European Prospects

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Young guns from Finland (2010/2011)

March 1st, 2011 · No Comments

Our Finnish friend Hippo came up with his already traditional annual review on the Top Finnish prospects. After Kilian Cato committed this week to the University of Maine, the Finnish League has once again confirmed its status of interesting talent reservoir both for the NCAA and the European Leagues. Check out his report for the 2010/2011 season.

Here’s a recap of young players (born in 1989 or later) who have been making an impact in Finnish top league Korisliiga in 2010/11 season so far, plus a couple of interesting names from Division 1, the second-highest league in Finland. This unofficial ranking is based A) on their performance in 2010/11 and B) on their pro potential. For a comparison: Olimpija Ljubljana’s Sasu Salin averaged 9.2 points and 2.7 rebounds in Korisliiga and Frankfurt Skyliners’ Carl Lindbom 11.6 points and 5.6 rebounds in Division 1 in 2009/10.

1. ANTTI KANERVO – 1m92 – PG/SG – 1989

Joensuun Kataja (Korisliiga): 30.1mins 12.2ppg (49.7% 2FGs – 40.6% 3FGs –  86.7% FTs), 2.4rpg, 1.3apg

Finland Men’s National Team (Div A): 14.8mins, 3.9ppg, 1.4rpg

Kanervo played surprisingly big minutes with Finnish men’s national team last summer with Petteri Koponen sidelined. Last summer has certainly been a confidence boost for Kanervo, who has adopted a lot bigger role this season. Formerly known as only a long-range shooter, Kanervo has been surprisingly effective as point guard and defensive player in 2010/11, and he seems determined to jump into a better league soon.

2. ANTTO NIKKARINEN – 1m84 – PG – 1991

Kouvot (Korisliiga): 32.6mins, 12.5ppg (41.9% 2FGs – 35.4% §FGs – 80.3% FTs), 2.4rpg, 2.2apg

Finland U20 (Div B 2010): 23.3mins, 8.6ppg (64.7% 2FGs – 31.8% 3FGs – 76.5% FTs),  4.0rpg, 2.8apg, 1.6spg

Nikkarinen has been a cornerstone player for surprising Kouvot team this season. His confidence and ballhandling skills are better than last season and he can hit his long range shots even when facing tough defense. He’s also more pumped up physically and is now able to defend faster, more athletic point guards. His size could be an issue, but his will to become a pro player is strong.

3. MATTI NUUTINEN – 2m00 – SF/PF – 1990

Vilpas (Korisliiga): 25.5mins, 8.5ppg (51.9% “2FGs – 31.3% 3FGs – 73.0% FTs), 5.1rpg, 1.2spg

Finland U20 (Div B 2010): 17.1mins, 6.9ppg (58.3% 2FGs – 50.0% 3FGs – 75.0% FTs), 4.1rpg, 1.3apg

Finnish basketball fans have been waiting for talented, versatile and athletic big man Nuutinen to break through for three years. After several injury-bug bitten seasons, he finally has arrived. After mid-January, Nuutinen has been averaging 12.3 points and 6.3 rebounds a game, finishing both inside and outside and being able to defend four spots. Nuutinen is a lot like Finnish national team veteran forward Kimmo Muurinen (Frankfurt Skyliners) was ten years ago.

4. ROOPE AHONEN – 1m87 – SG – 1990

Vilpas (Korisliiga): 29.4mins, 11.6ppg (45.0% 2FGs – 32.7% 3FGs – 88.9% FTs), 2.2rpg, 2.3apg

Finland U20 (Div B 2010): 30.0mins, 16.0ppg (42.4% 2FGs – 51.9% 3FGs – 86.4% FTs), 2.1rpg, 2.0apg, 1.3spg

At 21 years old, Ahonen is already producing points with great self confidence and he’s one of the rare domestic young players in Korisliiga able to create his own shot and score in bunches. Alas, Ahonen also has the tendency to disappear in pressure and his point guard skills haven’t developed as expected these past two years.

5. SAMULI VANTTAJA – 2m10 – PF/C – 1991

Honka Playboys (Korisliiga): 14.1mins, 4.1ppg (49.2% 2FGs – 42.9% 3FGs), 2.8ppg

Tapiolan Honka (Div 1): 30.2mins, 13.5ppg (45.6% 2FGs – 40.5% 3FGs), 7.6rpg, 1.1spg

Finland U20 (Div B 2010): DNP – Injured

After a long wait, Vanttaja has been showing promise in Korisliiga level this year. He has both provided interior defense and outside shooting for VTB-League team Honka Playboys, while leading Honka’s development team Tapiolan Honka in scoring in Division 1. Vanttaja needs toughness and strength, but his ability to bring the ball upcourt, hit treys and defend opposing 5’s, is interesting.

6. MIKAEL SANDBERG – 2m09 – PF/C – 1991

ToPo (Korisliiga): 6.5mins, 1.8ppg (24.9% 2FGs – 55.6% 3FGs), 1.0rpg

TomPo (Division 1): 28.1mins, 15.0ppg (51,3% 2FGs), 8.2rpg

Finland U20 (Div B 2010): 10.0mins, 2.1ppg (70.0% 2FGs – 75.0% FTs), 1.0rpg

Big man Sandberg has only seen limited minutes of Korisliiga action because of his lack of strength and weight, but in Division 1, he has been TomPo’s best scorer and rebounder. Sandberg can hit an outside shot with good percentages and scores near the basket with pump fakes and fade-aways, and he should blossom into a very good Korisliiga player once he catches up on the physical side.

7. VILLEMATTI KOPIO – 1m82  PG/SG – 1992

Honka Playboys (Korisliiga): 10.3mins, 3.3ppg (42.1% 2FGs – 38.0% 3FGs), 0.7rpg, 0.8apg

Tapiolan Honka (Div 1): 25.1mins, 10.9ppg (30.9% 3FGs), 3.1rpg, 2.1apg

Finland U18 (Div B 2010): 29.1mins, 13.0ppg (57.9% 2FGs – 69.2% FTs), 3.6rpg, 2.5apg

Despite some so-called experts (including me) calling him a tweener, young sharpshooter Kopio has been playing quality minutes in both Korisliiga and Division 1, even nailing a buzzer-beating, game-winning three point shot in January against Namika Lahti (with 18 points). Kopio doesn’t seem intimidated by anyone, and that’s something you can rarely say about a 19-year old playing his first season in top league.

8. MARKUS MOLENIUS – 2m04- SF/PF – 1992

FoKoPo (Division 1): 22.3mins, 13.4ppg (72.6% 2FGs – 68.7% FTs), 3.2rpg, 1.1spg

Finland U18 (Div B 2010): 19.1mins, 10.1ppg (63.2% 2FGs – 36.8% 3FGs), 3.9rpg

Molenius was Division 1’s leading domestic scorer for the first three months of the season, excelling in creating mismatches in low post and finishing fast breaks with powerful dunks. If FoKoPo gets promoted back to Korisliiga for 2011/12, next season will be crucial for Molenius’ development: how does he play against tougher defenses?

9. ILARI SEPPÄLÄ – 1m88 – PG/SG – 1993

Kouvot (Korisliiga): 11.4mins, 3.5ppg (50.0% 2FGs – 32.5% 3FGs), 0.8rpg, 0.6apg

Finland U18 (Div B 2010): DNP – Injured

Kouvot is by far the youngest team in the league, but they have still played excellent basketball this season, surfing from #2 to #6 spots throughout the season. 17-year old Seppälä has seen only limited minutes, but his raw talent is obvious. His basketball IQ is high, he drains his open shots, is able to keep up with his man in defense and does right decisions in the fast break. We’re expecting this kid to have a bright future.

10. JUHO LEHTORANTA – 1m94 – SG – 1989

KTP (Korisliiga): 17.1mins, 7.5ppg (56.2% 2FGs – 33.8% 3FGs – 87.9% FTs), 2.7rpg

To put it simple and plain, Lehtoranta is nothing but a scorer, but he has been really effective in limited minutes in Finland’s current #2 team, KTP. Lehtoranta scores on drives and jump shots and has scored double-figures 13 times in 38 games – impressive for someone who averages only 17 minutes a game. He’ll have a long career in Finland.

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