Nike International Junior Tournament in Paris: Top Prospects

Nike International Junior Tournament in Paris: Top Prospects
May 17, 2010, 07:54 pm
Reviewing some of the top prospects seen at the Nike International Junior Tournament in Paris, including Nikola Jankovic, Nenad Miljenovic, Pape Amadou, Rafa Freire and others.

Nikola Jankovic, 6-8, Power Forward, FMP Zeleznik, 1994

Arguably the top prospect seen in Paris (despite being two years younger than most of the competition), there is little doubt that Nikola Jankovic has an extremely bright future ahead of him.

Listed at 6-7 (but possibly an inch taller), Jankovic is a physically mature 16-year-old with an outstanding feel for the game. He's an extremely smooth, fluid athlete, and while he's not incredibly explosive, he possesses more than adequate physical tools to reach his high ceiling.

Jankovic is a very skilled player for his age. He looks comfortable handling the ball in the open floor, but is at his best when creating shots for himself in the post. His amazing hands allow him to catch virtually anything thrown his way, which, combined with his nimble feet, his wherewithal around the basket and his unusually patient demeanor with the ball, make him simply a load to deal with at this level. Jankovic can finish with either hand around the rim and shows excellent touch on top of that. He's capable of playing above the rim but can finish plays in other ways as well.

Offensive rebounding is where Jankovic excels. He has an excellent knack for coming up with loose balls--as he has great timing and terrific quickness pursuing extra possessions--and he's extremely quick going back up for easy baskets. His excellent hands again show up in a major way here. He averaged about 7.5 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes in nine NIJT games, which is a simply phenomenal rate.

Another area where Jankovic shines is passing. He finds teammates from both the low and high post--showing a basketball IQ that is far beyond that of your typical 16-year-old.

Jankovic's on-court demeanor is encouraging. He appears to possess excellent leadership skills. He was often seen taking responsibility and encouraging his teammates in huddles despite being two years younger than most of them. By all appearances, he is a highly unselfish, competitive young player--which is a great sign.

A couple of areas that Jankovic can improve are perimeter shooting, free throw shooting and defense. He has plenty of time to work on these things, considering his age.

The challenge for Jankovic now will be to continue to work on his game and not get complacent, because he's more physically mature than other players his age and can probably get away with simply relying on his strength advantage. If he keeps getting better over the next few years, he could develop into quite a prospect down the road. Watching him play, it's hard not to think about how similar he looks to Kevin Love when we saw him at the same age.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, 6-5, Small Forward, FMP Zeleznik, 1992

Bogdan Bogdanovic is not an FMP product per se (he was being showcased in Paris after dominating the U-18 Serbian playoffs), but he used this opportunity to open some eyes.

The first thing that stands out about Bogdanovic is how incredibly long he is. He looks like he has a wingspan of someone 3-4 inches taller than him. It appears that he was used primarily as a post player in the past but is obviously making a full conversion out to the wing. He's a solid athlete with a good feel for the game, a very confident and aggressive player with nice scoring instincts.

Bogdanovic has a pretty versatile offensive game. He can create his own shot going either left or right and make shots from the perimeter, even if his release needs to get quicker and more consistent. He can score with his back to the basket a bit and showed signs of an emerging mid-range game, especially with the game-winning baseline jumper he hit against Malaga to secure FMP a spot in the finals. He wasn't fully integrated into the team and, at times, took his showcasing quite literally. He was a little too hungry looking for his own shot, forcing some bad ones and making tough drives.

Bogdanovic may have the best potential on defense, even if he is far from reaching his full potential in that area. His outstanding wingspan, solid toughness and aggressive mentality could allow him to develop into a real perimeter stopper if he puts his mind to it. Doing so would help him to earn minutes more quickly at the senior level, which is always an issue in Europe with young players. He already showed flashes in this area with his ability to crash the glass, get in passing lanes and come up with the occasional block.

He's still early in his development (and clearly has a long way to go), but there's a lot to like about Bogdanovic thus far.

Nenad Miljenovic, 6-5, Point Guard, FMP Zeleznik, 1993

No report about FMP's youth team would be complete without a look at their unabashed star Nenad Miljenovic, who we've written about on a number of occasions already, even though he only recently turned 17.

Miljenovic showed the ups and downs of his game here in Paris. On one hand, he displayed his trademark creativity with the ball in his hands. On the other, he tried to be too spectacular at times and averaged nearly as many turnovers as assists.

His ability to get to the basket (thanks to his terrific fluidity and change of speed) was as good as ever. He got to the free throw line 42 times in four games, even though his finishing was a mixed bag (due to his underdeveloped frame). Miljenovic appears inconsistent as a shooter, but there's reason to believe he will steady in time.

Miljenovic made a number of incredible passes over the course of the weekend, drawing the typical Ricky Rubio comparisons along the way. With that said, he overdid things on occasion and emerged as being somewhat turnover prone. His focus and consistency tend to waver at times¬ónot a surprise considering his age¬óbut when he's on his game he displays the maturity of a player much older than 17.

Something that we liked seeing here in Paris was the increased toughness and competitiveness Miljenovic brought to the defensive end. His anticipation skills were off the charts, as usual, but he also seemed to put more pride into simply stopping his man, pressuring the ball nicely and encouraging his teammates to step up their play as well. Not particularly long or strong, Miljenovic will need to continue this attitude at the senior level if he doesn't want to develop into a Sergio Rodriguez-esqe liability on the perimeter.

Armin Mazic, 6-6, PG/SG, Benetton Treviso, 1993

Croatian Armin Mazic started the tournament looking a bit overwhelmed, but he picked things up significantly as the weekend moved on and clearly showed that he has quite a bit to offer in terms of pure talent.

A big combo guard standing somewhere around 6-6, with a decent frame, Mazic is a smooth, fluid athlete with nice change of speed ability and a good feel for the game. Mazic is a strong ball handler for his size. He looked comfortable creating shots, and he is capable of playing the pick-and-roll and finding teammates off the dribble. The fact that he strung together just one assist--compared to 10 turnovers--in Paris tells you how far he has to go in this area though.

Offensively, Mazic is capable of making shots from the perimeter (even executing some impressive pull-up jumpers from time to time), but he often looks unbalanced and he seems to release the ball in a different way every time, leading to inconsistent results. The fact that he can get his shot off in different ways is impressive, though, as long as he continues to hone this skill accordingly down the road.

Defensively, Mazic is too young and inexperienced to know how to take advantage of his physical tools. He appears to lack a degree of toughness as well.

In general, Mazic is an inconsistent player who is far from being a finished product at this point. He doesn't appear to be the most stable guy, based off what we saw in Paris. His attitude and body language leave something to be desired--something he'll definitely have to improve on if he is to reach his full potential down the road.

Livio Jean-Charles, 6-8, SF/PF, INSEP Academy, 1993

The MVP of the tournament, 16-year-old Livio Jean-Charles, had a more consistent showing in Paris than when we last saw him in Belgrade back in February.

Standing 6-8, but extremely underdeveloped physically, Jean-Charles is stuck between forward positions at the moment. His future will likely be on the perimeter.

Offensively, he's a fairly raw player, scoring most of his baskets in transition and off cuts to the basket, where he can take advantage of his athleticism. He also has nice hands and a solid feel for the game, and can knock down the occasional mid-range jumper. He likes to post up a bit, and he found some success doing so despite his lack of strength. He's a solid passer and clearly a team player, comfortably contributing in a variety of areas without ever really standing out. Defensively, he plays hard and has nice tools to work with. He looks like a fairly well-coached player thus far.

Jean-Charles will need to work on his perimeter skills significantly over the next few years, but he could become a very interesting prospect if he's able to do so. His ball handling skills are fairly crude at this point, and he doesn't look very comfortable shooting from outside of 15 feet either. He only knocked down four of 14 attempts from beyond the arc in nine NIJT games in Paris and Belgrade. He does have potential, though, and he won't turn 17 until November. Time is clearly on his side.

Yannis Morin, 6-9, PF/C, INSEP Academy, 1993

Yannis Morin is another player who seems to have benefited from the experience he gained playing at the NIJT in Belgrade. He had a much steadier showing here in Paris, flashing sparks of potential along the way.

His main intrigue revolves around his physical tools. He's a long, athletic 6-9 big man with a frame that should fill out in time. He runs the floor well, and he can get off the ground to challenge shots and crash the offensive glass. He also plays with energy, which is always a good sign.

Offensively, Morin is a pretty raw player, but he does show some skills in the post--mainly in the form of a jump hook and developing footwork. Most of his points come in transition and finishing around the basket, where his physical tools serve him well at this level. He's a solid shot blocker and offensive rebounder, but he tends to tire out pretty quickly.

Morin needs to continue to add strength to his body and work on his all-around game. He lacks significant experience and is not blessed with an outstanding basketball IQ.

Considering he's only 16, he's a player to keep an eye on for the future.

Rolandas Jakstas, 6-7, Power Forward, Zalgiris Kaunas, 1992

On a physically mature Zalgiris team that was incredibly balanced in terms of talent, the player that stood out the most was 17-year-old combo forward Rolandas Jakstas.

Showing an excellent frame, strong fundamentals and nice versatility, Jakstas was the most productive player on his team. Mostly an inside player at this stage of his development, Jakstas is strong and shows a willingness to operate with his back to the basket. He has good footwork and a nice touch around the basket. Jakstas is also able to step outside from time to time and knock down the occasional 3-pointer. He must develop his ball-handling and continue to work on his perimeter skills as he's simply too small to play the power forward spot he currently likes to operate from.

Pape Amadou, 6-8, SF/PF, Cajasol Sevilla, 1993

One of the more interesting long-term prospects seen at the NIJT, Senegalese-born Pape Amadou or Pape Amadou Sow is part of an increasing trend of African wing players emerging on the European scene these days.

Amadou is 6-8 with a very underdeveloped frame that may or may not fill out. He is a good athlete who plays hard and has a better feel for the game than most of his countrymen at the same stage of development.

He's still stuck somewhat between positions, but Amadou has clear-cut skills on the perimeter, showing the ability to knock down shots (albeit inconsistently) and create his own shot from the perimeter. His ball-handling skills are pretty solid, and he shows nice timing. He knows how and when to attack his matchup, which is very interesting considering his size.

He's a smart, competitive guy who is not afraid to go into the post to try to gain an advantage, which usually means shooting a turnaround jumper with pretty nice touch. His extreme lack of lower body strength does hinder him quite a bit though. He has rail-thin legs and there are questions about how much weight he'll be able to add to his frame.

Defensively, Amadou is an active and versatile presence. He contributes significantly to his team as a rebounder, shot blocker and ball thief, playing with good energy and showing great potential in this area.

Amadou only recently turned 16. He still has a ways to go in his development, but he shows some intriguing characteristics that should serve him well down the road. If he continues to work on his all-around polish and becomes a better shooter, he could emerge as a nice prospect.

Filip Najev, 6-9, PF/C, KK Split, 1992

The most productive player on a well-coached, talented KK Split team, Filip Najev is intriguing because of his versatility and size.

Najev's physical tools are pretty solid. He stands around 6-9 with an excellent body, long arms and good (but not great) athleticism. He's quick off his feet and runs the court well, but he is not overly explosive and may struggle to translate his physical dominance under the basket to the senior level if he doesn't continue to polish his skills.

Najev likes to play in the post, where he has good hands, nice footwork and a strong touch around the rim--particularly with a swooping hook shot he likes to go to. He gets to the free throw line at a good rate (thanks to his aggressiveness) and has a nice feel for getting his shot off. He also has the ability to step away from the basket and make shots from the perimeter, even if he struggled in this area somewhat in Paris. He shows good mechanics and has a high arc on his shot.

Defensively, Najev competes in the paint, but his average lateral quickness limits his ability to step out onto the perimeter. Considering his size, and the fact that he'll likely have to transition to the power forward position down the road, this is something he must work on.

Rafa Freire, 6-2, Point Guard, Unicaja Malaga, 1992

Clearly the most experienced player at this tournament, having already spent a significant amount of time playing at the senior level with Spanish powerhouse Unicaja Malaga in both the Euroleague and ACB, expectations were fairly high for Brazilian guard Rafa Freire going into the NIJT.

From a physical standpoint, Freire was the most impressive guard seen in Paris. Standing around 6-2, with an excellent body and terrific athleticism, Freire passes the look test and then some. He's quick in the open floor, has outstanding lateral quickness and is exceptionally explosive around the basket, already having made a name for himself with some of the dunks he's thrown down in Spain.

Offensively, Freire is not a prolific scorer, even at this level. He's somewhat mechanical and doesn't show the best feel for the game. His ball-handling skills are improvable and, while he's capable of making shots with his feet set, he is not a great off-the-dribble shooter. There's no reason to believe he can't improve this part of his game, though, as his mechanics appear to be sound. He's very good in transition and is a capable finisher around the basket. He's aggressive when attacking the open floor and has all the physical tools needed to develop into a prolific slasher.

As a playmaker, Freire is somewhat of a mixed bag. On one hand, he's a fairly unselfish player who can find the open man off pick-and-rolls or in drive-and-dish situations. On the other hand, he lacks natural point guard instincts in terms of his court vision and ability to improvise on the fly. He was extremely turnover prone here in Paris, forcing the issue at times with his penetration and making quite a few unforced errors.

Defensively, Freire has all the tools necessary to develop into a real stopper on the perimeter. He has an excellent frame, an aggressive mentality and strong lateral quickness. He can get into passing lanes and come up with some truly impressive defensive possessions, putting intense pressure on the ball and absolutely smothering his opponent on the perimeter. He is also an outstanding rebounder.

Watching Synergy footage of defensively at the senior level, he appears to lack experience and doesn't have great awareness at this stage. He gets taken advantage of off screens and loses his focus from time to time. Considering his age, he has plenty of time to develop this part of his game though.

Freire is clearly a prospect to watch over the next few years. He has the physical tools necessary to develop into an excellent player, and he is already far ahead of most players his age in terms of the amount of experience he has under his belt. He looks a bit similar to Goran Dragic, but he is already well ahead of where the Slovenian combo guard was at the same age.

Deme Mambaye, SF/PF, Unicaja Malaga, 1993

Another of the new breed of African wing prospects discussed previously, Deme Mambaye looks significantly rawer than Senegalese counterpart Pape Amadou, but nonetheless has some intriguing characteristics.

A good athlete with nice size, Mambaye has an incredibly skinny frame with a lower body that absolutely must develop if he's to see minutes at the senior level.

Fairly limited offensively, Mambaye's main virtues at the moment lie on the defensive end. He's an active, competitive guy who puts the effort in and can make plays guarding either forward position.

Offensively, he has a nice first step and shows potential as a shot creator from the perimeter, which bodes well for his future as a small forward. His perimeter stroke is ugly, though, and he struggled to make shots here in Paris, something he must work on.

With that said, Mambaye seems to have a pretty good feel for the game. He moves the ball around nicely on the perimeter and makes solid rotations defensively. He's a young prospect in a very early stage of his development, so we'll have to see how he progresses from here.

Malick Fall, 6-11, Unicaja Malaga

Malick Fall immediately catches your eye thanks to his terrific size at 6-11 and his solid upper body. He clearly has the physical attributes necessary to develop into a solid prospect, even if he does have plenty of work to do on his all-around game. He runs the court well and has above average mobility; however, his lack of lower body strength and his poor balance can hinder him at times.

A capable low-post presence, Fall was fairly effective operating with his back to the basket here in Paris, showing solid hands, pretty good footwork and decent touch around the rim. He's somewhat of a black hole though. He doesn't always know his limitations and struggles to pass out of double teams. He also shot just 47% from the free throw line in seven NIJT games.

Defensively, Fall has the tools to develop into quite a presence in the paint. He's just not quite there yet. He struggles with rotations and doesn't have great timing as a shot blocker at this stage. He can make a big impact as a rebounder on both ends of the floor, though, mostly because of his physical tools.

Fall has clearly made some progress since the last time we saw him. He is a player to keep an eye on for the future to see how he continues to progress.

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