2009 U-20 European Championship Review: Guards

2009 U-20 European Championship Review: Guards
Sep 17, 2009, 06:45 pm
Nico Van den Bogaerd

Four of the sixteen present teams really stood out above the rest. Champion Greece, finalist France, bronze medalist Spain and Lithuania (5th place). The Baltic team however got surprised by Italy in the quarter final. As far as pure talent is concerned, this tournament offered us a fair share of players of whom you can expect to consolidate a nice future on the European continent. However obvious NBA talent was very scarce.

Starting now with a summary of the top players.

EDWIN JACKSON, Shooting Guard, 6’3”, France, 1989
16 PPG; 3.3 RPG; 1.4 APG

Although top-scoring for his team with 16 ppg, his performance was still somewhat inconsistent. He exploded offensively in three games, twice reaching 24 points and even scoring 32 in the gold medal game, which his team lost. Apart from these standout showings, he delivered several other solid games. It is fair to say that this French team had several other scoring alternatives and the plays weren’t set up for one specific go-to-guy. Overall he obtained excellent percentages (57% 2FG’s, 46% 3FG’s and 87% FT’s) due to his usual good shot selection.

Jackson has quite a strong frame, enjoys good athleticism and decent quickness. He’s also a pretty reliable ball-handler who can slash to the basket. However his game lives and dies with his jump shot. Able to create his own shot or spot up on the catch and shoot, he has a really nice rhythm on his jumper with great lift. He doesn’t usually create much for his teammates, even though he has really good awareness both on offense and defense.

On defense he always gives good intensity and tries to stay in front of his opponent, not getting stuck behind screens too often. Definitely a solid piece in this aspect. Something else still worth mentioning is the fact that he seems to emerge as the vocal leader in huddles.

As a specialist (outside shooter) he may have a remote chance of making the NBA, however his future may look more promising for Europe, where he could play at the highest level in due time.

ANTOINE DIOT, PG/SG, 6’3”, France, 1989
11.7 PPG; 5.9 RPG; 5.2 APG; 2.4 ST/G

A reasonably athletic point guard with a nice frame, good size and speed, who displays great range on his shot and a quick and high release. He’s also able to create his own shots off the dribble, but unlike his teammate Edwin Jackson, he lacks better shot selection, which diminishes his efficiency. Actually during this tournament he took more shots from beyond the arc, and at a slightly higher percentage (44.4%), than 2-point field goals (43.6%). Diot is able to slash and finish successfully at the rim, but mostly stops halfway to shoot. He is also a very good passer, taking advantage of his good court vision and ball handling skills. Nonetheless he doesn’t seem to be able to control the game and organize a decent team offense on a regular basis, as he seems to be playing continuously in overdrive.

Even though he had several strong games, his offensive contribution wasn’t always that consistent. On the other hand he contributed quite consistently in rebounding, catching an average of 6 rebounds per game. As well as dishing out 5 assists per game. Also defensively he’s quite aggressive and intense, as he has decent lateral footspeed and also quick hands going for steals (averaged 2.4 a game).

Diot may have some NBA potential, as big point guards are always en vogue. The way the game is played in the NBA might actually suit better his style of play. He’ll have to deliver at the senior level first, though, playing for Le Mans.

KARLO VRAGOVIC, PG, 6’3”, Croatia, 1989
16 PPG; 2.9 RPG; 2.0 APG

Croatian point guard Karlo Vragovic had a good performance during this championship, including one really excellent game of 30 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals. He has a good frame and nice strength, paired with just average athleticism. He has a pretty nice and quick shooting stroke with 3 point range, and is able to create his own shot off the dribble too. Nevertheless, he’s not the most reliable shooter from long range. He shows good slashing ability beating his man off the dribble with ease, usually finishing strong around the rim, and drawing a fair share of fouls in the process.

Vragovic is also a crafty ball handler with both hands and decent passing skills. Even so, being a decent distributor on the perimeter, he doesn’t have that superior court vision and awareness to throw around exciting passes or create for his teammates on a regular basis. He is a confident player who’s certainly not afraid to take responsibility when it matters most.

On defense he’s not a guy who’ll get you many steals, but he brings very good intensity and is comfortable putting pressure on his opponent. He always tries to stay in front of his man, and has nice footspeed to avoid getting beat.

Vragovic is a player to follow and see how he develops against higher level competition. He’s probably not be an immediate draft prospect, but could have a very nice career in Europe.

BOJAN BOGDANOVIC, SG/SF, 6’7”, Croatia, 1989
17.3 PPG; 5.6 RPG; 2.6 APG

Bojan Bogdanovic made a big impact on his team’s performance here in Rhodes. Even if he had many moments that he was too invisible on the court, he still managed to become the tournament’s third leading scorer. He’s a very versatile wing who can shoot, drive to the basket, handle the ball and play defense.

Bogdanovic shows a strong frame with long arms, but his average athleticism and quickness do limit his possibilities to defend especially on mostly (quicker) shooting guards at the elite level. He does give a good effort on the defensive end, though, and he should be able to guard most small forwards.

Offensively he’s got a variety of ways to score. Usually a quite reliable outside shooter, he shot only 31% from 3-point distance over 9 games here in Greece, although he did compensate for that by netting over half his 2-point attempts.

He shows good shooting range, but was not very successful creating his own shot off the dribble. He slashes pretty well to the basket, making use of a good first step and balance to go by defenders and finish at the rim. Due to his aggressiveness going towards the basket, he draws plenty of fouls, getting to the free throw line 6.5 times per game. When he drives, he certainly doesn’t go blind to score. His court sense and passing is actually more than decent and he often finds his teammates for an easier shot.

The size advantage he often has over his defenders can also be exploited in the post, as he controls also that aspect fundamentally well (turn around jumpers, spin moves,…).
Although he’s not the most agile player, Bojan is a very good ball handler and rebounder respectively. Left or right doesn’t make a difference to dribble the ball up on more than one occasion.

Two question marks did emerge about him during this tournament. One was his high amount of turnovers (4 per game). The other was his mental toughness, at least to prove his value with the elite.

XAVIER RABASEDA, SG/SF, 6’7”, Spain, 1989
15.6 PPG; 2.6 RPG; 1.4 APG; 2.8 ST/G

Spain’s Xavi Rabaseda started off the championship with a boom, scoring 36 points on 75% shooting in his team’s opener. The following games were a lot less impressive, but he did manage several other solid games towards the end of the tournament.

Rabasea shows an athletic and strong body with good legs. He likes to run the fastbreak and does that with good speed. He has very good size for his position, standing 6-7, but does not have great lateral quickness, doing an average job staying in front of most players at his position defensively. He also tends to gamble excessively in the passing lanes. He does show a decent defensive effort and general intensity, for example trying to recover and block a layup after getting beat off the dribble.

On offense his shooting is very streaky. Although he’s got good range, he doesn’t possess a quick release. Creating his own shots facing the basket isn’t quite his thing either, even if he has improved it during the past years. He seems to be a bit more comfortable with turn-around jumpers posting up against often smaller match-ups. He is a pretty decent slasher if he can go to his stronger right hand, and is able to finish with good percentages near the basket. This tournament registered 33% from 3 point distance and almost 60% for his 2-point field goals. He also averaged almost 6 fouls shots per game, a demonstration of his initiative and aggressiveness going towards the rim.

Rabaesa’s ball-handling and passing skills are average, as he lacks great decision-making skills It would be nice to see him step up his game more consistently, as at this point he’s certainly not a guy who leads on the court and takes over a game scoring wise when needed. As a rebounder he doesn’t do a bad job either, particularly when he doesn’t leak out trying to ignite the fast break.

Rabaseda should be able to compete for minutes on a lower to mid-level ACB team sometime in the not too distant future.

DAIRIS BERTANS, SG, 6’3”, Latvia, 1989
16.3 PPG; 2.4 RPG; 1.6 APG

The top scorer and go-to-guy for the Latvian team, Dairis Bertans has a skinny frame with quite long arms. He’s a pretty decent athlete with good quickness and footspeed, but mainly stands out as a scorer who runs the wings well to get free on the perimeter. Once he has the ball, he’s able to either look for a shot (either spotting up or off the dribble) or slash to the basket. He’s also an OK passer who knows how to find his teammates when driving, and also in fastbreak situations.

Bertans’ outside shooting isn’t as reliable as you might expect, which can definitely be caused by his poor shot selection. He connected on only 33.3% of his 3 point shots. Also his free throw percentage definitely needs improvement at 67%. Bertrans does have the ability and confidence to take over a game and respond also in decisive moments. As a ball handler he’s solid too, dribbling up in many occasions and pushing the ball well on the break.

Defensively he’s surely able to do his part and with good intensity and lateral footspeed, able to defend very close-by without fouling or getting surpassed. His awareness on help defense on the other hand is improvable.

With continued development Bertans should be able to forge himself a nice career in Europe, although maybe not at the very highest level.


THOMAS HEURTEL, PG, 6’2”, France, 1989
11 PPG; 2.1 RPG; 3.4 APG

Another French guard with a very important role on this finalist team was Thomas Heurtel. A quite solid ball handler with good passing skills, he was the one in charge of organizing things on offense and controlling the game’s rhythm. He has decent size for his position to go along with decent athleticism, quickness and overall speed. He also shows to be also a more than reasonable shooter, as he sports good range, nice lift and a pretty quick release, enabling him to create his own shot off the dribble too. Sometimes he tends to get carried away with his shot selection, in the many run and gun plays of his team. He can also slash to the basket, making use of a great cross-over to change his rhythm and surpass his defender. And last but not least he’s also very active defensively, intense and aware on the weak side to help.

In a couple of years he’ll probably be a member of the strong senior French National team too. He’s got many tools to become a very good player on the European scene, but may not possess the long-term upside for the NBA.

JANIS STRELNIEKS, Point Guard, 6’3”, Latvia, 1989
14 PPG; 3.4 RPG; 1.9 APG

Latvia’s starting point guard Janis Strelnieks also had an excellent tournament, contributing 14 points per game. He’s quite a solid point guard, not overly athletic, who distributes the ball effectively, feeds the post and usually does a good job managing between the open court and set offenses. His passing, dribbling and ball handling skills are just okay, nothing spectacular, but he certainly knows how to make the most of his skills, also being very confident with his shot. Although he has improved his long range shooting compared to last year’s Under 20 championship (from 20% to 36%), he remains very streaky in that aspect. Not a great slasher, he is able to drive at this level to dish or finish himself. His speed and quickness are average, but he gives a nice effort on both ends of the court.

Although he may not have the physical tools to play at the highest level of basketball, he can still have a very professional nice career.

ZYGIMANTAS JANAVICIUS, PG, 6’4”, Lithuania, 1989
11.2 PPG; 4.9 RPG; 3.4 APG

Lithuanian lefty Zygimantas Janavicius remains a player to follow up on thanks to his very good quickness and speed. Showing a strong frame, Janavicius is an average leaper, but is a pretty skilled ball handler and passer. The main drawback here is the lack of decision making skills and court savvy Janavicius shows. He pushes the ball well on the break and is a very strong slasher, mostly going to his stronger left hand, but he lacks patience and too often drives blindly to the basket. Janavicius registered 3.8 turnovers per game during his 9 games here on the Greek island.

Defensively he is a very reliable piece, looking very intense in man to man settings and pressuring his opponent with good lateral footspeed. He came up with plenty of steals a in this championship (2.3). He also shows a great rebounding mentality, boxing out on the defensive end and collecting a strong 4.9 rebounds per game in turn.

The potential is clearly there, but a few years after we first looked at him, we must begin to ask whether he ever be able to make the most of it? He’ll surely be given the opportunity with the very best Lithuanian teams to show how good he can become.

NIKOLAOS PAPPAS, PG, 6’4”, Greece, 1990
12.8 PPG; 3.2 RPG; 2.3 APG

Pappas was the orchestrator, the man at the helm from the point guard position for Greece. An intelligent player with good court vision, good passing skills and a decent ball handler. He shows good size and okay strength and body control, which he knows how to use to his advantage in the post as well. On the other hand he’s a fairly slow player who is really held back by his lack of athleticism. This and an often low intensity level make him a fairly poor defender, especially on the ball.

On offense he showed acceptable percentages during this tournament. For somebody who’s traditionally not considered a great shooter with his relatively slow mechanics, the 40.6% he shot from the 3 point line are more than decent. Much of that is due to his very good shot selection, and also being part of a strong team where he has no need to force things on his own. Pappas is able to drive to the basket at times, using spin moves to get closer, and always keeping a clear view to assist to his teammates. He’s not a great finisher at the rim though due to his poor leaping ability. He generally moved the ball around pretty well and had a very good performance over the course of the championship.

Certainly not an NBA prospect due to his physical limitations, Pappas can surely forge himself a fine career in Europe, despite being an early bloomer.

ZORAN DRAGIC, SG, 6’4”, Slovenia, 1989
16.3 PPG; 5.0 RPG; 1.2 APG; 2.5 ST/G

The fourth best scorer of the tournament, and the younger brother of Phoenix Sun Goran, with whom he shares several characteristics. Like Goran, he’s left handed and shows good speed and quickness, being very intense on both ends of the court. Although he’s also a decent passer and an acceptable ball handler, he’s much more a slashing scoring guard than a point guard. Dragic is very aggressive going towards the basket, particularly going left. However he commits many errors when he needs to pass on his drives, averaging 3.2 turnovers in 27 minutes.

Although he can create his own shots off the dribble, his outside shooting is really quite bad, connecting on only 18% from downtown. He often tries to do a bit too much, forcing plays without involving his teammates, and looking much more comfortable in up tempo settings.

Defensively, he’s very active in man to man, putting good pressure and attacking the passing lanes quite well, resulting in 2.5 steals per game. This doesn’t mean he gambles all the time, as he’s actually quite solid on team defense too. Another plus is the fact that he helps out a lot in rebounding.

Dragic probably doesn’t share the NBA upside of his brother, but he should be able to at the very least make a nice living on Slovenia’s better teams.

DIMITRIY KHVOSTOV, PG, 6’2½ ”, Russia, 1989
4.6 PPG; 1.8 RPG; 6.1 APG

Although he did a good job organizing his team’s offense (he led all players with 6.1 assists per game), at this point you come to expect more than 4.6 points per game on very bad percentages (28% 2FG’s, 20% 3FG’s). Furthermore he only shot a total of 3 free throws over 8 games. Summarizing him briefly, he’s still a decent athlete with good quickness and court awareness, a solid ball handler who can easily get by his match-up off the dribbles. Defensively he also shows good intensity.

Khvostov is another very talented Russian player who’s missing that little something extra to take the next step in his development. A lot will depend on how much his shooting advances to make an important quality jump at the senior level. Possibilities for him to work on a bright future in Europe, but over the years he has lost his condition as NBA prospect.

DANIELE SANDRI, SG, 6’4”, Italy, 1990
6.4 PPG; 4.9 RPG; 1.0 APG

This 1990-born Italian was a nice surprise as far as skill level is concerned. Sandri is quite quick with long arms, a skinny frame and good agility. He shows a very nice and balanced shooting stroke with good range and a quick release, and is able to create his own shot off dribble as well. In addition, his ball-handling and passing skills are pretty decent. However he lacks maturity and assertiveness in his performance to standout more and take advantage of his physical tools. On defense he’s active enough with adequate lateral footspeed to stay in front of his opponent. Sandri is someone to follow to see how he develops in the Italian league.

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