Nicolas Batum 6-8, 1988, SF/SG, Le Mans
13 mpg, 4.3 ppg, 50% FG, 1.3 rpg
Batum is big, strong and athletic, with an impressive wingspan, great footwork and a natural NBA body already. He has already added some weight since the season started and everything is starting to come easier for him. He's begun to hit his open shots on a regular basis, and is moving comfortably more without the ball, even if he is still anxious and uncomfortable with the ball in his hands and often just tries to get rid of it as quickly as possible. Defensively, he is already there. Maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but he already seems as a defensive specialist for Le Mans, with all his amazing tools and excellent body use, being eager to help his team and only rarely getting outmuscled by opponents.
Of course, Nicolas was never as an important piece for his team in his first Euroleague season. Besides some good all-around performances and a huge, 15-point game versus Olympiacos, when he made some important shots, Nicolas was a bench player who's job was to add versatility and defense while spelling his team's starters. He may have "stolen" some more minutes with a couple of active offensive games, but nobody really expected him to be more of a contributor this early. Nicolas didn't receive more playing time and probably didn't deserve to see more minutes, because he wasn't ready and his team is slowly developing him to become more of a contributor during the next couple of years, if he's to stick around.
However, the best is yet to come and we may see a more improved version of Batum during the coming season in the French league, as long as his team decides to get him more involved in their offensive game and he decides to start slashing more and take better advantage of his explosiveness and physical superiority on the offensive end. Numerous sources have told DraftExpress this year to expect to see Batum's name in the draft when the early-entry list is released. Whether he stays in could depend heavily on how he closes out the season.
Sehim Erden, 7-1, 1986, Center, Fenerbahce Ulker
14 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 52.1% FG, 69.2% FT, 3.1 rpg
Erden is a very intriguing guy, not only a legit seven footer, but already a fairly strong and decently athletic center with an excellent frame and wingspan who can produce in the paint against veteran competition. Still, inconsistency has been the predominant chord in his game. He shows decent moves in the low post, but has a hard time putting the ball in the net unless he dunks it (he can consistently play above the rim). He also displays promising form on his shot, but still enjoys poor accuracy. He can even put the ball on the floor with surprising ease, although again he suffers to get the job done. Probably his highlight in this edition of the Euroleague was a slashing move he performed against F.C.Barcelona, driving with his right hand, then faking a pass to his left, followed by a lay-up, always with his right hand (quite Jason Williams-esqe). Certainly something you dont usually see coming from this type of player.
His defensive and rebounding potential is remarkable, given his body and mobility. He still lacks some reactiveness, but nothing to feel worried about for the future. However, his defensive commitment is not always equally strong. Erden lacks consistency in his effort and intensity, and sometimes just doesnt seem to be focused on whats happening on court. Still, with experience and maturity, he should emerge into a very valuable big man, perhaps first-round material down the road if he works hard. He's a type of player who usually impresses in every game, but only in very small doses.
Milenko Tepic, 6-8, PG/SG/SF, Partizan, 1987
20.0mpg 4.5ppg 2.5rpg 1.4apg 1.9tpg 31.7% FG
Tepic's impact on the game is often not showed in the boxscore. He is a very team oriented player, really unselfish and a very decent defender, with excellent potential on that end of the floor. The fact that he plays point guard at 6-8 tells you a bit about his very good lateral movement. Milenko is a good athlete possessing nice quickness and a long wingspan. He is a very intelligent player who has an excellent understanding of the game, seeing the court well and possessing good ball-handling ability. His biggest struggles come in putting the ball in the basket. Milenko has unorthodox shooting mechanics and hasn't been able to achieve any kind of consistency this season. Tepic also has a tendency to became too passive on the offensive end of the floor during some stretches where he doesn't really create opportunities the way a guard should.
Tepic has almost 3 years before he becomes draft eligible, and therefore plenty of time to develop his game, particularly his scoring ability. He has the size, athleticism and versatility NBA teams look for, however he will have to improve his shooting skills in order to not to be a liability on the offensive side of the ball. If he declares for the 2007 draft Tepic would most likely be a 2nd round choice, however he has enough tools to develop into a first round pick with time.
Anton Ponkrashov, 6-7, 1986, PG/SG, CSKA
14 mpg, 3.7 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 1.1 apg, 1.4 T/Os
A team-first combo guard, with excellent size and very good use of his body, Ponkrashov has managed to play in 11 of CSKA's 14 games up to now. He played alongside both Theo Papaloukas and J.R. Holden, spending most of his time in the off-guard position, but acting like a second point guard quite often. He seems to have worked on his decision making, cutting down his turnovers in the process, and it's obvious that he has been constantly improving his all-around game, especially since he has become a key player for CSKA in the Russian Superleague games. His averages may be hiding part of the truth, as in the Euroleague games, his contribution is limited and he is taking less shots due to the opponents' higher level and his lack of importance in the team hierarchy. However, Anton is doing all the little things in the more or less 14 minutes that he stays on the court and -- most importantly -- he is doing them well.
His slashing skills seem a bit improved right now and his finishing abilities are just getting better. He moves really well without the ball and is a pretty good ball handler. He is surprisingly strong and has a fairly good first step, especially when he starts slashing from the left side, but he doesn't feel equally comfortable otherwise. Creating his own shot and finishing with his right has already been mentioned as a weakness and he needs to further work on that field of his game in order to increase his so far limited offensive varieties. He has a decent jumper and is a quick shooter behind the arc, although he is not equally efficient shooting off the dribble (something that doesn't happen so often anyway). His basketball IQ was always notable and his ability to take advantage of his teammates explain us why he is such a well regarded young perimeter player right now in the European scene. A hustler and -- once again -- a scrappy type of player, he has plenty of room to improve over the next year or two, as soon as he improves his footwork and learns how to use his hands better on defense. A lack of experience and his fairly average athletic ability may become more obvious in the next stages.
With the top-16 arriving and CSKA being in a manageable group, Ponkrashov may still see some good minutes, especially since experienced wing player David Vanterpool will be sitting out with an injury. After all, the really tough games for the Euroelague champions won't be coming before the top-8 round and -- as soon as Anton keeps improving -- it is proven that coach Etore Messina will give him the appropriate playing time.
Nikola Pekovic, 6-11, Center, Partizan, 1986
14.5mpg 5.1ppg 2.3rpg 0.4bpg
Defensively, Pekovic once again shows his toughness by forcing contact and being physical with his opponent, but once outside of the key, he suffers staying in front of his man because of poor lateral quickness. This might be a serious problem when talking about his NBA upside considering the up-tempo direction the league seems to be heading in. Pekovic doesn't show good awareness on either end of the floor, lacking some natural instincts and possessing a basketball IQ which seems below average. His poor understanding of the game is noticeable from the fact that he made just 2 assists in the entire competition, compared to 15 turnovers. Pekovic will occasionally pull up for a mid-range shot, but with poor results. His shooting motion should be more fluid, which hinders him from achieving a consistent release point on his shot. He looks very mechanical from the free throw line, but is adequately accurate - 20/30 on the season.
From a physical point of view, Nikola has what it takes to play in the NBA, but at the moment it's rather tough seeing what "extra" he can bring to an NBA team. His closest NBA comparison would be Mario Kasun, who didn't actually have a lot of success in his brief stint with the Orlando Magic. With that said, Pekovic is still only 20 years old and there is certainly hope for him to develop his skills down the road. The first round looks far away currently, but there is a more than good chance that someone will take a shot at him in the 2nd round and stash him in Europe.