We will start our player review of the Nike International Junior Tournament 2010 from Paris with a detailed look at the most interesting guards of the event.
Nenad Miljenovic – 1m94 – Guard – 1993 – FMP Belgrade
The Serbian guard finished this tournament with the most impressive individual statistics of all participants despite being one year younger than most of the players. But it was not enough to reach the goal of defending the title in Paris. Miljenovic could not elevate his level enough to overcome a lack of centimeters and defensive presence in the paint of his team mates. Even if the 1993 born player had one of the plays of the weekend with his buzzer beating game winner over KK Split, the fact alone that FMP needed such an incredible individual effort to remain in title race showed how the Serbian team depended on the talent of Miljenovic.
Nenad Miljenovic has an incredible talent for scoring the basketball. He can drive at will past his defenders and can often only be stopped by a foul. He averaged more than 10 free-throws over the tournament, but he was not very regular on his attempts. His ball handling skills help him of course and his excellent size make him one of the most interesting prospects in Europe. He excels in the open court with his speed and court vision and his game right now seems to be more adapted to an NBA future than to Euroleague. Despite having added some weight, Miljenovic gets still bounced around when driving to the basket and hits the floor hard on occasions when getting fouled. He is so good in avoiding the defenders though by changing the direction of his drives and recognizes the help situations very well to either change his idea or going for the nice dishes. Being also very creative on his passing, you can see him go for the behind the back dish when possible without over-forcing the spectacular play though.
Unfortunately, I can not report of any progress in Miljenovic’ sometimes strange shooting selection. While he is not a major threat from outside the three-point area, he goes probably too often for the difficult mid range jump shots that mostly look too short when he takes them out of the drive. He can make them when he is fully concentrated on his attempt and taking them in balance. You could see him several times go to post up his defender and finish with the mid-range jump shot after the turn around. His three point shot in catch-and-shoot situations looks excellent with a quick release and a high release point with his body well extended. But you could see this season in the NIJT tournament that without a dominating inside player on his side, Miljenovic struggles to play on the level he is supposed to be. But still, even taken into account those negative aspects, Miljenovic remains a really great prospect and he has another chance to win the NIJT title next season as he is born only in 1993. But FMP needs to add some real size for next year as the outside defenders including Miljenovic were not really showing a lock-down defense against penetration plays. We will see in the long run if this is more a “will” problem or anything else with the Serbian guard. The next opportunity will be at the U17 World Championship this summer where Miljenovic should be present with the Serbian National Team.
Stats: 17.5ppg (61.5% 2FG, 3/12 3FG, 29/42 FTs), 5.5rpg, 4.8apg, 2.5spg, 4.0topg, 25.8effpg
Alessandro Zanelli – 1m85 – Guard – 1992 – Benetton Treviso
In the absence of Alessandro Gentile, who played two minutes with the Benetton Treviso senior team this weekend, it was Alessandro Zanelli who took over the scoring role in the Italian back court. As Armin Mazic did not really play a great tournament (5.7effpg), Zanelli was the main option in both scoring and organizing the team. Not the tallest player on the court but decently athletic, Zanelli is not afraid to drive hard to the basket and try to score in traffic. This athleticism can also be observed on the defensive end where he is a surprising shot blocker on the opposing guards trying to beat him with the dribble.
The shot of Zanelli is really quick, he can take it nearly against anybody in both out of the dribble or catch-and-shoot situations. He loves to handle the ball a lot and create with cross-over dribbles or some direction fakes. The guard from Treviso can also go for the mid-range jump shot out of the penetration play when he sees that the paint is too crowded for concluding close to the basket. While Zanelli can not really be considered as a big “playmaker”, he created though a lot of nice situations for his inside players through his aggressive drives into the zone and a correct timing on the dishes. But he remains mainly a scorer at the moment and with Gentile on the team back in Rome last December, he did not really stand out as nearly all the balls passed through the hands of the top Italian prospect born in 1992.
Stats: 15.3ppg (40.7% 2FG, 42.9% 3FG, 93.7% FTs), 3.3rpg, 3.3apg, 3.0topg, 16.3effpg
Toni Katic – 1m85 – Guard – 1992 – KK Split
Toni Katic came to Paris with the award of being the Hospitalet Qualificaton Tournament Top scorer for his team. However, he never really could come up with a major scoring outburst in the French capital as his shot was not really falling right from day one. His game is mainly based on hard strong drives and those essentially on his left hand. When he attacks the basket, he can finish himself with floaters or mid range jump shots but as his percentages show, he was not in a lucky mode over the three games in Paris. He can finish these plays though with both hands off the glass or in the tear-drop style coming from the top. He also tries to get the additional foul call in a typical South-European style by going for some “ahhs” when being attacked in the layup attempt.
Katic’s outside shot does not looks so well though. His shot release is a bit slow and he does not look particularly confident in taking the three-point attempt. So he puts a lot of pressure on the defense by attacking the basket in most of the occasions where he can also come up with some nice hesitation moves in order to create for himself or his team mates. He needs to dribble the ball a lot and is more of a passer in situations where he wanted to go for his own drive but attracted the defense. He sees the open cutter or inside guy in those situations but struggles sometimes with the kick out as he goes maybe too much on the feeling where he thinks the outside shooter should be. He is not overly athletic and will probably suffer on the professional level in this area and getting posted up on the defensive end by taller guards.
Stats: 14.0ppg (32.0% 2FG, 82.1% FTs), 5.7rpg, 5.0apg, 3.7topg, 18.3effpg
Rafael Freire – 1m87 – Guard – 1992 – Unicaja Malaga
The Brazilian guard, who has already seen minutes in the ACB and the Euroleague was clearly a man among boys on the Unicaja Malaga team. Freire was really looking a lot more experienced and with the presence of Miki Servera, he could eventually have lead the Spaniards to the final in Paris. Unicaja was close to this as they lost only by one point against FMP in the decisive game on Saturday. Freire is a nicely athletic combo guard who uses his experience gained on the professional level to create positive situations for himself. He forces sometimes too much the jump shot as he has a lot of confidence in his own shooting qualities. His jump shot looks picture perfect when receiving the ball on a kick out for example.
At the moment though, Freire needs to find his position between the SG and PG. He can setup the offensive play and find his team mates but the sometimes poor execution on passes especially when being under pressure show that he has still a good progress margin. You can see him often jump and pass when being doubled on the press for example which puts him in difficult situations if he does not find the open man at time. His ball handling is correct, he does not use a lot of fancy cross over plays to put his defender in difficulties and tries to attack more with a quick first step.
Stats: 13.3ppg (56.2% 2FG, 33.3% 3FG, 71.4% FTs), 7.0rpg, 4.3apg, 2.3spg, 5.3topg, 17.7effpg
Jan Span – 1m87 – Guard – 1992 – Union Olimpija
The Slovenian guard lead the tournament in assists but it was not enough to give the team more than one win in Paris. Span, who looked a lot stronger physically than we have seen him in Metz last summer, was the clear leader of a pretty balanced team from Ljubljana. He is an excellent player when it comes to Pick and Roll situations where he finds the best mix between the own shooting opportunities and the nice dish to the roller. When using the screen well, he can also take the strong drive until the basket where his gained weight helps him to score against the bigger guys with the layups or the underhand scoop shot. He likes also to go for some kind of floater when attacking through the middle but can also stop around the free-throw line to take the old-fashioned jump shot.
Span can also play the SG position during short stretches and be used more in a shooting role. As his shot release is rather quick, he can come out of the screens and go immediately for the pull up jumper out of the move. But his future is clearly on the PG position as he understands the game really well and knows how to run the team. He sees which player is in a good position or hot at any given moment and knows how to set up the play that is needed to give the ball to the right man on the right spot.
Stats: 12.3ppg (57.1% 2FG, 25.3% 3FG), 5.7rpg, 7.0apg, 16.0effpg
Mathis Keita – 1m92 – Guard – 1992 – INSEP CFBB
Mathis Keita is still in the process of finding his real position. Will he be a full-time PG or remain a combo-guard without a big shooting threat from outside? Right now, he is an excellent scorer on this level, mostly through drives or on the break, but he lacks the necessary regularity from outside and the game tempo control to be a full-time PG on the next level. With his above average athletic abilities for European standards but a rather thin and long frame, he excels in beating his opponent with his first step but struggles sometimes to make the right decision between going fully to the hole or taking the mid-range option with either the pass or the stop to see what the defense gives him.
It looks like Keita can only play at full-speed and has yet to learn when to slow down the rhythm of his team. It was not him, despite playing the PG role for INSEP, that was the real boss on the court while being a year older than most of his team mates. With his capacity to create scoring possibilities, he generates a lot of help situations though which he can read and dish the pass but you can see him also lots of times running into a defensive wall trying to get the call and getting the turnover instead. His game does not look really European at the moment and his interest to play College basketball may be an interesting choice for his future career as the interest of French teams to sign him is apparently not very big.
Stats: 12.5ppg (53.5% 2FG, 13.6% 3FG, 64.7% FTs), 3.5rpg, 5.3apg, 2.5topg, 12.3effpg
Hugo Invernizzi – 1m94 – Guard – 1993 – INSEP CFBB
Invernizzi stepped up through out the tournament and can be considered as one of the best shooters of the whole tournament. With his already large body, it was him who took and made the big shoots for the French team in the crucial moments. Moving nicely off the ball in order to find the right position, it looks like the 1993 born guard understands the game pretty well and with his scoring capacities from outside, he is set for a bright future in French basketball. His long distance shot looks picture perfect when he receives the ball from a kick out and he can take the attempts in any game situation, with a defender on him or not. He does not force his shots though, he nicely recognizes what the game gives him and reads the defense pretty well.
But what makes him intriguing is his capacity to take the drive when he sees the defense running out to him. Out of these penetration plays, he guards a court vision to go for the little dish to his team mates or the mid-range jump shot out of the dribble. With his nice fundamentals, he can also create the open look for himself and finish close to the basket. All in all, with his size and already developed body, he looks like a long-term prospect as starter for the French Senior National Team of the future as his still unique profile in French basketball will certainly help him to break out completely in the next years.
Stats: 14.0ppg (35.7% 2FG, 54.2% 3FG, 87.5% FTs), 3.8rpg, 2.8apg, 14.0effpg
Dovydas Redikas – 1m93 – Guard – 1992 – Zalgiris Kaunas
Dovydas Redikas was Mister Versatility in the Lithuanian back court. With his endless motor on defense, he put first of all a lot of pressure on the opposing guards chasing them full-court over nearly every second he was on the court. He is highly aggressive and comes up with a multitude of steals either directly on the man or by jumping into the passing lanes out of the double team for example. His body looks already nicely developed which helps him of course on the Junior level to be a dominant defensive player for his team.
On the offensive end, Redikas played mainly a role of combo-guard being used over long stretches as SG. Despite not having a perfect shooting technique, he hit his attempts with excellent accuracy over the days in Paris and was a constant threat from outside. He excels of course in the open court with his nice speed and good footwork to finish the breaks even in complicated situations. As in defense, he is also highly aggressive on the offensive end and seems to attack the basket at all time. He even overpowers at moments and falls into turnover situations when he does not see the help coming at time. He can play the drive and dish though but right now, he does not seem to have the necessary court-vision to become a full-time PG.
Stats: 18.3ppg (59.2% 2FG, 54.5% 3FG, 50.0% FTs), 2.3rpg, 3.7apg, 3.3spg, 3.3topg, 19.3effpg