L’Hospitalet 2008: Balkan Dominance

L’Hospitalet 2008: Balkan Dominance
Jan 13, 2008, 08:28 pm
FMP Zeleznik came up victorious in the L’Hospitalet Tournament for the second year in a row, this time an excellent edition pretty much dominated by Balkan players. Indeed, the semifinals were composed of the Serbian champions FMP, Cibona Zagreb, and two Balkan-led Spanish teams: Nihad Djedovic’s F.C.Barcelona and Nikola Mirotic’s Real Madrid. Mirotic himself was named MVP, emerging in the process as one of the most intriguing young prospects in Europe.

The tournament scored a major success by bringing back last year’s champion, while getting Cibona was also an excellent decision. FMP delivered some stretches of really high quality basketball that had a fair reward in the final triumph. It’s a very well-rounded squad that plays team basketball while not renouncing to the individual talents of its players. Still, they did struggle to beat Real Madrid in the semifinal and especially F.C.Barcelona in the final. But we should keep in mind that the team’s go-to guy, Dejan Musli, wasn’t here for the first two days and was noticeably out of rhythm in the couple of games he played.

The level showed here by Zeleznik easily translates to the National Team, to the point that Serbia looks like the clear-cut favorite in the junior category this year, both in the Mannheim tournament and in the European Championship, particularly since chances are Ricky Rubio will play in the Olympics with Spain.

Let’s take a look at the most interesting players from the former Yugoslavia seen in the competition.

1991, PF, 6-10 Real Madrid

A well-deserved tournament MVP, Mirotic delivered a clinic of skills for a big guy. It’s impressive the outstanding array of moves he can display on the offensive end. Sometimes it seemed like he had an endless bag of tricks under his sleeve to get the job done. However, he also suffered for some stretches against the physical defense of Zeleznik.

Mirotic is a finesse player, obviously extremely skilled, and very versatile. Pretty long, he stands around 6-10 right now, but doctors have reportedly projected him to grow up to seven feet. His frame, even if not the best around, is decent, but he’s still pretty much a skinny guy. He neither stands out by possessing outstanding athleticism, but he shows very nice mobility on the floor, actually displaying more than enough for a guy of his characteristics. He is very coordinated and is blessed with terrific hands, which makes everything easier for him.

It’s hard to think about any single skill he should feature on the offensive end and doesn’t; perhaps a better use of his left hand finishing around the basket. Anyway, in the junior category, he’s as much of a face-up guy as a back-to-the-basket player. He can effectively shoot the ball with range out to the three-point line, and can even fire off the dribble. If necessary, he uses pump fakes to unbalance his opponents (or double pump fakes) and puts the ball on the floor with both hands with impressive ease to attack players even smaller and quicker than him. He also showcases excellent footwork in the low post, and has solid footspeed and a soft touch to put the ball in the net. Mirotic is an able passer either with kick-outs off penetrations or from the low or high post. He also runs the floor very well, and is a guy who almost always stays under control.

Real Madrid is wisely encouraging his versatility by allowing him to do virtually anything on the court. And he does, filling the whole entire floor, so he’s as soon working in the lane he just as easily be in the high post or behind the arc. Actually, he took the ball up-court himself several times, but he still doesn’t force the issue and never crosses the line of an individualistic player.

The biggest hole in Mirotic’s game is his defense, and it’s not even that serious. He could eventually intimidate smaller opponents thanks to his length, also coming up with some steals, but he’s not the most intense guy in this regard. However, he’s a solid rebounder that takes advantage of his hands, length and positioning.

Anyway, Mirotic has emerged as one of the very top prospects born in 1991 and beyond, certainly for the international game, but likely with NBA potential as well.

Real Madrid had another big guy from Montenegro on trial, Davor Barovic, a 6-11 left-handed and skinny guy with a decent mid-range shot, some footwork, passing ability and decent athleticism. Born in 1990, he doesn’t look like a greatly talented player, but he might be interesting down the road.

1991, C, 7-0, FMP Zeleznik

Our review on Dejan Musli has to be incomplete, as the big center spent the first two days on the bench due to a small injury, and didn’t look to be in great shape whenever he hit the court.

Not particularly known for his athleticism, he looked even slower than usual, which limited his effectiveness, particularly on the defensive end, where he had proven to be a dominating force in previous tournaments. But in L’Hospitalet he struggled somewhat to stay in front of his opponents, particularly whenever they stepped out of the lane. Again, it was probably a conditioning issue. Offensively, he settled for three basic situations. First, the open static shot: he’s still not a reliable player here, but will likely evolve into a solid mid-range shooter, while he even tried from the three-point line. Second, the low post: where he needs to continue developing his footwork and moves, as he basically turns looking for a right-handed jumphook whenever he receives the ball, showing no counter moves and limited options if his match-up anticipates his movement. At least, he seems to be developing a decent touch around the basket. The third option was to pin his opponent down and ask for a lob over his rival, which proved to be a productive situation given his physical superiority.

We can say that Dejan probably disappointed considering his reputation as MVP of the past U-16 European Championships, but it was likely entirely due to his physical condition. We’ll have to wait for a better opportunity to dig into his game.

1990, SG, 6-6, AXA F.C.Barcelona

Head and shoulders above any other perimeter player in terms of physical development, Djedovic could operate almost at will on the floor, being able to create his own shots and rarely shying away from any shooting opportunity. Actually, his performance was too individualistic for some stretches, which was expected since he’s currently leading Cornellá (a team linked to F.C.Barcelona) in scoring in the Spanish third division (no other teammate plays pro basketball). His combination of ball-handling, athleticism and strength made his drives difficult to contain. He was able to consistently beat his opponents attacking both sides off the dribble, although not always cashing in off his slashing attempts. His left hand needs some work (both ball-handling wise and finishing around the basket) and his footwork, although nice, is not the best around to drive in heavy traffic.

At the end of the day, Djedovic showcased his preference for the long range shot, which looked improved from the last time we had saw him. He showed very good range, off the dribble ability and solid mechanics. Still it would be desirable that he didn’t forget his slashing game, a danger already visible when he plays with the pros, where he settles for perhaps too many jumpers. Although he delivered some nice passes, we missed a bit more creativity from Djedovic, some go-to leadership that didn’t simply rely on his scoring power. He’s able to do better in this department, in our opinion. A good defender, the Bosnian probably wasn’t as focused in this regard given his improved offensive role on the team.

All in all we’re talking about a very mature player who is ready to step on a LEB Oro (second division) court, perhaps even play in the ACB, but with an intriguing enough combination of athleticism, size and skills to keep an eye on. The NBA might be a long shot, but he’s bound to become an elite player in Europe.

1990, SF/PF, 6-10, Cibona

Dealing a lot better with the foul trouble that had short-handed his performance last year, Zubcic kept the intrigue high by showcasing his remarkable combination of size and skills, to the point that he spent extended minutes on the floor playing as a small forward.

Very long, also pretty skinny, Zubcic displays nice quickness for his size, and particularly enjoys an extremely solid first step to attack his opponents off the dribble, being able to go both ways, although he rarely finished himself his slashing attempts and opted to pass the ball. Indeed, he passed the ball much more and significantly better than he had showed in previous competitions, although he sometimes struggled when he was under pressure. At the same time, we perhaps missed a bit more aggressiveness looking for his own points. He was often unselfish to a fault, while his team didn’t run any play for him for long stretches. However, he’s a guy who has some troubles to consistently put the ball in the net at this point. His jumper is anything but solid; he shows nice range, it’s mostly a spot-up effort, but he needs to polish up his mechanics, and find better balance on his release. He’s not particularly creative and effective with his layups if he needs to finish in traffic, while he will rarely use his length to dunk the ball over his opponents. From the low post, he often settles for turnaround shots, indeed preferring to look for non-contact situations.

There’s as much promise in his game as there is uncertainty. Zubcic is not the most aggressive guy around, and risks being eventually labeled a soft player. He also lacks a real position now, and maybe in the future. For a small forward, he displays very poor lateral quickness on the defensive end, while his perimeter skills need serious refinement. For a power forward, he’s too skinny, and carries a questionable frame in order to add weight. He will probably end up playing as a modern face-up power forward, trying to take advantage of his quickness off the dribble and his ability to shoot the ball--even if he will need to seriously work on his long-range accuracy.

1990, SG/SF, 6-6, FMP Zeleznik

Likely the best player on the best team, Andreja Milutinovic emerged as a dead-eye shooter for FMP, burying his rivals with his long range bombs, but also providing nice input in other departments. He’s a nicely sized wing, with a good wingspan, solid athleticism and a good frame. It’s excellent physical profile when thinking about the international competition, and also won’t stop him from dreaming about getting further.

In terms of skills, his outstanding shooting ability clearly stood out. He barely missed a single three-pointer where he enjoyed some space to get his shot off (and he didn’t need that much). It was mostly spot-up attempts, and the opponents often ended up assigning Andreja a defender who would not provide any defensive help in order to permanently stay with him. Milutinovic shows beautiful mechanics, but despite his accuracy, he still could enjoy some adjustments in the way he releases the ball.

It’s not only about shooting, but Milutinovic can easily put the ball on the floor and attack his match-ups. If he doesn’t find a clear lane to leave the lay-up or the space to release an off-the-dribble mid-range jumper, he’s pretty effective finding his teammates with kickout passes. He also runs the court extremely well and generally speaking, his basketball IQ looks pretty high, usually taking good decisions.

A good contributor on defense, he used his length to work the passing lines and come up with a bunch of steals that provided easy transition baskets (FMP runs the fast-break really well). He also was productive cleaning the glass, again thanks to his wingspan, but also due his activity and positioning.

1990, PF/C, 6-9, Cibona

Radosevic was the one doing the dirty work for Cibona, the most aggressive player on defense and under the boards. He’s an athletic big man with a good wingspan who enjoys a terrific frame, with superb shoulders and already some nice strength. He’s quick off his feet, and is a reactive player, being very useful providing some consistency inside for a team that often looked a bit disrupted.

However, Radosevic was part of the mess on the offensive end. His eagerness to put the ball on the floor and play off the dribble didn’t help his team at all. If we focus on his development as a player (which is the main point at these categories), it was nice to see him trying new stuff, but there’s a huge load of work ahead of him, because he didn’t look effective at all. Not only are his ball-handling skills still poor, particularly his left hand, but his general body language and coordination needs serious refinement if he wants to become a useful face-up guy, not to mention his extremely inconsistent jumper. On the other hand, to work on his face-up abilities shouldn’t imply to forget the low post. A player with his build should also be developing back-to-the-basket moves to cash in on his physical advantages, but unfortunately we didn’t see any of that in L’Hospitalet.

1990, PG, 6-3, Cibona

Playing more under control than we had seen him doing with Bosnia in the Division B of the U-18 European Championships, Hodzic took advantage of his physical superiority to attack his opponents and split defenses. Showing nice size for his position, solid athleticism, good quickness and already notable strength, there were very few guys who could match his physical profile. Dino proved to be very incisive attacking with his right hand, punishing any ill-advised opponent that left him the opportunity to go that direction. Actually, he shows nice footwork to slash in traffic. Dino is not nearly as dangerous with his off hand, which reduced his effectiveness once the opposing teams started pushing him to his left.

The Bosnian is very hard to stop in transition, but struggles against well structured set defenses. He’s not precisely a distributor, more of a drive and kick passer, and often a bit individualistic. He needs to keep working on his decision making and focus on providing good solutions for his team as a whole. Although able to shoot off the dribble from mid-range distances and enjoying three-point range, Hodzic also needs to gain consistency with his jumper. Solid on defense, often surprisingly aggressive chasing the boards, he’s a pretty active guy.


The champions for the second year in a row, FMP looks like the team to beat if they come back next year. They were crowded with first-year players (born in 1991) that should build an almost unbeatable squad for next season.

Besides Dejan Musli, the most productive first-year player is Aleksandar Ponjavic, a very skilled 6-5 shooting guard, who is a decent athlete and a solid shooter, as well as a nice ball-handler who is able to attack defenses and create offense thanks to his interesting passing ability. He’s a smart player, one of those guys greatly responsible for the terrific game level that Zeleznik featured.

Sharing the backcourt in the starting five, Nikola Vukasovic looks even more intriguing standing 6-3. He’s a fairly quick and rather skinny playmaker with very long arms and a promising frame. Showing excellent ball-handling skills, he can split defenses and distribute the ball, while he usually stays under control and commits very few turnovers. With range out to the three-point line and off-the-dribble shooting ability, he’s an able scorer that probably delegated at times here to his more experienced teammates. An excellent defender thanks to his length and lateral quickness, we’re talking about a very intriguing player here.

That makes three first-year players in the starting five, but there’s more coming off the bench. Among them,
Branislav Djekic stands out for his potential. Indeed he was at this tournament last year already, and we were expecting a bit more out of him this time, but he seems to lack some fire in his game. Featuring nice size and long arms, he’s very skinny although nicely framed, and shows promising moves in the lane and touch either around the basket or with his mid-range jumper. Anyway, he’s born in December which makes him almost a cadet player.

If we talk about second-year players, and rounding out the starting five with Milutinovic, we have to mention
Bojan Subotic, who doesn’t look intriguing at all at first sight, especially since he’s around 6-8 and looks very mature physically, but he brings to the table notable athleticism, aggressiveness attacking the rim and chasing the boards, good touch around the basket with range on his shot out to the three-point line, excellent positioning and nice intelligence playing the game. He doesn’t share the potential of many teammates, but he will be a productive player in Europe.

It’s quite shocking to think that every single guy on FMP’s roster looked like an interesting player in one degree or another. They are stacked. And just consider that last summer this team provided the U-16 EC MVP (Dejan Musli), U-20 EC MVP (Milos Teodosic), U-19 WC MVP (Milan Macvan) and the best player of the best team in the U-18 EC (again Macvan).

At this point, nobody will argue the fact that this team from Belgrade is right now the top basketball factory in Europe.

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