An American Perspective on Europe: The Centers

An American Perspective on Europe: The Centers
May 28, 2005, 04:41 am
The biggest challenge in ranking players accurately in a draft like this is the fact that it's nearly impossible to actually watch all of them with your own eyes, considering that many of them play thousands and thousands of miles away in cities that most people have never heard of, nor can they pronounce the names of. Nevertheless, there is no shortage of people that will attempt to rank these players regardless, relying on box scores and second hand reports from people with obvious agendas. That's not the way we do things here at DraftExpress, which is why we worked hard all year long to collect footage on all of the European (and in this specific article, South American too) prospects that we thought had a decent chance of declaring for the draft, in order to feel like we could accurately rank these players next to the high school and NCAA talent that we've already seen plenty of. This is merely brought to you as a way to compliment our terrific international coverage, which is brought to you in-depth by scouts who live in the same countries as the prospects and watch them on a weekly basis. Or as the title suggests, to give you an American perspective on Europe.

The first part in this series, scouting the European guards in this draft and beyond, can be found here.

Martynas Andriuskevicius, 7-3, 1986, Zalgiris, 2005 draft


Possibly the biggest enigma of this draft, Andriuskevicius is a kid that few have actually seen quality minutes of, but many like to rank and talk about. Thanks to our contacts in Lithuania and other parts of Europe, we've managed to put together a decent chunk of this athletic, 7-3 teenager's minutes on tape over the past season. The results were pretty disappointing for me to watch personally, especially considering how highly most people in the States think of him. And while there is no doubt that this kid has awesome physical attributes and potential, he does very little to actually bring that out on the court right now.

First the good. In terms of height, he is absolutely huge, with a pair of arms that just refuse to end. He appears to have good hands as well. Martynas is indeed extremely athletic just as he is billed, 7 feet plus or not, the kid can move. He has excellent footspeed and is very quick to get up and down the court and move in all directions. He also can get off the floor very nicely to block shots thanks to a good vertical leap. To call him mobile would be an understatement. Offensively, he has a very nice stroke from outside, with range out to (and probably beyond) the European 3 point line. He can put the ball on the floor quickly and take almost anyone who tries to guard him on the perimeter off the dribble, being able to handle the ball with either his left or right hand equally well.

Now the bad, which unfortunately there is plenty of at this early stage of his career. Martynas looks physically and mentally overwhelmed every time he steps out on the court against players that are older than him (which at this point is basically everyone). The word skinny is thrown around a lot when it comes to European players, but with Martynas we are talking about something truly chronic. His frame is extremely frail, with narrow shoulders (almost like a young Keon Clark or Shawn Bradley, but with even less upper body strength) that leave you in serious doubt whether any type of weight lifting or nutritional program will help fix this in the next few years. He lacks the strength to do anything around the basket when he is being challenged, as even the slightest shove makes him completely lose his composure. 6-7 power forwards with a little bit of meat on their body toy and have their way with him with the greatest of ease at this point in his career.

Watching him play against decent competition is a little bit nerve racking. He looks like he is made out of glass sometimes, like even the most casual foul has the potential to shatter him into pieces. How this kid is going to manage to stay healthy while being pushed around every day in practice and in games in the NBA has to be a serious concern. He is a poor rebounder because of this lack of strength, but also because he does not even attempt to box out his man, as that would most likely be futile for him to even try.

Defensively, he can block some shots because of his size, wingspan and athletic ability, but he is also extremely foul prone; biting on pump fakes, using his hands too much, getting caught out of position on rotations, and lacking the footwork or lateral quickness to be able to stay in front of his man if he is taken out of the paint. This basically neutralizes any notion of him being able to guard power forwards in the NBA at 7-3, as he would be a huge liability defensively. I can't understand why one would want a long and athletic 7 footer anywhere else but in the paint altering shots anyway, but I guess that's just me.

On top of that, you have to wonder a little bit about his mental toughness as well. Beyond the fact that he floats to the perimeter way too much and doesn't appear to be the most contact loving big man in the world, it's not hard to see that he has a tough time dealing with the pressure of the Euroleague, whether it's at home or on the road. He looks very nervous and lost most of the time, missing free throw after free throw despite his excellent mechanics and shooting touch and getting very down on himself when things don't go his way. He just doesn't appear to be very comfortable in his own skin at this point, which is somewhat understandable considering that there just shouldn't be this much pressure on the kid at such a young age, it's just not natural. We can only imagine how much this problem will be magnified as a high pick in the NBA.

Watching him play, there was little doubt in my mind that he just isn't good enough at this point to get significant playing time in the Euroleague or maybe even the watered down Lithuanian league, especially considering the ambitions of his team (Zalgiris is and probably always will be the flag bearers of Lithuanian basketball). Martynas had a place (as small as it may have been) in his team's rotation for most of the year, but he is apparently not happy with the way he's being developed, and thinks he's ready to move on to the next level, before he's done anything at the one he's at right now. Instead of working hard to improve both physically and from a skills standpoint so he would be able to play a role for his team next year, he seems to be trying to take a shortcut and jump straight to the NBA. I don't think there is any doubt in anyone's mind that this kid is two years away at the very least from being able to play any type of role in the NBA. It's obvious that he should stay in Europe for at least another season to mature physically and mentally, along with gaining experience through playing time in a friendly environment, but he still insists on going over there regardless.

Looking at the history of the NBA draft, how many European players have been drafted after averaging less than 5 points per game (and he averages 2) during their last season and have ever had any type of impact for their team over the course of their career? If Martynas decides to make the jump this year and comes straight over, he's going to have "bust" written in big letters all over his forehead. And that's a shame, because he truly is a wonderful talent. It's just not his time yet.

We decided to pull him off the mock draft a few weeks ago already, and since then everyone else appears to have followed suit. Contrary to published reports, though, he has not pulled his name out of this year's draft yet. He will most likely be in Chicago during pre-draft week and, according to Lithuanian sources, will be escorted to the States by legendary Lithuanian trainer Aleksandras Kosauskas, who works with the Lithuanian national team.

Tiago Splitter, 7-0, 1985, Tau Vitoria, 2005 draft


On the other end of the spectrum is the complete opposite type of prospect.
Here we have a player who is 20 years old, but is mature beyond his years. He is playing big minutes at the highest level of competition you can look for outside of the States, and is actually being a difference maker for his team with the impact he makes on the floor.

In terms of physical attributes, we are talking about nothing short of a stud here. Splitter measured out at a legit 6-11 ¾ in shoes last year in Chicago (7 feet tall for all intents and purposes) and is rumored to have possibly even grown another half inch or so since then. Some members of the media who were present at his infamous workout in Chicago last year at Tim Grover's gym claim that he bombed and killed his stock. I was there and did not see things the same way. I have a hard time understanding how anyone could miss the potential that he showed at that workout, and in retrospect, a couple of teams drafting from 8-20 or so missed the boat completely by failing to make him a promise in their area. He looked like a stud to me back then, and now that he is getting serious playing time and contributing, I'm even more certain about it.

In terms of skills, he has plenty. He is very athletic for his size, with good quickness and footspeed, and a nice vertical leap to get up off the floor and alter shots. The excellent timing he displays at times, combined with his size, athleticism and length make you think that he has a future in the NBA as a shot-blocking threat. He's a very good interior passer, showing the type of unselfishness and understanding of the game that you typically just don't get in American guys that size anymore. His footwork is outstanding on both ends of the court, with a soft touch around the basket to compliment that.

Defensively, his lateral quickness is already outstanding for a player of his size, showing excellent ability to pick the right angles to the basket and rotate over while staying in front of his man.

You can see that the kid wants to bang and be physical, but the refs in Europe just won't let him and that's a shame. Even though he's not the most aggressive player in the world, he is by no means soft. He is a bit skinny right now, but has a perfect frame to add as much weight as he needs. People might want to make him into a power forward because that's how most International big men play, but he's got the size, frame and defensive ability to play center, so why not?

What impresses the most about Splitter, though, is the calmness, intelligence and maturity in which he plays the game. Big men usually take the longest to develop, but he's already where he's at skill-wise at age 20, showing what he has so far in essentially his first season of significant playing time, without even being fully unleashed.

The only real concern I have around Splitter right now is the intensity he shows on the offensive end of the court. There is a very good argument to be made about how he's playing with a bunch of excellent offensive players and is always the last option or resort for his team on this end. I thought it would have been nice to see him ask for the ball emphatically, receive it and take his man down to the post and score on him (maybe even with a real strong finish?) just once, but maybe I've been watching too much NBA basketball and expect the same one on one style we see here all the time. They just don't play like that over there, it's all about passing, setting screens, finding the open man and moving off the ball, which Splitter is excellent at. That's not necessarily bad, it's just different. This is what is going to separate him from big men who only play defense and barely score besides garbage points (Jamal Magloire, Jeff Foster, PJ Brown, Adonal Foyle, Nazr Mohammed, etc) and all around big men who can do a little bit of everything and contribute in more than one way, which is what will ultimately decide how important of player he will become in the league.

Tau Vitoria (if they will ever agree to let go of him) has done an amazing job molding this kid into an awesome basketball prospect for the NBA. He is fundamentally sound, well rounded and extremely well coached. He is probably about a year away from really being able to contribute full time in the NBA, but his size, fundamentals and defensive skills will allow him to get decent playing time on any team in the NBA next year. If he goes to a poor team without much size in the frontcourt, he could have a really nice season as a rookie once he adjusts his game to the different style of basketball that is played in the NBA. That's all a moot point though if Tau decides that they don't want to make a buyout clause in his contract. They hold the cards here, and that's a shame for teams picking in the mid-late lotto. If he does have to stay in Spain for another season, you are talking about a guy that could easily end up as the #1 pick in next year's draft, as long as the age limit is indeed implemented.

Johan Petro, 7-0, 1985, Pau Orthez, 2005 draft


One of the more maligned prospects in this year's draft, Petro is clearly a victim of his own potential and subsequent failure to achieve it as quickly as many have demanded out of him. For how long he's been on the radar, and with the way some people talk about how he hasn't developed, one would think that he's pushing 30 already. At the end of the day, though, he is still 19 years old (younger than Gerald Green), still 7 feet tall and still extremely athletic for his size, even if he's been around the block once or twice.

In terms of physical attributes, they just don't make them like him in the States anymore, and that's what makes him super intriguing to me personally. He has great size and an outstanding body for a 19 year old, a body that is ready to come in and get minutes right off the bat as long as Petro prepares himself the way most NBA players do for the season. His frame is excellent and is ready to put on about as much muscle as he'll need in the NBA. His wingspan is very good as well, and he already knows how to use it quite well to intimidate around the basket. Athletically, he moves awfully well for a 7 footer; fluidly and with good coordination. He has somewhat of a laid-back demeanor to him, but when he wants to, he can certainly get up off the floor, on both ends around the basket. He's not Amare Stoudemire or anything like that, but he'll definitely be considered one of the more athletic 7 footers in the league almost right off the bat. I especially like his quickness moving around the court; he's mobile moving both east to west and north to south.

In terms of skills, nothing he does is too polished just yet, but he is doing pretty well considering his age, and he certainly has a big upside to continue to improve. Defensively is where he'll earn his minutes in the league initially, and I am sure he will relish the fact that NBA refs will actually let him play for a change. Physical big men and Europe just don't seem to go well together for some reason (ask Tim Duncan about that). The kid wants to bang, but the refs call ticky-tack fouls on him like they are going out of style, and that really takes away from what he's able to contribute on the court at this point. That style of play will definitely go over much better in the NBA, and I am sure his coach will appreciate it.

Petro is a good shot-blocker and has plenty of room to continue to improve here, thanks to his size, wingspan and vertical leap. He needs to improve his timing and court awareness a bit, as well as using his body better to stay out of foul trouble (it's not all the refs' fault, he could be smarter sometimes), but all the tools are there. Man to man, he uses his hands a little too much, which is where a lot of his fouls actually come from, but I think he will get better here because he can move his feet pretty well as he possesses very nice lateral quickness.

Offensively, he has a nice half hook shot which is his go-to move right now. It's pretty hard to block as he performs it swiftly and fluidly off the dribble, sometimes off a quick spin move, but with a very soft touch. He had that move last time I watched him about a year ago, although it wasn't as polished.

He appears to have expanded his game a bit and improved his footwork in the post since the last time I saw him as well. He still hasn't fully learned to use his physical tools around the basket, but I like the fact that his hands look good and he showed that he can make shots around the basket with either hand. He makes his fair share of mistakes still, but I don't know any other big men in the draft besides maybe Andrew Bogut who don't. What I do like is that he doesn't seem to be shy about trying, unlike the more tentative big men offensively in this draft like Splitter or Channing Frye for example. He's not afraid to make mistakes, which is probably why his very conservative coach won't trust him too much despite the fact that he's a lot better than any of the other big men they have on that team. He's on a pretty short leash from what I saw.

In terms of weaknesses, he has his fair share, as does every other player in this draft. His feel for the game is not off the charts, as he doesn't always play very smart or within himself, which comes to play in the foul trouble he often finds himself in. Rebounding seems to be his biggest flaw right now. He just doesn't have very good fundamentals when it comes to boxing out his man and establishing position, although he has all the physical tools needed to excel here. Part of that will come with better coaching, but he also lacks a certain degree of fire to his game, not always looking like he is giving 100% and fading from time to time in terms of his intensity on the court.

His offense is a bit raw still as well, especially when you take him outside of the paint (although he is 7 feet tall, so how much would you want him to do that?). His footwork could certainly use some polish and he could afford to add some more moves to his arsenal by diversifying his game outside of that half hook shot, which seems to be a nice weapon, but can get a bit predictable I imagine. He showed off some nifty ball-handling skills, taking his man off the dribble straight to the hoop in one game I watched, but I'm not sure how much of a fluke that was, because I only saw him do it once.

All in all, I don't think he's a can't miss prospect in this draft, but he is certainly unique enough to start getting looks starting around where the Knicks are drafting and all the way down to the teens at the very latest. There have certainly been much less skilled players his size taken in the lottery, and they aren't always as athletic as he is (see: Rafael Araujo, Andris Biedrins, Robert Swift, Melvin Ely). For what the NBA is going to need him to do, he should be just fine as long as he lands in the right situation. How good he'll end up will have a lot to do with how hard he works and just how good he decides that he wants to be, because he clearly has all the tools to become a very solid NBA player.

Peja Samardziski, 7-1, 1986, Partizan Belgrade, 2005 draft


It was a little bit of a surprise that Samardziski entered the draft this year, as there hasn't been that much that has changed in his situation as far as his draft stock is concerned since he pulled out last June. He's still really young, he's still very raw and he's still completely unproven. The big difference between last year and this year was the fact that he was playing with Partizan's senior team, and actually got some decent playing time (about 13 minutes per game) in the Adriatic league. Therefore, he's no longer a mystery and acquiring tape of his wasn't too hard. The problem was that he had some issues staying on the court this year, either acquiring 4 fouls or fouling out in 12 of his first 26 games in the Adriatic league, which is the timeframe in which most of his playing time came, until Partizan's starting frontcourt players Perovic and Milojevic were finally both healthy and playing together again.

The thing we need to remember though, is that international players can put their name in and pull out as many times as they want until they reach the calendar year in which they turn 22, so if there is some interest from the NBA (as there probably always will be in a 7 footer with some skills) then it makes little sense not to put his name in. Samardziski had the chance to attend numerous private workouts last year and go up against quality players, something which had to be a positive experience for the kid and beneficial for his development as a player and person. That's the flip-side of the early-entry argument. But now that he's in the draft once again, he needs to be evaluated and taken seriously as a prospect.

Obviously, Peja's biggest strength is always going to be his size. He is 7 feet tall, and unlike many foreign big men, he actually likes to use this height. The kid is not soft at all, enjoying the physical side of the game and not being afraid to put his body in harm's way in order to help his team out. That seems to be the type of player he is, a hustle type, good natured and team oriented. He also seems to be a fundamentally sound player as well, knowing how to get the ball to his teammates and displaying a nice jump shot out to about 16 feet or so, making him a threat for the pick and pop. Along with the fact that he has a pretty nice motor, that appears to be the extent of his strengths at the moment.

His biggest weaknesses revolve around his physical tools, most notably his athleticism, which is below average even for a player his size. Peja is far from being a freak athlete, reminding somewhat of Peja Drobnjak in the way he gets up and down the floor, and a little bit in the way he plays too. His footspeed is very average and so is his vertical leap, barely being able to get off the floor to contest shots. He is seriously lacking in strength as well at the moment, both in his upper and lower body, which probably makes him a worse athlete than he actually is. He struggles to establish position in the paint against stronger players, and as a result, he struggles to show a post up game, although he most certainly tries. When he does fight hard enough to get the ball around the basket, he just doesn't have the great footwork or the upper body strength needed to finish at the hoop if he's being contested. His rebounding also really suffers, as it's hard for a player like him to box out grown men who are much stronger and also more experienced than him.

There are major questions revolving around whether or not he has what it takes to adapt to the speed of the NBA game, and since he really hasn't accomplished anything at his age in Europe at this point, there isn't a whole lot for him to fall back on to really make you comfortable with him as a prospect.

Defensively, he struggles guarding stronger and more athletic players than him, which is why he seems to be so foul prone, as he uses his hands to guard when his feet just won't move fast enough to keep up with the man he's guarding. Needless to say, man to man defense is not his strength at the moment. He doesn't have the athleticism to be a shot blocking threat on team defense either.

It's my personal belief that he will have to have at least one big season in Europe while playing at a high level to show that he has what it takes to make it in the NBA, as the player he is right now — raw, unproven, and not very athletic — doesn't really scream enough upside to me for him to get drafted in the first round at such a young age.

Kosta Perovic, 7-2, 1985, Partizan Belgrade, 2005 draft


A guy who has also been on the radar for what seems like forever now, Perovic didn't seem to be that different of a player from what I saw of him last year or the year before. Judging by reports and from box scores towards the end of the year, he did appear to be turning the corner a bit with the way he's been playing in the 2nd half of the season. Unfortunately, most of the tapes I've acquired are from the month of February and prior, so that didn't really come out from what I saw.

He's still absolutely huge though, 7-2 to be exact, with good enough hands, long arms and a nice touch around the rim. The hook shot is still his best and most polished weapon to score in the paint, and it is pretty hard to stop because of his size. He has an excellent mid-range jumper, and seems to be a fairly skilled player for a player his size.

Athletically, he is average to below average, even for a player his size. His feet are very slow and it takes him a while to do almost anything it seems. His vertical leap looked to be almost non-existent, barely being able to get off the ground to challenge shots, which makes him a very average shot-blocker despite his height. Defensively, despite the fact that he is humongous, he is a liability almost any way you slice it, due to his poor lateral movement, strength and basketball IQ. He just doesn't seem to put any effort in at all on this side of the floor, and that's a shame because that's basically the only thing he can do in the NBA at his height. Offensively, he often lacks strength to finish at the rim, and plays a bit soft and not always that focused.

All in all, this doesn't seem like the best time for Perovic to have his game evaluated by the NBA, as he'll have a hard time making it over for workouts to improve his stock, and I doubt he wants to be judged based on the way he played this past year. I'm not really sure he will be able to adjust with the speed that the NBA game is played at, and he'll certainly have to bring it stronger every night than he did in the numerous games of his I watched with Partizan. He's still young, only a 1985 prospect, so he has two years to hit the gym, try to become a little bit more explosive, and learn how to use his size to his advantage better on both the offensive and especially the defensive ends.

Lucas Tischer, 6-10, 1983, Sao Jose dos Pinhais/KELTEK, 2005 draft


An automatically eligible Brazilian prospect born in 1983, Tischer should have fit perfectly into this American perspective on Europe... except he got left behind in Brazil. That seems to explain a lot about where he is at in terms of his development as a player.

Even though he is the smallest player in this article, this guy plays big. He's a legit 6-10 with an outstanding frame, wide shoulders and long arms. He's got plenty of strength and he's not afraid to use it at all. Tischer is raw, but if he catches the ball anywhere around the basket he'll lower his shoulder, bully his way right into you and shoot off the ground for a monster dunk, and then taunt you on the way down. He's flat out nasty. He's so strong that he even tore off the rim in one grainy tape we acquired of his, and I swear I am not exaggerating. His leaping ability is extremely impressive, not just in how quickly he gets off the ground but also in his hang time. This, along with his wingspan, makes him an excellent weak-side shot-blocker, really knowing how to intimidate and change shots around the rim. He loves to run the floor and is very quick to get up and down in transition or show on a screen in the half-court defense.

In terms of weaknesses, unfortunately he has plenty, which is probably why some European team didn't already snatch him up. He's just extremely raw, really lacking in fundamentals and not looking like he's ever really been coached. Although he can catch the ball, turn around and elevate for a powerful dunk, that seems to be the extent of his offensive game right now, along with alley-oops and points off of offensive rebounds. His footwork looks basically non-existent and he doesn't seem to have any ball-handling skills or range outside of five feet, basically making him a 6-10, extremely athletic center with really long arms. He's not a great rebounder, due to the fact that no one appears to have taught him the art of positioning or boxing out. His shooting mechanics look poor, and that comes to play at the free throw line, where he could give Shaq a serious run for his money. Defensively, he bites on an awful lot of pump fakes and seems to be pretty foul prone. His feel for the game is not off the charts and as of right now he's a pretty limited player who is best served in an enforcer/energy role coming off the bench.

He's exactly the kind of player who really could have developed playing college basketball for a couple of years under a good coach, but obviously it's a little bit late for that now. Despite his age, he definitely still has upside, and therefore it wouldn't surprise me to see a team draft him somewhere in the 2nd round and stash him in Europe somewhere where he can get playing time and really learn how to play and round out his game. If David Stern somehow comes through, a developmental league would be perfect for him.

Left Off:

Recent articles

2.0 Points
3.5 Rebounds
0.5 Assists
8.5 PER
2.7 Points
2.8 Rebounds
0.2 Assists
11.1 PER
2.3 Points
3.8 Rebounds
0.4 Assists
11.1 PER
0.0 Points
0.0 Rebounds
0.0 Assists
0.0 PER
1.0 Points
0.7 Rebounds
0.0 Assists
6.7 PER
15.2 Points
4.6 Rebounds
1.8 Assists
14.6 PER
8.7 Points
4.4 Rebounds
1.1 Assists
21.2 PER
8.2 Points
7.0 Rebounds
2.5 Assists
16.3 PER
8.5 Points
8.8 Rebounds
2.6 Assists
19.0 PER
3.0 Points
4.5 Rebounds
0.5 Assists
6.9 PER
5.5 Points
3.9 Rebounds
0.8 Assists
13.3 PER
0.5 Points
2.8 Rebounds
0.0 Assists
2.4 PER
3.1 Points
2.0 Rebounds
0.5 Assists
9.6 PER
15.8 Points
5.5 Rebounds
1.3 Assists
19.4 PER

Twitter @DraftExpress

DraftExpress Shop