Roundup: Rollercoaster-Ride Batum On the Upside

Roundup: Rollercoaster-Ride Batum On the Upside
Dec 19, 2007, 02:40 am
Like a rollercoaster, Nicolas Batum has gone this season from a slow start to a very productive period, just to cool down for several weeks and now climb again to the top of the hill. This week, he delivered two 20-plus-point performances for Le Mans, earning in the process our Player of the Week nomination. Another young wonder, Donatas Motiejunas, also gets especial attention.

Player of the Week: Nicolas Batum

Although his team Le Mans couldn’t win any of the games played this past week, Nicolas Batum is back to showing his best face, running for a three-game streak where he scored over twenty points in each contest. Concerning only the last week, he started with 24 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks against Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague, following with 21 points, 2 assists, 5 steals and 2 blocks in the close road loss against Clermont in the domestic competition.

We had the chance to watch Batum against Maccabi, where his superb execution stood out. Indeed he stayed perfect from the field, a rare circumstance, especially if he shoots from long range. He connected on a couple of spot-up treys, but also netted an off-the-dribble bomb released over the head of a shorter opponent. All in all, he’s looking more reliable and comfortable from the arc these last couple of weeks, but there’s no assurance yet that this trend will continue.


Another interesting characteristic in his game against the Israeli powerhouse was his post game. Twice he took his match-up to the post, and twice he came up with excellent results. The first one, in the low post, finishing with a right-handed hook shot (not the most orthodox around, without much elevation, but still effective given the size differential he enjoys); the second one, in the mid post, using a pivot move to beat his opponent and deliver a layup after an excellent extension. There’s no need to stress the great potential a long guy like him enjoys playing with his back to the basket, especially if he’s evolving at the shooting guard position.

On the negative side, he didn’t look very effective trying to beat his opponents off the dribble, although he was usually guarded by much smaller and quicker players (Maccabi fills the backcourt with combo-guards very often this season). The problem continued on the other end of the court, as he couldn’t always stay in front of those small perimeter players he had to guard.

The rest was there, such as his excellent passing game (he threw a terrific assists across the lane, found his open teammates easily, and fed a bunch of cutters), ability to run the floor or his above-the-rim plays (a put-back dunk off an offensive rebound for example, and a couple of terrific blocks). He was also unusually active cutting towards the basket during the first half of the game, which provided him with a couple of easy baskets.

In the end, everything came effortless for Batum. He always transmits a feeling of ease while looking able of taking over almost at will. But that’s the key word, will. We’re going to see more of these performances this season. The question would be… how often?

A Look at… Donatas Motiejunas

One of the most talented youngsters in Europe (only Rubio is ahead of him out of the 89/90 classes), Motiejunas is already getting some burn with Zalgiris in the Baltic League. This weekend, he scored 19 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in the 19 minutes he spent on the floor before being fouled out in the victory against Valmiera.

We’ve seen Motiejunas this season in the Baltic League, but also in the NKL (Lithuanian second division) and even a few minutes in the Euroleague. It’s interesting to see how he can eventually reproduce most of what he does in the NKL against superior competition. It doesn’t really come as a big surprise, because given the phenomenal skill-set of his athletic seven footer, it’s quite difficult to stop him when he’s on fire.

Very fluid and coordinated, Motiejunas can deliver some astonishing moves for a long guy as him (actually, it’s rare the game where he doesn’t). He’s a very versatile big man who can shoot with three-point range, and put the ball on the floor with either hand, and who doesn’t avoid mixing it up inside and can skillfully finish around the basket with both hands. He sometimes comes up with guard-esque moves, especially in the NKL, where he enjoys more liberty. For example, we saw him driving the ball on a fast-break and finishing with a perfect right-handed bounce pass behind the back for an assist (he’s a lefty), or attacking his opponents off the dribble to dish the ball to an open teammate showing excellent passing ability.


Playing against stronger competition exposes his physical underdevelopment much more clearly. It’s relative, anyway, as he’s decently strong for a 17-year old kid, and he shows a very nice frame. But anyway. it limits his ability to play in the low post, as he suffers to operate while taking contact with his back to the basket, and also his rebounding ability gets severely shorthanded, as he mighty struggles to keep his position.

On the other hand, he still can exploit his jumper, which he executes with beautiful mechanics, use his quickness against his opponents in off-the-dribble moves, play off the ball to get open looks near the basket, use his spin moves (he displays very good foot work) and jump-hooks whenever it doesn’t require banging his rivals, or take advantage of his length to intimidate his opponents.

However, as great as his potential is, Donatas’ effort doesn’t always seem equally intense. It goes a bit beyond the typical inconsistency of a youngster like him; sometimes he gets too comfortable and confident, forgetting to put in effort and stay focused on the game. It’s interesting to note, for example, how he was very willing on defense in his first BBL appearance, but in later games, his intensity struggles eventually came up.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Hot

Tadija Dragicevic’s statistical efforts were useless this past week, as his team lost both games. Red Star was surprised at home in the ULEB Cup by CEZ Nymburk, while Dragicevic had 15 points and 4 rebounds. He improved dramatically in the Adriatic League, going for a 29-point, 7-rebound performance, but again his team fell defeated at home, this time against Hemofarm. Anyway, Dragicevic currently leads the Balkan competition both in scoring and efficiency ranking, which speaks volumes for his consistency when it comes to getting production on the court.

Goran Dragic achieved a season high this past week, scoring 22 points to go along with 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals as Union Olimpija gave some serious opposition to the Italian powerhouse Montepaschi Siena. Dragic has scored in double digits in the last 9 games combined, Euroleague and Adriatic League.

Carlos Suárez came to rescue for MMT Estudiantes with a 26-point performance that helped his team finally put an end to their 10-game losing streak. However, they are still at the bottom of the ACB ladder, which is a catastrophe for a historic team in the Spanish League such as Estudiantes. Suárez, whose progression in the last couple of years seems to be going slower than expected, has explained to that his slow season start was due to ”a knee injury that still wasn’t completely healed, and a lack of confidence from my coach…”. But he’s optimistic now: I’ve overcome my physical problems and I’m recovering my confidence at all levels”.

Ante Tomic is growing in consistency as the season advances. He has scored in double digits in the last 11 games he played in the Adriatic League. This past weekend, he scored 17 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out 3 assists against Split, although it wasn’t enough for his team to get away with the victory.

State of the Prospect: Who’s Not

Coming off a disappointing one-year Spanish adventure (he was loaned to Unicaja Málaga), Vilmantas Dilys is back with Zalgiris, and after some weeks getting burn in the first team, he’s playing now with the second squad in the NKL, the Lithuanian second division. A very weak competition, he’s averaging there 9.37 points and 5 rebounds in 25 minutes. But it gets a lot uglier when you check the last three-game clip, as he was only able to average 0.7 points and 1.3 rebounds in 19 minutes of playing time, always as a starter.

Quite a gifted player given his 6-9 (or taller) body, combined with solid athleticism at the small forward position, plus some natural talent to play this game, Dilys has always lacked consistency in his game. He’s as able to deliver fantastic offensive outbursts as he is capable of going completely unnoticed on the floor. As it has been usual in the last years, he’s a player who lacks fire and intensity. More particularly, I think we can confidently label him as soft.

It’s quite depressing to watch him going against younger guys and still settling for jumpers and fade-away moves, always trying to avoid contact, instead of attacking the rim or looking for good options near the basket to cash in off his superb length. Although quite in love with his own shot, Dilys still hasn’t been able to gain enough consistency to live off his perimeter stroke, so his whole game heavily depends on a very unreliable weapon. Indeed, it’s not surprising to see that he shoots more often from the three-point line than from inside the arc (he combines for a very poor 38.5% from the field); neither is his pathetic average of 0.5 free-throws attempted per game, which speak volumes about his aggressiveness playing the game. And it doesn’t get much better on defense, where he’s easily outhustled.

At this point, it’s pretty hard to expect anything out of him anymore for very high competition, although he’s a talented guy and there’s always the possibility of a turning point.

Rounding Up…

Fenerbahce needed help inside after Semih Erden had fallen injured in the previous week’s Euroleague game against Partizan (apparently, it’s nothing too serious), and the choice was obvious. Loaned in Alpella, a sort of farm team for Fenerbahce, Omer Asik had not only been delivering an excellent season in the Turkish League, ranking second in rebounds (with 11.3 per game) and first in blocks (2.2), but he had led his team to victory over Fenerbahce itself several weeks ago, and comes fresh off a huge win over Efes Pilsen with a dominating performance.

With those credentials, Asik made his debut with Fenerbahce against Real Madrid in the Euroleague this past week. It was an introductory game for him, still not fully synchronized with his teammates. As expected, his team lost the game, and he ended up with 7 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists in 16 minutes, which is not a bad start.

Asik certainly has the tools to make things happen. Looking pretty much like a seven-footer, he showcases an excellent physical profile, with long arms, very good frame and already notable strength. Not greatly athletic, he delivers good mobility, running the court very well and even daring to attack his opponents off the dribble. He twice tried to drive by the baseline with his right hand, and he finished the first attempt with an improbable one-handed reverse dunk. It was quite a shocking move, because when he decided to jump and extend his arm towards the basket, he was very close to the baseline and didn’t enjoy the best angle to attack the rim. At best, he looked to be going for a complicated reverse layup. But he used his great length and a decent leap to unexpectedly throw it down. Rather impressive.

There weren’t many more highlights. Asik showed good court awareness, moving nicely without the ball and throwing a couple of solid passes that ended up with assists. He’s a guy who seems to understand the game. In line with his percentages playing for Alpella, he looked pretty inconsistent from the free-throw line. On defense, he had trouble battling Lazaros Papadopoulos in the low post, not being able to deal with his spins and moves. However, he shows nice shot-blocking potential thanks to his length and decent ability to get off the floor.

A late bloomer, just a year and a few months ago Asik was warming the bench for the Turkish U-20 National Team. He was just another big guy with apparently nothing much to offer then. Now he’s a very productive player with the chance to showcase his game at the premier basketball stage in the Old Continent, the Euroleague. He’s automatically eligible for the upcoming draft, and we have to take him into account.

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