Nicolas Batum, 68, Small Forward, France, 12/14/1988
23 points, 4 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 assist, 9/13 FG, 3/5 3PFG, 2/2 FT
Throughout the week, he displayed flashes of great all-around potential, but rarely put it together for an extended period of time. When watching Batum practice, defense was clearly where he stood out the most. Good size, length, and athleticism in combination with excellent fundamentals make him a potential lockdown defender at the small forward position in the NBA.
Offensively, Batum displayed good potential in many different areas, but was fairly passive in looking for his own shot during the practices. From behind the three point line, he shoots with questionable mechanics, but still appears to be a formidable threat out to the international line. Off the dribble, the left hand is another area that must improve. During the practices, he turned the ball over a number of times driving to the left while finishing many looks on the left side of the basket with his right hand. The low post could become another area for Batum to score from. He already made some nice moves with smaller defenders on his back throughout the week, and this could become an effective tool against smaller 3s in the NBA.
In the game, Batum proved to be much more assertive on the offense end than anybody expected. Early on, he banked in a three pointer from the perimeter, but followed it up with a turnover trying to post up against Jared Bayless on the block. Two of the more impressive happenings on the offensive end came with under 3 minutes remaining in the first half. First, Batum drove left to the basket and dunked powerfully with two hands over Patrick Patterson. Less than a minute later, a fast break opportunity led to another impressive dunk for the Frenchman.
The second half continued with Batum showing more promise as a scorer. A jumper from 17 feet on an isolation play opened the scoring for him in the second half, followed by a put-back dunk about 40 seconds later. After missing a 3-point jumper from the corner, he hustled down the loose ball, making an athletic save before stepping back in bounds and knocking down the second attempt from the corner for three pointer.
Late in the third, Batum picked up his fourth personal foul, which really hurt the international teams chances of winning the game. Physical defense caused the foul trouble, and it led to a lot of time on the bench for him. The fourth quarter scoring for Batum didnt start until there were only a few minutes left in the game, and by then Team USA had already put the game out of reach.
Offensively, Batum used his athleticism as an advantage in addition to showing some nice raw polish. His beautiful pull-up mid-range jumper looks NBA caliber and appears to be an effective tool for him at this point, and he knocked down a few three pointers in the game (though one was banked in as he was falling backwards). He opted not to slash to the basket more than twice, instead settling for points in transition as well as the jumpers.
Overall, Nicolas Batum could become a starting small forward in the NBA in the future. His defensive capabilities combined with his outstanding athleticism and mid-range potential give him the edge on many small forward prospects in the draft this year. Batum has a chance at landing in the lottery this year, and also has the option of pulling out and trying again next year if he doesnt receive a promise in the lottery. It will be very important for Batum to find the right situation for himself as far as coaching and playing time goes. At this point in his career, he cant afford to spend 2-3 years toiling on the bench.
Petteri Koponen, 6-4, Point Guard, Finland, 4/13/1988
7 points, 6 assists, 2 steals, 1 turnover, 2/4 FG, 1/3 3PFG, 2/2 FT
During the practices, Koponen ran the World Select team like a veteran while making great reads out of the half court offense. Great awareness in terms of knowing where the defenders are as well as what the offensive players were doing within the offense allowed him to run the team like he had been playing with the group for a period longer than a handful of days.
When scoring in the practices, Koponen relied mostly on his ability to knock down three pointers with nice consistency. In addition to a high release point, he also elevates well when shooting the perimeter shot. Though he doesnt look for his own offense unless other options have been exhausted, Koponen can hit the three pointer on the move or on an open kick-out with his feet set.
After his great play throughout the practices, the final concern surrounding Koponen related to his ability to play against the pressure defense of more athletic players. He had no problem operating against Aleksandar Ugrinoski and Chen Jianghua throughout the week, but its a whole new task to play against guys like Derrick Rose and O.J. Mayo.
Statistically, the 6 assists and 1 turnover were the most important numbers for Koponen, but his impact on the court went far beyond the numbers. The young point guard ran the pick and roll like a veteran, making many great reads and showing the awareness to find the open cutter nearly every time. On the pick and roll, Koponen had picked up the instinctual tendencies of his teammates on the offensive end after only a week of practices. During one possession, he was running a pick and roll with his back facing the right sideline when the man guarding Nicolas Batum ran over from the blindside to steal the ball. Showing great awareness, Koponen spun and threw the ball simultaneously right before the help defender arrived, hitting Batum who took the ball to the hoop for an easy two points.
The young point guard rarely looked for his own offense in the game, choosing to play the distributor role instead. Early on in the game, Koponen received an outlet pass and took the ball all the way in transition for an easy two points. This basket ended up being his sole points inside the paint during the entire game. From behind the three point line, he only made one of his three attempts throughout the game, despite the fact that he can usually knock the three down at a better rate. The three he did make came on a high pick and roll, where Koponen found the bottom of the net from a couple feet behind the NBA three point line. On his other two attempts, one was forced up quickly at the end of the shot clock, and the other nearly went in from NBA range.
The athleticism of Team USA didnt seem to bother Koponen at all, and he looked pretty quick himself throughout the game. Against the press, Koponen took it coast to coast twice, finishing inside the first time and drawing a foul the second. In the half court, he only made on ill-advised drive in the lane, choosing to be patient working within the offense throughout the rest of the game.
Throughout the week, Koponen proved he has a future in the NBA. He proved to have quickness and athleticism to play the American game, and his command of the pick and roll offense is extremely mature for a teenager. In addition to great size for a point guard, he also shows great composure and developed shooting ability. Petteri Koponen may potentially declare this season, but could possibly boost his stock with a year against top level European competition. Either way, he can enter and pull out before the deadline if he doesnt receive the feedback hes looking for this season.
Omri Casspi, 6-8, Small Forward, Israel, 6/22/1988
14 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block, 4/9 FG, 6/9FT
Throughout the week in practice, there were many great flashes of potential from Casspi in various aspects of the game. Despite his poor shooting mechanics, he knocked down some NBA range three pointers during the week, with a number of them coming in the two scrimmages. His consistency in this area will need to improve, and an adjustment to his form and release would help greatly.
Casspi possesses the athleticism to play the American game, and he made a number of creative slashing moves through the week to prove that. The ability to finish with either hand in traffic helps in this area, as does the good vertical leaping ability and the way he can take contact in the air. To further advance his game in this area, he will need to improve his creativity around the hoop.
An important area of Casspis game goes unnoticed unless you have the opportunity to see him in person. Throughout the practices this week, he was the vocal leader on the floor, offering encouragement and guidance to his teammates, especially the ones who struggled to grasp the English language. When there was a mismatch on the floor or when his team needed a pick me up, Casspi was sure to announce it to his team. The coach for the World Select team named him captain of the team because of the leadership he displayed throughout the week.
In the game, Omri Casspi had the best individual stretch of any player during one particularly impressive sequence. After the international team started slow, Casspi provided a much needed burst of energy. With around 5 minutes remaining in the second quarter and the world team down 40-13, he used an isolation drive to the hoop to draw a foul on Kevin Love. On the next world team possession he took the ball to the basket in transition for a surprising dunk on Patrick Patterson. Casspi made his way back down the floor to play defense, and then stole the ball, taking it coast to coast and finishing with a reverse dunk. This stretch by the young Israeli boosted the international team beyond their slow start, and gave them the spark needed to eventually cut the lead to 10.
The rest of the game led to a few more nice flashes for Casspi, but nothing that stood out like his run in the second quarter. In transition, he dribbled the length of the floor and made a nice spin move away from the defender before stepping towards the basket and drawing a foul. He also made a nice floater from about 8 feet on a baseline drive.
Defensively, Casspi will need work on his positioning, though he plays with great effort. He has the tendency to overplay the ball too often, which makes it easier for quicker players to get past him.
At this point, there is a small chance Casspi could enter his name in the draft, but he would surely withdraw it without a promise. He has the potential to be a good all-around small forward in the NBA, but improvements to his shooting and defense will be necessary before this happens. Another year of progress in Israel could do wonders for developing Omri Casspis game.
Nemanja Aleksandrov, 6-11, Power Forward, Serbia, 4/10/1987
14 points, 14 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 assist, 6/14 FG, 0/2 3PFG, 2/2 FT
During the practices, Aleksandrov sat out the first few days or so due to an unnamed injury. When he first suited up, he shot around the entire practice and took place in one non-contact drill. The first practice he participated in was Thursday, and it quickly became obvious that the knee surgery had taken some athletic ability from Aleksandrov. He struggled to get up and down the floor, and showed very little desire to play in the paint during the practices. While the surgery may have limited him as a player, he can still knock down the open three with great success.
In the game, Aleksandrov struggled to find his shooting stroke, especially while contested. His shooting stroke might be off right now in game situations considering he has logged very few minutes of legitimate playing time over the past 2 years. Inside, he did make a few nice moves out of the post, including a move where he spun towards the baseline and finished on the opposite side of the hoop. The problem here for Aleksandrov is the lack of athleticism in combination with soft play. These weaknesses were totally exposed on a face-up move to the basket, where Michael Beasley emphatically sent his lay-up back the other direction. The move to the basket was nice, but Aleksandrov lacked the lift to come close to finishing it.
The big positive for Aleksandrov in the game came on the glass, where he grabbed 14 rebounds over the course of the game. Two of the rebounds on the offensive end led to a pair of really nice put-backs in the paint. Though he has the tendency for soft play, the 6-11 forward uses his body well on the glass, and seems much less apprehensive towards taking contact in this area.
Aleksandrov seems to be a long way from playing in the NBA right now. The best thing for him would be to find a situation in Europe where he receives enough minutes to polish his skills during in-game situations. The lack of athleticism hurts, and if no progress is made to gain some of it back, it really may cripple the future of Nemanja Aleksandrov in the NBA.