The big guys drew the most interest in the U18 European Championship as this group featured several highly interesting players. Even if Enes Kanter was absent, the tournament featured several NBA potentials and we go over the players that have impressed us the most.
Jonas Valanciunas – 2m10 – C – 1992 – Lietuvos Rytas
The uncontested MVP of the U18 European Championship was the Lithuanian Center Jonas Valanciunas. The Lietuvos Rytas big guy was simply dominating the tournament by his presence, defensive and offensive, and you always thought that when the teams needs him, he can step up and make the decision. In general, Valanciunas did not use a lot of possessions in the game, he let the game come to him without forcing anything. This resulted in terrific shooting percentages throughout the days in Vilnius, he finished with incredible 63/90 2-point field goals over 9 games. During the quarter-finals and semi-finals, he took only a combined 6 shots as both teams played a very intense defense on him and Valanciunas preferred the team running well instead of forcing his own stats.
He is not getting nervous when he does not get the ball in open positions but leads the team with his positive and humble attitude. When positioned well in the low post, Valanciunas mostly wants to go over his right hand and score either on the jump hook or by a sort of baseline drive. Greece closed his right hand effectively in the quarter-final and Valanciunas did not show anything going left. His weakness on the left hand is also exposed in one of the typical Lithuanian setups where he had to step out to the three-point line and swing the ball to the left where he used often his right hand in order to initiate the swing instead of his left hand.
When being around the three-point line, Valanciunas can also attack the basket with his right hand as he has quite a good first step. With his excellent athletic abilities, he can finish those plays above the rim and rather strong. He has quick feet and is doing big damage on the offensive rebound because of his excellent second jump. If he misses the close one, it is almost certain that he can finish it on the second attempt.
The biggest impact of Valanciunas is on the defensive end. He has an excellent presence and puts the offense in trouble as the drivers are afraid of him. He rebounds very well with both hands above the rim protecting the ball perfectly from the guards. With his length and athletic abilities, he is a huge presence on the shot block as well where he has the necessary height and timing to be a real threat for the offense. Valanciunas is said to be the starting center for Lietuvos Rytas already the upcoming season. It won’t be a surprise if he will make the Senior National Team roster already by next summer to play the Eurobasket 2011 as well. Big years are ahead for the 2m10 tall player who will of course also be followed closely by all the NBA Franchises as the possibility to see him in the Draft 2011 is given.
Stats: 19.4ppg (70.0% 2FGs – 77.8% FTs), 13.4rpg, 2.7bpg
Olexiy Len – 2m10 – C – 1993
One of the most interesting players in the whole tournament in my eyes was the Ukrainian Center Olexiy Len. The 2m10 tall player is currently really skinny, he reminds me a bit of a young Tibor Pleiss in terms of body structure, but what a presence and talent. Len, who only turned 17 in June was the player that put the most impressive stats on the board with 6 doubles-doubles and several crazy shot block parties (8 vs. Slovenia, 9 vs. Germany or 7 vs. Sweden). Additionally, next to his great length, Len is really athletic and can run the court like a forward. He can play really above the rim but he still needs to learn to get a better feeling for the game.
Len recognizes already pretty well how to play his defender. When being defended by a smaller player, he posts him up, when being taken by a bigger slower guy, he plays him face-to-face. As he is able to score out of both situations with either putting the ball on the floor or going for the jump shoot or jump hook depending on the situation, it is not impossible to see him develop into a PF in the future. He has an interesting shooting touch but needs to work on his mechanics in order to become more regular, especially from the free-throw line. His shooting mechanics look nice and fluid but they are not stable enough yet.
Athletically, Len is really off the charts for a European player. He can play above the rim and uses this on both ends of the court. He came up with several incredible dunks or catches high in the air that he finished with the alley-oop dunk out of nowhere. Defensively, he is a constant threat for anyone approaching the basket as he has excellent timing and feel for the big block shot. On the rebound situations, he grabs the ball really high with two hands and holds it high in order to finish it immediately on the offensive end. He is present on every rebound with his long arms and if he can not grab it, he can at least put the other players in trouble.
With the right practice and playing minutes on the next level, Len can really develop into a very interesting player in the future. As we heard, several bigger European teams are chasing him but it looks like it is not so easy to bring him to a more developed structure than he currently is. Len can play another year on the U18 level and the fact that the Ukraine remained in Division A is a positive thing. Watching his development on the highest European level over the year into next summer will be a major task for all scouts.
Stats: 16.0ppg (47.9% 2FGs – 57.1% FTs), 11.4rpg, 4.3bpg
Rudy Gobert – 2m12 – C – 1992 – Cholet Basket
For the French Center, it was the first ever international competition of this level. The reason is a late growth so that Rudy Gobert entered the scene as big man only a short time ago. He is still trying to adapt his movements to his new body so that several of his actions look a bit strange. But with his length and athletic abilities, he is certainly a player to watch in the future. Right now, Gobert plays mainly close to the basket where he can finish on the jump hook with both hands or the dunk. He is really present on the offensive rebound through his very long arms and good timing.
More surprising are his passing skills. He is not the guy who makes the assist but he is doing an excellent job in swinging the ball to the opposite side or doing the kick out pass for his shooters. However, he struggles on the defensive end when he needs to play the outlet pass where he produced several turnovers. It has to be said though that the French guards did not really help him by running the break immediately and offering him only tough outlets instead of going get the ball in his un-experienced hands.
Gobert’s hands are correct but not great at the moment. He has some trouble to catch difficult passes but this is probably one of the things where he can improve. His verticality is currently his main asset. Despite being not the most explosive guy, Gobert is very present on the shot block where he rejects the ball without sending it in the stands. As he boxes out well on defense, he is doing a good job in the defensive rebound as well.
On offense, Gobert needs really to improve his shooting mechanics as his free-throws look not really under control with his elbow being far from straight to the basket. Additionally, he needs to get a bit quicker in his execution in order to reduce the chance of the defense to stop him. The Cholet player also showed the occasional drive from the top with his left hand but he did not go until the rim and preferred to stop his penetration in the triple-threat position. It looks like Gobert will be the next big guy coming out of the Cholet talent machine. I would not be surprised to see him in the NBA Draft process already next spring with an early entrance.
Stats: 9.2ppg (50.7% 2FGs – 45.8% FTs), 9.0rpg, 1.7bpg
Boris Barac – 2m05 – PF – 1992 – Siroki TT
The Croatian PF showed some nice scoring in the low post, mainly of jump hooks with both hands. Barac likes to fight in the paint and takes the ball close to the basket when seeing that he is defended by a smaller player than himself. The younger brother of Stanko Barac can also hit the occasional three point shot but he has no real in-between game which limits him in his offensive potential. In general, he needs to improve his shooting selection as his percentages underline even if his shooting mechanics look good and having a quick release. But without any real mid-range game or drive, Barac looks like he remains a pure undersized inside player.
Stats: 11.0ppg (46.7% 2FGs – 23.5% 3FGs – 56.7% FTs), 6.2rpg
Tomasz Gielo – 2m04 – PF – 1993 – AZS Szczecin
The Polish power forward played a nice tournament in Lithuania after his great performances in Hamburg with the U17 National Team. Gielo can vary between the shot and the drive where he showed penetrations of both hands. Occasionally, he also nailed the mid-range jump shot out of the drive. His three point shot looks always a bit strange as he is not fully straight up with his body. His left handed drive seems to be more creative as he can go for the nice pass or for the elegant high lay-up. What was good to see is that Gielo is improving defensively where he did a nice job for example on Chrysikopoulos from Greece which he shut down both from inside and outside.
Stats: 11.7ppg (58.5% 2FGs – 42.9% 3FGs), 4.9rpg, 0.9bpg
Przemyslaw Karnowski – 2m13 – C – 1993 – Katarzynka Torun
The Polish big guy has already been featured on this blog several times, so this will be just some additional comments on him as a player. Karnowski did not dominate the game as he dominated on the U16 or still on the U17 level. His physical presence is still huge but these older players know how to handle a big guy like him. When Poland run their offense and he does not get the ball on several occasions, he gets angry and talks to his team mates. Karnowski runs the court well despite his massive body but he struggles when receiving the pass in full speed to conclude. Still a lot of work to do for him but he turns only 17 in November, so he has still a long way to go as well in order to develop.
Stats: 9.2ppg (45.7% 2FGs – 57.6% FTs), 6.9rpg, 0.9bpg
Stefan Nastic – 2m11 – C – 1992 – Stanford
What do you want to say about a player who has averaged 3 points per game and just played 10 minutes per contest? Well, that he is a really talented big guy and the question remains why he did not see more minutes. I had the chance to see Nastic in action in his best game; this was against Lithuania and the MVP Jonas Valanciunas. Nastic was one of the few players that really challenged the Lithuanian big guy by playing him hard and aggressively. The Stanford player has nice speed, good footwork and interesting leaping abilities. He was not afraid to dunk over Valanciunas and the fact that he scored more points from the FT line than out of the game throughout the tournament underlined his hard play. Nastic has also a nice jump shot which he can make around the key and is also present in shot blocking because of his great length. He is definitely one of the players to watch for the future and it will be interesting to see what he can do in the Pac-10 next season.
Stats: 3.0ppg, 3.3rpg, 0.9bpg, 10.7mpg
Nikola Siladi – 2m05 – PF – 1992 – FMP Belgrade
A somehow surprising selection to the All-Tournament team came up for Nikola Siladi in Vilnius. This was more or less the result though of the absence of any real dominating PFs. Siladi did what we knew already from him, taking lots of outside shots with not great percentages, showing the occasional athletic play and nice drive but not a major development in his game into a better understanding of what is needed from him on the court. He is ahead of decisive weeks and months to see if he can develop into a high level player in the next years or not. The FMP Power Forward needs to mature in his game and work on his deficits right now.
Stats: 8.4rpg (44.7% 2FGs – 19.4% 3FGs), 6.4rpg
Bozo Dumic – 2m08 – PF/C – 1992 – KK Novi Sad
Another Serbian big guy that I wanted to mention is Bozo Dumic. He is not oozing with potential but the Vrbas native played an interesting tournament in his style. He uses a lot of basic back-to-the-basket moves in order to score combined with a good positioning. He can hit the occasional jump shot but his shooting touch is improvable. All his moves look fluid but he struggles sometimes when he has to finish with his left hand. Dumic is not an outstanding rebounder but works hard to be present on the offensive glass. With his height and correct athletic abilities, the 2m08 tall inside player is also present as a shot blocker without being particularly dominating in this area.
Stats: 5.7ppg (48.7% 2FGs), 3.1rpg, 1.1bpg
Philipp Neumann – 2m10 – PF/C – 1992 – Brose Baskets Bamberg
Philipp Neumann was supposed to be one of the main prospects of this U18 European Championship as the German big guy had an interesting showing already last summer. But Neumann could never really show his potential as he looked once again more focused on himself than on the team play. After having seen him in Belgrade at the NIJT where he seemed to have developed in this area, Vilnius looked once again as a step-back for the 2m10 tall player who is currently trying to find his real position between the Center and Power Forward.
Stats: 12.1ppg (47.4% 2FGs – 26.3% 3FGs), 8.4rpg, 1.4bpg
Dennis Kramer – 2m09 – PF/C – 1992 – San Diego
A new name on the German roster was Dennis Kramer who joined the team only late this year. Kramer played High School Basketball in the United States and will enroll at San Diego this fall. He is the son of a former professional player in Germany but was raised in the USA. Kramer is the kind of inside-outside big guy who takes his game to the three-point area because he can shoot the ball and not as a result of being afraid to battle inside. He displays good positioning and interesting athletic abilities and it will be interesting to see what he will be able to do for San Diego over the next years.
Stats: 7.9ppg (45.3% 2FGs – 19.4% 3FGs), 5.3rpg