Younger players at these ages are frequently played out of position in their National Teams, usually because of the lack of bigs that push perimeter players to the paint. On the other hand, theyre not physically or technically developed, so many times its just about guessing what their final position on the court will be when its all said and done.
Because of space-distribution issues, and given this years poor crop of clear-cut power forwards, we have decided to include in this chapter four combo forwards who played at the four spot in Belgrade, even if they enjoy the most potential on the perimeter. They are Vladimir Dasic, Maxim Sheleketo, Omri Caspi and Víctor Claver.
On the other hand, all players in the seven feet area will be dealt in the next and final article concerning centers, regardless of the possibility of turning out as power forwards that a few of them might enjoy.
More coverage from Belgrade:
European Junior Championships Recap One
European Junior Championships Recap Two
European Junior Championships: The Centers
European Junior Championships: The Small Forwards
European Junior Championships: The Shooting Guards
European Junior Championships: The Point Guards
All photos provided by FIBA Europes excellent official website
Serbia and Montenegro; 1988; 6-9; SF/PF; 21.6 mpg, 8.9 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.1 apg
The first thing you notice about him is that he already enjoys an amazing physical profile for such a young play. Not only is he 6-9 and very athletic, but he shows an impressive frame in an already quite strong body. His broad shoulders promise a physical force in the future. As it looks right now, he seems to be able to physically fill the small forward spot, but he should be careful about the amount of bulk he adds to his body in the following years, particularly watching to maintain his athleticism and elasticity if he wants to play on the perimeter.
Skill wise, he showed enough signs in Belgrade to realistically think about a future on the wing, even if right now hes more of a power forward. Near the rim, having the strength to make the difference at these group ages, is where he felt more comfortable in this tournament. He asks for the ball down low, receives, turns quickly to jump and deliver a semi-hook shot. Its mostly about simple movements, no footwork exhibitions, but really nice footspeed, and he can finish wit both hands. Hes rarely intimidated near the rim even if he has strong opposition, and hes patient enough to know when to release the ball to avoid the block. He also establishes position in the paint rather well to rebound the ball.
Vladimir is also a pretty good slasher. Enjoying a good first step, hes really quick on penetrations. He can put the ball on the floor with both hands, although he was more prolific attacking with his left. When it comes to shooting, he seemed to have nice range, but he was extremely inconsistent. Theres a lot of work left to do there, because his mechanics still look rather unpolished. In the passing department, he didnt show anything special. He seems to know the game, but hes not too much of a distributor right now. On defense he looks very promising, enjoying quick lateral movement and having the tools to be very reliable.
So this was Dasic, a player whose physical set might have made many people forget his youth, but you can bet hes still immature regarding his game. It will be very interesting to see how he evolves, particularly position wise. Not many players in Belgrade shared his potential.
Russia; 1987; 6-9; SF/PF; 23.8 mpg, 11.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1 spg
You couldnt ask for much more from a small forward in terms physical characteristics: a 6-9 body with a superb frame to convert whats already a decently strong player into a physical force, while enjoying nice athleticism and good explosiveness. Perhaps the only shadow could be placed in his quickness, which being nice, might not be enough to compete defensively against the quickest players in his position.
Skill wise, its another story. Forget the all around game of a Korolev; Sheleketo is much more limited, seemingly headed to be a role player in the senior categories. But thats not necessarily such a bad thing, especially for a player at his position (you usually ask the point guard to be a distributor, the shooting guard to be a scorer and, given the current level of centers, the power forward to be the offensive reference in the paint). Most teams require role players to support their stars: play defense, do the dirty work and hit the open shots. Thats something Maxim might be able to do at any level.
When it comes to scoring, chances are youll see him either using his perimeter jumper or attacking the rim. In Belgrade, he struggled badly behind the arc, but hes usually significantly better than that, although he still needs to gain consistency. Its a static shot, and he needs space to make it, but he has decent mechanics and I think he could end up being solid from this distance. Regarding his slashing game, he doesnt enjoy the required footwork or ball-handling to consistently drive in traffic, so he looks for opportunities where he doesnt need to change direction once he has beaten his matchup with his first step. He likes to finish strong with a dunk, and its not rare to see him cutting for the baseline or running the court to receive the ball with the same purpose.
Defense, rebounding, he can use his size and athleticism to get the job done. In the junior stages, hes usually superior to his rivals regarding these gifts, even if he plays mostly as a power forward. Nevertheless, in higher competition he should be able to keep a certain advantage if he successfully completes his transition to small forward.
Israel; 1988; 6-8; SF/PF; 26.4 mpg, 14 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1 apg, 1.8 spg
Omri is rather strong for his age, showing quite a good frame, and like most players coming from Israel, hes rather aggressive in certain situations. He loves to attack the basket, whether after receiving the ball in the high post or starting himself from the perimeter. He can put the ball on the floor with both hands and features nice footwork in the slashing movement. He doesnt fear physical contact at all, having the ability to finish himself against opposition, but also to dish to an open teammate or deliver a mid-ranger off the dribble. However, Casspi is not particularly consistent with his jumper. Enjoying three point range, although only in static fashion, he doesnt look really fluid with his mechanics.
On defense, he didnt suffer too much trouble quickness-wise, but playing in the paint he was rarely matched against perimeter players. Its not clear if he features good enough lateral movement to keep it up against quicker small forwards. Having to battle in the paint full time, he was reliable in the rebounding department, especially if you consider his youth.
What was missed from Casspi was some more consistency in his game. For some stretches he was totally a non factor, when he was clearly the most important player of Israel besides Ohayon. On the other hand, he showed nice understanding of the game. All in all, we were expecting a little more out of him, particularly in terms of potential.
Spain; 1988; 6-9; SF/PF; 9.9 mpg, 1.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg
Víctor was downright awful all tournament long except in the last game, where Spain fought for the bronze medal. After an endless succession of turnovers (1.9 per game), hesitance, doubts, defensive mistakes and frustrating play, he finally had a decent showing, collaborating on both ends of the floor, and looking more confident to try things.
Lets summarize, because it doesnt make too much sense to go into detail about the skills that Claver didnt show this time (you can get extended information on him in the LHospitalet report): he is an athletic and skilled combo forward with a perimeter shot, solid slashing abilities, nice court vision and quite a good basketball IQ, although nobody would say these things after watching him in this tournament. Besides, a good part of his potential relies in his ability to play small forward at 6-9, and he looked slower than usual on defense in Belgrade.
His mental issues dont seem easy to change, and Pamesa Valencia, his club, doesnt have the best track record regarding developing young talent. But lets remain optimistic: Claver has the gifts to become a very good player, and it would be really disappointing to see such a great potential go to waste.
Serbia and Montenegro; 1987; 6-9; PF; 28 mpg, 14.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.8 spg
Dragans shortcoming has been always his combination of size and athleticism, which is not on par with his amazing game. Hes a 6-9 power forward (he doesnt look too far from 6-10 though) with a limited vertical leap and only decent quickness, although he shows nice mobility. Therefore, he doesnt seem to enjoy too much NBA potential, while the European game looks like perfectly suited for him.
The first option for Labovic in Belgrade was always the low post, from where he actively looked for the ball. He looks totally under control there: he receives, evaluates the situation and takes the best decision almost always; whether to dribble a little to improve his position, make a movement to one side or another, deliver a turnaround jumper or pass the ball to a teammate. Not only his skills help him; hes physically rather mature compared with many other junior players, so he was rarely outmuscled in Belgrade.
Back to his low post options, if he decides to look for the basket himself, he can take advantage of his excellent footwork in the low post. He shows very good footspeed and has the ability to finish with both hands. Thats a hard combination to stop, although he might have some troubles against smarter intimidators. The turnaround jumper is another option, which he can perform with a slight fade away movement. In general, hes very reliable from the mid-range area with his jumper, showing solid mechanics and a fairly quick release, while he enjoys three-point range, although he wasnt prolific at all from this distance in Belgrade.
Dragan is a very smart player. He fully knows the game, showing a high basketball IQ. Hes a nice passer, either from the low or high post, who understands where the ball has to go to keep the offensive flow. Hes also a guy who shows passion playing the game; you can feel he loves it and hes intense on the court. It helps him also on the defensive end, where he displays the right attitude and shows nice lateral mobility.
Summarizing, Labovic might not be one of those kids oozing with potential, and youll probably never see him on an NBA court, but he is an excellent basketball player.
JOSE ANGEL ANTELO
Spain; 1987; 6-8; PF; 30.6 mpg, 21.4 ppg, 13.8 rpg, 1.3 bpg
On one hand, you will read that hes a me-first player who ignores the team, looking to shoot virtually every ball he touches, with poor decision making skills and no defense. But at the same time, we cant ignore that Antelo helped Spain to make the semifinals in the last three European tournaments he has played, always having a very important role on the team.
Well, all of this is true.
A bit undersized for the power forward position (he must be near 6-9) despite the good wingspan he enjoys, while not featuring remarkable athleticism, Antelos potential is limited, particularly NBA-wise.
Offensively, hes a compulsive slasher, trying to take advantage of his good mobility against bigs. But hes only effective going to his right, to the point that if he attacks going left, he changes direction during the drive, becoming very predictable. Hes not that quick and usually suffers trying to beat his rivals, but he rarely loses the ball or releases a bad shot, although his insistency is a double-edged sword. On one hand, hes a permanent offensive option for his team and a threat for the rival. On the other, he damages the teams offensive flow as every play ends as soon as he gets the ball, and he also gives back a good number of balls in bad conditions after not finding a way to score.
Hes also a good shooter, static from the three point line (he was less prolific in Belgrade than he had been in other previous tournaments) but with off the dribble ability from the mid-range area. Theres little to no post game to speak of, while on defense hes generally missing in action, although he can do decent work if he wants, as he enjoys the lateral mobility and wingspan to annoy his rivals.
Perhaps his most remarkable skills are his amazing rebounding instincts, showing perfect positioning, and his character on the offensive end, assuming the responsibility whenever its necessary (which is rather logical for him when you think about it), and the way he can make extremely complicated shots. Hes a player that makes things happen for himself, at least in the junior stage. However, he shows a very questionable attitude and, as youll guess, little team spirit. He could certainly use a little humility and more hard work on the court.