King's Cup: Drafted Players and Potential Over-22 Free Agents

King's Cup: Drafted Players and Potential Over-22 Free Agents
Feb 23, 2006, 02:46 am
Like every year, the Spanish King’s Cup becomes one of the hottest spots in NBA international scouting, a perfect opportunity to watch the cream of the ACB League (probably the strongest in Europe) in a very competitive environment in one arena over a few days. Unlike what happens in other countries with monotonous cup competitions, the Cup in Spain is a very prestigious tournament that every team looks forward to participating in and winning. The fans love it as well, as they proved once again packing the Madrid Sports Palace last week for every single game.

Previous editions of this same tournament saw the likes of Pau Gasol and Rudy Fernandez blossoming. From last year, three participants were selected in the 2005 draft (Fran Vazquez, Mickael Gelabale and Axel Hervelle), while four more signed as free agents with an NBA team (Arvydas Macijauskas, Fabricio Oberto, José Manuel Calderón and Pat Burke). It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that because of the fact that every team in the NBA is represented here, including numerous GM’s and player personnel directors, these could be the most important games of the year as far as showing NBA potential is concerned.

Part two of our two part series looks at the undrafted free agents in Spain as well as players that have already been drafted in the past few years and whose rights are still owned by NBA franchises.

With four over-22 players from last year’s King’s Cup signed to NBA contracts as free agents this past summer, it’s often just as important to look at the stars of the ACB league as potential targets for the NBA, as well as keep track of drafted players who could pop up as trade bait with the NBA trade deadline nearing.

-Part 1, the 2006 NBA Draft Prospects

-2005 King's Cup Coverage

-2004 King's Cup Coverage


It seems like the number of players whose draft rights are owned by NBA teams grows every season in the ACB League. Obviously the biggest attraction here was Fran Vazquez, a lottery pick who decided to skip the NBA adventure for the time being. Vazquez, along with other unproven players such as Mickael Gelabale and Roko-Leni Ukic, share space with well established stars in the European scene such as Luis Scola or Juan Carlos Navarro.

We have left out players who are not as intriguing or brilliant in their performances here. Particularly recently drafted Axel Hervelle, who had a very discrete showing.

Fran Vazquez
Unicaja Malaga; 1983; 6-10; PF; 1 game, 22 minutes, 0 points, 6 rebounds

A very forgettable performance by Fran Vazquez in this King’s Cup, looking rather lost on the court in a quarterfinal loss that left his team out of the competition. Coming off a very inconsistent season, this outcome was a strong possibility in advance.

Let’s remember that Vazquez was selected last June with the 11th draft pick by the Orlando Magic, but chose to remain in Spain after signing a lucrative four-year deal with Akasvayu Girona, an up-and-coming team financially. This move would allow Fran to develop his game at the power forward position, where he enjoys the most potential considering his athleticism and physical characteristics, as Girona’s paint game is filled with centers.

However, and this was just another competition where he left it clear, Vazquez is far from becoming a complete forward. His offensive skills are still basically limited to a nice jumper (that wasn’t falling for him here) and his ability to finish near the basket. There is no trace of go-to skills, little to no ball-handling skills and very limited post production. Although it’s not usual for him, he went scoreless in this game.

On the defensive end, in spite of a couple of good sequences coming off the bench in the first quarter, highlighted with some intimidation and rebounds taking advantage of his athleticism, inconsistency was again the dominant factor, suffering particularly against Dimos Dikoudis in the second half. All in all, it was rather a frustrating game for Fran.

Anyway, we shouldn’t jump to hasty conclusions. It has only been half a season since Vazquez left Malaga and the beneficial frontcourt company of Jorge Garbajosa which created plenty of spaces for him. Now he suffers more pressure because of his draft position and the gross contract he signed, while he has to adjust to a position on the court where he still doesn’t feel comfortable. Next season should be more accurate to evaluate his possibilities of development.

Luis Scola
Tau Vitoria; 6-9; 1980; PF; 3 games, 33.2 mpg, 15 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3 apg, 1.7 spg, 2.3 TOpg


By now, everybody should be aware that Luis Scola is one of the top power forwards in Europe, indeed one of the better players still not in the NBA. That seemed to be his destiny this past summer, but contract issues didn’t allow him to sign with the San Antonio Spurs, the team that still holds his draft rights. On the contrary, he had to see how his countryman and former teammate Fabricio Oberto took his place instead.

Frustration might be the reason why Scola has shown a questionable attitude on the court during the season, particularly on the defensive end. However everything changed once the Cup started. Scola is a natural-born winner, a fighter, and he delivered the best of himself to help Tau get the final victory.

Not enjoying the most brilliant offensive display of his career, Luis delivered aggressiveness by playing serious defense and capturing rebounds, and got over his offensive individualism to pass the ball and became a true leader on the court for his teammates.

But of course, his scoring was there too. He formed a lethal duo with Pablo Prigioni, showing that he’s one of the best players you will find moving without the ball in pick and roll situations (which has become the go-to play of the team). And although being less prolific, he once again displayed his excellent low post game.

His future is pretty much still in the air. Tau might be more willing to let him go (always with economic compensation in mind) this coming summer, once the team secures its participation in the next three Euroleague editions with a solid finish this season. However, that’s not a give in at all, and it still remains to be seen how much the Spurs really want him, as he wouldn’t be cheap at all.

Juan Carlos Navarro
Winterthur F.C.Barcelona; 6-4; 1980; PG/SG; 1 game, 34.5 minutes, 16 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 3 TO


One of the early candidates for the MVP trophy, Navarro and his team F.C.Barcelona shrank in the quarterfinals in an awful last quarter against their archrivals Real Madrid. Until then, during the first three periods, Juan Carlos showed the spectacular level he enjoys since the last summer in the Eurobasket, being selected to the All-tournament team then, and finishing second in scoring only behind Nowitzki. Offensively, he’s one of the top guards in Europe hands down. He already had a reputation of being a very talented offensive threat, but it hasn’t been until this season that he reached consistency in his playing level. Despite the final loss, this game only certified it.

Everything started as expected, with Navarro driving defenses crazy. Whether with his three-point stroke (he’s very quick releasing the ball as he barely jumps in the process, and can net it off the dribble) or slashing towards the basket using his excellent handles to finish with his trademarked elevated layups, while always working without the ball to receive in an advantageous position, he easily added points and facilitated his team’s offensive game.

Better defended in the second half, he put more emphasis on distributing the ball, successfully feeding cutters, playing the pick and roll or leading transition plays with creativity and showcasing his very nice court vision. During Barcelona’s drought in the last quarter, he was forced to reassume the scoring load, but found himself over-defended and not receiving much help from his teammates, which led to some mistakes and turnovers.

Drafted by the Washington Wizards in the second round of the 2002 draft, Navarro has reached his prime as a player. He’s such a talented guard that offensively he displays more than enough level to play in the NBA. A shooting guard in Europe, Navarro would be able to escape his undersized condition playing the point with ease in the American league, just as he used to do when he was younger and as he still shows nowadays in certain situations. His defense, average at best, is the biggest concern about him. Here he suffered whenever he was matched up with Louis Bullock or Igor Rakocevic. Anyway, he has a long and very lucrative contract in Barcelona, where he’s the franchise player, the club’s emblem, so it would be really difficult to buy him out of there.

Mickael Gelabale
Real Madrid; 6-7; 1983; SF; 2 games, 18.5 mpg, 3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3 TOpg

Gelabale is going through the typical second-season slump that many players suffer from in the ACB League after a good first campaign (which convinced the Sonics to use a second-round pick on him). He crowned his remarkable progression with an extremely consistent showing in the Eurobasket last summer, helping France to the bronze medal. That good momentum lasted beyond the current season’s start, but came to an end in the first months of the competition. And he surely didn’t find it back in this Cup.

Not going as unnoticed as his replacement on the wing Marko Tomas (they rarely play together, but usually split minutes at the small forward position), the results were pretty much similar, as Gelabale’s contributions to his team were rather small. A dunk in transition here, a short shot over a rival there, and little else. At least he tried, but he lost some confidence and his limitations arose in the form of turnovers, way too many considering his scoring contribution. Gelabale really suffers creating his own shot whenever he needs to perform more than a simple move. His average handles, footwork and basketball IQ limit his creativity off the dribble.

Last season we already said that Mickael wouldn’t likely be anything more than a role player, probably a very good and useful one, but a role player after all. This season that impression is even stronger. However, at some point he will get over his current inconsistency and again become a productive player for Real Madrid and perhaps eventually for the Sonics in the future.

Roko-Leni Ukic
Tau Vitoria; 6-5; 1984; PG; 3 games, 8.5 mpg, 6 ppg,

Completely overshadowed by Pablo Prigioni, this has been the story for the young Croatian talent all season long. Comparisons are usually painful, and this one was even more. The biggest flaw that Ukic displays right now is precisely the strongest part of Prigioni’s game: distributing the ball. Curiously, the only game so far this season where Pablo didn’t play one minute meant a 27-point exhibition by Roko.

It looks as if these last two seasons being the one-and-only star in Split have made him forget everything about the collective approach of the game (he seemed a better distributor back in the junior stage than he does now), as Roko has been incapable of giving fluidity to Tau’s offense. Every time he steps on the court, the ball movement suffers a significant setback. Not only does he lack the ability, precision, timing and willingness to share the ball as Prigioni does, but his teammates, perhaps thinking that their effort moving without the ball won’t be as well rewarded as when Prigioni leads the team, slow down their activity and the offense becomes much more stagnant. Although not as dramatically as in other occasions, this also happened in the King’s Cup to a certain extent.

Of course, Ukic still amazes with his skill set. He is one of the best one-on-one point guards in the ACB League and enjoys an awesome ability to score off the dribble. He showed it in this Cup, getting a fair scoring production considering his limited action, although settling for one lonely assist.

Still, this complicated season in Vitoria is a necessary adjustment process that should reap him great benefits in the near future. However, one shadow has emerged in the last few weeks, as Tau has signed point guard Lionel Chalmers (formerly of the Timberwolves and Clippers), apparently only for Euroleague competition. We will have to wait and see what is Roko’s new role for the remainder of the season.


After the trend of NBA teams snatching the top players in the ACB league that we saw last summer, taking the likes of José Manuel Calderón, Arvydas Macijauskas, Fabricio Oberto, Pat Burke and Charlie Bell to the NBA, this season there aren’t as many interesting guys left in the ACB League.


Perhaps the most interesting one, Igor Rakocevic, is tied up with a long-term contract at Real Madrid. He had a good showing in this cup, becoming a factor in the quarterfinal victory against FC Barcelona with his offensive power. However, he’s a player whose previous teams (Pamesa Valencia last season, Serbian National Team last summer and Real Madrid so far this season) have all underachieved while he individually shined, even if all those teams suffered some serious troubles that were out of his control. Anyway, it sometimes seems like he is incapable of making his teammates better.

Travis Hansen, a former Atlanta Hawk, looked nice in this Cup. His excellent athleticism always makes him stand out on the court. But he’s also hitting his open shots these days and delivering a very nice effort. Still, he’s a complementary wing who can’t create much game off the dribble. But it wouldn’t be strange to see some NBA team willing to add him to its rotation.


We couldn’t finish this report without glossing over the performance of the true hero of the tournament, Pablo Prigioni. With point guards lately stating their importance in the game (we have Steve Nash as the last MVP in the NBA, Sarunas Jasikevicius as the MVP of the last Euroleague’s Final Four as well as a Greek team winning the last Eurobasket led by three point guards who answer by the names of Dimitris Diamantidis, Nikos Zissis and Vasilis Spanoulis), Prigioni has proved again that you don’t need to score 20 points every game to become a factor.

Pablo Prigioni
Tau Vitoria; 6-4; 1977; PG; 3 games, 32.9 mpg, 6 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 9.7 apg, 4.3 spg, 3.3 TOpg


Sort of like we did with Jorge Garbajosa last year even if he wasn’t too much of an NBA prospect, this time we had to feature Pablo Prigioni (his successor as MVP) after his fantastic tournament, which comes to confirm an awesome season that has placed him among the best point guards in Europe. Last season, playing off the bench behind José Manuel Calderón (currently with the Raptors), it was pretty obvious that Tau evolved more fluidly with him on the court. But this season has been a true coming out party for him. He leads both the Euroleague and the ACB League in assists per game, with a total of 6.7 per game on average, a remarkable amount for international basketball where assists are much tougher to accumulate.

Prigioni is the ultimate pass-first playmaker, a master of the pick and roll play. His virtuosity pairing with Luis Scola reminds us of the likes of Nash & Stoudemire or even Stockton & Malone. Indeed the team orchestrates its offensive game almost always starting from picks in the high post. He’s the engine that makes Tau run, a necessity for a team that is becoming dangerously dependant on him. In the final, he set a new record of assists in the competition, with 15 dimes. His court vision, while excellent, perhaps is not off the charts, but he’s incredibly smart and shows an awesome basketball IQ leading his team and a privileged quick mind.

That quick mind is seeding the terror on the rival point guards, victims of his hunger for steals. It’s rare the game that Prigioni doesn’t come away with a steal from an inbound pass after a basket. Everybody knows it already, but it keeps happening. In the Cup, he was even more prolific than usual.

You might wonder why he isn’t a serious NBA prospect despite his wonderful skills. Well, Pablo is not a great athlete. He’s average… in Europe, which would make poor in the NBA. It’s questionable whether he would be able to deal with the very quick American point guards. Besides, he’s not a shooter a la Jasikevicius, although he’s fairly reliable when left open. And he’s not a kid anymore. Anyway, if you can’t get a look at him in Europe, you will likely be able to enjoy his play in the next World Championships in Japan this upcoming summer.

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