hoop. He did not show much problems to catch the passes and convert the opportunities he got, even if he had a preference for the layup instead of the dunk when being open. He needs to become a bit more aggressive in these situations but with more experience on this level, we do not have too much doubts about this to come. Next to the scoring from close, Ristic has developed a nice shot around the key where he hesitated a bit in the beginning and had a couple of bad attempts therefore. But later in the tournament, he was a great target in Pick and Pop situations scoring from 5 meters with great regularity. He might end up with a three-point shot in the next years that would be an additional offensive threat.
Ristic was also responsible for one of the most impressive moves of the tournament when he scored a highly important basket in the Final with the clock ticking down. He received the ball in the low post to go for very difficult turn around fade away jump shot over the defense after several fakes that he netted with a perfect swish and somehow decided the game. That shot did not look like being a lucky one but a well executed move. However, Ristic needs to add a bit more versatility to his game in the low block where he has some progress margin left. With additional weight and more stability on both ends of the floor, he can develop into one of the most promising centers of his generation in Europe in the next years.
Marko Tejic – 2m08 – C/PF – 1995 – Crvena Zvezda
Marko Tejic was the inside rotation for the tournament winners and the left handed stretch-four had a major impact on their tournament run because of his ability to knock the shot down from outside. The 2m08 tall big is still very thin and mainly plays away from the basket on offense. His three-point shot is looking very well executed, smooth and with a quick release. Additionally, he moves well and with good speed and is also able to handle the ball with his left hand pretty well for a player of his size. Out of defensive rebounding situations, he can put the ball on the floor to initiate the fast break as long as he has an opening for his left hand. As he mainly played a stretch-out role on offense, Tejic was not so often in the low post on offense. However, he showed some correct passing abilities in these situations and being able to find the cutter going back-door.
These passing skills also helped him to be a good high-low passer as he attracts the defense because of his dangerous shot opening good positions in the paint for his team mates. He can also attack the basket on the drive, once again with his left hand mainly, but struggled to make the right decision when attacking the basket. Being in a similar case than Ristic in terms of age, Tejic has still a lot of room to improve. With his good speed and overall well coordinated body, he will probably develop into a full time PF in a Garbajosa style. If he is able to improve his ball handling with the right hand and a few more offensive options, Tejic should have a nice career in front of him.
Nikola Jankovic – 2m04 – PF – 1994 – Crvena Zvezda
Voted best defensive player of the tournament, Nikola Jankovic dominated the days in Belgrade with his incredible rebounding talent and good decision making overall. Jankovic was extremely present in the paint and grabbed a multitude of rebounds on both ends of the floor. Not particularly explosive or athletic, he has the felling to know exactly where the ball is coming down and the necessary reach to get these balls. He goes mostly to the board with two hands and is also able to conclude after the offensive rebound by using his body to create the necessary space.
Offensively, Jankovic has added a quite regular jump shot taken with good height and release. Additionally, he uses the drive from outside a lot more than we remembered. He can even pass the ball well out of his penetrations and is overall a player who likes to share the ball, also on the fastbreak. He can now hit also the three-point shot which is probably a sign of directing his game more and more on the Small Forward position in the future. His height will probably limit him in the paint on the highest professional level but his fantastic rebounding timing will help him.
Nikola Milutinov – 2m10 – C – 1994 – Hemofarm Vrsac
The Serbian big man Nikola Milutinov played an excellent tournament with good presence on both ends of the floor. The 2m10 tall is a mobile player, not overly athletic but explosive enough to dunk everything from close to the basket. He has nice length which he knows how to use on the offensive glass where he tries to hold the ball high in order to avoid the steal. Out of these situations he is a good finisher even against defense as he can go up for the dunk with one or two hands without hesitation. Additionally, Milutinov likes to step out to take the jump shot. We had the impression that he did this a bit too much during certain moments, looking like he is shying away from contact.
His jump shot around the key looks very fluid with good shooting mechanics and nice regularity. He is able to score from behind the three-point line as well but is not the best ball handler to attack the basket by putting the ball on the floor. His overall shooting touch looks good and he made also a couple of difficult jump hooks out of the low post. Milutinov has already quite a good understanding of the game and of his own strengths and weaknesses. He reads a lot what the defense gives him and uses different kind of fakes in order to get open.
Defensively, he did an excellent job in the low post, also against physical players like Mam Jaiteh. He can hold position in the low block when people try to advance with their back to the basket and does not fall on the first fakes. His shot block timing is good and he has nice verticality in order to reject some shots. Milutinov looks like a very interesting prospect because of his size and potential to becoming a good offensive contributor. However, we missed the little thing that makes him into something special without being able to name what we miss. The next years will tell in which directions he develops.
Luka Nikolic – 2m07 – PF/SF – 1994 – Hemofarm Vrsac
Luka Nikolic showed some interesting things during the days in Belgrade playing the PF position for Hemofarm Vrsac with the potential to become a Small Forward in the future. The right handed Nikolic had some nice scores and good fakes when putting the ball on the floor. His shooting touch looks good and he can knock down the three-point shot without any major problem. He remains a bit unstable when being under pressure or when trying to score against the defense. However, he is a player to follow over the next years as he has good size for the wing positions and good tools to work with in the future.
Mam Jaiteh – 2m05 – C/PF – 1994 – INSEP
After having made some tremendous progress last year, 2012 was not the tournament of Mam Jaiteh in Belgrade. The physical and strong French big man showed no major improvement compared to what he did one year ago despite putting up interesting numbers with his team in the French 3rd division. Jaiteh’s upper body looks even stronger this year but overall, his physical development is a bit strange with his very thick top and long but skinny legs. He gets pushed around in the key and was not really able to impose his strength in the low post. For the rest, we did not see much more than what we wrote already about him previously but he might currently only be in a stagnation phase. He remains a highly interesting player for the future, even if he remains a bit undersized for the top level.
Jusuf Nurkic – 2m08 – PF/C – 1994 – Union Olimpija
One of the more unknown players before this tournament, Jusuf Nurkic used the spotlights of the NIJT in order to put his name on the table. 2m08 tall and quite quick, Nurkic was a bit the do-it-all guy for Union Olimpija and probably the player that drew the most fouls in the tournament because of his physical strength in the low post. Sometimes unstoppable down low, he showed naivety in other sectors of the game as he lacks the necessary top level experience as he never really played internationally so far.
Nurkic has a good shooting touch, is able to score from outside as well as around the key but has a bit of a chest shot that is though executed with good speed. In the low post, he mainly tried to bang his way to the basket and finish on the layup or dunk. His footwork allowed him to execute some nice spin moves but overall, his back to the basket game did not look really polished. He has not a great understanding of the game and mainly played on instincts on both ends of the court. He does not run the court very well either as he does not look very elegant in his moves and even is a little overweight for his age.
Defensively, he mainly focused on blocking shots which he did with a good regularity especially when coming from the weak side. His positioning is not great as more experienced or technical players had no major problems to score against him. Nurkic has a good bag of basketball talent but it is all about developing it in the right way in the next years as he needs to catch up in terms of experience and basketball understanding. Rumors said that he broke his running contract with Zlatorog Lasko after the NIJT and he did not participate in training sessions after the tournament. He played with Olimpija on loan during the NIJT and it looks like he tries to find a better situation by using his showings in Belgrade. However, his club announced that they will not let him go without compensation and we will see where he will end up in the next days and months.