There is no tougher league for draft prospects anywhere in the world to participate in, making this an outstanding showcase to see just what these young players are capable of doing on a weekly basis against the cream of the crop that basketball has to offer outside the NBA.
This year there is once again a nice crop of players to follow and evaluate all season long, including two strong candidates for the number one overall pick in the 2006 NBA draft. Multiple potential future first rounders also lurk here, some seeing more playing time than others. Weve attempted to rank and categorize the NBA draft prospects not only by their NBA potential, but also by the amount of minutes and production that can be expected out of them in the 2005/2006 Euroleague season.
1. Andrea Bargnani, 7-0, Power Forward, 1985, Benetton Treviso
Checking in at the number one spot overall we find a player who has shown flashes of outstanding NBA potential over the past few years playing for one of the most respected basketball organizations in the world, Benetton Treviso.
This season, Bargnani has continued to show flashes of brilliance, but has taken himself a step further and begun to produce in a huge way so far in the Italian league. Whether its putting up 25 points in 28 minutes on legendary Dejan Bodiroga and Rome, or scoring 17 points in 19 minutes against the weaker Teramo, all in a matter of a few days, Bargnani has caught the eyes of NBA scouts everywhere and has begun to establish himself as one of the premier talents that Europe has developed in the past few years. The fact that he is producing at such a high rate against stiff competition makes this all the more intriguing considering the way that the NBA is beginning to shy away from drafting European players strictly based on their potential. The scary part of this is that Bargnani has quite a bit of the coveted Vitamin P himself, just turning 20 years old earlier this week.
A more detailed updated scouting report will be published here on DraftExpress soon. The nitty gritty is that Bargnani is a very athletic 7 footer with tremendous abilities on the offensive end, most of which comes into play while he is facing the basket. He can slash to the hoop thanks to his excellent first step and ball-handling abilities, or pull the trigger and score with ease with range well out to the three point line. His man to man defense has been steadily improving, as he shows good instincts in this area as he does in all parts of the game. He will still need to improve his team defense and his rebounding skills, as well as adding bulk on to his rather thin frame, but with the strides he has made over the past few years there is little reason to believe that we wont see that coming into play in the not so distant future.
2. Tiago Splitter, 7-0, Center, 1985, Tau Vitoria
Withdrawing from the draft due to buyout issues last June meant another season for Tiago Splitter to continue to polish his game playing at the highest level of basketball to be found outside the NBA. However, the front-office movements made by his team Tau Vitoria during the summer likely wont help him to better showcase his game. Contrary to what was expected, low post scorer Luis Scola remained on the team, while Tau added another nice scoring big man to the roster in Predrag Drobnjak, who should become an important piece in the teams scheme. This will once again leave little room for Splitter to become anything more than a role player on the offensive end, while chances are we wont see any of the perimeter game he showed with the Brazilian National Team in the summer, including some mid and long range shots and penetrations.
Nevertheless, very few youngsters enjoy the kind of impact on their teams that the Brazilian has been delivering since last year. Lets make it crystal clear: Splitter is one of the top defenders in the Euroleague, regardless of age. He always boosts the defensive level of his team when hes on the court, and Tau will surely take advantage of him during the season. Thats why, despite how talented and loaded the frontcourt might be for his team, Tiago will see meaningful and consistent minutes.
Having a solid draft-stock base due to his size, athletic ability, excellent defensive level and overall intelligence playing the game, the evolution of that stock will basically depend on his offensive development. Despite the limited maneuvering room he will have, he should start displaying some of his low post movements, keep developing the very promising passing game that he showed in the second half of the last season, and especially, work very hard on his finishes above the rim, which are almost non-existent at this point of his career.
Not having the glamorous game or the go-to potential for this season that a guy like Bargnani, for example, enjoys, no other draft prospect playing the Euroleague next season shares the level of consistency that Splitter offers right off the bat. Not by coincidence, his plus/minus stats are excellent, being one of the living examples that basketball is more than scoring points. Hopefully, hell manage to eventually fill that department too.
3. Uros Tripkovic, 6-5, PG/SG, 1986, Partizan Belgrade
Despite playing only his first senior season as an 18 year old rookie last year, Uros Tripkovic made a wonderful impression even in as strong of a competition as the Euroleague is. Uros averaged 10.7 points, 1.3 assists and 1.0 steals in 26 minutes per game, while shooting a fairly poor 36% percent from the field.
Partizan parted ways this summer with two veterans and Serbian National team players in Vule Avdalovic and Milan Gurovic, which appears to have made Tripkovic the go-to-guy of their backcourt. Tripkovics summer wasnt exactly ideal, though, as he struggled a bit in the U-20 European Championships and then got injured during training camp of the Serbia & Montenegro National team. His start to the season was slow as expected due to just completed rehabilitation process, failing to reach double figures in the first two Adriatic league games, but showing some signs of life in the last outing by scoring 18 points.
After a great season last year, expectations for this one are even higher, maybe too high for a 19-year old. Tripkovic is expected to be the leader of this team along with their star Dejan Milojevic. Uros is a natural born scorer and can score on his own like no one else his age can in Europe. He has a beautiful jumper featuring a quick release, but he has the tendency to abuse his shot at times, often making bad decisions which result in poor shooting percentages. In the future he will need to find more of a balance between shooting and slashing as he has all the right tools (a very good first step, decent handles) to be a dangerous penetrator. Tripkovic excels on the offensive end, but on the other side of the floor is a different story, despite the fact that he has good potential here too. Uros was somewhat of a defensive liability for Partizan last season, struggling to stay in front of his opponent and often risking his defensive position to come up with a steal. Like most European prospects, Uros must work on his strength, being thin as a rail currently.
Tripkovic is among the NBA draft prospects who will see one of the biggest roles in this Euroleague, although on one of the weakest teams, but dont be surprised to see his name on the list of leading scorers on any given week.
4. Marco Belinelli, 6-5, SG, 1986, Climamio Bologna
This could very well be an extremely important year for Marco Belinelli to establish himself as a consistent player amongst the European elite, in spite of his youth. He already had an excellent season ending in the last campaign, becoming a meaningful contributor for Climamio Bolognas Italian title after Italian National Team guard Gianmarco Pozzecco was sent away and former New York Knicks 2nd round pick Milos Vujanic got injured.
In the aftermath, the summer was cruel for Bolognas backcourt, kissing goodbye to Milos Vujanic, Gianluca Basile, Ruben Douglas and Gianmarco Pozzecco. Climamio answered back by signing the likes of Sani Becirovic, Nate Green and Kiwame Garris, quite good players indeed, but globally considered, not at the same level of those who left the team. This means that an excellent opportunity has arisen for Belinelli to continue to gain prominence on his team.
The current season couldnt have started better, with Marco earning MVP honors in the Italian Supercup after leading his team to another title. He has gained a lot of confidence in the last year, and now enjoys starting status with consistent playing time. Coach Repesa trusts him, which is well reflected by the fact that hes usually on the court in the last minutes of every game.
Belinelli has developed into a useful player on both ends of the floor. Hes a smart guy who understands the game and usually makes good decisions. When it comes to scoring, he settles mostly for jumpers, showing his good off the dribble mechanics. Hes a very good slasher too, and this is a department where he could try to get more production from this season. Solid on defense, Belinelli enjoys the athleticism and size to get the job done, although he still needs to bulk up.
All in all, Belinelli enjoys most of the characteristics you look for in a shooting guard, perfectly filling the bill in terms of his potential physical set and athleticism, and displaying the skills and feel for the game that ultimately might make one of the better European scoring wings out of him, as well as real NBA material. For the moment, and particularly early on this season, its already possible to see some glimpses of being a go-to scorer in him.
5. Marko Tomas, 6-8, SG/SF, 1985, Real Madrid
Marko Tomas made a big step in his career by signing with Spanish Champions Real Madrid prior to this season. Tomas has never played on a level like this before and will probably take some time to adjust to his new team, role and their system. So far he hasnt come up with any extremely impressive stats during his campaign with Real Madrid, but coach Bozidar Maljkovic is showing trust in him by keeping him on the floor for around 20 minutes per game.
Tomas was a superstar for mediocre KK Zagreb team last season, while now he will be a role player in a Spanish powerhouse. It will be a great chance for him to test his skills, most importantly being whether he can create his own shot at this level. Tomas looked somewhat slow with the ball in his hands both during the Eurobasket and in the first few games with Real Madrid, but is slowly improving in this department as he learns how to get his shot off at this level. Marko has earned his playing time with good defense and rebounding so far more than with his offensive game.
With Mous Sonko, Igor Rakocevic, Louis Bullock and Mickael Gelabale on his team, Tomas probably wont see much more then 15-20 minutes per game on most nights even when he does settle in completely, but this should be more then enough for him to keep improving his game. Due to his average athletic ability, Tomas might not be the sexiest prospect around, but with good play and effort he could secure himself a spot in the first round thanks to the polished skills that he does bring to the table, mainly his perimeter stroke. Tomas reportedly has a huge buyout included in his contract, so dont expect him to make much noise as far as next years draft goes. He is most likely more of a candidate for the 2007 draft, where he will be automatically eligible.
6. Damir Markota, 6-11, SF/PF, 1985, Cibona Zagreb
Damir Markota already has two Euroleague seasons of experience under his belt, but this one is going to be the first one in which he will likely play an important role. Markota has a great opportunity to land the starting power forward role for Cibona Zagreb and will certainly average 20 minutes or more per session, after averaging 3.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per contest last season.
Markota is coming off a very good summer, leading the U-20 European Championships in both scoring and rebounding before being called up to join the Croatian National team training camp. He certainly benefited from training with NBA players such as Mario Kasun, Gordan Giricek and Zoran Planinic. The preseason and first game of the Adriatic league were also impressive for Cibona, but Damir then slowed down a bit and failed to reach double digits in the next three consecutive games.
First and foremost, Markotas attitude appears to be much improved just like his confidence. There are only a few power forwards in Europe who can match up with Damirs speed. Naturally, he is an excellent player to have in transition along with being a very good shooter, but will have to prove that he can be a serious threat in the low post too. His lower body strength looks better then last year, but he still lacks strength in the upper body and his frame isnt exactly encouraging. Markota will need to continue to work on his ball-handling skills, as he has all the tools to be an effective slasher with his quick first step.
Markota could be a serious candidate for the Euroleague rising star award, depending on how many touches he gets offensively. As we said a few times already these past few months, this could be a breakout season for Markota, but well have to wait and see how he takes advantage of the opportunities that are in front of him.
7. Kosta Perovic, 7-2, Center, 1985, Partizan Belgrade
At 20-years of age, Kosta Perovic is the most experienced player on this list with three seasons of Euroleague action under his belt with two of them coming as the starting center for Partizan Belgrade. Naturally, Perovic will seek improve over last seasons somewhat disappointing 9 point and 5 rebound average.
Perovic will have to work hard this season to shed himself the soft label that he has been tagged with. Generally speaking, his defensive effort is along with his unimpressive athleticism his two biggest question marks. And while he cant do much about his footspeed and explosiveness, he should certainly learn how to box-out better and make more of an impact defensively in the paint as a player with his size is expected to do.
Offensively he is much more advanced, but his scoring averages have plenty to do with his teammate and Adriatic league dominator Dejan Milojevic, who is double-teamed on a regular basis leaving Perovic with plenty of space to roam. One of his best weapons is his mid-range jumper, while his back to the basket game is still a work in progress. He crashes the offensive glass significantly better than the defensive one and gets his fair share of points off of put-backs.
His role as the starting center for his team is not being threatened at the moment as his primary backup is talented youngster Nikola Pekovic. Here should be mentioned that Pekovic won a spot in the rotation against Macedonian Peja Samardziski, who was considered a legitimate draft prospect by some not too long ago.
While Kostas future doesnt look as bright as it did just a couple of years ago, he has still enough potential left to earn himself a spot in the draft someday based on his imposing size and offensive skill. He will have to improve on the aforementioned areas, but also on his attitude and aggressiveness which is often not as good as might be desired.
With that said, Perovic will be one of better youngsters in the Euroleague this season production wise, likely reaching double digits on a regular basis, while his team will be expected to struggle for the most part just like they did last year.
8. Luigi Datome, 6-9, SF, 1987, Montepaschi Siena
The 17 year old Datome has already been an early pleasant surprise in the Italian league so far, and that surprise could be very well translated into the Euroleague. Playing for such a demanding team as Montepaschi Siena, that seems to have renewed its roster very successfully, and under the guidance of coach Carlo Recalcati, well-known for his preference towards veterans, few people expected a player as young as Luigi to spend as much meaningful time on the court as he has so far, while displaying very nice performances in the meantime. However, the surprise is relative considering that hes one the most mature players out of the 1987 international crop.
Datome can take advantage of the ability that Montepaschi shows opening the court and creating spaces with four open players, prolific cuts, slashing situations and excellent ball movement. In this environment, he gets a fair share of open looks to put in practice his rather reliable static three-point shot, his productive mid-range jumper off the dribble, or just his nice athleticism attacking the rim. Luigi is looking rather comfortable on the court, taking part in his teams offense, not rushing things too much and waiting for good options. His teammates dont hesitate when it comes to giving him the ball because they know he will take care of it.
On the negative side, a true small forward like him is getting a little bit exposed on the defensive end. In Europe is very common to see both wing positions covered with shooting guards, or at least, players with limited size. Thats creating troubles for Datome, whose lateral defensive quickness hampers him from keeping up with the mobility of the many smaller threes. However, hes young enough to still gain that extra explosiveness he needs to become effective here. On the other hand, he shows a good attitude and doesnt feel intimidated by his rivals.
Montepaschi has enjoyed an easy season start in the Italian Lega, mercilessly rolling over its rivals, which has favored Datomes chances of seeing consistent minutes of playing time. If the circumstances change, the story might be very different. Despite his very good start to the season, its rather clear that the winning chances of Siena this year arent in his hands.
9. Panagiotis Vasilopoulos, 6-8, SF, 1984, Olympiakos
Vasilopoulos is coming off a great summer, after winning the Silver Medal in the U-21 World Championships and the Gold in the mens Eurobasket, as the Senior national teams last player off the bench. This year, he got a free transfer from PAOK to Euroleague team Olympiakos, looking forward to both playing time and experience in the Euroleague.
He is a smart, athletic and hardworking small forward, who has played plenty of power forward PAOK and can now use his ability to play an inside-outside game in a potentially dangerous team that Olympiakos coach Jonas Kazlauskas has brought together. Vassilopoulos is a defensive-oriented player, with strong, quick legs and nice leaping ability, which allows him to be a nice shotblocker for his position. Indeed, he was one of the top-10 shotblockers in the Greek league over the past two seasons. He is a fine rebounder and can come up with pretty decent stats line, being more team-oriented than your average youngster, even if this isn't always absolutely necessary for someone with his skills.
Offensively, he has a nice touch and can score tough baskets in crucial situations, showing his leadership ability. He is a player who can carry a team, but only when needed. He can give his team the necessary maturity and won't take shots which are not needed at any time of the game. Overall, his game, although steady, it is the game of a role-player and he has not shown star status during his young career.
Overall, he is a fine player, with great skills, energy and explosiveness. Given that he will stay in the court for a long time, he will mature quickly enough, even at the Euroleague level. Right now, despite his limited scoring mentality, he is probably the best NBA prospect coming out of Greece and this will be his last chance to get drafted as an automatically eligible prospect, meaning he should be highly motivated for the upcoming task. A second stage of qualification will help him mature even more rapidly and will allow him some chances to show his talent and steadiness in the more competitive top-16 round.
10. Yotam Halperin, 6-4, PG/SG, 1984, Olimpia Ljubljana
Halperin appears to have made the right decision this summer by choosing to leave Euroleague champions Maccabi Tel Aviv for Slovenian Union Olimpija. Halperin played for Maccabi for the last 4 seasons, but mostly in the Israeli league against weaker competition. In the Euroleague he rested Lithuanian superstar Sarunas Jasikevicius for short spells at times, but mostly warmed the bench. Coming to Ljubljana, Halperin instantly become one of Olimpijas leading players and is enjoying a wonderful start to the season so far by averaging 19 points and 3 assists per game in his first five Adriatic league contests.
Although playing more like a scoring guard at 6-4, Halperin has the skills of a legitimate PG. His speed is not remarkable, but is more then enough to get by most of defenders using his very nice ball-handling skills. What makes him even more dangerous offensively is his sweet jumpshot, though. He has a high and fast release and doesnt take long to set his feet. Although he possesses good court vision, he is not a much of a distributor, because he prefers to play in one-on-one isolation plays. Defense is where Yotam struggles the most, often being beat by opponents off the dribble. His lateral movement seems average at best and its highly questionable whether he can contain NBA PGs. However, his high IQ and good reflexes enable him to get a few steals per night.
Halperin usually comes of the bench as an offensive boost for Olimpija, playing mostly at the off-guard position. However, in their last game Olimpija played without starting PG Teemu Rannikko, so Halperin needed to step up and take playmaking responsibilities on his shoulders. While he displayed his wonderful offensive game by scoring 28 points, he struggled when it comes to distributing the ball and involving his teammates in the game. Olimpija never got going with him at the point, which highlights one of the biggest concerns regarding his NBA potential, as he doesnt have great height nor athleticism to play as a shooting guard in the NBA.
By all standards, though, Halperin should be one of the emerging stars of this Euroleague season and therefore might earn himself a 2nd round selection as he is automatically eligible for the NBA draft in June as a 1984 born prospect.