In our second part of the U18 European Championship reporting, we take a look at the major wing prospects of the event. Of course, Dario Saric will not be discussed in this article as he was featured already in a separate post. Once again, the players from the team ranked 9 to 12 are not in this article as I was unable to follow a game of these teams.
Albert Homs – 2m03 – SF/SG – 1994 – Spain
The tournament was not particularly successful for Homs from an individual point of view. The long forward shot with bad percentages from outside and his scoring impact was not that big. From the past, we knew Homs as a potential Point forward with good passing abilities but in Vilnius, he was not very successful when handling the ball and trying to create for his team mates. Nevertheless, his turnover numbers remained quite low for his extended playing time but we could not recognize an improving passing ability. Homs’ shot still looks very fluid with a quick release but he does not jump very high when taking a jump shot. Mainly used as a SF or even at SG, Homs recognized interesting match-up situations to post up his defender but he did not look very confident in finishing in these situations.
Stats: 7.7ppg (39.6% 2FGs – 19.2% 3FGs), 4.3rpg
Oriol Pauli – 2m01 – SG/SF – 1994 – Spain
Another Spanish swingman on the wing was Oriol Pauli. Not as well known as Homs, Pauli finished though with better scoring numbers in the tournament which came mainly from his good shooting percentages. Scoring at 39% from behind the three-point line helped Pauli to average nearly 10 points per game as a Starter on the SG position. The 1994 born player moves nicely and fluidly on the court, is pretty long and athletic enough for the next level. His jump shot is well executed with a high release point and quick mechanics. However, Pauli is not very strong physically at the moment and it will be interesting to see how he develops playing for the second team of FC Barcelona next season.
Stats: 9.2ppg (43.3% 2FGs – 39.0% 3FGs), 2.9rpg
Aleksandar Vezenkov – 2m05 – SF – 1995 – Bulgaria
One of the youngest players in the event was the Bulgarian wing player Aleksandar Vezenkov. After he showed already his talent last summer in the U16 European Championship but also a very immature presence on the court, the development of Vezenkov in terms of body language was tremendous. He rarely argued on the court or discussed with the referees and did not look that frustrated as we could see him back in the Czech Republic. He is still quite emotional when things do not go in his direction but overall, his mental approach to the game seems to be improving.
In terms of basketball development, Vezenkov did not show many new things compared to last year but his strength have improved. His left handed shot is a pure beauty and he has scored with excellent percentages during the whole tournament in Vilnius; especially from the free-throw line (30/31 FTs). He can create his shot out of the dribble by either attacking the gaps for the mid-range attempt or score the long-distance three with defense on him. Mainly going on his stronger left hand, Vezenkov is not an explosive driver but showed some attacks of the basket using technique and footwork. However, he mainly plays as an outside player despite his excellent size as he lacks the physical and athletic abilities to match-up with post players.
When Vezenkov attacks the basket, he is not able yet to finish strong in the paint. He prefers the fade-away plays or use his good court-vision for the wrap-around pass. Defensively, he remains weak for the moment as he can not match players physically in the paint. On the wing, he is too slow laterally to stay in front of guards or small forwards but this is an issue that can be worked at in the future. He just turned 17 a few days ago which makes him a highly interesting long term prospect and probably one of the best scorers of his generation. Without him, Bulgaria would have played most likely in the Relegation group but they reached a historical 8th place. Vezenkov’s future will be interesting to follow as he is a member of Aris Thessaloniki for 3 years now and he might get his first regular minutes with the Greek team next season.
Stats: 16.7ppg (47.1% 2FGs – 39.1% 3FGs), 5.7rpg, 1.9apg
Justas Tamulis – 1m94 – SF/SG – 1994 – Lithuania
Lithuania was lead in scoring by Justas Tamulis who was mostly used as an off-ball catch-and-shoot player. Tamulis did not handle the ball that often but was nevertheless quite effective in this tournament. Good in corner situations from where he nailed several important three-pointers, Tamulis was also doing a good job in offensive transition where he could use his physical force and athleticism to get some easy baskets. When he puts the ball on the floor, he normally goes to the hoop without seeing the mid-range options. He can finish the tough layups, also with defense, and can come up with the occasional dunk as well. However, I do not see much upside on the long term for Tamulis because of his limited size for the wing and his ball handling is a bit too limited to move to SG or PG on the highest level.
Stats: 14.4ppg (60.5% 2FGs – 36.2% 3FGs), 1.8rpg, 2.0apg
Marius Grigonis – 1m98 – SF/PG – 1994 – Lithuania
The All-Tournament team member from Lithuania had a so-so tournament in my eyes. Too many times, he did not take over the lead of the team as you could expect but on the other hand, it was him that won the game in the semi-final with a dramatic last play against Serbia. Additionally, Grigonis was not really sure about his position in the Lithuanian offense. Often used as a Small Forward, he is in my eyes the future of Lithuania on the PG position if he can really grow into that role. He has the necessary ball handling, great size, athletic abilities and court vision to become a high-level play maker in the future.
Grigonis is doing a good job recognizing the gaps in defense and attacking the right spots. His first step helps him to pass by most of the defenders on this level and with his footwork and spin moves, he can avoid the help defense elegantly. The 1m98 tall player can finish strong in the paint even if his athleticism is only decent for European levels. He likes to have the ball in his hands and play Pick and Roll situations as he can find the open players nicely. He has though to learn how to better control his plays if he wants to become a full time Point Guard in the future. He has the right leadership attitude but sometimes, he becomes too passive and is not asking enough for the ball.
Stats: 12.3ppg (51.6% 2FGs – 20.0% 3FGs), 3.1rpg, 2.6apg
Simone Fontecchio – 1m97 – SF – 1995 – Italy
After having impressed already at the Albert Schweitzer Tournament, the athletic Italian swingman showed again what kind of potential he is. His overall body and athleticism look to be made for the highest European level and he shows excellent control and coordination when attacking the basket. Out of the drive, he can finish above the rim easily or with good hang time if necessary. He can jump off either one or two feet to finish depending on the situation. Fontecchio looks to have even improved his finishing in the paint where he is able to score with the contact despite being a year younger than the competition.
His shooting mechanics are really fluid and he scored several nice jump shots, also out of the dribble. His percentages looked very good, especially from behind the arc. Additionally, when used on the Power Forward position, Fontecchio showed some nice passing ability to find his big man in the low post from the top of the key. On the long term, the Italian swingman might be one of the most interesting players of the whole tournament. He has all abilities to become a high-level Small Forward if he continues to progress.
Stats: 10.7ppg (46.6% 2FGs – 41.7% 3FGs), 3.6rpg
Mislav Brzoja – 1m96 – SG/SF – 1994 – Croatia
What a difference a year makes is what I can say about Mislav Brzoja. The new Villanova Wildcat was not really playing well in the games I saw him last summer but this year, he was a major factor for the Croatian National Team and the second best scorer next to the dominator Dario Saric. First of all, during his year in the United States, the Croatian player looks to have worked a lot on his physical presence. His upper body is a lot more developed than last summer.
Brzoja can score from either outside or inside. His shooting mechanics are nicely fluid and he has good range on his three-point shot. He uses a multitude of fakes in order to get open but also when attacking the basket where he come to a full-stop out of the hard drive without traveling. The Croatian knows how to generate contact to score with the foul when he is close to the hoop. His ball handling allows him to play well in Pick and Roll situations and find his team mates even out of the double team. Nevertheless, he is not a great passer in normal game situations and needs to focus a bit more on the precision in this exercise.
Next to his jump shot, he can also finish on floaters or driving layups when he attacks the basket. We did not see him often go for the pull-up jumper out of the dribble though which seems to be a part of the game that he has to improve. Defensively, Brzoja showed some interesting lateral speed and was particularly active in denying the passes to the wings. He was among the best stealers of the whole tournament where he could use his improving athleticism and explosiveness to jump in the passing lanes. Overall, he looks like a highly interesting player and he seems to be ready to be a factor for Villanova quickly.
Stats: 15.0ppg (48.1% 2FGs – 34.0% 3FGs), 3.0rpg, 1.9apg, 2.3spg