U-18 European Championship Prospects: Point Guards

U-18 European Championship Prospects: Point Guards
Sep 11, 2006, 11:32 am
Pictures courtesy of FIBA Europe. For more information on the competition, please visit the official website.

If not featuring the very most intriguing prospects, the point guard position probably delivered the largest amount of interesting players in these championships. It especially deserves to be mentioned the splendid 1989-born generation, a year where, for the moment, point guards seem to be en vogue.

Zygimantas Janavicius
Lithuania, PG, 6-3, 02/20/1989; 12.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.3 apg


Janavicius was the best point guard in the championship, being rightfully rewarded with a spot in the all-tournament team. A first-year junior, he led Lithuania to the final with an impressive display, especially for a kid as young as him. Last year, in the European U-16 Championships, he had already shined playing on a very talented team that made it to the semifinals, and he has managed to reproduce that leading role, even improving it, while playing against older guys. He has certainly made nice strides in the last year.

The basics of Janavicius’ game revolves around splitting defenses and dishing the ball to his teammates. In this fashion, he ended up as the clear-cut assist leader in the tournament, although he eventually might have forced a bit too much looking for a way to the basket. Still, in general he has succeeded setting the tempo of the game, running when needed, sharing the ball, and showing good criteria.

The Lithuanian point guard enjoys a nice physical profile. He has good size for his position, nice strength considering his age and not a bad frame, while his body still shows some decent potential to keep developing. Janavicius is a quick player, with some explosiveness, not a superb leaper or a tremendous athlete, but with the tools to potentially hold on in top competition.

A very good ball-handler, he can consistently beat his matchups using either hand, showing nice footwork and body control while quickly slashing towards the basket. Very left-handed when it comes to finishing around the rim, Janavicius barely uses his right unless he’s fully open, which sometimes causes him troubles when he faces opposition going by his right and hasn’t found anybody to send the ball to. That’s usually his first option (definitely when he goes to his right), to pass the ball to some open mate taking advantage of the defensive moves that his penetrations cause. He’s well aware of the situation of his teammates, feeding equally well somebody in the paint or another one on the three-point line, even on the weak side.

Shooting is another realistic option. He’s pretty good coming off the dribble from the mid-range area, where he looks rather smooth and comfortable transforming his quickness into his left-handed jumper. He’s also reliable from three-point land, where he can also fire off the dribble. All in all, he shows good mechanics, not awfully quick, but neither slow.

On defense, he’s a solid guy, with nice lateral movement, who keeps his hands active on help defense to steal balls.

His talent and excellent performance, as well as the lack of a reliable replacement off the bench, made him indispensable on court for Lithuania. The semifinal against Turkey was good proof, as after being fouled out still with a few minutes left in the clock, Lithuania started burning a wealthy lead playing totally out of control, and risking a game that they had virtually won.

Antoine Diot
France, PG, 6-4, 01/17/1989; 10.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.1 apg


Perhaps Diot didn’t deliver the most impressive performance in this tournament, especially considering his imperial showing last year in the U-16 stage, but we should never forget that he has been, not simply the starting point guard of France, but also the heart and soul, the true floor general of the champion. As Janavicius, we should also take into account that the guy is a first-year junior. The only game he didn’t play resulted in an embarrassing loss against… Iceland. Enough said.

Antoine Diot is mostly about physical gifts and mental toughness. He enjoys a terrific -also rather mature- body for a point guard. He has very nice size and strength, but still keeps a long frame, not being that much of a bulky guy despite his rather developed body. He’s also quite athletic, a quick guy who loves to run the court. That combination of quickness and strength has been really hard to stop in the tournament.

Run, keep running, and after that, run again. With an athletic and deep roster, that has been the credo for France in these championships, and it’s been perfectly executed by Diot. He’s a playmaker who feels more comfortable in transition play, pushing the ball tempo, looking for easy baskets with the defense still not properly set. It comes extremely natural for him; whenever the ball comes to him, he decides in a blink of an eye whether to start running or to throw a long pass to some teammate already at the other end of the court. In motion, Diot is extremely hard to stop, because of his excellent ball-handling with his right hand (improvable with his left), quickness, body control and his own strength. He shows nice decision making here; he usually can finish himself easily given his physical gifts, but he can also dish the ball effectively.

Things change in the set offense. Diot is not the best distributor around, although he does a decent job trying to create good scoring options for his team. He can penetrate, usually going right, using a good first step and quickness in the drive, to dish the ball or finish himself. Again, he’s a decent passer in these situations, but not great, as he’s not automatic finding the best open man at the exact moment, but he usually comes up with a nice solution. He can finish near the rim with his right hand, while he doesn’t feel comfortable at all using his left. He sometimes relies on running shots or elevated layups against opposition, but he usually tries to take advantage of his explosiveness to get the job done.

Shooting is an area where Diot shows some remarkable skills, but where there’s room for improvement too. It especially deserves mentioning how he can release his jumper against opposition, in off-the-dribble fashion, with surprising accuracy (considering how complicated this play is) behind the arc. However, his reliability doesn’t grow as much as desired when he’s fully open. He tends to get unbalanced while executing his jumper in the air, somehow as he does in the aforementioned off-the-dribble shots.

Diot does an excellent job on the defensive glass, smart smelling where the rebounding opportunity might be, but also alert and active to actually get them. If Diot gets the rebound, it usually means an easier release of the fastbreak. Stealing balls was usually another great way for him to help his team to run, but in these championships he was surprisingly less prolific. Of course, he’s facing now older and better competition, but he has looked perhaps a bit less active on the defensive end.

We can say that, unlike Janavicius, Diot has suffered the change of categories coming from the U-16 championships last summer. He doesn’t have the same physical superiority and sometimes has struggled in certain areas. But his leadership and impressive winning character has been always there (and likely will always be there).

Alexey Shved
Russia, PG/SG, 6-5, 12/16/1988; 13.6 ppg (51% 3P), 2.3 rpg, 2 apg, 1.4 spg


Considering the circumstances that Shved faced in this championship, we can say that he fared really well. Which circumstances? Basically, the poor coaching Russia had during the tournament (they didn’t look a team, but a bunch of stars playing friendly games) and the fact that he barely could play point guard because of the presence of a talented and more natural playmaker such as Dimitriy Khvostov (which seems logical) but also Andrei Mateyunas, a very limited player, both in present level and potential, unexplainably took his minutes at the point. Therefore, little we can say about his ability to run the team as a point guard. For more information on this regard, check this article.

Still, he showed some excellent stuff to keep the audience very intrigued about him. It all really starts with his magnificent physical set and solid athleticism. At 6-5, he’s a very tall point guard, but, and it’s important to stress this, with the quickness of a smaller player. Not only is he big by his height, but also because of his nice wingspan. His body looks skinny, not really weak, but still underdeveloped, which comes to add even more intrigue. After all, he’s a guy born in December, so almost one year younger than most players in the championship.

When it comes to producing offensively, he has particularly shined slashing towards the basket and shooting the ball from three-point land. A very good ball handler, his quickness makes him really difficult to keep him out of the paint, being able to perform remarkable direction changes at full speed, while he shows a nice ability to finish around the basket. His perimeter accuracy has been impressive, but he doesn’t look like a true shooter. Most of his production came from open shots where he had time to release them. Regarding passing the ball, his shooting guard role limited him to dish the ball off penetrations, which he does quite well.

With excellent tools to play defense, he could have used a bit more intensity, but it also went with the team dynamic. He has nice lateral movement and reads the passing lanes pretty well.

All in all, Shved looks like arguably the best point guard prospect for the NBA at the junior stage in Europe. Probably other guys are safer bets, especially for Europe, but his potential is not matched among his peers.

Dogus Balbay
Turkey, PG, 6-0, 01/21/1989; 6.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.3 apg, 2.9 spg


After what Balbay showed in Mannheim early this year, these championships perhaps come as a big of a disappointment. He hasn’t been able to keep some certain consistency in his game, highly contributing to Turkey’s struggles all along the tournament, even if they finished in an excellent fourth final position. Still, being a first-year guy, it’s completely understandable. Next year, it will be the time to be more demanding with him.

The most outstanding characteristics of Balbay come from his amazing legs, probably the best in the tournament. He’s remarkably athletic, which he exhibits both in quickness and leaping ability, and extremely reactive. He gets on a regular basis to places where you don’t expect him to get. He has also a terrific motor, staying active every single second he spends on the court. Physically-speaking, the biggest knock on him is the size. Although he seems to have grown a little bit from last summer, perhaps one inch, he’s still around six feet; he’s a relatively small guy, but extremely well built. Balbay shows excellent shoulders and a tough and ripped slim body. All in all, the combination of athleticism and physical set is not bad at all. He just needs the skills to go along with it. Does he have them?

Yes and no.

Balbay is a terrific slasher. It’s actually his go-to move on the offensive end. He’s an excellent ball-handler, and using his quickness, it’s quite easy for him to get by his defender. He can easily change gears and directions, being electric and rather unpredictable, delivering some impressive reverse moves at great speed. Then, his athleticism allows him to finish from high in the air, even using his body to gain space and deliver a layup. The guy enjoys an excellent hang time, which he uses, and abuses, on a regular basis. Balbay takes many decisions in the air, perhaps too many. He has that time advantage over his defenders to decide, but instead of using it as another resource to successfully sort out some complicated situations, he relies on it excessively. However, he gets a fair amount of good passes off the dribble, showing nice court vision.

For a small guy like him, the most glaring hole in his game might be his perimeter shooting, really poor for the guard standards. He has limited range, showing bad accuracy behind the arc. However, his shooting form does not look that bad. There’s certainly room for improvement there. A good defender, Balbay displays excellent lateral quickness and terrific activity, getting a high number of steals reading passing lines.

For Balbay, it’s a matter of gaining maturity and spreading his array of skills. He has some impressive characteristics that few guys share in the international scene.

Aleksandar Ugrinoski
Croatia, PG, 6-4, 05/07/1988; 7.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.3 apg


As we have reported in our chronicles from Greece, Ugrinoski was probably the biggest disappointment at the tournament. We have hardly seen any kind of improvement in his game from what he showed last year. Not only that, he has showed less flair, less spark, less passion on court, less intrigue.

Of course, he’s still the same talented guy, a skilled playmaker with terrific passing ability. I don’t think any single player seen in this tournament can dish the ball better off slashing situations. His court vision is really good, keeping very well track of where his teammates are. He might lack a bit of explosiveness, but has nice handles and ability to change directions in order to step into the lane, while he can deliver some decent running shots near the basket to finish himself.

His shooting does look a bit improved, despite the poor percentages, showing more reliability from the perimeter whenever he was open than he had last summer. But he’s not a scoring type of point guard. On defense, he hasn’t delivered much effort, just in tune with the rest of his game.

This was the year that Ugrinoski was supposed to take great responsibilities in Croatia’s game, but he misses some leadership abilities. He’s not a vocal leader, and he doesn’t manage to push his team on court. Point guards are usually key players leading their teams into good dynamics; Ugrinoski hasn’t looked capable. There’s no continuity in his game. It’s really concerning that this team fared batter without him in Mannheim than it did in these championships. He’s reportedly a bit of a head case, and that’s difficult to counter.

Gal Mekel
Israel, PG, 6-4, 03/04/1988; 17.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.5 spg


One of the very few happy stories in the disappointing Israeli team, Mekel emerged as the team co-leader alongside Omri Casspi. We’re basically talking about a scoring point guard here, even if the limited talent of his squad probably forced him to assume a bigger chunk of the offensive load than he would had enjoyed in other circumstances.

Mekel is gifted with a pretty nice physical profile. He has terrific size for his position, and already shows good strength in a well-built body. In terms of athleticism, he comfortably fills the bill, although he falls short any kind of outstanding category.

Where Mekel feels more comfortable is driving to the basket, whether to finish near the rim or to release a mid-range jumper off the dribble. That’s pretty much a pattern in his game. He enjoys good ball-handling skills, a nice first step, footwork and the strength to easily operate in these youth stages. His shooting mechanics look fluid and natural from the mid-range area, but tend to become a bit awkward as he gets further from the basket. His three-point shooting apparently lacks solid mechanics, as he sometimes relies too much on the impulse of his right arm.

He doesn’t really stand out as a game distributor. You can see him delivering good passes, especially off the drive, but it’s not a consistent effort. Besides, he sometimes comes up with streaky decision making, particularly forcing his shot selection. All in all, Mekel hasn’t been able to completely make up for the lack of smarts that the Israeli backcourt showed in the tournament.

Mekel is a player to keep under the radar. He has a nice combination of physical tools and skills that, properly developed, might result into something interesting.

Dimitriy Khvostov
Russia, PG, 6-3, 08/21/1989; 7.9 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.5 apg


Our last feature coming from the 1989 excellent playmaking class, Khvostov is a talented player who already had left some drops of his remarkable skill set last year in the European U-16 Championships. But he’s also a poster boy for the attitude of the Russian team, playing with (what appeared to be) not much commitment for the winning cause.

Khvostov is more of a classic playmaker than most of the previous guys mentioned. He can really pass the ball in various situations, showing very nice court vision. A good ball-handler, he also has good quickness to beat his man off the dribble. One of his classic moves is shooting off the dribble from the mid-range area, but he can also dish the ball taking advantage of split defenses. He’s a pretty nice shooter with three point range. Also a good performer in pick and roll situations, Khvostov can really play off the dribble.

Still immature physically, Khvostov is a skinny guy who needs to add some strength to his body. However, he has the right size for the position and solid, albeit not great, athleticism; he’s not a high-flyer, but he’s a fluid guy.

Khvostov sometimes looks a bit cocky, but it’s clear that he certainly has talent. Still, to get to the top level, he will need to use a lot more effort on court. Anyway, for a first-year junior, he hasn’t fared that bad. Next year, he will be expected to become the go-to player in this team, and he will need to show some more leadership skills.

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