We start the review of the main players of the Nike International Junior Tournament in Belgrade traditionally with the guards. The overall talent level on this position was a bit limited and the number of future top level back-court players present in this tournament was not very high. But here we go for those that we considered as the most interesting.
Nikola Rebic – 1m88 – PG – 1995 – Crvena Zvezda
Already in his third NIJT campaign, Nikola Rebic has definitely been the PG leader for the winning Crvena Zvezda team. However, there has not been much of a difference in his overall playing style compared to last season. Rebic is doing a good job in bringing up the ball, also against pressure. On the set plays, he can organize his offense well and likes to play the intervals to attack the basket. Out of the drives, he comes up with the nice passes on help situations without being the most creative or fancy player. He plays very close to the floor which reduces his turnovers (only 8 in 5 games) and he is doing a good job in direction changes.
Physically, he looks a bit stronger though and his shot selection looks improved. He was superbly from the FT line where he netted 91% of his shots. On the other hand, he was never really challenged in this tournament by other high level point guards that put massive pressure on him. Defensively, his potential looks limited as his foot speed is not great and he is a target for post-ups in the lowpost of taller guards. This might probably be his biggest weakness for the next level. Additionally, Rebic is not really a threat from behind the arc where he remains at a mediocre 30% and not taking that many shots. From next season, Rebic has to show that he is capable to play against adults where he will most likely struggle in the beginning.
Stats: 11.8ppg, 2.2rpg, 4.4apg, 1.6topg, 17.4PIR
Brano Djukanovic – 1m96 – SG – 1995 – Crvena Zvezda
One of the sensations last year in the NIJT, Brano Djukanovic was the main scoring threat of the winners from behind the arc. The still quite thin shooting guard has added some muscle to his long body and has still that beautifully looking jump shot from behind the arc. Djukanovic showed rarely a drive to the basket but when he put the ball on the floor, he was quite successful even with his weak left hand. He finished once on a very spectacular up and under move that underlined his growing athletic abilities. The biggest step forward was however on the defensive end where Djukanovic looked to have stopper potential. With his excellent lateral speed, he could nearly stay in front of anybody and he was not afraid to dive hard for the ball in order to initiate the fast break. The 1m96 tall guard came up with the occasional assist but his role is clearly on the off-guard position in the future. Unfortunately, he injured his foot quickly in the final but he won the three-point contest just before the last game.
Stats: 11.3ppg, 2.0rpg, 4.2apg, 10.5PIR
Rade Zagorac – 2m04 – SG/PG – 1995 – Mega Vizura
Zagorac was one of our favorite players in last year’s event but this was not really the case this time. The tall guard of Mega Vizura struggled heavily in the final against Zvezda and their very focused defense on him. He showed though that he can recognize who is defending him by using his size to post up. However, his overall shot selection was not great in the tournament and especially in the most important game. He had his best games against the weaker opponents which is not really a good sign even in such a short sample. I have to see him again, in a different setting in order to go deeper in the analysis of his game.
Stats: 13.0ppg, 5.5rpg, 2.0apg, 2.3topg, 13.0PIR
Ismet Akpinar – 1m90 – PG – 1995 – ALBA Berlin
Clearly the most talented player on a quite limited ALBA team, Ismet Akpinar showed during this tournament that he can develop into an interesting player for the Euroleague level but not in a dominant way. Akpinar has good handles and likes to attack the basket but most of his passes could not really be converted by his team mates. He certainly becomes a more dangerous player when he is surrounded by high-level team mates. Akpinar has a sweet and quick shot from behind the line and likes to have the ball in his hands. One of his favorite moves is the drive and step back jump shot from mid-range but he was not very successful in his shooting in Belgrade. He needs to improve his off-the-ball game and become a real team leader setting up the offense.
Stats: 18.3ppg, 5.8rpg, 1.5apg, 3.8topg, 14.3PIR
Bozidar Babovic – 1m94 – SG – 1995 – Partizan Belgrade
One of the best shooters in the whole tournament, the Serbian SG Bozidar Babovic impressed with great percentages from behind the arc. His jump shot is looking very effective with a quick release and good height. Effective either in kick out situations or when he has to create his own shot, Babovic was not afraid to shot in the big moments of the game and make his attempts. His overall game though looks a bit too much focused on the shot so that he can develop into a role player on the next level. To do so, he needs to improve his drive a bit and also become a factor on the defensive end.
Stats: 14.2ppg (16/35 3FGs), 3.8rpg, 2.0apg, 11.8PIR
Andrej Magdevski – 1m92 – PG – 1996 – Partizan Belgrade
It was quite an up and down tournament for the young Partizan guard, one of the few players born in 1996 in this section. Magdevski showed that he is able to attack the basket and finish from close with either hand. He showed some difficult scores in these situations going for the underhand layups. Magdevski needs to become more regular in his overall game but as he is a year younger, he has the time to do so. Next season, he should be the uncontested PG leader for Partizan and with an improving overall shot selection and passing game, he can develop into one of the better guards of his generation.
Stats: 8.4ppg, 2.2rpg, 2.4apg, 2.0spg, 2.8topg, 7.0PIR
Vasilije Pusica – 1m90 – PG – 1995 – Partizan Belgrade
Next to Rebic, Vasilije Pusica was certainly the best PG in the tournament. Coming a bit out of nowhere, Pusica played under great control and with a lot of energy. The 1m90 tall player showed great ball handling skills with a very low dribble and excellent skills to attack the defensive gaps. Pusica reads well what the defense does and reacts mostly in the right way. He drives really hard to the basket and knows to find a way around the defense. The 1995 born guard can finish close to the rim but has also to the floater from about 2-3 meters from the basket. Pusica looks really well in transition where he can push the ball up the court and create opportunities for his team mates but attracting the defense with his poise.
In set play offenses, he is doing a good job in Pick and Roll situations where he finds his big guys nicely, even under pressure. In crucial moments of the game, he remains calm in his execution and can still find the good pass. Pusica on the other hand needs to improve his shot from outside where he does not really represent some danger. His mechanics look good but right now, he looked more streaky than regular from behind the 3pt line. Physically, he is on a good way which is also underlined by his nice rebounding. The question is what is the next step for Pusica who seems not be a factor in the Partizan plans for next season. He is ready to play on the Senior level with a limited role in my opinion but there is also the option to move abroad for him.
Stats: 11.4ppg, 3.4rpg, 4.2apg, 1.2spg, 15.0PIR
Vladimir Nemcok – 1m83 – PG – 1995 – USK Future Stars
The Slovakian guard who played for the USK Future Stars team in Belgrade impressed us with his game when they played against INSEP. Not afraid at all, Nemcok regularly attacked the basket in Pick and Roll situations despite his limited size. Certainly, he was one of the best creators in the whole tournament for his team mates and he could even add the little bit of funkiness to the plays with his very energetic dribbles and passes. Sometimes, he did a bit too much and turned the ball over but overall, his nice court vision was a major plus in his game. Nemcok was also quite dangerous from behind the arc with his high and quick release. If he can limit his turnovers in the future and continue to play on a high level, Nemcok has a good future ahead of him. However, he needs to improve his shot selection when attacking the basket.
Stats: 14.5ppg, 2.5rpg, 5.8apg, 2.5spg, 4.5topg, 15.0PIR
Charly Pontens – 1m89 – PG – 1995 – INSEP
The French Point Guard developed some leadership skills when Damien Inglis was injured and he was the main reason for the victory over Partizan in the game for the third place. Quite versatile on both ends of the floor, Pontens showed some similarities to Antoine Diot in the overall playing style. He finds a good mix between attacking the basket and shooting from outside, where he was super effective through out the tournament with great percentages (25/49 FGs – 10/10 FTs).
Pontens played during the days in Belgrade mainly in a scorer role which might be explained by the dominance of Inglis handling the ball. This gave only few opportunities to the PG to create for others while he was in a great scoring mood during the last game of the tournament and mostly looking for his own shots. He can create his own shot out of the dribble which is a good asset for a player who is a bit limited athletically. On defense, he reads very well what the offense wants to do and was one of the best players in drawing charges in the tournament. His good lateral speed gives him the potential to become a pressure defense player. He should not have too many problems to develop the necessary game for the highest French level.
Stats: 14.6ppg, 3.2rpg, 0.8apg, 1.4spg, 1.6topg, 14.2PIR