Part two of our Euroleague Stock focuses in on the prospects who seen their stock rise in the first seven games of the season so far. Andrea Bargnani headlines this pack, with fellow Italian Marco Belinelli not far behind.
For an introduction to the NBA draft prospects participating in this competition, including their strengths, weaknesses and the preseason expectations, please read our comprehensive introduction to the Euroleague.
See part one of our Euroleague Stock Watch to read about the prospects who have seen their stock drop or remain stable in the first half of the opening Euroleague round.
Read all about the Euroleague, comb through the stats and find interviews with many of these players at the official website, Euroleague.net
Andrea Bargnani, 7-0, Power Forward, 1985, Benetton Treviso
He's improving in many facets of his game, but if there's one word that sums it all up, it would be confidence. His contribution to Benetton's cause is increasing week by week, and he's firmly establishing himself as one of the most important parts of a strong team (currently tied for second in group A). When he's on the court, he's not afraid of taking shots or slashing to the hoop when he has to, but still doesn't force the issue and lets the game flow to him.
His stats are impressive regardless, especially in the Italian league, where even though he comes off the bench and plays just 20 minutes per game, he's the second best scorer on his team and 4th overall in the league in points-per-minute. He shoots with fantastic percentages, both from inside and out, gets a decent amount of rebounds and is the #1 shot-blocker in the league.
In the Euroleague his stats are not as good, but they're affected by a slow start in his first games, while in the past few weeks he's starting to show what he can do even against strong competition.
Going beyond the numbers, he has many qualities that are exactly what NBA scouts crave. As you can read in his scouting report, despite being a 7-footer he's very quick and coordinated, his first step is superb for a big man, and hes generally a very good athlete for his size with a nice vertical leap.
In addition to these intriguing physical attributes, his game is already well refined, as he can shoot from anywhere on the floor--featuring a very high and quick release--and can put the ball on the floor and beat most big men off the dribble thanks to his very nice ball-handling skills, finishing with improving strength in traffic or shooting with great touch from mid-range. Defensively, he plays hard and uses his good foot-speed to guard smaller players, and goes up for blocks with good timing.
The main issue about him is how his game translates to the NBA. He's quick, but probably not enough to be a small forward, and he still misses the strength and a solid back-to-the-basket game to play in the paint, although this might not be a huge concern since he seems to have the frame to bulk up in the future. Right now, he still suffers a bit on the glass, but bulking could help solve some of his problems here. He has not had that many problems guarding both smaller players and big men so far this season, although in the NBA it would be harder for him because of the superior athleticism that most players display. His court vision and passing skills seem not to be in line with his basketball IQ, as they are just average.
The fact is, in the past years many of the young European players that came to the US were big guys with good perimeter skills, but not strong enough to play under the basket, and that resulted in failure for them, and for the teams that drafted them. What might put Bargnani in better shape is the fact that he waited to declare and stayed in Treviso until he got significant playing time, giving himself the needed time to grow as a player and as a man, without the pressure that comes along with being a lottery pick. Benetton is a strong team in Europe, but it's pretty famous for developing young talent. His game, although not fully developed yet, is already light years ahead of Tskitishvili at the time the Georgian was drafted by the Nuggets, and as the season goes on, it can only improve. Right now it looks like Bargnani will almost surely declare and should be a lock for the high lottery pick in June.
Marco Belinelli, 6-5, SG, 1986, Climamio Bologna
Most of his points come from behind the arc, usually set-shots that he earns by moving well without the ball, often making himself available for his team in the right place at the right time. His shooting mechanics with his feet set are very quick, and he punishes the defense if he's left with even just a little open space. His shooting range (which easily extends beyond NBA distance) and accuracy have been astonishing so far, hitting over 50% of his shots from beyond the 3-point line, attempting around 6 shots per game (while playing 26 minutes per game). In addition to this, his man-to-man defense is still very good, as he's always focused, very athletic for a European shooting guard and has good size and long arms. He can guard 3 positions effectively at this level, even though he still suffers a bit guarding smaller and quicker point guards.
But even in as good a season as this, there's still room for improvement. While his shooting has been outstanding, it seems like that the rest of his offensive game is not being used properly, as he has the ball-handling skills, first step and improved upper body strength to be an effective slasher as well, instead of just waiting outside for 3-pointers. Also, while his accuracy shooting with his feet set is amazing, his ability to hit shots off the dribble or off-balance coming off screens does not appear at the same level right now, although he hasnt attempted enough of these to get a comfortable read. Finally, even if his ball-handling and passing skills are good for a shooting guard, he's probably not ready for consistently being played as a point guard, as was projected some time ago. Then again, we're talking about a player born in 1986, so his game can and probably will evolve to improve his weaknesses in the future, as he still has a considerable upside.
If Belinelli continues to play like one of the best shooting
guards in Europe (regardless of age), he'll almost certainly be a 1st rounder in the 2006 NBA Draft, but there are still doubts on whether he's willing to declare or not. His contract situation is not 100% clear and he has said in the past that he wants to come to the NBA as an established player. Therefore, due to his young age, he could wait until 2007.
Damir Markota, 6-11, SF/PF, 1985, Cibona Zagreb
Markota has been red-hot from downtown, hitting more than half of his three-point attempts (even nailing 10 in a row at one point). His mechanics look smoother than last year, but there is definitely room for improvement. Still, the most important thing is that he can get it off even when an opponent is guarding him closely thanks to his size and leaping ability, and also of course the fact that it goes in more than not. His off the ball movement is very good and this helps him in this area as well. Markota is also a gifted passer with very nice court vision, but sometimes risks too much here which leads to an increased number of turnovers. Speaking of offense, he leaves a lot to be desired in terms of slashing. He can take his man off the dribble occasionally thanks to a very good first step, but his ball-handling skills prevent him from doing so more consistently. In general, he needs to develop more of an in-between game, as he hardly takes any shots from mid-range.
His post game is probably the worst part of the package; looking helpless even when trying to post up smaller opponents to take advantage of his size. He has a nice hook shot and is able to release it when he gets good position in the post, which is not often due to his lack of strength.
Defensively he has been rock solid, showing good effort and footwork to stay in front of his man, while being very active as a help defender. Defense is the biggest reason why he is getting consistent playing time, unlike last year.
Markota needs to improve his rebounding skills as his potential is this department is good. He gets off the floor very quickly and has a nice vertical leap, but often doesnt position himself well and lacks a bit of length. Its the same story with his shot-blocking, where hes below average when you consider his athletic ability. He bites on too many pump fakes and needs to improve his timing.
One of the biggest concerns regarding Markota in the past was his attitude, and he seems to have improved and finally appears to be fully concentrated on basketball.
Markota still has a ways to go with his development, but being able to produce at the Euroleague level the way he has at his age has to mean something. There are some serious holes in his games, but you must like his potential. Being a 6-11, athletic shooter with solid defensive ability should him right in the mix for the first round this June.
Luigi Datome, 6-9, SF, 1987, Montepaschi Siena
It's interesting how Datome, who has a 'workhorse' reputation and seems very mature for his age, is successfully completing the transition into becoming a small forward, improving in all the required facets of his game. His shot is yet not consistent enough, but he seems to have a soft touch and in the future could become a capable threat from the perimeter. His release has become quicker, too. Datomes court vision and basketball IQ are good as well, as he seems to know what to do in most situations and displays decent passing skills.
His athleticism is excellent, running the floor like a deer, and showing a very good first step and an impressive vertical leap. His body still hasn't fully developed though; he's still skinny and can get outmuscled by stronger opponents. He also needs to improve his ball-handling skills in order to take better advantage of his physical tools to beat his man off the dribble.
On the defensive end, he has all the tools to become a defensive stopper at the 3 spot, but is lacking experience. Right now he tries hard, but needs to stay more focused and still suffers a bit when the game gets physical.
It is still too early to start thinking about an American future for him, as he's still a project. He's well ahead in the process of becoming a small forward compared to former Italian draft prospect Stefano Mancinelli at the same age, and he could very well have NBA potential. Time will tell, since we're talking about a player born in 1987...
Yotam Halperin, 6-4, PG/SG, 1984, Olimpia Ljubljana
While production-wise Halperin has been one of if not the most impressive youngster in the Euroleague so far, draft-wise it doesnt look as good. While he certainly helped his case with some astonishing Euroleague games (the best-one coming against Climamio), it remains clear that his potential might be limited to Europe.
He started the season as a backup PG, but the coach quickly moved him to the shooting guard position when it became clear that he couldnt run the team effectively. Halperin has instead displayed awesome scoring ability, thanks to a nice combination of shooting and slashing skills, which makes him very hard to guard. He has a very good jump-shot with a very smooth and quick release, also showing the ability to catch and shoot from static positions. He can get into the lane as he has very good ball-handling skills along with decent quickness.
Yotam has a skill-set of a point guard, showing very good passing skills, but what makes you question his ability to play the point at the NBA level are his defensive instincts. His lateral quickness is not good enough to keep up with faster PGs even on the European level so far. Since the arrival of a new coach--defensive minded Zmago Sagadin, Halperin showed improvement foremost in his attitude and has proved to be capable of at least defending the shooting guard position.
Besides his defensive shortcomings that hamper his NBA potential as a 6-4 combo guard, Halperin has also shown poor decision making skills running his team. He over-handles the ball sometimes, making the offensive stagnant and looking for his own shoot excessively. Halperin has a very advanced skill-set, but it remains to be seen if he has enough size and athleticism to get a contract in the NBA league someday. As a 1984 prospect he is automatically eligible for the 2006 draft and its possible that someone might give him a shot in the late second round in order to hold on to his rights in hope that his point guard skills improve down the road.
Paulius Jankunas, 6-8, power forward, 1984, Zalgiris Kaunas
Being no rookie at this level, Jankunas was expected to become a more important part of Zalgiris this season. He surpassed all expectations very quickly. Tanoka Beard, the main pivot of Zalgiris frontcourt, got injured at the start of the Euroleague season, so it was Jankunas and Darjus Lavrinovic who had to hold down the fort by themselves underneath the basket. But even with Beard back, Jankunas role hasnt diminished as he has proved to be a player who can be trusted even in the most decisive situations.
Carrying not only the great shape from the national teams this past summer, but some nagging little injuries as well, Jankunas confirmed that at 21 hes already a proven player for this level. Hes a lefty that uses his body perfectly in the low post to find opportunities to score even versus taller opponents. Not being athletic enough doesnt stop Jankunas in the Euroleague as he uses his head in every situation and is hardly called a youngster by anyone. Hes young just looking at his birthdate, while on the court he shows veteran skills and maturity. His work ethic is one of the main reasons for this. The newest product of it is extending his range as now Jankunas (even if his midrange release is quite slow) is terrorizing even from beyond the arc, which combined with his decent slashing skills make him hard to contain. On defense, Jankunas doesnt lose a step playing in the Euroleague. For example Tiago Splitter couldnt do anything vs. Jankunas, despite being 4 inches shorter.
Unfortunately, lacking a few inches combined with being fairly limited athletically makes Jankunas not very interesting for NBA scouts. With such a season in the making Paulius might hear his name called at the end of the 2nd round, but his future seems to be set as a Euroleague star.
Jonas Maciulis, 6-6, small forward, 1985, Zalgiris Kaunas
Thats because the word neutral is exactly the opposite of how Maciulis can be described . He brings fiery play for every second hes on the court and it only took one game for him to make himself a fan favorite in Kaunas. It couldnt be any other way when after entering your very first game you make a steal and come up with an enormous offensive rebound just 5 seconds into your career.
However, looking beyond the sentimental value of his play, the biggest problem for Maciulis is his lack of a position. His body, legs and arms are very strong all muscle we could say. He should be perfect for the power forward position, but his height and frame make him a natural wing, so he gets stuck in between. His coach is also stuck on it and uses him on occasions as a SF or goes with a smaller lineup with Maciulis at PF. Being strong and having such a relentless attitude, Jonas can sometimes hold his own even versus frontcourt players in Europe, but it would be unimaginable to think about him going up against stronger NBA power forwards. Maciulis doesnt play much on the wing either. He can hit an occasional triple, but hes much more comfortable under the basket. He doesnt receive many opportunities yet in offense, but hes such a warrior that grabbing offensive rebounds and putting it in is nothing new for him. He always brings a spark to his teams defense and obviously the opposite player hates to have such a nuisance on him. Being a player who refuses to back down, foul trouble is very often a concern for Maciulis. On the contrary his free throw shooting needs improvement on the other end. Concerning the NBA the door is closes not only because of his tweener status, but also because Jonas himself has said that the NBA style of play doesnt interest him and he cant imagine himself there.