Here is what we saw:
Damir Markota, 6-11 SF/PF 1985 Croatia, KK Cibona (26 minutes, 16 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, 1 turnover, 6/9 FG, 1/1 FT)
Unlike last season, Markota was getting many touches on the offensive end and was playing a lot of pick and roll with Scoonie Penn. His lower body strength looks improved, although his upper body still needs quite a bit of work. You can tell that he has been hitting the weight room, but the results will be tougher to come by because of his narrow frame.
Defensively he was guarding Tomic pretty well, disrupting him from establishing position in the post and contesting many shots. Damir moved his feet well and was often helping his perimeter oriented teammates with good results. He rebounded well as he can simply jump a bit higher than anyone else on the floor thanks to his excellent athletic ability. Markota also came up with one monster block on Zagrebs point guard Ozren Misic. Coach Anzulovic replaced him with Luksa Andric with 2 minutes left in the 1st period and Markota stayed on the bench until 5 minutes to go in halftime. When he came in again he made another three-pointer that capped off an excellent first half for him. In the 2nd he didnt get nearly as many touches and came away with just 2 points off a beautiful hook shot after a spin move under Zagrebs basket.
Markota plays on offense more like a small forward, showing great speed and shooting touch, but at nearly 7-foot he cant guard perimeter players with much success, so adding some more post moves and bulk might be a priority for him. If he continues to play like this Markota could very well be one of hottest international names for the 2006 NBA draft.
Perhaps the biggest improvement has come in Markotas attitude as he is now playing with great effort and is looking very motivated to prove himself at this level. The good news for him is that his main competition at power forward, American Bennett Davison, is injured and will be out for the next 2-3 weeks.
Ante Tomic, 7-2 PF/C 1987 Croatia, KK Zagreb (22 minutes, 6 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 3 turnover, 3/8 FG, fouled out)
His skinny body jumps at you as by far his biggest weakness currently. He is very narrow, especially in the lower body with his rail thin legs. He was completely outmuscled on both ends of the floor, struggling to establish position in the post and being exposed in man-to-man defense. You cant deny that he put in the effort and fought hard, but he simply has no body to play in the post as of right now. He has a great motor and is very quick for someone this tall, though. Tomics vertical is also good as he picked up his fair share of rebounds despite struggling to box-out at times. His lateral quickness is also above average and Ante definitely has potential to be a good defender down the road as he gets stronger. On the offensive side he couldnt do much in the post, but managed to show flashes of his remarkable skill-set regardless. His ball-handling is exceptional, just like his court vision, and he passed the ball accordingly extremely well for most of the game to finish with 3 assists in 22 minutes. His court sense is pretty rare for a 7 foot center, reminding at times of his countrymen and Maccabi Tel Aviv star Nikola Vujcic is this department. He didnt take any jumpers in this game, but during warmups you could see that he can knock down shots from mid-range with regularity, showing smooth mechanics in the process. All of his points came from easy layups so there isnt much else to speak off in terms of his offensive game. He would have played even more if he didnt pick up two silly fouls early in the 2nd half before fouling out. Zagreb will obviously give him a great chance to prove himself and we are looking forward to following his development, as his potential appears to be huge.
Ivan Papac, 6-10 PF 1986 Croatia, KK Zagreb (23 minutes, 14 points, 4 rebounds, 5-12 FG, 3-4 FT)
Papac raised some eyebrows with his play yesterday and we definitely have another player to follow for the time being. He has good size for a power forward and is a quick player on top of that. Unsurprisingly he is skinny just like Tomic and prefers to play facing the basket. His finishing around the basket was better then Tomics, though, as he plays with more energy and aggressiveness. Papac is a good athlete with good speed and quick feet, although his vertical leap is not the charts. He can get off the floor, though, as well as finish above the rim.
Offensively his main weapon is his shot, he has a quick release and is rather accurate with range out to the international three-point lane. Papac doesnt seem particularly skilled at this point in his career and will definitely need to work on his body and defense. Still, he has three more years before losing draft eligibility and Zagreb is one of the best places for developing talent.
Luska Andric, 6-10 PF 1985 Croatia, KK Cibona (17 minutes, 1 point, 4 rebounds, 2 blocks, 1 steal, 0/3 FG, ½ FT)
Papac is a good rebounder who boxes out better than most youngsters, while showing good body control and soft hands. Offensively he didnt do much as there arent and probably wont be any plays called for him, while he isnt skilled enough at the moment to create his own shot. He has range on his jumper out to three-point land and his mechanics are good, but in this game he didnt try to shoot from outside except for on one occasion. Cibonas roster is pretty loaded so when Davison comes back Andric might see only garbage time, which is a shame for him as he could probably play major minutes in some of the lesser quality clubs in the Adriatic league.
Kruno Simon, 6-5 PG/SG 1985 Croatia, KK Zagreb (36 minutes, 16 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, 1 turnover, 6-11 FG, 3-4 FT)
Last year Simon was firmly in the shadow of Marko Tomas and Damir Miljkovic, but now with those two gone he becomes the go-to-guy of a very young Zagreb team. Listed at 6-5 he is a bit undersized for the SG spot, while his athleticism isnt off the charts either. Kruno has very good bulk for a SG and wont need to add any more pounds.
Simon can create his own shot with his speed and good ball-handling skills at this level. He can play some point as well, as his court vision is above average and is an adequate passer. He could find himself in this situation frequently this season, being that the only other PG on his team is TJ Fords former teammate at Texas Kenny Taylor, who doesnt really excel in getting his teammates involved. In this particular game Simon was the main scorer and ball-handler for his team. He is fairly good at both shooting and penetrating. He has a quick release, but his jumper can be a bit streaky. Defensively he gets into the passing lines, often risking his defensive position in the process, but it would be nice to see him being more aggressive on this side of the floor. He has decent footwork and can stay in front of his man, while also helps a lot in the rebounding department. Simon is also the captain of this team which should tell you that he has some leadership skills. His chances of making it to the NBA one day arent big, but well have to wait and see what he can do in his new role this season. The main problem with him is that he does everything well, but nothing great.