It's no secret that the Balkans are the most prolific basketball talent pool outside the States, and the Adriatic League (or Goodyear League) hosts almost every serious NBA draft prospect in the area. Featuring teams from Serbia & Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, all from the former Yugoslavia, it was created in 2001 to produce a more attractive, marketable and stronger competition than the domestic leagues of each country. This was also an attempt to try and bring back the splendor of the Yugoslavian league back in the eighties and early nineties, when teams like Split, Cibona Zagreb and Partizan Belgrade dominated Europe.
But despite the large amount of excellent players that they produce, the teams aren't among the strongest in Europe right now, as there isn't enough money enough to avoid their departure to healthier clubs, whether they are from the NBA or from other richer European leagues. That's why the youngsters play quite a prominent role here (three of the four players with more efficiency are still draftable). Nevertheless, the level of the league is rather good, really enjoyable to watch, with several teams at a similar level which results in a pretty open competition.
This year's edition is played by 16 teams, and the competition system includes a 30 game regular season that decides the 8 teams advancing to the Final Eight. As the regular season is over, .com gives you a look on the 10 most interesting players draft-wise:All photos used with the expressed consent of the Goodyear Adriatic League.MARKO TOMAS 6-8 SG/SF 1985 CroatiaKK Zagreb 19.6 ppg 4.4 rpg 2.4 apg 1.6 spg 46.8% FG 39.9% 3FG 76.4% FT650
GRADE: AROKO-LENI UKIC 6-5 PG 1984 CroatiaKK Split CO 18.5 ppg 2.8 rpg 4.3 apg 1.9 spg 44.2% FG 30.0% 3FG 85.6% FT621dnevnik.com.hr
Of all the international prospects, Marko Tomas
did probably the best job this season. Before it started, Tomas was projected in the 2nd round after a poor showing in the Chicago pre-draft camp (supposedly due to an injury) but is now almost a surefire first round pick if he stays in the NBA draft this year. Tomas increased his scoring numbers by almost 7 points and finished the season in 2nd place amongst the top scorers of the Goodyear league. Because of him, Larry Bird
came to Trnsko a couple of times and came back not disappointed at all. Tomas showed a very nice all-around game all season long and was the leader of a very solid Zagreb team that includes some borderline national team players like Ivan Tomas and Damir Miljkovic. He improved in all aspects of the game, but most of all in the shooting department, becoming one of the most dangerous and prolific shooters in Europe. He also showed very good court vision and was able to play PG for some stretches of the season when his brother Ivan was injured.
Although Tomas is great scorer, he will have trouble creating his own shot at the next level, because his first step isn`t that fast and he needs to improve his ball-handling quite a bit. It's unclear whether he has the athletic ability needed to play the SG position in the NBA or whether he'll be a spot-up shooting SF. The problem is that like many European prospects, Tomas is very skinny.
His best game was against regular season champions Hemofarm, when he scored an incredible 42 points and went 8-of-9 from downtown. During the season Tau Ceramica offered $800,000 for Tomas, but Zagreb rejected that offer without thinking twice. His team didn't make it to the Final 8, so the Goodyear season is already over for Marko.
It's questionable whether Tomas will stay in the draft this year, because many people think that his stock could be higher next year in a weaker draft after a good performance in the European Championship, proving that he has what it takes to break the status quo and be one of the few Europeans able to play the guard position in the NBA. Tomas would almost certainly be a first rounder in this year's draft, but the only problem is that he will most likely have to fork over a large amount of his rookie contract in order to go in the NBA, because his club Zagreb is demanding more then a one million dollar buyout.
Further complicating things is the fact that he has 4 more years on his contract with Zagreb, and no escape clause whatsoever according to his agent David Bauman (who needs him to go at least top 20 in the draft), so it isn`t likely that we will see him on an NBA roster next season unless this matter can be resolved or he can up his stock into the lottery to be safe.
GRADE: B+IVAN KOLJEVIC 6-2 PG 1984 Serbia&MontenegroKK Buducnost 14.1 ppg 1.7 rpg 2.6 apg 44.9% FG 37.4% 3FG 92.7% FT648
Although Ukic didn't show as huge a development as Tomas did, his season was very good, even if his team won only 6 of its 30 games. Ukic led the Adriatic League in assists with 4.3 per game and was the 3rd best scorer in the competition. Playing for a very average Split team, Ukic was the only player who could create something and opponents were always paying a large amount of attention to him. Still, many teams just couldn't stop him, because he is one of the best 1 on 1 players in Europe, just a wonderful offensive player who can do things that nobody else in this league can. His 3pt shooting improved quite a bit, even if the statistics won't show you that. He is also more mature than he was last year, and his shot selection is more accurate. He seems to perform better under pressure, as his best games of the season came in Belgrade when Split was facing its toughest opponents. One thing that he didn't improve on is his body strength; he is still skinny and gets pushed around. Roko-Leni has already declared for the draft and said that he would stay if he is a first rounder. Right know that is a very likely scenario and with good workouts like he had last year he could go much higher. Just like Tomas, Ukic is probably going to be a very important player for Croatia at the European Championship that will be played in September in Serbia and Montenegro. Also like Tomas, he has buyout issues (a one million dollar buyout according to his agent David Bauman) and that was the main reason his name was removed from the NBA draft last year, as it was unclear whether he would be drafted high enough to pay off this amount and still make it worthwile for him. The situation this year isn't much different from what we've gathered so far. Another season in Europe playing for a top team like Real Madrid (who are very interested in his services) would probably not be such a bad thing. Ukic's agency SFX is being accused by his team (headed by former Celtic Dino Radja
) of ruining Croatian basketball. Fellow teammate, SFX client and draft prospect Drago Pasalic
already left the team in the middle of the season, despite being under contract, so obviously the situation here is not very good.
This season Koljevic hasn't shown anything new. He's still basically the same player he was two years ago, which means that he has pretty good chances to go undrafted should he stay in the draft, although someone could nab him in the 2nd round to see how he develops over the next few seasons. He participated in the Chicago pre-draft camp last year and had an average showing at best. He still has problems getting his teammates involved and barely makes more assists than turnovers. He's a very good shooter, but often forces some bad shoots, so his percentages aren't as good as they could be. He's more of a SG than a PG right now, and he's undersized for the 2 spot. His NBA future is very much up in the air, but he could be a very good player in Europe. Ivan is very similar to Marko Popovic at this age.GRADE: C-NEMANJA ALEKSANDROV 6-11 SF/PF 1987 Serbia&MontenegroKK Reflex 6 ppg 3 rpg 0.5 bpg 48.0% FG 25.7% 3FG 75% FT645
GRADE: C-KOSTA PEROVIC 7-2 C 1985 Serbia&MontenegroKK Partizan 12.2 ppg 4.7 rpg 1.1 apg 50.6% FG 71.6% FT649
This was the first season in which Nemanja become a part of his team's rotation and he was quietly disappointing, not just because of his lack of production, but because of his attitude on the court. When he was on the floor he was very passive and in most of the games he was a non-factor.
Still, it's clear that Aleksandrov has tons of potential and he is still just an 18 year old kid, so there's a lot of time to improve his game. After playing his best game of the season against Zagreb (22 points and 8 rebounds), he got injured in the next one and has been out for a while since then, but he could appear at the Final Eight later this month. He was scheduled to play in the Nike Hoop Summit this past weekend in Memphis, but had to pull out because of this same injury. During the season he showed the flashes of brilliance at times that make him so interesting as an NBA prospect. Although still very raw, he is one of the most complete prospects you will find anywhere on the planet. Aleksandrov showed that he can play both forward positions and he has less troubles guarding perimeter players than before. It is clear that he will need at least 2-3 seasons in Europe before making the jump to the NBA and staying in this year's draft would be a big mistake, because he has potential to be the 1st pick in 2007 or 2008. If he goes to the NBA next season he could end up as this year's Darko Milicic
. Something that is working in Nemaja's favor and the reason they are insisting on entering the draft, according to his agent David Bauman, is the fact that he'll have no contract once he turns 18, just like any player in Europe under the age of 18 according to FIBA regulations. He would still have to go through FIBA arbitration to decide a reasonable buyout should he leave Reflex, though. They are in the process of negotiating a new contract and buyout sum, but according to Bauman his team was doing everything in their power to sabatoge his draft stock this year, putting him in games and replacing him after 2 minutes, making him guard players that will make him look bad, etc. The situation appears to be very complicated. Fellow Serbian Nenad Krstic
from New Jersey has advised him not to come to the NBA next year.
If you look at his stats, you might think that Perovic has played quite well this season. The fact is that before the season he was considered a late lottery pick, and now he's at the very best a late first rounder. He's still very soft and his offensive game hasn't developed. Despite possessing great size and decent athleticism for his size, he isn't a defensive force. He is very passive on the court and it seems like his work ethic isn't the greatest. Recently he's playing well, and maybe that's a sign that he's starting to improve. If he declares for this year's draft, he would probably go anywhere from late first to mid 2nd round.GRADE: CMILE ILIC 7-2 C 1984 Serbia&MontenegroKK Reflex 15 mpg 6.9 ppg 3.2 rpg 1.0 bpg 68.3% FG 70% FT653
At the start of the season Ilic wasn't getting much playing time, but he finished this campaign in great form by scoring in double digits in 8 of the last 9 games. Unlike his teammate Aleksandrov, Ilic is aggressive and works very hard on the court. He is athletic and showed great coordination for a 7-footer. Lately he hit some jumpers from close to the international 3 point line and showed good court vision and above average passing abilities for a big man. If Ilic improves next season like he did over the second half of this one, he will most likely be a first round pick. He has a great frame, although he's still skinny, but just adding some pounds would dramatically improve his game. It's obvious that Ilic's potential isn't off the charts, but he could be a very solid center in the NBA. I expect Ilic to help himself even more at the Final Eight.GRADE: C+LUKA BOGDANOVIC 6-9 SF/PF 1985 Serbia&MontenegroKK Partizan 9 ppg 4.5 rpg 1.5 apg 44.6% FG 36.1 3FG 83.3% FT633
Bogdanovic missed the first part of the season due to injury. When he came back he started to play at the PF spot, but after a couple of games coach Vujosevic moved him to the SF position. During the season Bogdanovic lacked consistency and was having trouble defending perimeter players. He improved his ballhandling and now he's a more complete offensive player who just needs to be more aggressive. Defensively he didn't show much improvement and is still an average defender at this level, which means that he will be a defensive liability in the NBA. This season didn't help him much and he is still most likely a 2nd rounder at this point.GRADE: CUROS TRIPKOVIC 6-5 SG 1986 Serbia&MontenegroKK Partizan 13.3 ppg 1.0 rpg 1.6 apg 47.4% FG 44.9% 3FG 76.9% FT652
GRADE: ADAMIR MARKOTA (ex Omerhodzic) 6-11 SF/PF 1985 CroatiaKK Cibona 5.7 ppg 3.5 rpg 0.5 apg 54.5% FG 45.1% FT638
This was a great season for Uros, his first as a part of his team's regular rotation, and he was just great despite his age. Tripkovic is a natural born scorer with great shooting mechanics. He's full of self-confidence and is probably the best shooter of all the European prospects. He also showed good penetration ability and very good court vision. He has a killer instinct that hasn't been seen in this part of the world from such a young player since Drazen Petrovic
. He is a good athlete, but a bit undersized for the 2 spot and very skinny, which is his biggest weakness. His shot selection is rather bad, but that is normal for such a young player. His defense will need a lot of work, but he has good footwork and a solid wingspan to become a good defender. He will probably not declare for this year's draft and that's a smart decision. As it looks right now, he's a lock for the first round whenever he declares, and has the potential to be a lottery pick.
Last season Markota played mostly in garbage time, but this season after starting off slowly he became part of his team's regular rotation while playing in almost all games and starting in many of them, even in the Euroleague. Expect him to get even more PT next year. Damir showed off his excellent athleticism and the nice range he has on his jumper a few times this season. His best game of the season was in the Euroleague against arch-rivals Partizan, when he led Cibona to victory with 13 points and 5 rebounds. Markota still hasn't improved significantly enough in some key areas that he is lacking in: he is still a defensive liability and he can't play with his back to the basket. He is more of a SF for the NBA, because of his great athletic abilities and very good shooting skills, but this season coach Anzulovic (who is actually very pleased with his progress and attitude) didn't even try to use him at his natural spot, although Damir has indicated that he does not mind playing PF for his team, another sign of his improved maturity. He desperately needs to put some pounds on his frame to be effective in the post. Markota has as much potential as anyone in this league, except Aleksandrov, but we are still waiting for his breakout season, which could very well come next season. Most likely he will not declare for this year's draft, as he is in an excellent situation and all sides appear to be very content with his progress. As of right now Markota is in the status of a 2nd round sleeper, but as he continues to improve he could become a lock for the first round. FRANKO KASTROPIL 7-1 C 1984 CroatiaKK Split 6.7 ppg 5.6 rpg 0.8 bpg 58.6% FG 35.6% FT647
Kastorpil might be the player with the least amount of upside from this group. He's big, athletic and unlike most European big men, is very strong and already has an NBA body. Because of his physical abilities, he's a good rebounder and a very solid defender. His offensive game is rather limited, and most of his points come from offensive rebounds. Also, he might be one of worst FT shooters on the planet. Kastropil needs to develop a better back-to-the-basket game in order to make the jump to the NBA. He's a 2nd rounder for now and has potential to become a solid backup center in the NBA.GRADE: C