Player of the Week(s): Rudy Fernández
Both games were within Joventuts reach in advance, but still very complicated ones. Partizan is a very dangerous team at home in Hala Pionir, particularly when the court is packed with the very noisy and intimidating Serbian fans (as it happened this time). Meanwhile, Maccabi Tel Aviv is always a very competitive squad, indeed the main rival for Joventut in the hunt for second place in Group B.
As expected, Joventut struggled to beat its rivals. Partizan and Maccabi dominated their respective games for the most part, and it wasnt until the last quarter when Joventut came back to claim the victory. The key player both times was no other than Rudy Fernández, quite a clutch guy who loves these hot situations. Three pointers, aggressive plays attacking the rim, ability to force fouls, great activity on defense, Rudy can operate at a different level in these final minutes to help his team prevail. After delivering a great three-point shooting exhibition, he virtually closed the game against Partizan with an impressive turnaround mid-range jumper over Predrag Drobnjak, finishing his performance with 26 points, his best Euroleague scoring effort.
Against Maccabi, Rudy came off the bench to help defeat last years Euroleague finalists. He had suffered an ankle injury over the weekend in the ACB League that didnt allow him to finish the game against Real Madrid, and was doubtful to step on the court. However, once he got into the game rhythm, we saw the same super active guy, to the point that he grabbed 7 rebounds. No trace of the injury indeed. Again taking advantage of his perimeter stroke, and particularly attacking the rim in the last minutes, he finished with 21 points that meant a superb victory for Joventut.
As has been happening all season long, Rudy is being aggressive on the offensive end. He has grown aware of his leadership duties and is actively looking for the basket. The notorious drop in his assist average is quite significant for this matter. However, it doesnt mean that hes forcing plays or making bad decisions. Those have never been labels in Rudys game since hes a pro. He just gets the job done. His stroke, skills and athleticism allow him to succeed on a regular basis when it comes to adding points. Particularly, his perimeter stroke looks much improved in the last few months. Open shots are a piece of cake for him, and hes even knocking down more complicated ones. He can quickly release his shot over his defender if hes not close enough to him. He also can execute some quick dribbling in front of his match-up before suddenly pulling up and shooting the ball. All in all, hes slowly gaining accuracy off the dribble, although he still cant knock down wild long-range jumpers, a la Belinelli; Rudy needs a certain balance to remain effective.
Still, if Rudy were relegated to a more complimentary role (which should happen, at least in early stages in the NBA), his passing game would surely come back stronger. In the end, hes a quite an adaptable guy on the basketball court if we talk about role on a team. His biggest problem right now is his poor first step, which limits his ability to create his own shot. If he could overcome this flaw, he would become a virtual lock for the lottery.
Taking a Long Look at
Gasper Vidmar, who is making himself room in the Adriatic League with fair success. Well rely on our Balkan scout Kristian Hohnjec to talk about him:
"While Geoplin Slovan might be the worst team in the Adriatic League, they can at least afford to let their talented youngsters play and gain invaluable experience against good competition at a very early stage in their career. At the beginning of the season, Gasper Vidmar was the least heralded Slovan prospect, but lately he has turned himself into their top post option, averaging 17 points and 7 rebounds, while playing just 22 minutes per game in the last three.
Vidmars upside relies in his ability to score around the basket. Gasper is very skilled in the low post, possessing a variety of moves he can display, while he has excellent hands and soft touch around the hoop. Despite being able to produce by himself with his back to the basket, Vidmar also moves well without the ball. Hes particularly active on the offensive glass, grabbing 2.6 rebounds (3rd in the League) in just 17 minutes per game. Gasper has a "nose" for the ball, anticipates and puts himself in the right position. Vidmar seems to enjoy an above average basketball IQ and a good understanding of the game, but he needs to improve his passing ability. Up to date, he has committed 29 turnovers while dishing out just 4 assists.
From a physical point of view, Vidmar is average at best by NBA standards. He is 6-11 and has nice mobility and decent footwork in the paint, but lacks any kind of explosiveness and basically plays under the rim. This is obvious on the defensive end where he struggles cleaning the boards and altering shots. Gasper is a relatively poor presence in the paint, despite showing some toughness and willingness to take physical contact. Unlike the typical European big men, Gasper doesnt have too much of a perimeter game. He doesnt show any ability to put the ball on the floor and drive past his opponents, nor is he a good mid-range shooter. His mechanics look solid from the free-throw line and he is converting 74.5% of his attempts, so there is some potential for him to expand his offense outside of the paint. Gasper looks like a 2nd round talent at the moment; but he will need to show more versatility and improve his body in order to get drafted."
State of the Prospect: Whos Hot
Marco Belinelli has found his scoring touch these last weeks. Combining the Italian Lega and the Euroleague, he has averaged 20.7 points in the last seven games he has played (against the likes of Olimpiacos, Dynamo Moscow or Benetton Treviso). Considering his game style, its obvious that his improved three-point percentages have helped him a lot. Actually, in that game span, he enjoys a very nice 42.6% shooting percentage from behind the arc.
Jonas Maciulis enjoyed consecutive solid outings in the Euroleague these past two weeks. He had 18 points, 3 rebounds and 5 steals against Winterthur F.C.Barcelona and 21 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 4 steals against Fenerbahce Ulker. Maciulis is some of the only good news Zalgiris has received lately, a team that keeps losing games and ranks last in the competition.
Ali Traore apparently enjoyed a very happy Christmas. He was the top scorer of the LNB All-Star Game, coming off the bench to record 24 points, 5 rebounds and 2 steals. In the following game, back to the regular season, he delivered his best outing of this campaign, with 21 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks. Hopefully, well talk about him more extensively next week.
State of the Prospect: Whos Not
Tiago Splitter keeps struggling lately. His game looks severely regressed. Its probably the result of the same back problems that have been bothering him this season. Reportedly, hes getting better, but it seems that he still hasnt been able to completely recover. What were seeing reflected on the court is a softer and more offensively timid Splitter. Forget about any one-on-one game (as he showed very early into the season); currently he only plays without the ball to get scoring options near the rim. And still, hes struggling a lot finishing there, looking slow and soft when it comes to putting the ball up into the rim. Of course, we expect Splitter to bounce back once he gets rid of his physical problems; otherwise, he would likely fall out of the lottery next June.
And it seems that disaster is close: Faverani hasnt played in the last two games and the word is Cai Zaragoza will cut him and search for a more experienced and reliable player on the market. Apparently, it wouldnt cost a cent for Cai to cut the Brazilian big, loaned from Unicaja Málaga. If it finally happens, we could even see Faverani getting some action with Unicaja in the ACB League as the team only has one non-European player in the roster (Daniel Santiago). Otherwise, expect Faverani to go back to Clínicas Rincón Axarquía in LEB-2 (third Spanish division), which is a kind of farm team related to Unicaja.
Coming from Uruguay, Barrera enjoyed his coming-out party in Spain, coupling with Rudy Fernández in the LHospitalet Tournament in 2003 while leading Joventut to victory there. Panchi impressed everyone with his passing skills and court vision, while his connection with Rudy paid huge dividends. Afterwards, both followed opposite directions. While Rudy had a terrific rookie season in the ACB League with Joventut, Panchi was sidelined because of his foreign passport, which limited his ability to crack into Joventuts or any other teams roster. He spent almost two years inactive, severely hurting his development in crucial years and frustrating the hopes he had coming to Spain. According to people in Joventut, he somehow lost the joy of playing the game. Still, last season he enjoyed really nice game stretches when loaned to Ciudad de Huelva, basically whenever his coach trusted him with big minutes. However, it seems hes not a guy who easily overcomes adversity, and frustration might have been stronger than him this time.