Player of the Week: Yi Jianlian
However, Yi struggled again on defense matching-up against Tang in the first game. Hes just too big and strong for him. Yi cant contain Tang when he bangs in the low post, and neither can he move him if he has position on him. He can only rely on his athleticism and quickness to eventually block his shots. It was a big relief for him when Jason Dixon entered on court in the second quarter to take care of Tang, and it was right when Guangdong started to build a solid scoring lead.
On the offensive end, Yi did a bit of everything. He scored from the low post (once with the jump-hook, while also netting a fade-away turnaround jumper), but not directly against Tang; he hit a couple of excellent mid-rangers from 19 feet; he scored in transition taking advantage of his athleticism; he delivered a couple of superb put-back dunks (particularly impressive was the one-handed one). He wasnt very active in the second half, especially with Terrence Greene handling the ball. Still he managed to score 23 points, also pulling down 14 rebounds, despite not always properly boxing out his opponents.
The second game was a bit of the same story, with Guangdong deciding in the second half (also helped by Tangs foul trouble) to end up with another easy victory. Yi increased his production to 35 points, 13 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks. He combined perimeter (he even netted a three-pointer) and inside scoring, particularly forcing many fouls. His accuracy both from the field (9/13) and the free-throw line (14/15) were remarkable. Its worth mentioning Yis sturdiness from the line, crediting over 80% of his attempts this season, which perfectly reflects his great mid-range stroke.
The third game started in spectacular fashion. The first five possessions were a pure showdown between Yi and Tang. As weve seen all series long, Yi proved to be incapable of stopping Tang in one-on-one situations in the low post as Jiansus center scored two easy layups. Yi was so focused on preventing his opponent from banging him that he couldnt react to his post moves. But on the other hand, he made Tang pay for his glaring lack of defensive mobility, with three consecutive mid-range shots. With better defensive rotations (sometimes Guangdongs defense virtually collapsed on Tang) and again greatly helped by the entrance of Jason Dixon on the court in the second quarter, the Tigers easily found the way for the victory. Yi showed some nice moves in the low post this time, but wasnt successful netting the ball. Still he finished the game with 26 points, 13 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Bayi waits Guangdong in the CBA Finals, and therefore another very interesting match-up for Yi Jianlian: the former NBA player Wang Zhizhi.
Taking a Long Look at
Although listed at 6-11, Duport stands over seven feet (hes reportedly 7-2) and hes a center all the way given both his size and skill set. This brings the first problem about him: physically underdeveloped, hes very skinny and his frame is not the best around for that position. Decently athletic for his size, hes a mobile enough player to fulfill his duties on the court.
Duports offensive game basically revolves around the paint. He plays nicely off the ball, staying quite active in pick-and-roll settings and trying to take advantage of defensive rotations to score easy baskets from the lane. He likes to go for the two-handed dunk; because although his vertical leap is average, his great length makes the job easy for him. Anyway, his first option is usually the low post. Thats where he gets the biggest chunk of his production playing for the Espoirs. With the veterans, even if he does a nice job gaining a position in the low post despite his weak body, hes rarely fed by his teammates. Anyway, his footwork is still poor and his moves mechanical. Still, Romain is unstoppable playing against youngsters, where he can just receive, turn around and shot over his rivals (usually using the glass), even exposing the ball as he takes advantage of a big size differential; he doesnt need jump-hooks or stuff like that. However, when it comes to facing veterans, he does show a decent right-handed jump-hook, and particularly a nice soft touch around the basket, which is extremely useful for a guy like him. On the contrary, he doesnt seem to have any left hand to speak of, and even when hes going left, he releases a right-handed shot.
Thats pretty much it regarding his scoring punch. Duport is not a face-up guy at all. He virtually never puts the ball on the floor if its not to operate in the low post, and its very uncommon to see him shooting with some range. Still, he did knock down a three-pointer in the Espoirs game we saw, while he looks quite reliable from the charity stripe. His mechanics are solid, although he doesnt completely finish the release move, as he leaves his right arm bended and doesnt take fully follow through with his wrist. Also, he seems to enjoy soft hands to catch the ball, but not too strong to keep it in every situation. We havent seen enough of him to evaluate his passing game, although he looks fairly reliable passing the ball out of the post when double-teamed.
On defense, Romain certainly annoys his rivals with his length, but he could be a lot more intimidating. Hes not a very aggressive player, and doesnt get much shot-blocking production. His defensive rotations are often a bit timid, and his lateral mobility questionable. He seems to have the athletic ability, but he doesnt bend his knees enough and isnt intense enough chasing his match-up. However, hes more solid than expected in the low post; he can get outmuscled, but he isnt afraid of contact and hes decently strong on his knees (always considering his limited strength). Things get better in the rebounding department, where Duport uses his length and shows nice timing to jump for the ball. Indeed he has played a grand total of 44 minutes in the LNB and he has managed to grab 16 rebounds.
As a late bloomer and newcomer to first-division basketball, its a bit early to draw conclusions about Duport. He still might make great strides once he gets used to the new level of competition and improves his body strength. Right now hes not that intriguing aplayer draft-wise. First, his thin frame while displaying a pure centers skill set; second, he doesnt look like a great defender in the making; third, hes not that skilled on the offensive end. Therefore, its hard to envision a hypothetical role for him at the top basketball level. However, he might still draw interest in the second round next year just to gamble on his ability to develop both physically and technically.
Nemanja had an inconsistent showing, but left some drops of his talent. Half of his points came from the three-point line, as he scored on back-to-back threes. His team often starts the offense with both bigs offering picks to the point guard on the perimeter, and while Real Madrid focused on stopping the two guys from executing the pick-and-roll play, the other big Aleksandrov both times- was left open for an easy shot. Earlier in the game, he was the guy setting the pick for the playmaker, and received the ball after rolling out to the perimeter, but missed the shot this time even if he looked good on the release. The highlight of the game for him came when he netted a 13 footer, grabbing the ball in the air and releasing his jumper before landing on the floor. Its early to tell, but his stroke might have improved, which wouldnt be surprising, as injured players often take advantage of their down-time to work on their shot.
We could also see Aleksandrov attacking the basket. He tried twice with his left and both times produced, once getting fouled and the other time releasing a long right-handed layup (after changing directions during the drive) where he displayed a very nice touch. Still, he showed an average first step and perhaps a lower degree of explosiveness than prior to his injury. Also, the second after receiving a ball, he tried a complicated assist from the three-point line to the lane that unfortunately wasnt completed; however, it was a nice evidence of his quick decision making.
On defense, he stayed very solid in pick-and-roll situations, containing the ball-handler with quick vertical moves and recovering his match-up with equal quickness. His lateral mobility is very good, and he can consistently stay in front of his match-ups. He didnt look as devoted when it came to contesting perimeter shots in defensive rotations, showing an inconsistent level of intensity. Hes still a bit of a skinny player, and lacks some certain aggressiveness. It becomes obvious in rebounding situations, where he doesnt always tries hard enough boxing out and losses his position against more aggressive opponents.
All in all, hes not a much different player than he was a couple of years ago before the injury, but hes obviously two years older, which makes his case less intriguing. Right now he doesnt look like more than a second-round prospect. He should likely need to become a more dangerous and consistent offensive weapon, or to gain a lot of strength and aggressiveness playing on defense, in order to showcase an intriguing enough package for an NBA team picking in the first round. What seems pretty clear is that he will need at least another year working on his game before he rolls the dice in the draft. For the moment, he has been selected to play the Nike Hoop Summit in early April, a nice chance to regain some of the lost hype with a good performance.
State of the Prospect: Whos Hot
Stanko Barac is enjoying an excellent final run in the Adriatic League. This last weekend Buducnost was too strong for Siroki, but Barac scored 21 points and grabbed 4 rebounds. In the last three games, he has averaged 20.7 points and 6 rebounds in less than 30 minutes of playing time.
Tiago Splitter hasnt slowed down this week. It was another blowout victory for Tau in the Euroleague, this time against Maccabi, and the Brazilian went for 16 points, 6 rebounds and 3 steals. While remaining a defensive stalwart for Tau, Tiago forced several fouls in the low post and delivered from the charity stripe (8/9); actually, he even netted an open mid-range jumper. He fought very well on the offensive glass (4 offensive rebounds), but struggled locking down his own board, where he needs to be more active boxing out his opponents and more aggressive going after the ball with purpose.
Rudy Fernández delivered in one of the toughest weeks for DKV Joventut this season. They had to face two of the three strongest teams in Europe. CSKA Moscow was simply out of reach for Joventut in the Euroleague, and Rudy had to settle for 14 points, but also contributed with 9 rebounds and 3 assists. In the ACB League, Joventut managed to upset Tau Vitoria following Rudys 20 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 steals.
State of the Prospect: Whos Not
Víctor Claver hasnt been able to find playing minutes in Pamesa Valencia this season after earning All-tournament honors in the last U-18 European Championships. He has played a grand total of 34 minutes in the ACB League and hes yet to score a single point. Coach Fotis Katsikaris is not willing to just give away playing time to the young small forward, and he has repeatedly stated that Claver will need to earn his minutes in practice.
It doesnt come as a surprise, though. The ACB League is a difficult setting, and theres a lot of pressure on Pamesa Valencia to make the playoffs (they have already fired a coach this season and are in the midst of the fight for the last two playoff spots). Claver himself is not the most competitive player around; he needs a lot of confidence to perform at a great level, and thats something that will likely take him time to find at the top European level.