Alexis Ajinca, 7-1, Forward, France, 5/6/1988
9 points, 4 rebounds 1 steal, 1 block, 4 turnovers, 3/5 FG
During the week in practice, Ajinca looked great at times and horrible during other stretches. In the first couple of practices, he used his length and athleticism inside while throwing down multiple jaw-dropping dunks. With his back to the basket, he struggled with both ball-handling and footwork, but he can make a soft, high arching hook shot when given a little bit of space.
In the practices later in the week, it was often a battle for Ajinca when it came to catching the ball in the paint, and he clearly struggled trying to dribble next to smaller players in the paint. He seemed to become less confident as the week went along, despite some amazing flashes that few people on this planet are physically capable of.
The game on Saturday further emphasized Ajincas position as a raw project with a great deal of potential. He missed an open look at a three off a pick and roll early in the game, and followed it up by losing the ball out of bounds on a spin move. A flash-cut inside led to a lay-up finish, plus a free throw for the French big man, but that was followed by a turnover when he decided to handle the ball in transition. Ajinca did show his explosive athletic ability on a pick and roll play, where he dunked the ball with authority over Patrick Patterson.
At this point in time, Ajinca appears to be more comfortable playing while facing the basket. He would much rather shoot the three pointer than bang inside, and his hook-shot remains more of a face-up type move since he lacks the footwork to use it in the post. When asked what position hed like to play in the NBA, Ajinca mentioned that he sees himself as a 3 or 4. If he develops his body, he could become a match-up nightmare at the 5 if you allow him face the basket against slower centers. In regards to playing the 3, there is currently no player in the NBA who plays the small forward position at 7 feet tall or larger, as that just isnt feasible from a defensive standpoint.
From watching the practices and the game, it is obvious to conclude that Ajinca needs more time in Europe to develop his body and translate his natural ability to in-game situations. We can only hope he discovered the American buffet line during his time spent in Memphis, because any bulk will help at this point in time. The development of Alexis Ajinca is certainly worth following, and the potential payoff of some well invested time with the Frenchman could be huge.
Solomon Alabi, 7-0, Center, Nigeria (Florida State)
5 points, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, 1/8 FG, 3/4 FT
As practice began, it was easy to notice Alabis potential due to size and athleticism alone. In addition to his height and length, the Nigerian also has a great body for a high schooler as well as freakish vertical leaping ability. As the practices began, it was clear that he will likely take advantage of those features to become a great shot blocker someday. He already shows good instincts in this area, and this will only improve as he becomes more accustomed to help rotations on the defensive end.
Offensively, Alabi displayed a very nice hook shot with his right hand during the first practice, but he used the shot less and less as the week progressed. He instead decided to rely on a face-up jumper the rest of the week, a move that worked ok in some of the practices, but didnt translate to the game.
In the game, Alabi displayed his explosive leaping ability with an aggressive dunk inside, but otherwise struggled throughout the game trying to find his jump shot. He managed to gain 4 free throw attempts by playing inside, but seemed content turning and shooting the rest of the game. Defensively, Alabi displayed his potential as a shot blocker with a rejection on Kevin Love. During the 14 minutes of playing time, he managed to block 3 shots, while showing good leaping ability and anticipation.
Overall, Solomon Alabi remains a raw big man, but with very good potential. He must improve his left hand on the offensive end, as well as develop footwork on the low block. At Florida State, his shot blocking will be noticed from the day he puts on his uniform, but the number of years he goes to college will totally depend on his rate of development on the other end of the floor.
Nihad Djedovic, 6-6, Shooting Guard, Bosnia, 1/12/1990
1 point, 2 rebounds, 0/6 FG, 1/2 FT
From the day he stepped onto the practice court at the FedEx Forum, it was clear that Djedovic can be labeled a sniper on the offensive end. He was lights out from 3 in many of the practices, using good elevation and a consistent stroke to knock down the long range shots. For a 17 year old, he has a pretty good fundamental understanding of how to move off screens in order to create the space for an open look.
The biggest problem for Djedovic was noticeable from the first World Select team scrimmage. As a young player, he has very little understanding of how to score within the flow of the game. Rather than waiting for an open look, Djedovic will often force up a long range shot when he becomes impatient with the offense. In addition, the Bosnian has good footwork going to the basket, but seems to be average in terms of his first step and ball-handling skills.
In the game, Djedovic struggled to get any of his looks to fall, and appeared to be bothered by the athleticism fielded by Team USA. The first time he touched the ball, he made a nice move to his left and stepped through a double team, but the ball rolled off the edge of the rim. Later on, he repeated this same move and was able to draw contact and get to the free throw line. During the rest of the game, Djedovic tried to play the shooter role, but his shot just wasnt falling.
A few weakness will limit the potential of Djedovic at this point, though he has plenty of time to work on his game before thinking about the NBA. From a standstill, he cannot create his own shot, instead needing space and a good pass to be able to make a slashing move. As a shooter, Djedovic appears to change his form when closely guarded, but this weakness may correct itself as he becomes more accustomed to playing against athletic players in real game situations. Defense also limits the upside of Djedovic, who struggles to stay with quicker guards on the perimeter.
As the youngest player to get significant minutes in the game, Nihad Djedovic looks like he could potentially make the NBA as a shooting specialist down the road. He must spend the next few years gaining experience against top-level European competition (like he already is right now) as well as working on shot selection and defense.
Emir Preldzic, 6-9, Forward, Slovenia, 9/6/1987
7 points, 3 assists, 2 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 2/6 FG,1/4 3PFG, 2/2FT
Off the dribble, Preldzic has the ability to get to the basket when going right, but struggles to finish when forced to go against more athletic players. He generally likes to use his off arm to create extra space, which leads to a good number of offensive foul calls against the Slovenian forward. When attempting to go left, he seems to lack both the ball-handling and finishing ability necessary to reach the rim.
In scrimmage situations, Preldzic showed a nice feel for the game, on both ends of the floor. A lot of younger players forced the issue on the court, but for Emir Preldzic, basketball seems to come easy. Defensively, he struggled to stay with Nicolas Batum one on one, but he played help defense with great effort and fundamentals.
Preldzic spent much of the game on Saturday on the bench while struggling with his perimeter shot during the time spent on the floor. His first two points of the game were scored at the basket, where he managed to slip into the open spot in the paint. From behind the three point line, most of the looks Preldzic received were guarded catch and shoot opportunities. On the one occasion he tried to shoot the long range shot off the dribble, but his accuracy seemed to suffer even more.
Overall, Preldzic has the toughness and basketball IQ you like to see in a young player, but his streaky shooting and skinny frame have to raise some concerns. As the second oldest prospect on this years international team, Preldzic could potentially attempt to test his NBA draft stock next year before he becomes automatically eligible in 2009. At this point, Emir Preldzic seems like the type of player an NBA team would take in the late second round and leave in Europe for some years (maybe all) of development, but hes been a bit of a late bloomer, so well need to see what kind of trajectory his career heads in from this point on.
Aleksandar Ugrinoski, 6-3, Point Guard, Croatia, 5/7/1988
2 assists, 2 turnovers, 10 minutes
As a scorer, Ugrinoski can make some crafty finishes near the basket, but has the tendency to drive recklessly into traffic. To best utilize his abilities into the paint, developing some type of mid-range move, like a floater or pull-up jumper would go a long way. It appears that the proper mechanics are in place for Ugrinoski to become a threat from behind the three point line, but consistency was his main problem in this area throughout the week.
In the Saturday game, Ugrinoski only logged 10 minutes of playing time, and didnt receive the chance to contribute as a scorer. He made a nice read off the pick and roll for one of his assists, but this was really the only play he created throughout the game. On a transition play, Ugrinoski made a poor pass, resulting in one of his two turnovers in 10 minutes of playing time.
Aleksandar Ugrinoski has some nice tools to work with physically in addition to raw slashing abilities. Further experience running a team in Europe will help him develop more into a floor general. It is much too early at this point to start talking NBA for Ugrinoski, but the proper developmental path could certainly place him on the radar of NBA decision makers a few years down the road.
Chen Jianghua, 6-2, Guard, China, 3/21/1989
0 points, 1 rebound, 2 turnovers, 9 minutes
Physically, Chen possesses good quickness and well developed leg muscles, though his upper body is physically weak. The quickness off the dribble allows him to get to the basket with success, but his lack of strength limits his ability to finish inside. In the practices, he displayed very nice shooting form, though he usually only shoots when hes open. To become an effective shooter when contested, the Chinese guard must learn to elevate higher.
Jianghua appears to be more of a scoring guard than a point guard right now, and he lacks the point guard instincts that would compliment his quickness so well. During the practices, he did make a few nice dump-off passes on the way to the basket, but these were few and far between over the course of the week.
During his 9 minutes of playing time, Chen really struggled with the speed of the game. The two passes he attempted were both intercepted by the more athletic defenders on Team USA. Offensively, he took a baseline jumper that nearly went in, and a reverse lay-up from under the basket that rolled off the front of the rim.
Though Chen Jianghua struggled throughout his entire week in Memphis, he arrived from China without any rest after the conclusion of his season, and the attempted adjustment to a new language, lifestyle, and style of play must have been difficult. Chen has the quickness and shooting ability to become a good player down the road, but further development of point guard abilities will need to be a key area of emphasis.
Ryan Richards, 6-10, Power Forward/Center, London, 4/19/1991
1 rebound, 0 points, 0/2 FG, 3 minutes
Throughout the week in practice, Richards displayed a fantastic set of all-around skills for a 15 year old. On the perimeter, he handles the ball comfortably, and can shoot the jumper all the way out to 17 feet. On the low block, Richards has footwork advanced far beyond his years. Though the lefty finishes well with his strong hand on the low block, he rarely makes on moves to the right side of the basket.
Physically, Richards already has the size for a low post player in the NBA and will likely shoot up at least a few more inches in the 4 years before he becomes eligible for the draft. The big man from London also has an excellent frame for a 15 year-old, and will likely develop more strength and athleticism in the coming years.
Though his only playing time was an afterthought to the game, Richards logged 3 minutes, becoming the youngest player ever to participate in the annual game. After making his way onto the floor, he missed a spot-up jumper and followed it up with a missed jump hook from the left block on the ensuing possession.
Richards currently plays with Gran Canaria in Spain, which will be a nice place for him to develop in the coming years. He already has the size and natural ability to become a very good basketball player. If he continues his current rate of development, Ryan Richards has the makings of a potential lottery pick in the distant future.