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NIJT Belgrade 2014: the Bigs

March 23rd, 2014 · No Comments

In the last part of our review of the Nike International Junior Tournament in Belgrade, I am going to talk about the big guys. In this group, you will find scouting reports on the top-level prospects Dragan Bender and Ante Zizic as well as some interesting players for the College level like Norbert Janicek.

Marko Radovanovic – 2m06 – PF – 1996 – Crvena Zvezda

Marko Radovanovic was the main inside player for the tournament winners Crvena Zvezda. However, he is not the typical inside player as Radovanovic can also score the three-point shot with good percentages and is not really a great rebounder on the other hand. The 2m06 tall power forward runs the court nicely and was always a good option in transition. His jumping abilities are good as well but he is not a superb athlete either. Radovanovic was often used as a high-low passer from the top of the key but his passes were not very precise all the time. Overall, Radovanovic was a good role player for the winning team but his overall potential remains limited. He should be able though to find some professional contracts in the future.

Stats: 7.6ppg (45.5% FGs – 55.6% 3FGs), 4.4rpg, 1.0bpg

Danilo Ostojic – 2m03 – PF/SF – 1996 – Crvena Zvezda

The long forward played an interesting tournament in his role as outside threat with size. Very fluid and versatile, Ostojic might not blow you away with his statistical impact, but he looks like an interesting player on the long term who should be able to play as a full-time Small Forward in the future. He moves well without the ball and sees the open gaps to knife into the defense and score in these situations. Because of his shooting threat, even if he was not very successful in Belgrade, Ostojic brings the defenders coming out to him so that he can put the ball on the floor to attack the baskets where he can also finish in difficult situations. His ball handling can of course still be improved but for the moment, he can do multiple things on the court which makes him valuable and promising for the future.

Stats: 5.2ppg (40.7% FGs – 18.2% 3FGs), 3.6rpg, 1.2spg

Ywen Smock – 2m04 – PF/C – 1996 – INSEP

The French big guy is some kind of a special player. Last year, when I scouted him at the NIJT in London, he was going up for a multitude of hook shots with either hand without being very successful. This time in Belgrade, he was less using the hook but he showed some very good passing skills out of the low post. Additionally, he seems to have got bigger and more explosive as he came up with a multitude of impressive dunks. However, he remains a quite poor finisher if he needs to go for the layup or the short shot and is especially ineffective from the free-throw line. So the offensive game of Smock remains a bit of a mystery as he seems to add some kind of move to his game on a regular basis but he still is not able to make them on regular basis.

On the other hand, Smock was a real factor on the defensive end. With his improved explosiveness, the 1996 born inside player was really present as a shot blocker and vertical presence in the paint. He came up with surprising rejections both from the weak side and straight up against his man. However, with this focus on blocking shots, Smock was not present enough to box out his man and be effective as a defensive rebounder. With his energy level, Smock is certainly an interesting prospect even if he is really undersized to play Center on the highest level. He needs though first to improve his offensive skill set and finishing qualities. Additionally, his on court behavior and body language is not really showing a lot of promise at the moment that he is focused enough to improve.

Stats: 8.4ppg (47.4% FGs – 37.5% FTs), 6.0rpg, 2.8apg, 3.2bpg

Jonathan Jeanne – 2m12 – PF/SF – 1997 – INSEP

Another interesting specimen has been the 1997 born Jonathan Jeanne. The French forward displayed a really thin and narrow profile without any strength so far but moving really well and coordinated for a player of his size and being that young. His footwork looked well too as he came up with the occasional spin move when dribbling the ball. His main offensive threat at the moment though is his three-point shot. He can knock the long range shots on a regular basis despite a little strange shooting mechanics going always a bit sideways. He lacks the physical strength to have any impact in the paint on both ends of the floor at the moment. It will be interesting to see how and if Jeanne can add some weight over the next years in order to be competitive on the senior level.

Stats: 5.8ppg (68.4% FGs – 50.0% 3FGs), 1.4rpg

Vasilije Bacovic – 2m06 – PF – 1996 – Buducnost

The Montenegrin power forward played a really good tournament in Belgrade where he impressed with superb statistical numbers. Bacovic is the kind of player who does not excel in anything but does a bit over everything well. Sporting a good size for the Power Forward position, the 2m06 tall Montenegrin had to play mainly on the Center position though. He has a nice shooting touch around the key but rarely steps out to the three-point line. He is a good presence in the defensive rebound with his correct jumping ability and is also quite present as a vertical shot blocker. He has no real post game with the exception of a normal jump hook but he is moving well without the ball and uses the defensive rotations on drives to get open close to the basket for easy finishes. Bacovic will certainly develop into a quite interesting Adriatic League player in the future but I do not see him become a Euroleague level prospect in the future despite his overall great tournament.

Stats: 17.8ppg (48.0% FGs). 7.0rpg, 1.8spg, 2.5bpg

Mihajlo Radunovic – 2m00 – PF – 1996 – Buducnost

Radunovic was playing as an undersized power forward for the Montenegrin team in the tournament and showed that he is an interesting prospect as well. Not a threat from outside but a great rebounder, Radunovic did most of his damage with his jump shot around the key but also because of his good athletic abilities that allowed him to finish in the paint close to the basket. As he as quite a good first step, he can beat his defender on the drive when he is playing on the PF position. However, Radunovic is too short for this on the professional level and he has no real shot from outside so it will be difficult for him to move to the small forward position in the future. A lot will depend on this to see how far he can go on the professional level.

Stats: 8.0ppg (44.0% FGs), 8.3rpg

Ivan Bojanic – 2m06 – PF/C – 1997 – Partizan Belgrade

The Partizan big man was one of the pleasant surprises of the tournament. Born in April 1997 and therefore a year younger than the competition, Bojanic showed a very versatile skill set for a player of his size. His shooting touch is looking good and he can nail the three-point shot in catch and shoot situations on a regular basis. In the low post, Bojanic has a variety of moves to finish and his jump hook is particularly effective. He can also come up with the turn around jump shot to the baseline which underlines once again his good shooting touch. Overall, the 2m06 tall power forward has a good physical profile, can run the court without any problem and has also good athletic abilities in terms of speed and jumping. He can finish easily above the rim and his explosiveness is on a good way. Bojanic is certainly a player to follow on the long term in order to see how he develops. He has the potential to become a modern stretch-four type of player for the high professional level in the future.

Stats: 11.3ppg (55.6% FGs – 33.3% 3FGs), 7.0rpg, 0.8bpg

Dragan Bender – 2m08 – PF/SF – 1997 – Cedevita Zagreb

Probably the most talented prospect of the whole tournament was the Croatian forward Dragan Bender. The 16 year old who recently moved to Maccabi Tel Aviv displayed a super-rare combination of size, ball handling skills, shooting and court vision. Additionally, he has a great body to work with over the next years in order to add the necessary weight and strength so that his limits are not known yet so far. However, next to all his potential, you could not really say that Bender impressed with his on-court performances purely based on the results. Often overplaying by going for the unnecessary extra-pass, not using his size enough and an overall softness, this are all factors that the teenager need to overcome in the next years.

If you start with the physical profile, Bender is a highly coordinated and fluidly moving long player, being 2m08 tall and probably still growing a bit. He has a good athletic profile, a nice wingspan and is very mobile. Overall, he seems to have a great feel for the game, running the correct ways and having a very good court-vision. His passes are often really well timed and finding the correct player either in the open court or out of the low post. However, he sometimes uses this too much instead of going for his own finish when being close to the basket. Another fact that underlines his understanding of the game is that he was the only player I remember having faked a hand off in the whole tournament and getting a totally open way to the basket out of this move. Bender has also been used in a “facilitator” role against the full court press where he was the ideal target for the breakers as he could be positioned in the middle to catch the ball and beat defenders on the dribble from there.

In the set offense, Bender was mainly used as a stretch four player who shot a bit too much from outside instead of using his size. His three-point shot is certainly really fluid in terms of mechanics but he was not hitting it on a regular basis which was a problem for his offensive production. Bender can also put the ball on the floor to attack the basket but he struggles still to finish against physical defenders as his body remains a bit frail. This is not a major problem as of right now as he will only turn 17 in November. On the defensive end, Bender was quite present as a rebounder and especially as a shot blocker where he could use his good foot speed to move to the right spots and elevate for the rejections.

Overall, Bender looks like a really impressive prospect on the long term. He has still a lot of work to do, especially from a physical point of view but his overall fundamentals and his skill set are really impressive. He needs to develop also a bit more aggressiveness on the court as he disappears for stretches and is relying a bit too much on his pure talent and shooting touch to score. If he can understand his true potential on the court and work hard on his weaknesses, Bender has the potential to go all the way in the future and become a leader of the Senior National Team in the future.

Stats: 6.6ppg (41.2% FGs – 21.4% 3FGs), 6.2rpg, 3.0apg, 3.6topg, 1.4bpg

Ante Zizic – 2m05 – C – 1997 – Cedevita Zagreb

More or less the opposite in terms of aggressiveness and physical strength to Bender, Ante Zizic was the main inside force for the Cedevita team in Belgrade. Not as good in terms of pure talent, Zizic dominated in the paint with his strength and athletic abilities. He was a tremendous vertical presence in defense where he was a constant threat for players who drove to the basket as he rejected an incredible 13.2% of all shots while he was on the court (as comparison, the highest BLK% in the NBA this season is Rudy Gobert at 7.16%). On the other hand, you could expect Zizic to be a better defensive rebounder but with the Cedevita lineup including Bender and Mazalin, he did not need to be that aggressive to get the defensive boards.

Offensively, Zizic was a tremendous finisher close to the basket where he was using his superior physical strength to overpower his defenders more than once. He can use both hands from close range for the short jump hook or the layup against the defense. The brother of Andrija Zizic positions himself really well in the paint in order to become a good target for passes of his team mates. He could be a bit more explosive in his finishes especially when using a dribble for the drop step for example. His overall footwork is good but there is also some room for improvement but his coordination is already well developed for such a young player. Zizic has also a quite reliable jump shot from around the key but his shooting mechanics are perfectible in this area.

The main question on Zizic is how much has he still in the tank in terms of growing. Right now, at 2m05, he is a bit short to play Center on the highest professional level. Even if his motor and physical potential are impressive, it would be great if he could add a few more centimeters which is still quite possible as he is only 17. If not, he really needs to improve his shooting, especially from the free-throw line in order to become a threat not only in the paint. Additionally, Zizic needs to work on his ball handling fundamentals in order to able to play the drive against stronger defenders in the future.

Stats: 13.2ppg (54.2% FGs – 45.2% FTs), 6.0rpg, 4.0bpg

Norbert Janicek – 2m09 – C – 1996 – Canarias Basketball Academy

What a tournament this has been for the Slovakian big man Norbert Janicek. The Class of 2015 inside player is the perfect example how to make the most if you are not athletically gifted as other players on the court. Janicek can finish with either hand from close in nearly identic effectiveness, be it on the jump hook or the short shot from 1-2 meters. Really limited in terms of jumping abilities, Janicek has a great arsenal of moves in the low post where he is a true “floor player” which means that he works most with his footwork, positioning and fakes. However, once Janicek steps out a bit from his comfort zone, he becomes really ineffective. He has not really enough ball handling in order to beat a defender on the dribble and often goes for difficult floaters or long hooks in order to avoid contact close to the rim.

On the defensive end, Janicek was often a non-factor as he lacks the lateral foot speed and verticality to be a real threat. His rebounding is good because of once again his fundamentals as he blocks out well and has quite a strong body. However, he did not have a single block shot in the whole tournament which underlines his quite poor vertical presence in the paint. The 2m09 tall also needs to improve his jump shot and shooting overall as he needs to become a more reliable free-throw shooter with his kind of game. Janicek is certainly a very interesting target for mid-major college programs as he brings good size and certainly also a great work ethic in order to improve. However, his lack of mobility and athletic abilities will hinder him from becoming a high level prospect in the next years. This does not mean though that he will not make a living out of basketball in the future.

Stats: 18.5ppg (66.7% FGs – 42.9% FTs), 7.8rpg

Yankuba Sima – 2m09 – C – 1996 – Canarias Basketball Academy

In terms of defensive center, there were not many better prospects than Yankuba Sima from the Canarias Basketball Academy. The 2m09 tall is a tremendous defensive rebounder and also a great shot blocking presence with his long arms and explosiveness. However, on the offensive end, Sima is more or less a non-factor. Quite poor in his finishing and atrocious from the free-throw line, Sima really needs to add some technique and fundamentals in order to be capable of adding some points. What is surprising though is that he has quite some touch with his left hand despite being a right handed player. He also takes a three-point shot here and there but his finishing in the paint was really poor during the tournament. According to our information, Sima has already a close to be public commitment with a WCC program for the Class of 2015.

Stats: 3.8ppg (28.6% FGs – 25.0% FTs), 9.3rpg, 3.3bpg

Nikola Pavlovic – 2m04 – PF – 1996 – Mega Vizura

Nikola Pavlovic was the certainly the most energetic player of the tournament. Constantly going at 100% or more and being very emotional, the scoring leader from the 4th placed Mega Vizura team was playing some kind of do-it-all forward who could grab the defensive rebound, push the ball full-court and come up with the kick-out pass in transition. Physically already quite mature, Pavlovic used his strength quite well in his advantage, especially as a screener on Pick-and-Roll situations. Not a superb athlete, Pavlovic tries though to go really hard to the rim and also dunk in traffic or over people. This brings him often to the free-throw line from where he scores a multitude of points. He also tries to score from outside but his three-point shot is far from being reliable at the moment. All in all, Pavlovic could be a really interesting prospect for mid-level teams in the future but he somehow lacks the necessary skill set to develop into a high-level player over the next years as he mainly lives from his energy and physique.

Stats: 16.4ppg (37.5% FGs – 20.0% 3FGs), 9.6rpg, 1.0bpg

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