The European Junior (U-18) Championships: The Small Forwards

The European Junior (U-18) Championships: The Small Forwards
Aug 23, 2005, 03:26 am
Among the players featuring the best potential, the most typical specimen seen in this position was a big forward, with the size to play inside (at least in Europe), but showing perimeter skills and nice athleticism. This was perhaps the strongest position in terms of potential and depth, even if top guys like Ersan Ilyasova or Nemanja Aleksandrov were missing at the competition.

However, some guys that could be featured here have been left out of this third chapter of the player-by-player recap. Vladimir Dasic, Maxim Sheleketo, Omri Caspi and Víctor Claver will be dealt with in the next article, which concerns the power forwards. They are all combo forwards at this point of their careers, and all played the power forward position in Belgrade, although the brightest future for them is probably at the three spot, for which they show the best potential. Our decision to move them to the next article has a lot to do with the lack of interesting power forwards seen at this championship.

More coverage from Belgrade:

European Junior Championships Recap One

European Junior Championships Recap Two

European Junior Championships: The Centers

European Junior Championships: The Power Forwards

European Junior Championships: The Shooting Guards

European Junior Championships: The Point Guards

All photos provided by FIBA Europe’s excellent official website

Russia; 1987; 6-9; SF; 33.1 mpg, 16.3 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, 2.1 spg


One year ago Korolev disappointed in the European Junior Championship played in Zaragoza, looking extremely inconsistent. One year, several spectacular performances in watered down junior tournaments dominated by his team CSKA and a lottery selection later, many people were expecting a dominant showing in this year’s edition of the European tournament. But it didn’t happen, at least not with enough consistency to live up to the expectations created. Although had we not seen him last summer, or had he not declared for the draft, we probably would be celebrating his performance and potential.

For certain stretches we could see a superior player, a guy whose combination of athleticism, physical set and array of skills was unmatched by any player in Belgrade. But still, he rarely could find the proper rhythm to extend the dominance for longer periods, committing mistakes, particularly in the form of silly personal fouls, not being focused enough and looking even frustrated at times. Right now, his mental strength remains a question mark, not being clear at all how he will react playing at a higher level of competition.

We could start enumerating his wonderful abilities, but it would be redundant from what we have said in his scouting report. He showed them all in Belgrade. If anything, just to mention that he looked rather comfortable shooting mid-rangers off the dribble over his defenders, although perhaps he was less prolific regarding his playmaking skills, while his defense could have been a little bit more intense, even if he showed quick hands stealing the ball.

Amazing tools, amazing skills, amazing potential but sill doubts about his game. That’s the current status of Yaroslav Korolev. In a perfect world, a kid like him wouldn’t be thrown into the NBA so early. In the real world, money talks. Nevertheless, he looked like the best NBA prospect at the tournament with the only possible competition coming from Ante Tomic.

Italy; 1987; 6-8; SF; 33.1 mpg, 18.6 ppg, 8 rpg, 1 apg, 2.1 spg


Even if Gallinari stole the show in the later and most important games, Datome was the consistent leader that showed Italy the way to the semifinals. If we had to choose one word to describe this small forward, it would be “scorer”. He has a fantastic instinct to put the ball in the basket in various ways. Two years before, in the European Cadet Championships of Rivas, he was indeed the top scorer of the tournament. He couldn’t repeat this achievement in Belgrade, finishing fifth this time, but he continues to look like a very nice prospect.

At 6-8, Datome has the right size to play the three spot, while enjoying a decent frame to gain the strength required to play there. He shows nice athleticism, displaying quickness in his movements and being able to play above the rim. We could say that everything is in place for him regarding his physical gifts.

As for his game, Datome is an aggressive player who is very active on the court. He looks for points with either his jumper or penetrations, indeed many times with the combination of both. His favorite play is probably to put the ball on the floor attacking his rival to set up a mid-range shot off the dribble. He enjoys a nice first step and good ball-handling skills for a forward. He can try to beat his matchup on either side, although he probably feels more comfortable going to his left to release a right-handed shot. He’s difficult to stop as he delivers a real jumper, therefore with a high release, also being able to perform a fade away movement if it’s necessary, being rather effective nevertheless. In general, Datome has quite an ability to make wild and complicated shots, even one-handed attempts in the mid-range area, being capable also to perform mid-hook shots near the basket. He’s also a nice shooter from behind the arc, but this time there’s a difference in accuracy from his static shots to his off-the-dribble attempts.

Passing the ball isn’t his best strength, but he’s a smart player who commits few mistakes. He seems to feature the right attitude, playing the game with passion. The aggressiveness we talked about regarding his offensive game is also translated to the rebounding department, showing also very good positioning, which made him the best rebounding wing player at the tournament. On defense, he was another good piece in the Italian system. He has the tools not to suffer against higher competition.

Perhaps Luigi doesn’t enjoy any off-the-charts attribute when we talk about NBA potential, but he decently fills the bill in every major department: his size and general physical set, his athleticism, his intensity on court and character, and his array of skills, all is accurate to play high level basketball. Which at the same time means that he shouldn’t relax for a minute in his development, as he doesn’t feature any outstanding characteristic to make up for the eventual flaws in his game that will come out as the competition stiffens.

Italy; 1988; 6-9; SF; 24.1 mpg, 10.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.6 spg


This kid has the word star written all over him. I’m not talking necessarily at the NBA level, and I don’t mean that he’s a can’t-miss project, but he transmits so much self confidence while featuring an impressive skill set, that this is what automatically comes to mind.

Danilo is a long player, a guy with a good wingspan and rather particular in terms of athleticism. Many times you would think that he has slow feet, but in fact he’s a very mobile player with more athleticism that he first appears to enjoy. However, he still lacks a bit of quickness and explosiveness, relying more on his skills and size to make up for it.

An elegant player, always showing poise and extremely fundamentally sound, I would say that he was right there with Cenk Akyol as the player featuring the most finesse game. Like the Turkish guard, Danilo’s offensive game is mostly about a face-up approach, despite his size.

He is an excellent ball handler, feeling secure dribbling the ball even in front of much smaller players; Gallinari is a slashing menace when he’s in movement. He likes to put the ball on the floor first, and attack his matchup later. This way he gets to destabilize his rival enough to beat him, although he doesn’t always succeed given his limited quickness. He suffers more relying purely on his first step to get rid of his defender. On his way to the basket he shows awesome footwork having the ability to easily change direction or perform reverse movements, while he enjoys a soft touch near the rim as well.

He’s a pretty solid shooter too. Displaying good range, he can create his own shot. Enjoying good mechanics, he elevates very little from the floor, though. He features quite a high basketball IQ, which is well reflected in his ability to pass the ball, taking advantage of his size to see the open teammate, whether from the perimeter or penetrating. It’s also interesting to note his character, as he’s a player who steps up whenever it’s necessary. He delivered his best performances in the semifinal and in the bronze medal game.

His lack of quickness shouldn’t be as big of a problem on defense as you might think, as he shows surprisingly good lateral movement that allows him to deal with small forwards. Furthermore, he’s quite smart regarding positioning.

All in all, Gallinari is an excellent and promising young player, although his athleticism limits his potential significantly. However, with his intelligence and array of skills, he should be able to become an important player in Europe if he keeps developing his game, while we certainly can’t rule out further achievements.

France; 1988; 6-7; SF; 18.1 mpg, 5.4 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.5 apg

The childish appearance of Nicolas Batum was well indicated in his status as the youngest player at the tournament. Born in December of 1988, every characteristic he displays has a considerably raw degree. Starting with his physical profile, he’s still a skinny player who has a long ways to go in terms of growing into his body. However, his frame looks excellent, his wingspan pretty good and he still might gain a bit of size. It’s the same story athleticism-wise: he features promising athleticism, but he needs to gain some explosiveness and reactivity.

When it comes to his skills, again it’s not much different. Shooting, dribbling, passing, defense, he can do a little bit of everything but he must work hard on every characteristic of his game, although he has plenty of time to mature and polish his skills. In the end, he was practically a cadet playing with juniors.

Regarding his shooting, Batun appears to have three-point range, but he was awfully inconsistent in Belgrade. At the moment it’s only a static shot, although he has decent form on his release. He doesn’t work the mid-range area too much at this point; on the contrary, he likes to penetrate looking for the basket, displaying a fairly good first step and quickness, and some developing ball-handling skills. He lacks a certain ability to finish against opposition, so many times he opts to dish to a teammate, with mixed results, but showing decent basketball IQ in the process. Anyway, he doesn’t look like too much of a passer right now. Defensively, he features the tools and shows the attitude to eventually become a reliable player. Meanwhile, he already proved to produce as a rebounder taking advantage of his length and positioning skills.

As you can see, it’s mostly a bunch of vague characteristics and strengths, no sure and defined skills, just the glimpse of a promising future if he develops his game good enough. Indeed, even if we’re ranking him as a forward, and that’s the most probable outcome, he might eventually evolve into a shooting guard. The potential is there, but he’s one of the players seen in Belgrade with the longest way to fulfill it.

Lithuania; 1987; 6-9; SF; 30.4 mpg, 11.8 ppg, 4.6 rpg


Among the theoretical team leaders—and Dilys was definitely supposed to be the man for Lithuania-- no one showed as much inconsistency as Dilys. He could very well go completely unnoticed during long stretches, and then suddenly overwhelm you with a spectacular play. Unfortunately, the first feeling was far more dominant than the second, leaving a certain feeling of overall disappointment here in Belgrade.

A 6-9 small forward with good athleticism, he has a guard’s mentality without good enough ball-handling and perimeter shooting skills to make it playing outside successfully on a regular basis. It’s not that he doesn’t feature these skills-- indeed he does, even fairly nicely for a small forward-- but perhaps still not consistent enough for the type of game he likes to play. I don’t think we would be totally wrong saying that he was a kind of poor man’s Korolev out there. On the other hand, he’s still developing his game, and any improvement in these skills will serve him greatly as a mature player.

For Dilys, his scoring effort was about firing three pointers. His mechanics are not very orthodox, but that’s usual among lefties, while the quickness in which he got off his shot was ok. His percentage doesn’t look bad, 35%, but he was rather streaky and inconsistent getting to it.

Vilmantas enjoys nice court vision, sometimes materialized in spectacular one-handed passes across the court, or in off-the-dribble assists while slashing towards the basket, although again it’s not something he does regularly. He has a decent first step, but particularly his long strides help him penetrate.

Keeping the tune, he’s not a defensive stalwart at this point either. Featuring nice tools, even if he needs to add some bulk to his skinny body, his intensity could be better.

Inconsistency, that’s the word for Dilys at this point of his career. Vilmantas is a player whose mental strength raise doubts. He has wonderful tools to become a very good player, even potential to eventually make it to the NBA, but it appears that he will have a long road to fulfilling it, if he ever does.

Greece; 1987; 6-9; SF; 23 mpg, 14 ppg, 3.8 rpg


Nothing particularly new about Manolopoulos from what we already had seen at L’Hospitalet earlier this year. He’s a fundamentally sound player with very nice size, but whose athleticism isn’t on par with his skills. At 6-9, he plays like a small forward, but it’s not clear if he will be able to keep it up athletically in top European competition, not to mention the NBA.

But let’s take a look at his excellent array of skills. He’s a versatile guy with top notch scoring skills, being a nice shooter with three point range and solid mechanics. He can also opt for slashing towards the basket using his solid ball-handling skills and excellent footwork, or he can just take his man to the low post with good chances of success, taking advantage of his size and solid fundamentals.

However, in Belgrade he already showed problems finishing his penetrations near the basket because of his limited athleticism, suffering the opposition of the rival bigs. Also, it remains to be seen how much of his slashing game will be left playing against higher competition and more athletic players. This only means work and more work for Manolopoulos to keep improving his game and make up for his present and potential flaws.

The main concern about his performance in L’Hospitalet was his defensive ability. Not being a quick player, his defensive mobility against wings should be at least questionable. Well, even if Greece played many zone defenses in Belgrade, Manolopoulos looked somehow capable of keeping up with your average small forward. I don’t think he’ll ever become too much of a defensive presence; he could always use another extra degree of intensity here, and he doesn’t feel too comfortable defending the perimeter, but as long as he can contain his matchups he should be able to satisfy.

Sotiris should be able to see some playing time next season in Greece, particularly since PAOK has lost some of its important players, among them, wing draft prospects Vasiliadis and Vasilopoulos.

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