Tomislav Zubcic, 6-11, SF/PF, Cibona Zagreb, 1990
Weve written about Zubcics physical tools beforehes long, athletic, with great size (listed at 7-feet here), but with a game more reminiscent of a small forward. He did everything on the court for Cibonabreaking the press, moving the ball around unselfishly, knocking down 3-pointers and blowing past his man with a very nice first stephis versatility is pretty extraordinary for a player this age, particularly at his size. Zubcic can execute advanced moves that players much older than him struggle with until much later in their careercoming off screens and creating sharp separation off the floor with a fluid pull-up jumper for example, and banking the shot in from a tough angle off the glass for good measure.
Zubcics feel for the game is what sets him apart at this point, along with his excellent skill-set, and he regularly showed that by making pinpoint passes from the perimeter into the post with absolutely no hesitation. He sees the floor extremely well at his height, and showed no problem moving the ball around the court fluidly, despite clearly being his teams most talented scorer. Zubcic likes to shoot the ball from the perimeterhe went 5/15 in three games from behind the arcand also showed great touch from the free throw line knocking down all 16 of his attempts.
In the post, he doesnt have much footwork to speak of--mostly preferring to attempt turnaround jumpers, and looking too skinny and a bit too soft to use his size effectively enough here. Hes an excellent ball-handler with either hand, particularly in the open floor, and is capable of creating his own shot from the perimeter with a nice first step and solid creativity. He does struggle finishing in traffic at times, partially due to his lack of strength, and partially due to his lack of toughness.
Zubcics biggest issues have always been his rebounding and poor defensive play, along with the lack of intensity and assertiveness he shows to fully take advantage of his terrific talent. Rebounding definitely wasnt a problem here in Madridhe averaged nearly 16 rebounds per game in this tournamentand we can attribute a lot of this to the improved intensity he brought to the floor. He made a conscious effort to crash the glass as much as he could despite his skinny frame, and showed really nice timing (and excellent hands) in the process to go along with his already promising quickness and length. Defensively he struggled at times, not doing a great job on the pick and roll and getting bodied up inside. He lacks the lateral quickness to effectively guard small forwards, but still isnt strong enough to function as a full-time power forward yet either. Who is he going to guard exactly? will be the operative question here, we can already predict.
NBA teams have seen European prospects in this mold (the perimeter oriented, but soft combo forward who does everything except defend) emerge over the past few yearsToni Kukoc comes to mind, but Andrea Bargnanis struggles are a lot fresher in peoples minds. Thats why people will be very skeptical about Zubcic moving forward, until he proves otherwise, which is why hell probably have to have some real success in Europe first if hes to reach his full potential draft-wise. He could get drafted very high sometime down the road, but well have to wait and see how his frame and especially his all-around game develops first. Its a healthy thing to be carefully skeptical about players like this these days, and there is really no reason from his end also why he should be in any real rush.
Donatas Motiejunas, 7-0, PF/C, Zalgiris Kaunas, 1990
Motiejunas showcases a dreamed combination of length and skill set. Visibly standing in the seven-feet area, he also enjoys a nice wingspan and an excellent frame to build upon. If hes not a super bulky inside player, hes still a lengthy big with enough strength to operate in the paint and the athleticism to fuel his versatility.
In this tournament, Motiejunas operated mainly in the low post, exhibiting a superb ability to score around the rim. The Lithuanian shows very nice footwork and footspeed, the will to seek for physical contact, and a phenomenal ability to put the ball in the net with either hand. Indeed his touch with his off hand is a thing of beauty, which makes him virtually ambidextrous around the rim. The way the ball leaves his hands gives the expression soft touch a whole new meaning, gently dropping it on the basket so if it hits the rim, there is a good chance it will still go in.
His jumper was another story. Usually a pretty reliable spot-up shooter, he suffered an awful tournament in this regard, even looking frustrated at times. The lefty also went for some off-the-dribble attempts, that he can also knock down with excellent mechanics, but obviously didnt work either. He did put the ball on the floor, not as often as in past occasions, but still showing his excellent quickness and coordination (he performed a few great reverse moves).
Motiejunas makes basketball look easy, not only when he goes for his points, but also finding his teammates within the flow of the game. He has no trouble delivering passes from a variety of situations, and even tries behind the back dishes and stuff like that. Defensively, hes not the most consistent player; but he showed nice activity. Obviously, he does have not any problem of mobility and length, he just needs to stay more focused and physical with his opponents (which will be easier for him as he fills out his frame.)
Anyway, the Lithuanian keeps showing a peculiar character. He gets way too easily frustrated with calls or game situations, which probably make him lose focus. Besides, he doesnt always stay equally intense, sometimes depending on the momentum of the game. Which looks pretty clear is that Motiejunas still needs to gain a degree of maturity on court.
Dejan Musli, 7-0, Center, FMP Zeleznik, 1991
Fairly slow, not super fluid, and lacking some aggressiveness, Musli doesnt have much of a problem regardless dominating in a setting like this due to his terrific size, combined with his excellent hands and very solid finishing ability. He was a very reliable presence in the paint for his guards to drop the ball off to on drive and dish plays, and therefore was able to knock down 24 of his 43 shots in four games (56%). He also stepped outside from time to time to attempt a mid-range or long-range jump-shot, and saw mostly mixed results in the process. The fact that he almost took out a ball-boy by air-balling a free throw badly tells you that this part of his game is still being developedhe only hit 11 of his 24 attempts at the line.
Musli might not be the most active player youll find (he looks a bit bored or apathetic at times running up and down the court), but he has solid reflexes and surprisingly good passing ability, as he showed from time to time with some Sabonis-esqe bounce passes. He also averaged 12 rebounds per game over four days, looking very solid going after everything in his area, but not being quite as dominant as you might think considering his huge size and strength advantage. Defensively, his extremely heavy feet limit his potential staying in front of quicker players or stepping outside to hedge a screen, and he also lacks the explosiveness to project as a great weak-side shot-blocker down the roadalso he did his part and then some in this tournament, with nearly 4 blocks per game.
Clearly an outstanding prospect for Europe, Musli will surely play in the NBA if he so desires, but there are some question marks about how high his ceiling is. His physical maturity and ridiculous strength advantage make you wonder about his long-term upside, even if its clear that at age 17, he still has quite a bit to improve upon.
Ryan Richards, 6-10, PF/C, Real Madrid, 1991
First of all, we have to always take into consideration his youth, as Richards is a 1991-born player, but still he surprised with a pretty strong frame for his age, especially his upper body, despite being reportedly a rather skinny guy not long ago. He stands 6-10 and could be done growing (he looks physically rather mature); its nice size, but not outstanding considering his array of skills and his average athleticism, although he does enjoy a mammoth wingspan.
Left-handed, Richards showed a decent perimeter stroke, displaying increasing consistency as the tournament advanced, from the mid-range area and out to the three-point line. However, he didnt look like a face-up player, and if hes not shooting the ball, chances are you will see him bruising in the low post. Not a finesse player, he relies on his strength, his length, some basic footwork and a certain ability to finish with his left hand, to get the job done. His footwork is pretty raw, and he really doesnt have much in the ways of moves at this point.
On defense he looked again pretty physical, and was probably the most successful player guarding the MVP Dejan Musli all tournament long. His length and size also makes him a very solid rebounder. In the team setting, his poor awareness stood out at times, though, particularly when forced to step out and hedge a screen or rotate in the post. Hes not the most reactive player youll find.
You can feel the game doesnt come easily to Richards. He doesnt look like the most naturally gifted player, and his decision making often looks underwhelming. Hes not much of a passer, and generally speaking, his team Real Madrid had a pretty disappointing showing compared to what we had witnessed in LHospitalet. Despite his very solid production, Richards might be partially to blame.
Bojan Subotic, 6-8, Power Forward, FMP Zeleznik, 1990
Subotic does everything you can ask a player to do on the floorhe can take his man off the dribble, knock down 3-pointers, score inside seeking out contact and using his body superbly, pass the ball, rebound in traffic or play solid pick and roll defense. He is confident, extremely aggressive, and savvy enough at his age to already know the little tricks he needs to utilize to get by as an undersized 4-man. Hes surely not a great athlete, but has the timing, toughness and feel for the game to get by at this level without a problem. His footwork is excellent, as is his body control, and hes constantly fighting to gain his team advantages on the floor.
Not particularly big, strong or explosive, Subotic doesnt project as a future NBA player on first glance, but hes also not the kind of guy you want to write off. He has four more years until hes automatically eligible for the draft, and hell definitely have to become a lights out shooter (which hes not at this point) and an extremely productive high level European player to have a real chance. One way or another, youre definitely going to hear his name again.
Nikola Mirotic, 6-10, Power Forward, Real Madrid, 1991
Mirotic again showed his excellent ability to operate facing the basket, mostly to put the ball on the floor with his dominant left hand, knock down 3-pointers, and shoot turn-around jumpers. He has an excellent feel for the game, a high skill level, and is extremely aggressive trying to make things happen for his team.
He struggled a little bit trying to adjust to the presence of brand-new teammate Ryan Richards (which forced him outside even more), and looked a little predictable at times using strictly his left hand. He has good length and a decent frame, but doesnt enjoy the upside of some of the other big men here due to his limited athletic ability. He had trouble defending the pick and roll, showing poor lateral quickness, and seemed to lack some quickness and explosiveness to get himself high-percentage looks at the basket on a regular basis. This probably wasnt the best weekend hes had, but some scouts we talked to who were very familiar with him said it will take a lot more than this to erase the excellent impression he left at LHospitalet a few months back.
Papa Abdoulaye, 6-10, PF/C, Axa Barcelona, 1990
Nobody will argue about his superb physical tools. Enjoying nice size, he possesses a terrific wingspan and a nicely built and already pretty strong frame, a lot better than your typical skinny African. On the other hand, his well-developed body only fuels the uncertainty about his real age.
Anyway, when it comes time to play basketball, Abdoulaye has little to offer. The most intriguing part about his game is probably his jumper, which he seems to be working hard on, having delivered pretty orthodox mechanics with a high release point while showing decent accuracy (actually solid if we talk about the charity stripe). He also tried to produce from the low post, but struggled here noticeably to get anything going, as he doesnt enjoy the footwork and the basketball IQ to take advantage of his body. At least, when he managed to release the ball, he did show a very raw jump hook that he could actually deliver with his left hand also.
On defense, he stands out with his intimidation skills, especially his ability to elevate really high for blocks on defensive rotations, showing nice timing in his leaping efforts. However, hes not a solid player here, easily being baited with pump-fakes, his positioning is not the best around, and hes neither particularly physical in the paint.
Well see what the future is for Abdoulaye. History unfortunately tells us that African players in this mold struggle to develop and overcome their lack of knowledge of the game, especially those taking up basketball as late as Abdoulaye (he has reportedly been playing basketball for not much more than a year).
Andreja Milutinovic, 6-6, SG/SF, FMP Zeleznik, 1990
Milutinovic is an excellent shooter first and foremost, but hes also a very effective slasher when he puts his mind to it. His body control and ability to change directions with smooth hesitation moves is pretty unique amongst European wing prospects, and will surely help him overcome the fact that hes not the most fluid or explosive player youll find. Hes also crafty and pretty aggressive when he puts his mind to it, which makes him capable of making some impressive plays from time to time. He had an emphatic dunk in traffic in the championship game for example that seemingly came out of nowhere, and also made strong moves spinning into the paint and finishing or pulling up off the dribble from mid-range to continue and drop glimpses of potential.
The problem is that it didnt always seem like Milutinovic was playing all that hard. Whether he was deferring to his teammates or just coasting against weaker competition (no one could touch FMP at this tournament, or in all of European junior basketball for that matter) remains to be seen, but it would be nice to see him play aggressively for the entire time hes on the floor. His coaching staff wouldnt stand for anything less than 100% from him on the defensive end, though, and he seemed to put in a solid effort and always compete trying to stay in front of his man. He seems like a pretty tough kid all in all, and is definitely a name to keep in mind for the future.