Although two of the players featured here, Edwin Jackson and Dairis Bertans, were rightfully rewarded with all-tournament-team honors, you wont find any clear-cut top NBA prospects on this list. The superb streak of small forward projects seen in the 1987 and 1988 classes hasnt found continuity in the 89/90 age groups. Its mostly a collection of promising shooters that should be able to feed the European ranks with firepower for years to come.
1989, SG, 6-3, France; 18.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg
In spite of being the clear-cut scoring leader for France, Jackson failed to emerge as a go-to player. He was not a go-to guy in style: hes not particularly creative, and when he creates, its for himself, even if he fared a bit better in this championship when it came to passing the ball (1.8 assists per game, quite a nice amount for him). He was neither a go-to guy when his team needed him to be, as he usually disappeared down the stretch in the most important games. A good example was the do-or-die thriller against Greece. Despite delivering a terrific scoring performance with 28 points on 12/17 shooting, he provided his last points with three and a half minutes to go in the fourth quarter (actually his only points in the last five minutes of the game). In the end, hes a bit of a role player, a shooter, a scorer, still not a leader, and not a consistent reference on the court.
Focusing on his game, well rely in what we already discussed in the U-19 World Championship reports. But for the sake of providing a brief picture here, well summarize. Hes an undersized shooting guard, quite strong, athletic, with very good legs, who primarily lives off his jumper. Pretty much a pure finisher, he can deliver his jumper off the dribble (using crossovers to unbalance his defender), off screens, in spot-up fashion, almost in any way he can figure out. He has a great ability to balance himself in the air for the release. Pretty one-dimensional, he can slash towards the basket and isnt afraid of contact, but its not a pattern in his game. Solid on defense, hes not your typical scorer that only plays on one side of the court.
In the end, a guy with his shooting touch and solid athleticism should find himself a place in the basketball elite.
1989, SG, 6-3, Latvia; 17.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg
Long armed, still skinny but nicely built, Bertans stayed very active and aggressive playing off the dribble. He showed very nice ball-handling skills to attack his match-ups, ability to change direction and gears, usually looking for the pass or the mid-range jumper. Dairis is a very nice shooter, solid from behind the arc and able to knock down complicated off-the-dribble attempts. Still he often overdid himself, abusing his ball-handling skills and taking bad shots, which ultimately affected his percentages (also decimated by the scarce amount of short range attempts at the basket) but still it worked pretty well for his team, as he drew a lot of attention from opposing defenses and opened spaces for his teammates. A decent passer from the wing, he found his teammates on drive and dish plays on a regular basis. He also contributed on defense, using his quick legs to stay in front of his match-up and help on team rotations.
His potential is obviously limited by his lack of size. Hes neither very imposing physically, and while his athleticism is nice, were not talking about an athletic freak. Summarizing, he basically looks like a prospect for Europe.
1989, SF, 6-8, Russia; 9.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg
His conditions to play the game are awesome. Hes a big guy at 6-8 with very solid athleticism and an excellent frame, precisely in the mold of so many Russian small forwards over the last years. Hes a guy with a pretty complete package, although all his tools seem fairly raw. He can shoot the ball with range and in off-the-dribble fashion, but hes very streaky. He can attack his match-ups putting the ball on the floor and going both ways, but he still needs to be more aggressive in his attempts. He can finish around the rim with both hands. He displays the abilities of a perimeter player, but played a lot of power forward in the tournament, which didnt help him. Shashkov is not much of a post player, where he doesnt show reliable footwork, unless he goes for the turnaround jumper. Also, hes not a great off-the-ball player, sometimes staying too static. Hes quick enough on defense to match-up against perimeter guys, while hes also a bit too soft to keep up with big men. He can come up with spectacular stuff relying on his length and athleticism, such as dunks or blocks, but those are just isolated reflections of his potential.
Shashkov needs time, work and probably an improved mentality. He has the tools, he seems to understand the game, and just needs to put everything together. Few guys in this tournament enjoy his potential, but its very questionable whether he will be able to fulfill it.
1990, SG, 6-4, Bulgaria; 23.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg
Although an undersized shooting guard (hes 6-4 at best), and not a great athlete, Zahariev is a very smooth shooter, gifted with a silky stroke. He can release his jumper off the dribble, with fade-away moves, coming off a cut, in catch-and-shoot fashion-- hes always extremely fluid in the release. A solid ball-handler, hes not particularly prolific attacking the rim, although he can go both ways and finish with a variety of lay-ups and even floaters; still he prefers to settle for mid-range shots once he manages to unbalance his opponent. However, hes not a dominant ball-handler; he also works off the ball, cutting and searching for open looks.
Zahariev doesnt seem to enjoy superb potential given his physical profile. Although hes physically underdeveloped and might grow a little, the final result is not expected to look very NBA friendly. However, given his scoring prowess, he might emerge into a very interesting player for the European scene down the road. Born in 1990, next year he should challenge for the best scorer title in the next edition of this U-18 championship. Euroleague Champions Panathinaikos must have been paying attention, as they already purchased his rights just last week.
1989, SG/SF, 6-5, Serbia; 14.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg
Stojacic is a wing with the size of a shooting guard, but with little of the creative game you often look for in that position. Not a great slasher, he still can attack his match-ups going both ways, looking for the layup or the pull-up jumper, but rarely to dish the ball to an open teammate. His ball-handling skills and first step are somewhat average, while hes not that prolific in his drives, preferring to fill the shooting role. Thats where he feels at home, delivering his perfectly shaped jumper, a fluid effort that usually ends up with the ball in the net. He was really effective from three-point range, while he showcased his nice ability to pull up off the dribble, always showing remarkable balance on the release.
A nice defender, Stojacic doesnt save effort on this end and shows solid lateral quickness. Pretty strong for his age and well-built, hes not a guy who stands out with his athleticism, but he does enjoy enough to get the job done. Obviously, it does limit his future potential, but theres no reason to think that he cant become a very solid player on the European scene.
1989, SF, 6-10, Germany; 9.8 ppg, 3.5 rpg
Anyway, its pretty remarkable to see a 6-10 guy like Benzing putting the ball on the floor as easily as he does. Hes not the quickest guy around, but he can attack the basket going both ways and shows nice footwork. Still, he struggles finishing his slashing attempts, lacking some ability to score around the basket in traffic, but also some aggressiveness to attack the rim. He can pass the ball off the drive with mixed results: his intentions seem pretty interesting, but hes not that precise with his passes. In the shooting department he looks quite inconsistent. He enjoys range out to the three point line, but his mechanics probably need to be polished. Benzing barely uses his size to post-up his opponents, emerging as virtually a pure face-up player at this point. Perhaps when he gains some strength he will try harder to cash in off his size. Defensively, he enjoys the lateral quickness of a small forward, although again he sometimes gets outmuscled.
A long term prospect, Benzing displays raw, but intriguing characteristics. Still, were yet to see how much of that potential he can fulfill, because he looks a bit of a soft player at this point.