Euroleague Preview: NBA Draft Prospects (The Veterans)

Euroleague Preview: NBA Draft Prospects (The Veterans)
Oct 25, 2006, 12:22 am
Continuing with our preview of the Euroleague season which kicks off this week, we turn our attention to 13 NBA draft prospects we find on the various rosters. Split into a two part series, we first focus our attention on the “veteran” Euroleaguers, the mostly older NBA prospects who will be participating in at least their 2nd Euroleague season. Most, if not all of these players are considered potential first round picks at this early stage of the season.

#1 Tiago Splitter
7-0, Center, 1985, Tau Vitoria (Brazil)


Dimitris Ritsonis

Another Euroleague season, and another year in Vitoria for Splitter, with the court likely filled with NBA scouts looking to see whether his potential and improvement will surpass his buy-out difficulties and finally make him an NBA lottery pick.

Although he is right there talent-wise, Tiago has the obvious drawback that most top European teams make sure to impose on their young players in order to not lose them to the NBA or rival European clubs that easily. The buy-out is still undetermined, but is rumored to be either negotiable or high enough to prevent Splitter from becoming a lottery contender. When approached about the subject by DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony at the Las Vegas Summer league, Tau Vitoria’s GM assured that the club will not stand in Tiago Splitter’s path this time around.

Still, as mentioned dozens of times here at Draftexpress, Splitter has been one of the best and most experienced young players around, scouted very closely since his arrival in Vitoria from Brazil. Spanish powerhouse Tau Ceramica helped him progress in an excellent way, so that he now has become one of the best big men in international basketball, having extensively proven himself in all the top levels of basketball, including at the recent World Championships, when he was Brazil's best player.

Nice footwork, an improving defensive game, good rebounding instincts and positioning, a regained confidence in his mid-range jumper and some nice post moves come to play along with his excellent size, fine athletic ability and high competitiveness. His ability to become a great interior force, though a second offensive option most of the times both for Tau and Brazil, is beginning to emerge.

Although he has always been overshadowed by Argentinean super star Luis Scola, a Euroleague MVP candidate again this year, Splitter has stepped up in some cases and this has been proven good early in the ACB season, where many times he was the team's go-to guy in the paint, before he got injured and missed a couple of games. Additionally, Scola's defensive limitations have helped Splitter become the team's best defensive presence, pushing and gaining confidence in the post, while he is a nice help defender too. His improving passing game and nice ball-handling skills make give him some potential at the power forward spot as well, although he will spend most of the time at center, being Tau's only guy who can really excel there.

Although he is a top candidate for the U-22 award this year and probably the best Euroleague player around when it comes to NBA potential, Splitter will again meet similar difficulties he had in the past, referring to both his strength (he’s still yet to fully grow into his frame) and his offensive tools. Nobody asks from Tiago to compete with Scola for shots, as he is hardly that mentally strong and doesn’t possess as much in terms of post moves or power down low, but this season it is necessary for him to become more stable offensively for both his sake as well as his team’s. Tau is again among the very best teams in Europe and Tiago's improvement will be very important for their journey towards another Final Four, and maybe this time the title.

#2 Marco Belinelli
6-6, Shooting Guard, 1986, Climamio Bologna (Italy)


Jonathan Givony

If you were looking to put down money on the top scorer in the Euroleague among players on this list, Marco Belinelli would seem to be the safest bet. Despite being only 20 years old, we’re already talking about one of the best shooting guards in all of Europe, and a leading player for a competitive Italian league team.

At 6-6, Belinelli has good size for the shooting guard position, hurt to a certain extent by the fact that he is incredibly skinny with a narrow frame that doesn’t look like it will be filling out anytime soon. He does make up for that with his nice wingspan, but at the NBA level, there are some legit concerns about how he’ll he stack up physically with players at his position. Athletically, Belinelli is pretty gifted, although he doesn’t make anywhere near enough use of it as you’d hope. When he decides to show off his physical tools, he is quite impressive, feature good quickness, a nice first step, and being fairly quick off his feet to get up and finish.

Offensively, Belinelli does the large majority of his damage from 17 feet and out. He has a very pretty looking 3-point stroke, with a high release point, a very quick trigger, and absolutely no hesitation whatsoever to heave up shots. When he’s on, he is absolutely lights out, being capable of draining tough shots with a hand in his face from well beyond the NBA 3-point line. He is terrific coming off screens to find a shot inside or outside the arc, and can get his jumper off in a number of different ways. Shooting off the dribble is cake for him, either going left or right, stepping back and fading away while contorting his body. This is where he gets into the most trouble, though, as he can be incredibly streaky at times and shows no conscious hoisting up tough shots from the most difficult of situations. His shot-selection is average at best, and when his jumper isn’t falling, he can be a real detriment to his team.

The biggest questions about Belinelli’s NBA potential revolve around whether he’ll be strictly a 3-point specialist in the NBA or whether he’ll develop into more than that. The majority of his shots come from behind the arc, and despite his excellent physical tools, he seems very much adverse to putting the ball on the floor and getting to the basket. When he does drive, it’s usually to pull-up off the dribble from mid-range. Is he soft? Just too weak physically? Can he finish stronger around the basket than he’s shown? Until he shows otherwise, he’s going to be labeled as strictly a jump-shooter, and defended in the NBA as such.

#3 Uros Tripkovic
6-6, Shooting Guard, 1986, Partizan Belgrade (Serbia)


Kristian Hohnjec

Uros Tripkovic seems to finally be settling into better shape after a disappointing season last year coupled with an unimpressive performance at World Championships for Serbia. He is averaging 15 points per contest in the Adriatic league and is finally showing more aggression and willingness in driving towards the basket. Tripkovic will have to show that he can be the lethal and consistent scoring threat his potential says he can be in the Euroleague if he wants to redeem his status of a legit first round pick.

The good thing is that Uros’s body has matured, and while still being a relatively weak player, you can see that he will pan out just properly in that department. Tripkovic also seems to have grown an inch over the last 12 months and is now a legit 6-foot-6 shooting guard. This is important for him, since his size has been proclaimed as one of his more viable weaknesses in the past.

When speaking about Tripkovic we always must mention his jumper, which is one of most beautiful in all of Europe. A high and quick release, great lift and superb body control are all characteristics of his most powerful weapon. Still, his accuracy isn’t world-class, probably the result of poor shot selection at times. At the start of this season, Uros changed his game plan to a certain extent, and has started to make his way into the lane more often. While, he is not a good finisher there yet, Tripkovic will earn a lot of free throws by beating his man with his first step and by faking a shot. Being such a stylish shooter it is surprising not to see him using a pull-up jumper from 12-15 feet more often, since he has serious problems finishing close to the basket against opposing big men.

Defensively, he is making a progress, but still lacks the focus and willingness to defend periodically. He has good enough tools to became a decent defender at any level, but it is up to him if he will use them. Given the quickness, ball-handling and court vision he posseses, one would assume that Tripkovic would take more responsibility in creating shots in the half-court.

After the departure of the team’s superstar Dejan Milojevic, Uros will be counted on as a primary scoring option for Partizan. How will he fare in that role against highest European competition will go a long ways in determining his draft stock.

#4 Mantas Kalnietis
6-5, Point Guard, 1986, Zalgiris (Lithuania)


Jonathan Givony

With the improvement we’ve seen in the past year from this extremely gifted 6-5 point guard, it’s hard to rule anything out when it comes to Mantas Kalnietis. While his exact role at Zalgiris is still somewhat unclear as far as the Euroleague is concerned, Kalnietis has been getting playing of playing time early on in the season and there is some room for optimism that that trend will continue against the best of the best of Europe as well. He barely cuts it as a “veteran” for this article, but he did gain valuable Euroleague experience last year already after being called up from Zalgiris’ “B” squad in 2nd division Lithuania, including a 15 point, 3 rebound, 3 assist outburst against Malaga.

We’re talking about one of the more intriguing guys you’ll find in this competition as far as his potential is concerned. Standing 6-5, Kalnietis is a terrific athlete who possesses great speed in the open court, terrific leaping ability (which he tries to show off at any given moment) and a fairly explosive first step. He attacks the rim exactly the way you want to see a player in this mold to, being tough and aggressive and not being afraid in the least bit of getting airborne and taking contact on his way to a creative finish.

Defensively, he shows very nice potential thanks to his quickness, excellent length and activity level. He has the right mindset to get after it, and therefore will come up with his fair share of steals. His body needs work as he’s definitely on the frail side, though.

As far as his point guard skills go, he certainly has some nice tools to work with. He uses his height to see the entire floor and is a very unselfish player, but is still very much raw in his decision making and therefore a bit too turnover prone. Kalnietis anticipates a bit too much and therefore gets ahead of himself, but that’s because he always seems to be looking to make something happen.

The area Kalnietis must work the most on is his perimeter shooting, which is simply not up to par with his slashing game. His shooting mechanics aren’t very good, and neither is his touch. To really become a fulltime combo guard, he will have to improve in this area, including developing a legit mid-range game.

Kalnietis is still a fairly raw player, but he’s clearly on the right track. He acquired some excellent experience this summer in the U-20 European Championships and the Men’s World Championships in Japan, where he got solid rotation minutes with the Lithuanian National Team. As of right now he looks to be on track to get some nice playing time in the Euroleague, which will further help him develop his game and continue to mature. He’s been playing fairly well in the early going so far.

#5 Nikola Pekovic
6-11, Center, 1986, Partizan Belgrade (Serbia)


Kristian Hohnjec

Nikola Pekovic is the antithesis of your prototypical European big man, actually relying way more on his physical tools than his fundamentals. Pekovic was instrumental for Serbia’s golden run at this summer’s U-20 European Championship, posting 18 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in the final against Turkey.

Pekovic is very strong for his age, both in the upper and lower body. He knows how to use his physicality to establish good position on either the offensive or defensive block or to put a body on the opponent and force him into a tough shot. Nikola also has nice size at 6-11 and is a very solid athlete. He is mobile, can move his feet well enough laterally and can get off the ground, although he isn’t an explosive leaper.

He is a typical bruiser, who does most of the damage within a few feet of the basket, and shows good positioning and understanding of how to box-out his opponent and secure rebounds. Pekovic is also a very good man to man defender in the low post, showing impressive balance and composure to stay in front of his man.

In terms of scoring, Pekovic relies more on his teammates, since his skill-set is modest in this department. Once he gets in a good situation Pekovic will finish with strong results, showing decent touch and reactivity around the basket. However, outside of the paint Pekovic is not a dangerous threat, since he doesn’t possess the ability to put the ball on the floor and has not yet developed a reliable mid-range jumper. He is also a below average passer by all standards and at times shows a questionable basketball IQ.

Pekovic is the first big man off the bench for Partizan, replacing either former NBA player Peja Drobnjak or Warrriors pick Kosta Perovic. Crucial for Nikola in order to be a candidate for more than a 2nd round pick will be to show an expanded skill-set. He has really nice basic skills for a center - size, athleticism, strength and toughness - but lacks the technical ability which would enable him to become a more proficient player.

#6 Luksa Andric
6-10, Center, 1985, Cibona Zagreb (Croatia)

Kristian Hohnjec

Andric is a relatively new name on the international radar, after not enjoying much hype or playing time in the junior categories for Croatia. Luksa emerged last season, playing some substantial minutes for Euroleague team Cibona Zagreb. His play was noticed by Croatian National Team coach Jasmin Repesa, and Andric made his debut with NT this summer, playing solid minutes in Eurobasket qualifications.

Since he is automatically eligible for next year’s draft, Luksa will need to have a big season in order to get picked from an NBA team. Unfortunately, so far he hasn`t received the kind of playing time he hoped. He is averaging just 9 minutes per game in the Adriatic league despite being regular starter (4 points 2 rebounds 1 block per game). The main reason for his decreased role is foul trouble, which is probably his biggest weakness at the moment. To put it simply, Andric is foul-machine, overreacting in some situations and just using his hands too much.

Luksa features a nice physique, being 6-foot-10 he has above average mobility, footwork and leaping skills. He also has a good frame, and should be able to put on much more weight. Andric, who is capable of playing both frontcourt positions, is a fairly skilled player too. He has good hands and a pretty jumper with range out to the international three-point lane. He is accurate from there when left wide open, but needs some time to settle his feet.

He also showed intriguing ability to put the ball on the floor and drive past his opponent. Andric has good moves with his back to the basket, but the main problem is consistency as he rarely puts it all together. On the defensive side, Luksa shows quick feet and a good attitude, but is often lacking an understanding of the game and anticipation skills, being late in rotations and picking up cheap fouls.

Luksa is a player that looks like a late bloomer, who still has a lot of potential left despite turning 22 years old in January. He is very inexperienced for his age, and as he gets playing time at this level he should became a much more steady presence for Cibona in the middle.

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