This time, Zaragoza was the city chosen to hold the tournament that was played between the 17th and the 20th of this month, and featured eight teams as always (the best of the ACB League's first half of the season).
It was a great tournament, full of good games and a high level of basketball. Unicaja Malaga, taking advantage of the good momentum it had going into the tournament, accomplished its first ever triumph in the Cup, a well-deserved title for a club that has been a permanent fixture in the Spanish elite for several years now.
As has become the tradition over the past few years, there was again a massive following by the NBA teams, with up to 33 scouts credited for the competition. It's a great chance to check out the cream of the Spanish League crop in just four days, whether it's draft prospects or over-22 players.
With a history of youngsters achieving great things in this competition (both Pau Gasol and Rudy Fernandez earned MVP honours in past editions), this time no youngster really stepped up his game, and it was the veterans who starred for the most part.
Click here to read about what happened last year, when Rudy Fernandez busted on to the scene on the international level and was later introduced to you exclusively on as the next big thing out of Spain.
(Real Madrid; 1983; 6-8; SF; 3 games, 22.3 mpg, 8.7 ppg, 5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1 bpg)
Anybody who saw him could get an idea of what this player is capable of turning into. He showed his nice jumper, particularly consistent from the mid-range area. He also insisted with the post-up game he has begun to use lately, with excellent results. While Gelabale is not strong enough at all to fight near the basket, his fluid and efficient movements and the ability he has to release the ball from very high, make him a threat to take his man to the low post. He tried some penetrations too, but still with mixed results (he needs to keep on working here; he can become a very good slasher). He showed his athleticism while rebounding and getting blocks, and he did a good job on defense.
He was in foul trouble in the quarterfinals against Estudiantes, but gained playing time as the tournament advanced, and it shouldn't surprise anyone if some scouts left Zaragoza thinking about the Frenchman as a possible first rounder for the upcoming draft.
(Unicaja Malaga; 1983; 6-10; PF/C; 3 games, 21.7 mpg, 8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1 bpg)
He showed flashes of his game and potential, scoring most of his jumpers, delivering some strong finishes above the rim, blocking shots and showing his athleticism. The three pointer he scored also deserves to be mentioned, it might be the first one he attempted in a game in his pro career (meaning not a trey forced by clock circumstances or something similar). He looked very natural while taking and making it, and it doesn't come as a big surprise considering how consistent he is right now in the mid-range area.
Fran started for Unicaja Malaga in the quarterfinals and in the finals, but coach Scariolo decided to replace him for Zan Tabak in the starting lineup against Pamesa Valencia in the semifinals, playing him off the bench instead. That's easily explainable: the lack of consistency that Vazquez sometimes shows defending the low post was too much of a risk against a team that starts with Fabricio Oberto and Dejan Tomasevic, two excellent post specialists near the basket.
All in all, it has been just another step in Fran's developing run that will eventually lead him to the NBA.
(Tau Vitoria; 1985; 6-11; PF/C; 2 games, 21 mpg, 8 ppg, 4 rpg)
Personally, I think Dusko Ivanovic made a mistake leaving him on the court in the final stretch of the semifinals instead of Kornel David (although perhaps the Hungarian was having some health issues). Tau Vitoria suffered a lot in the defensive rebounding department with Real Madrid's frontcourt cleaning the offensive glass time after time and Splitter was being constantly outmuscled. Tiago is an intense player, but still lacks some strength, and that was pretty clear in this game.
Tiago's draft stock will likely suffer to a certain degree from the consequences of this average performance, as well as the ones immediately beforehand, as soon as some of the NCAA players start showing something to prove they should be ranked ahead of him (as of right now they have not). That is unless he manages to rebound and come back to the level he showed in some stretches earlier on in the season. However, make no mistake: he is still the same great prospect.
(Adecco Estudiantes; 1986; 6-3; PG; 1 game, 24 minutes, 11 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists)
A little bit later into the game, though, the waters settled down, and he delivered quite a decent performance, with highs and lows of course, not being really consistent, but showing his credentials as a promising basketball player. He attacked the rim, getting two consecutive flashy lay-ups in traffic, and dishing the ball off or getting to the line after being fouled. He also distributed from the perimeter, delivering some nice passes to his teammates. He tried to speed up the tempo of the game in transition, while not always being successful, and used his perimeter shot as well, netting one open three pointer, but missing a forced one off the dribble.
The taste he left has to be sweet, as the talent level he displays is hard to match. But at the same time, everybody who watched should have noticed that the kid is far from being ready right now.
(Adecco Estudiantes; 1986; 6-7; SG/SF; 1 game, 13 minutes, 3 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists)
In the end he didn't play much, but enough to show some of his skills, particularly his reliable three point stroke (like Sergio, he converted one of his two attempts), some good passes, and his post-up game, which he wisely uses against smaller defenders, and where he shows nice footwork. He also tried to penetrate, without much success. There wasn't enough time for much more.
On defense, he was paired with Gelabale and Stojic, and still looked a little bit slow, as the Frenchman easily scored when attacking him the only time he tried. He needs to gain explosiveness to fight back against those quicker wings, and to improve his offensive array of weapons, especially to become more effective slashing and to be able to create his own shot.
Few kids this age draw such confidence about his future in Europe: it's clear that Suarez is a blue-chip player. But the concerns about a hypothetical NBA career are the same we expressed in the European Junior Championships reports: he's not quick or explosive enough. He has athleticism for the small forward position, but he's not particularly tall for that position. However, watching him play with the big guys, I feel a little bit more optimistic, and I can no longer rule out him developing into an interesting prospect. We'll have to watch him carefully.
(Real Madrid; 1983; 6-9; PF; 3 games, 0.7 ppg, 3.3 rpg)
If Axel Hervelle were to be judged by this competition alone, there would be no shot whatsoever of him being drafted. Luckily for him that's not the case. Anyway, considering the time left for him to impress, performances like this one don't help at all for a guy who is a borderline second rounder as it is.
(Gran Canaria; 1983; 7-0; C; 1 game, 12 minutes, 0 points, 1 rebound)
But here in the King's Cup, he barely showed anything. If he hadn't taken the couple of mid-range jumpers that he missed, it would have been difficult to notice his presence on the court at all. The kid lacks fire and intensity, which is not the best recipe for games as competitive as these.
He can do better, of course. He's big, a legit seven footer, with a wingspan that allows him to grab a good number of rebounds. He has some mobility for his size and a nice frame. He used to be a fierce shot blocker, but not anymore (perhaps a lack of desire, or less defensive gambling, or maybe he's not the same athlete he was before his injuries). He can shoot the ball, but he's inconsistent, and he has some post moves, although not too polished. All in all, he's pretty much the same player he was three years ago minus the shot blocking production, and this can't be a good sign.
Just to make sure this is crystal clear: a guy with his size, wingspan, decent mobility and some skills is always intriguing, and he will likely receive consideration in the second round of the next year's draft, but he's a player I would never touch. His combination of quickness and skills is rather poor and I think he lacks character. Perhaps I'm being unfair, because he hadn't been playing regularly for two seasons, but he seems to me like the typical underachiever. Hopefully he can prove me wrong.
(Unicaja Malaga; 1977; 6-9; PF; 3 games, 33 mpg, 15.7 ppg, 7 rpg, 3 apg)
I know, his athleticism is average at best and he's not particularly big. Those are very important things, especially when taking about NBA basketball. But he's tough, smart, and skilled and he fully knows the game, a perfect mixture between a blue-collar and talented player. It's basically impossible not to love him.
He usually plays facing the basket, taking advantage of his three-point shot to keep his defender honest and beat him off the dribble. He has very good mobility, a decent first step and good handles. He gets fouled many times in these situations (he leads the Euroleague in received fouls) which gives him easy points from the line (he's very effective shooting free throws). He also can play in the low post, although he's not exceptionally skilled finishing there, looking first to draw attention from other defenders to pass to the open man.
He's a very good defender, even if his physical set is not the best, but he uses his toughness and intelligence, as well as good lateral movement to get the job done.
All this was seen in Zaragoza. The same stuff he had been doing for four years in Treviso, the first two coached by Phoenix Suns coach Mike D'Antoni, who said about him then that he could be in the rotation of any NBA team.
The thing is, he most likely won't leave Europe. I don't think any team will be willing to offer the type of cash and playing time to get him out of a comfortable situation where he's a big star and earns good money.
(Unicaja Malaga; 1979; 6-8; SF; 3 games, 25 mpg, 18 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
And he didn't slow down here either, at least not until the final. In the semifinals against Pamesa Valencia he scored 30 points behind a fantastic shooting display, going 5/6 from behind the arc. His shooting had been excellent all weekend long, and extremely consistent. But he also used his nice post-up game and his slashing skills, while being OK on defense.
Herrmann is a strong small forward, with the right size, a great wingspan and enormous hands that he uses to snatch the ball out of the air like a tennis ball, showing the ability to find the way to the basket in traffic with just one hand. He's athletic (he has won dunk contests both in Argentina and Spain) and fairly quick. He shoots the ball with accuracy, and he's a nice slasher that can take advantage of his physical set in the low post. On the other hand, he's not too much of a passer, nor is his basketball IQ especially high, and his left hand needs serious work.
Herrmann is perhaps the player who has improved his stock the most during this tournament. Anyway, he's under contract for Unicaja Malaga until the summer of 2006, and a hypothetic NBA adventure still seems like a distant possibility at the moment.
(Pamesa Valencia; 1978; 6-3; PG/SG; 2 games, 37.5 mpg, 25 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1 spg)
He's one of the top scorers in the Spanish ACB League this season and did not disappoint in the King's Cup. He had a few quarters of incredible point production, scoring basket after basket. He looks like a player that has an extra gear he can go to whenever he wants compared with almost everyone else.
In the Cup, as he's doing lately and for the most of the season, he played as an off-guard, where his scoring abilities can be maximized. Besides, having another excellent point guard in the roster in the form of Olympic champion Montecchia and the point center (it's no joke) Dejan Tomasevic, the distributing duties are well covered. Anyway, he proved his ability to pass the ball last year in Serbia, especially when taking his man off the dribble.
Rakocevic finishes his current contract this summer, but he might have something signed for the future before this season ends. Anyway, I think he deserves some attention from the NBA pros.
(Pamesa Valencia; 1975; 6-10; PF/C; 2 games, 35 mpg, 15 ppg, 7.5 ppg, 2 apg, 1.5 spg, 2 bpg)
Fabricio showed his usual stuff, like his fantastic post-up game and solid paint defense. He's a warrior, and quite a polished one. He's strong, and can fight with anyone, even at the NBA level. He's a guy who understands the game, not only how to score, but to pass the ball too. Teaming with Tomasevic for their fourth consecutive season, they have probably been the best post passing duo in the world over this span, Divac-Webber aside.
Oberto still suffers with his free-throw shooting. Despite being able to hit mid-rangers with some consistency, he's lousy from the line (40% in the Cup, and 51% in the ACB League). His age and experience hasn't helped him solve his problems with foul trouble (he committed 4 in each game).
Precisely his age is a matter of concern: he's not getting any younger. Although Fabricio doesn't finish his contract until 2006, he has a buyout clause this summer (likely affordable), and it's now or never for him in order to try the NBA adventure. There have been rumours saying that the Sacramento Kings could be interested in him again, while Chicago has been mentioned as well.
José Manuel Calderón
(Tau Vitoria; 1981; 6-3; PG; 2 games, 31.5 mpg, 12 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1 spg)
He's a player that needs to play physical and use his athleticism to really contribute. In the semifinals he started the game in spectacular fashion, being all over the court, scoring in a number of ways, running the floor like crazy, defending and being very aggressive. But because he was not being benched to receive some rest, his game slowed down significantly, and Tau suffered a lot. During the third quarter, coach Ivanovic finally decided to take him out for some minutes, and the contribution of reserve point guard Pablo Priggioni, a better distributor than Calderón, notably improved the fluidity of Tau's offense, helping the team come back for a dramatic ending that resulted in a loss.
He's more of a scorer than a distributor, particularly a great slasher with shooting skills that are improving everyday, but he has been constantly improving his passing skills in the last few seasons. If he keeps up the good work, we could be talking about a top-notch point guard in the near future, as has the tools to succeed at any level.
(Tau Vitoria; 1980; 6-9; PF; 2 games, 32.5 mpg, 15 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 4 apg, 2 bpg)
He didn't show his best face in this King's Cup, though. While he did punish his rivals from the low post, destroying zone defenses with his mid-ranger jumpers (it still surprises how easily he manages to get open looks in the middle of a zone) and effectively passing the ball as rivals defenses were quite focused on him.
On the other hand, he was another victim of Real Madrid's tenacity on the offensive glass, getting just three rebounds in the semifinals, frustrating Tau Vitoria's hopes of repeating last year's title.
Etosa Alicante - Unicaja Malaga: 62-79
Winterthur F.C.Barcelona - Pamesa Valencia: 76-83
Tau Vitoria - Gran Canaria: 77-75
Real Madrid - Adecco Estudiantes: 86-76
Pamesa Valencia - Unicaja Malaga: 82-90
Tau Vitoria - Real Madrid: 77-80
Unicaja Malaga - Real Madrid: 80-76
MVP: Jorge Garbajosa
To read about the Italian and Serbian cups which happened around the same time as the Spanish King's cup, check the following links: