NIJT Belgrade Scouting Reports: Top Prospects

NIJT Belgrade Scouting Reports: Top Prospects
Feb 25, 2011, 06:59 pm
After a full weekend spent evaluating some of the top 1993 and 1994 born prospects in European basketball at the NIJT in Belgrade, we report back with our findings. We'll continue with the rest of the top prospects seen at the tournament.

NIJT Belgrade Scouting Reports: MVP Aleksandar Cvetkovic

Nenad Miljenovic, 6-4, Point Guard, FMP Zeleznik, 1993

Another year and another NIJT for uber-talent Nenad Miljenovic. This is the third and final year he'll be participating in this event, and despite the scouts' grumbling about looking essentially the same from a physical standpoint, there's no doubting that the Serbian remains one of the top European prospects in his age group.

6-4, with a skinny (but somewhat more toned) frame and very good athleticism for a European guard prospect, Miljenovic is a fluid, shifty and very versatile playmaker with an exceptional feel for the game.

Equally effective in transition or the half-court, Miljenovic is a tremendous ball-handler. He sports good quickness, terrific body control and the ability to change speeds, making him a very effective shot-creator, particularly on the pick and roll. He gets into the paint very well at this level, even if he struggles to finish at times due to his lack of strength. If a defender goes underneath the screen, he does a nice job pulling up off the dribble in the mid-range area. From beyond the arc, he's a bit streaky, but has the ability to make shots with his feet set or off the dribble, something he proved a few times over the course of the weekend.

As he begins to face see better competition, it's imperative that he continue to improve his shooting range and consistency, as he likely won't be able to create shots quite as effectively against more physically developed defenders.

As a passer, Miljenovic remains prodigious. He finds teammates unselfishly in every way possible, particularly on the pick and roll, where he does a terrific job surveying all his options. His ability to deliver laser-precision passes with picture-perfect timing is a huge asset, and makes his teammates that much better with the way he simplifies the game for them.

Defensively is where Miljenovic must improve the most if he's to reach the highest levels of basketball, be it the NBA or the top-tier of Europe. His lateral quickness is not up to par, and his effort level is often lacking. With his poor frame and average length, Miljenovic does not have great tools on this end of the floor, despite showing excellent anticipation skills in the passing lanes. In the finals, he had an extremely difficult time staying in front of the outstanding Aleksandar Cvetkovic, and spent much of the last three quarters guarding lesser players because of this.

How far Miljenovic is able to go in his basketball career might ultimately be decided by how his body continues to fill out. His skinny frame does not show great potential, which may hold him back somewhat down the road, particularly on the defensive end.

Having accomplished virtually everything there is to accomplish at the junior stage, it's now time for Miljenovic to make the move to senior competition and show that he can translate his talent to a higher level.

Nemanja Bezbradica, 6-8, Power Forward, FMP Zeleznik, 1993

A physically impressive player with a fairly versatile skill-set, Nemanja Bezbradica looks like one of the few big men at this competition who is virtually guaranteed to have a long and successful career at the senior level.

Slightly undersized at around 6-8, but with a strong frame, solid length and nice athleticism to compensate, Bezbradica is a tough and aggressive power forward who gets the job done on both ends of the floor. He runs the floor hard in transition, can play above the rim, puts the ball on the floor, and shows the ability to make shots from the perimeter, albeit somewhat inconsistently. In the post, Bezbradica mainly relies on his strength and aggressiveness. Using his body fairly well, he lacks an extensive back to the basket arsenal. His shot-selection and decision making isn't always the best, as evidenced in the finals, where he seemed to force the issue somewhat.

Defensively, Bezbradica shows the ability to make his presence felt both inside and out. He has quick enough feet to step out and hedge screens on the perimeter, and is pretty physical inside the paint, even if he may lack some size here for the highest level.

Bezbradica lacks the elite skill-set or feel for the game to be regarded a top-shelf prospect, and there are still some question marks about the extent of his upside considering his average size and already-mature frame. Still, players with his physical attributes, toughness, aggressiveness and versatility are not easy to come by, which is why we're sure to see him playing at a high-level down the road, where we'll better be able to evaluate his NBA potential.

Stefan Popovski-Turanjanin, 6-7, Small Forward, FMP Zeleznik, 1993

The leading scorer for FMP, Stefan Popovski-Turanjanin played a very solid tournament that surely increased his standing in the eyes of European basketball talent evaluators.

6-7, with an excellent frame, nice length and solid mobility, Popovski-Turanjanin has good physical tools for European basketball. Left-handed, he displays a fairly complete game for a player his age, even if he lacks great athleticism or the elite scoring instincts to emerge as a top-shelf prospect.

Offensively, Popovski-Turanjanin is first and foremost an excellent shooter, making over 50% of his attempts from beyond the arc at this tournament. He shoots a flat-footed jumper that is very consistent when he has a chance to set his feet, and shows good shot-selection. Seeing extensive minutes at the power forward spot for FMP, he has some capacity to score in the post thanks to his mature frame, soft touch, and solid competitiveness. As a shot-creator, he's somewhat limited, not showing great ball-handling skills and having a tougher time operating with his right hand, even if he can make some plays off the dribble from time to time. An unselfish player with a nice feel for the game, he plays within a team concept like all of FMP's players and is a solid passer.

Defensively, it's difficult to draw too many long-term conclusions about Popovski-Turanjanin's potential from what we saw at this tournament. Guarding strictly power forwards (none of whom were particularly dynamic) but projecting as a small forward down the road, Popovski-Turanjanin has good length, strength and competitiveness, but may lack a degree of lateral quickness on the perimeter. He did a great job on the glass for FMP, though, on both ends of the floor.

A player who should carve out a nice career in European basketball, making the transition to playing on the perimeter full-time should be Popovski-Turanjanin's biggest priority moving forward.

Dusan Ristic, 6-11, Center, FMP Zeleznik, 1995

One of the youngest players at this tournament at just 15 years old, Dusan Ristic was nonetheless one of the most promising prospects we saw in Belgrade, and one we'll surely be talking more about down the road.

Standing 6-10 or possibly even 6-11 with outstanding length and a fantastic frame for a player his age, Ristic is a mobile big man who shows all the physical tools you look for at this stage. He has good hands, runs the floor well, and shows competitiveness and instincts that should serve him well as he progresses in his basketball career.

Mostly relegated to scoring off simple catch and finishes and offensive rebounds, Ristic is an unpolished player as you can probably imagine at this stage. He didn't always have the strength to operate effectively against big men as many as two years older than him, but put up a solid fight nonetheless, and showed a good feel for the game operating within his team's half-court offense.

It's still far too early to draw too many long-term conclusions about Ristic's future, but the early returns look promising. If he can continue to progress on and off the court over the next few years, FMP could have yet another very interesting player on their hands.

Tomas Kyzlink, 6-6, Shooting Guard, USK Future Stars, 1993

Described by some scouts as the best long-term prospect seen at this event, Tomas Kyzlink came into this week as a complete unknown, but emerged as someone who will be closely followed in coming years.

Listed at 6-8 on the official tournament roster, but obviously much closer to 6-5 or 6-6, Kyzlink is a physically gifted wing prospect with a great frame and tremendous athleticism. He's an exceptionally quick player with very nice leaping ability. He made a living at the free throw line at this tournament, being virtually impossible for any defender to stay in front of.

A deadly shot-creator thanks to his phenomenal first step, excellent crossover and ability to drive in both directions, Kyzlink gets extremely low to the ground when handling the ball (like all slashers do) and is absolutely decisive trying to get inside the paint. He still has plenty of room to grow with his ability to read half-court defenses, operate with his right hand, and play at different speeds, but the natural talent he shows as a slasher is something that can't be taught.

Kyzlink made a handful of jumpers over the course of this tournament, but clearly still needs to improve as a perimeter shooter. He shows a slow, flat-footed release and doesn't show great confidence in his jumper, for good reason. Able to make some pull-up jumpers in the mid-range area, Kyzlink has good potential that he'd be wise to continue to build on to make the most of his basketball talent.

Defensively, Kyzlink has great tools with his strong frame and excellent athleticism, sometimes coming up with an outstanding play in the form of a block or steal. His experience-level looks pretty limited in this area, particularly on team defense where he looked somewhat lost at times. At 17 years old, he has plenty of time to improve on this end of the floor, especially when you consider the strong competitive nature he shows.

Somewhat of a late bloomer, Kyzlink has made huge strides in his game over the last year from what we've been told. Like other top prospects from his home country, Kyzlink will probably need to leave the Czech Republic fairly soon if he wants to take the next step in his development as a basketball player. While he wasn't quite as polished as some of the other players at this event, none showed the upside of this exceptionally athletic wing.

Ivan Marinkovic, 6-10, PF/C, Red Star, 1993

The second leading scorer of the NIJT Belgrade champions, Ivan Marinkovic is a raw, but talented big man who shows intriguing physical attributes and scoring instincts.

Standing 6-10, with an outstanding frame that should fill out nicely in time, as well as long arms and excellent mobility, Marinkovic has many of the things you can't teach.

He's a fluid big man with soft hands and nice footwork, looking very comfortable creating his own shot in the paint, and being capable of stepping out and knocking down a soft mid-range jumper as well. Marinkovic has good touch around the basket and is able to score with either hand making him a solid option to throw the ball to in the post, especially considering his ability to finish with ease around the rim. He executed a number of impressive spin-moves over the course of the weekend, showing a nice first step, good body control, and wherewithal around the basket.

As he continues to fill out and hopefully gets tougher, he should be able to emerge as a solid post-up threat, which will compliment his budding face-up skills. Right now he misses too many easy looks around the rim due to his lack of strength and tendency for avoiding contact. He doesn't set very good screens, but looks like a solid overall teammate.

Defensively, Marinkovic has plenty of room to improve. He is an active and willing defender, but lacks strength and fundamentals, particularly off the ball, where he often plays with his arms down. Marinkovic is not a great rebounder, as he doesn't box out particularly well and lacks some toughness pursuing loose balls. Despite his nice length, he doesn't appear to have very big hands, which combined with his underdeveloped frame and at times soft demeanor make it difficult for him to compete with more physically developed big men.

Marinkovic is already a part of Red Star's senior team, and thus practices with them regularly and will even see some occasional minutes in garbage time. He still has a long ways to go physically and skill-wise to be able to see consistent playing time at the Adriatic League level, but has all the tools to get there down the road.

William Howard, 6-7, Small Forward, INSEP, 1993

A player we wrote about already last year after his strong showing at this same NIJT event in Belgrade, William Howard came into this tournament looking to take on added responsibilities for his INSEP squad.

An intriguing prospect due to his outstanding size at 6-7 for a true wing, Howard is a very smooth, although not terribly explosive player with a good frame and nice versatility for a player his age.

Howard's main virtues at the moment lie in his perimeter shooting ability. He converted 43% of his 3-pointers in the tournament on over 4 attempts per game. He has an excellent shooting stroke with his feet set, but can also make pull-up jumpers off the dribble if his defender closes out on him too anxiously.

Also capable of attacking the basket, mostly in a straight line, Howard is just a decent ball-handler at this stage, not looking very comfortable changing directions with the ball. He seems to lack assertiveness on top of that, looking overly unselfish at times and downright passive in others. Nevertheless, his feel for the game is clearly above average, and he can make some very creative passes at times that hint at good things still to come down the road.

Defensively, Howard has very good tools with his nice size, good frame and long wingspan, although he lacks a degree of toughness and isn't the quickness player you'll find laterally. If he applies himself on this end there's no question that he could be extremely effective, though, as he seems to have very good instincts.

Howard is one of the more intriguing long-term prospects seen at this event, and there's no question that he has the ability to play professionally at a very high level, possibly even the NBA if he continues to develop. The biggest question mark around him revolves around his mental approach (focus, drive, toughness, assertiveness), which could just be a matter of age.

Livio Jean-Charles, 6-8, Power Forward, INSEP, 1993

The leading scorer of the defending NIJT-champion INSEP squad, Livio Jean-Charles didn't look significantly different than he did the last two times we saw him in Paris and Belgrade.

Standing around 6-8, with a decent frame looking a bit more toned these days, Jean-Charles serves as INSEP's starting power forward, even if he may lack some size for this position long-term.

Offensively, most of his touches come in transition, cutting off the ball and crashing the offensive glass. In the half-court, INSEP likes to get him the ball in the mid-post, where he can use his strong first step to overpower his man off a single dribble and finish effectively around the basket. Somewhat limited when stepping out further onto the perimeter, Jean-Charles is not a great ball-handler and sports a very ugly looking jumper both with his feet set and particularly off the dribble.

This might be the main thing holding him back long-term as even though his future seems to be on the wing, he doesn't possess a very high skill-level at this stage, being mostly relegated to hustle plays around the rim.

Nevertheless, Jean-Charles is a very effective player at this level, as he not only has a big motor, but is also a smart, unselfish player who moves the ball very well in his team's half-court offense.

Defensively, he's versatile enough to guard multiple positions, and puts a great effort in, looking extremely active at all times. With that said, there are some questions about whether he possesses the size and bulk to defend high-level power forwards down the road.

Mouhammadou Jaiteh, 6-9, Center, INSEP, 1994

One of the more physically gifted big men in attendance, especially considering he turned 16 just a few months ago, Mouhammadou Jaiteh (or Mam Jaiteh) is not a particularly skilled player, but regardless has considerable upside to continue to improve down the road.

Standing 6-9, but already sporting a NBA caliber frame despite his young age, Jaiteh is a mobile center with good hands and solid athleticism.

Offensively, Jaiteh is extremely limited, as he possesses very little footwork, average touch around the basket and is unable to pass out of double teams. Regardless of where he catches the ball on the floor, he's always looking to make a move, which renders him fairly turnover prone, particularly once opponents caught onto this fact.

Jaiteh is nevertheless a massive presence inside the paint, allowing him to post some solid numbers at this tournament by crashing the offensive glass and simply presenting himself at the rim for easy finishes. Interestingly enough, he knocked down his free throws at a very nice clip (13/17) and even converted one decent-looking mid-range jumper.

Defensively, Jaiteh can be effective due to his sheer length and bulk, and certainly got the job done on the glass, grabbing almost six rebounds in just 19 minutes per game. He lacks significant experience and fundamentals on this end as you can probably imagine, though, particularly in team defensive settings where he doesn't show a great feel for rotating and wasn't much of a shot-blocking threat despite his physical tools.

It's way too early to be drawing any long-term conclusions about Jaiteh's potential, but it's safe to say that he'll be drawing some interesting down the road due to his terrific physical tools.

Luka Rupnik, 6-1, Point Guard, Union Olimpija, 1993

Somewhat overshadowed at this tournament by the excellent crop of point guards on display, Slovenian playmaker Luka Rupnik nevertheless looks like an interesting prospect for European basketball.

Not overwhelmingly impressive from a physical standpoint at this stage, Rupnik stands around 6-1, with a skinny frame, a short wingspan, and average athleticism.

What he lacks in great tools Rupnik more than makes up for at this level with his skill-level and feel for the game. Very creative, with nice body control and no shortage of confidence, Rupnik is a player who brings nice flair and clearly has some character to him. He likes to push the ball in transition, shows good court vision finding teammates with nifty bounce passes, and can finish around the basket with a soft floater.

Somewhat inconsistent as a shooter at this stage, even if he shows good long-term potential in this area, Rupnik can make shots with his feet set or off the dribble, but often looks very off-balance with his attempts at times.

Very much capable of creating for others, Rupnik looks a bit wild at times trying to force the issue excessively and averaged five turnovers per game at this tournament. His lack of experience showed at times, particularly in late-game situations where his decision making skills looked somewhat suspect.

Defensively is where Rupnik may struggle the most making the conversion to the pro level, as he doesn't have great tools with his below average size, frame and length. He made a major impact getting in the passing lanes, but will need to improve considerably on this end if he's to reach his full potential as a prospect.

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