1. NIKOLA PEKOVIC (Partizan)
14 games: 28 mpg, 17.9 ppg, 8 rpg, 2.1 topg
Absolutely lethal within 10 feet of the basket, Pekovic has elevated the meaning of executor to a new degree, while posting some impressive stats for a youngster like him. Second in efficiency, third in scoring, first in offensive rebounds, fourth in total rebounds, first in fouls drawn, he has been a major force in this Euroleague that greatly helped Partizan to advance to the Top-16 round with a nice 6-8 record.
Although not a go-to guy in the sense of an on-the-court leader that not only scores but creates for his teammates (Pekovic doesnt stand with his passing ability, and his instincts make him chase the basket immediately after receiving the ball, like a shark goes after blood), he has ended up becoming the offensive reference of his team, the guy everybody looks for as the first option, the easiest and most reliable solution to succeed in any given possession.
Very strong, decently athletic, aggressive and nicely skilled around the rim to put the ball on the net, Pekovic had became a very serious candidate for the first round in the next draft. However, his flirtations with the top teams in Europe suggest a mid-term future in the Old Continent that will certainly affect his draft stock.
2. DANILO GALLINARI (Armani Jeans Milano)
11 games: 32 mpg, 14.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.5 spg
Unfortunately for him, Armani Jeans Milano has completed a very underwhelming regular season, with only 3 victories in the easiest group. On the other hand, the poor level his team has shown, particularly during Gallos injury early in the season, paved the way for his emergence as the team offensive leader. No other player on the Italian squad could unbalance the opposing defense with his one-on-one game as Danilo proved to be capable of. On the other hand, his role on the team didnt help his shooting percentages, barely achieving a pretty modest 42% from the field. Still, his ability to add points from the charity stripe somehow compensated for it (he ranked second both in fouls drawn and free-throws attempted).
Often spectacular on the floor thanks to his impressive skill set, Gallinari has enamored basketball fans across Europe. Along Pekovic, hes the only serious candidate for the Euroleagues Rising Star award (for under-22 players). Draft-wise, hes right now the top international prospect for the 2008 edition, and to hit the lottery should be a piece of cake for him.
3. NICOLAS BATUM (Le Mans)
13 games: 27 mpg, 8.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 2.7 apg, 1.5 spg, 2 topg
Unlike Gallinari, Batum hasnt been able to emerge as the team leader Le Mans needed in order to overcome a pretty forgettable regular season (2-12 record), especially considering the very poor situation they had at the point guard position and the excellent creative skills Nicolas enjoys. But he barely ever came up aggressive enough to command his teams offensive efforts for long periods. He wasnt fearless enough attacking the basket, and his jumper is still a work in progress. And particularly, he disappeared again from the court in crunch time with concerning regularity--which didnt help his team avoid some painfully close losses.
However, whenever he figured things out, he really impressed with his abilities. The guy can be simply unstoppable, able to create his own shot at will, to easily set up his teammates for easy baskets, to play lock down defense taking advantage of his freakish wingspan and athleticism, and come up with a slew of highlights in the form of blocks, dunks, long-range off-the-dribble shots, etc.
Batum needs to realize that hes the clear-cut best player on his team, and start playing accordingly. It would be a crime to waste such an impressive collage of basketball goods. Indeed, he should be a lock for the lottery, but even if we can easily project him there, theres no solid ground to protect him from slipping, given the concerns his game draws.
4. NOVICA VELICKOVIC (Partizan)
13 games: 28 mpg, 11.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.6 apg
Not very big or particularly athletic, Velickovic is a tough, very mobile, very smart and rather fundamentally sound player. Although primarily a face-up power forward, he ends up playing all over the court, being active without the ball with picks, cuts and a nice use of the baseline, trying to play off the dribble, shooting with range, able to produce from the post, or running the court very well. Hes not deadly in any of those departments, but everything wisely combined makes him a pretty productive player. Still not a very solid perimeter shooter, he could boost his scoring power by gaining more consistency with his jumper, as it would also help his slashing game (he cant purely rely on his quickness, first step and ball-handling skills to regularly beat his match-ups).
Decently solid on defense, smart and quick enough to contain his match-ups while willing to stay physical on them, hes emerged as a very reliable rebounder, particularly on the defensive end, where he shows nice activity and excellent positioning. Indeed he became as the third best defensive rebounder of this season in the Euroleague. Draft-wise hes not a very intriguing player, given his relatively poor physical-athletic profile, and the low odds for him to develop into a small forward.
5. MARC-ANTOINE PELLIN (Chorale Roanne)
14 games: 27 mpg, 4.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.7 spg, 2.8 topg
Officiating as the engine for his team, relying on his nice quickness, ability to beat opponents off the dribble, and playmaking skills, this pass-first point guard became a creative force to provide easy baskets for his teammates, emerging as the second best assister in the Euroleague. Without outstanding athleticism to make up for his severe lack of size, while regularly showing up unselfish, Pellin didnt provide many points. He needs open situations in order to try scoring, either with his perimeter jumper or looking for a layup. He knows hes at a disadvantage, being aware of how easily it is for his opponents to contest his shots, and he doesnt force the issue. On defense, he can be abused near the rim, while he neither emerged as an aggressive on-the-ball defender. All in all, it was in line with his teams defensive effort, as Roanne stands out as the team receiving the most points in this Euroleague.
With the NBA out of the picture for him for obvious reasons, he needs to step up on defense and also work on his scoring skills to really establish himself as an important player in Europe.
6. GORAN DRAGIC (Union Olimpija)
13 games: 28 mpg, 9.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.1 apg, 1.2 spg, 2.5topg
Still not a solid distributor, not your classic game director, Dragic is more of a drive-and-dish point guard who likes the transition game. He doesnt show great court vision, but relies on his remarkable quickness and decent ball-handling skills to beat his opponents off the dribble in order to unbalance the defense and feed the open man, or to look for his own layup. The downside of his style comes in the form of out-of-control penetrations, questionable decision making, or some rushed passes. Able to shoot the ball with nice range, the lefty playmaker still needs to gain a lot of consistency with his perimeter stroke.
Defense comes as a very strong point for him. He enjoys solid lateral quickness, some serious aggressiveness, and the length to annoy his opponents, so he can be pretty effective on his match-up.
Generally speaking, Dragic still needs to gain consistency in his game, take better decisions and show more poise running the point. Indeed, he plays on loan in Ljubljana from Tau Vitoria, and its not clear that the Spanish powerhouse will be that interested in having him back already next season.
Draft-wise, hes probably second round material, the typical player to invest a late pick on and leave in Europe in the hope that he matures and develops his game. At least he enjoys good enough physical tools to eventually make it to the NBA.
7. MILENKO TEPIC (Partizan)
14 games: 26 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 2.3 apg
Virtually a playmaker in the body of a wing player, the natural evolution of his game leads him to become a primary ball-handler and distributor for his team. However, we saw a tentative player, sometimes setting his teammates up for easy baskets, but other times generating more doubts than scoring opportunities. He himself struggled to score consistently, as his perimeter stroke, albeit improved, still lacks some reliability, while he didnt show up aggressive enough attacking the basket. Anyway, he did a good job as usual on defense.
Sooner or later, Tepics time likely will come, and he should become an extremely valuable player on the European scene. Draft-wise, hes not the most NBA friendly player around, and for the moment lacks a true position. He could easily sneak into the second round, but we expect him to wait until hes automatically eligible.
8. MILOS TEODOSIC (Olympiacos)
14 games: 21 mpg, 5.6 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1 spg
When it comes to performance level, it hasnt been an easy environment for Teodosic. Olympiacos is quite a mess this season. A top-4 team in Europe in terms of budget, they renewed its core again this past summer, coming up with a very talented, but highly inconsistent and not particularly team-oriented crop of players that perhaps lacked more blue collar and glue guys. In this context, Teodosic hasnt been able to provide consistent leadership from the point guard position. First, because he rarely played as a real playmaker, but more as a combo guard, therefore not being able to completely take over the control of his teams offense doing what he does best: to distribute the ball through his passing and scoring abilities, and to set the game tempo. Second, because hes still a youngster on a star-loaded squad. Third, because he has struggled with one of his best weapons, his perimeter stroke (only 23.7% accuracy). On the defensive end, he himself has a fair share of responsibility with his teams poor performance. Hes clearly not the most gifted player around on defense, given his limited lateral quickness, but he barely puts in any effort there.
If everything goes as expected, Teodosic is bound to become a European star. NBA-wise, he fills the bill for the skilled and unathletic Euro guard who struggles to make a transition to a physically very demanding league. Somebody might be interested in him in the second round, but thats not even a given.
9. OMER ASIK (Fenerbahce-Ulker)
7 games: 19 mpg, 7.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 1.4 bpg
Having joined Fenerbahce midway the regular season, Asik doesnt qualify for the official Euroleague statistical rankings, but he projects as a top-20 player in field-goal accuracy, a top-10 player in offensive rebounds and a top-5 player in blocked shots, which is remarkable since he barely averaged 19 minutes per game.
Long, nicely athletic, showing a very promising frame and actually being physical enough to take advantage of it, hes one of the very best European big-man prospects in terms of physical-athletic profile. Skill-wise is another story. Asik relies on his off-the-ball moves and his strong finishes to add points. He doesnt have any jumper to speak of at this point, his footwork is rather poor, and he barely uses his left hand to finish around the rim, becoming pretty predictable in his low post moves, as he always works to try releasing a right-handed jumphook, but anyway enjoys limited touch. On the other hand, he easily gets up to deliver powerful dunks, which ends up pumping up his shooting percentages.
Things get better on the other end of the floor, as Asik emerges as a pretty solid low post defender, also with nice mobility for defensive rotations, and a serious intimidator who takes advantage of his length, nice athleticism and timing. Very active cleaning the boards on the offensive glass, he needs to improve his boxing-out efforts to secure the defensive rebound.
Every season theres at least one guy coming virtually out of nowhere draft-wise. Asik did have experience with Turkey in the youth categories, but he had never transcended a marginal role (he always had a lot of competition there, thats true, like his fellow teammates Semih Erden and Oguz Savas). Already virtually a lock to be drafted, his stock might climb as high as the late first round, although his lack of skills limits his potential to get really high in the draft.
10. OGUZ SAVAS (Fenerbahce Ulker)
12 games: 19 mpg, 7.3 ppg, 4 rpg, 1.1 apg
The savvy center builds his offensive production though nice continuations after setting picks, and his low post game. A good off-the-ball player, Savas shows a nice sense of spacing, knowing when and where to move to fill open areas on the court. Despite his limited athleticism and voluminous appearance, he shows decent mobility, and can emerge effective cutting and receiving the ball for the layup. From the low post, he shows decent footwork, nice use of his strong body, and some ability to finish with jump-hooks, especially with his right hand. Savas can also shoot the ball with range out to the three-point line, although its not his most prolific weapon, and he ends coming up with mixed results. A nice passer from the high post, hes a valid decision maker that can help the offensive flow.
All in all, its pretty obvious that were not talking about a very intriguing player. Savas has certainly limitations in terms of potential, and the NBA seems out of reach, but he enjoys the makings of a solid player in Europe.
NOTABLES AND NOTES:
Two teams, Fenerbahce-Ulker and Partizan, gathered most of the young talent seen in this Euroleague. Not only did they combine for five players in our top-10, but the Turkish team also had the very interesting trio of Semih Erden, Emir Preldzic and Gasper Vidmar in its roster, while the Serbian powerhouse featured the former first-round-prospect Uros Tripkovic.
Tripkovic continues his free fall, and can be credited for the sad achievement of having decreased his scoring average in every single one of the last four Euroleague campaigns, truly unbelievable for a 21 year-old player.
Meanwhile, Erden keeps delivering flashes of his phenomenal potential, but fails to deliver any consistency in his game. Hes a guy who could easily crash the first round if he put everything together, but lacks the mental built to make it foreseeable in the short-term future.
The Russian powerhouse CSKA also featured a nice amount of young players. However, the early favorite to win the Euroleague didnt give them much burn, sticking to its nine-veteran-man rotation, so we couldnt get a good grasp at the likes of Alexey Shved or Artem Zabelin, high-potential players that should better start getting playing time in order to keep developing.
Lets put an end with the debut of Donatas Motiejunas in this Euroleague, as hes one of the top international prospects for years to come. The young Lithuanian power forward, who regularly plays with Zalgiris second team in the NKL, barely spent 20 minutes on the floor, but still enough to get a first taste of what is waiting for him in upcoming seasons.