The regular season of the most competitive international league is over, and the Top 16 stage is just revving into high gear. Some prospects are done as far as the Euroleague goes, but others continue onto the next round. To reflect on what we've learned since the beginning of the season, we look at 15 players who have seen their stock rise, drop or remain steady, ending with those who dropped.
Tiago Splitter, 7-0, 1985, PF/C, Tau Vitoria
23 mpg, 9.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 57% FG, 41% FT
An unexpected disappointment so far in this version of the Euroleague, Tiago Splitter's season has been uneventfully mediocre in the worst possible time both for him and his team.
A wunderkid since his mid-teens, Splitter has been gradually improving and was thrown in the Euroleague stage from a very young age in order to receive and absorb the necessary experience and become a star in later stages of his career. In parallel, he was always considered a top NBA prospect, entering the draft and pulling out each year since 2004 despite being considered a likely lottery pick, thanks to a contract situation that did it’s best to keep NBA suitors at bay. Having played next to some of the Euroleague's top players and against some of the best competition imaginable outside the NBA, one would expect that Tiago would be ready to contribute as soon as his time would arrive. Now that it has, he has disappointed to a certain extent.
After a promising start in Spain, including some dominant performances in the preseason, Splitter suffered from a nagging back injury, the extent of which is still very much unclear as far as long-term repercussions go. This has limited his offensive confidence and his stability in general. Splitter looked like he was on track for a monster season after looking terrific in the World Championships in Japan, and with frontcourt mate and Tau’s star Luis Scola out with an early injury, everything was in place for him to emerge as the team's go-to player in the paint. Of course, this seemed like a natural progression for him, as the raw tools were always there for him to succeed. Good use of his body, decent footwork, solid athletic ability, defensive presence, a good but not stable release from mid-range and a number of well-worked post moves were more than enough for a very good player in the paint. Alas, though, it was not meant to be.
His post moves remain solid, but he doesn't deliver as often and as productively as he used to, while his defensive rebounding -- an important field of his game that already needed improvement -- appears worse than in the past. Since his injury, he is severely lacking intensity and confidence, and his offensive repertoire remains fairly ordinary. He acts as he is scared to contribute more offensively, looks passive more than often lately, gets frustrated and is struggling to establish that same crucial role he held in the past as his team’s energizer. The little confidence he once had in his mid-range jumper is nowhere to be found as well. There’s been more than one case of opposing post players having dominant performances against him, particularly on the offensive glass.
The reason for his limited productivity is not completely clear—likely a combination of his injury problems, the more perimeter oriented style of offense that his team features this year, and the mystery concerning his team's stance on him leaving for the NBA this summer. Whatever it is, Splitter will need to get back on track soon in order to regain the ground he’s lost over the past few months and it needs to start right away in the Euroleague top-16 round, where his team will need him the most.
Mantas Kalnietis, 6-5, 1986, PG, Zalgiris
13 mpg, 4.0 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.7 T/Os
In what has been a disastrous season for Lithuania's top basketball club, it’s not a huge shock that Mantas Kalnietis has followed suit with poor play. Considered a lock for the top-16 lock before the season started, Zalgiris Kaunas was instead the worst team in the Euroleague this year, suffering through severe underachieving on the part of most of its players, coaching changes, player replacements, and star guard Marko Popovic getting injury. In all that chaos, Kalnietis didn't see the kind of playing time he might have expected, and wasted most of the little opportunities that the coaching stuff trusted him with.
Struggling to get significant playing time, Kalnietis looked like a fish out of water in the first games of the season. As soon as Popovic got injured, Mantas started playing more, but his game was neither stable nor patient enough to help Zalgiris achieve better outcomes. He remains a top prospect when it comes to his athletic abilities and his smoothness in the open court, but there are several flaws that become more and more notable when it comes to his point guard skills. His passing ability is good, maybe not exceptional at this stage of his career, yet good enough to help him average more than the 1.3 assists that he had this year. He sees the court relatively well and runs the floor smoothly aided by his nice speed, which he combines with very nice size. His ball-handling skills are improvable, but more than anything he lacks the experience to know when to push and when to slow down. The fact that his basketball IQ is fairly average was seen more than ever this year, and on an already underachieving team, that was just not going to get the job done. Kalnietis struggles badly with his outside shot, and when it came to utilizing his excellent athleticism to put the ball on the floor, he showed questionable decision making skills.
On defense, he makes good use of his size, and despite his thin frame, he is a solid presence. He manages to keep smaller players in front of him thanks to his quickness, wingspan and above average footwork. He does seem to be lacking in experience in this area, though, not showing great awareness particularly in the team concept.
We may have been expecting a little too much out of Kalnietis after he seemingly emerged out of nowhere from the 2nd division to claim a spot in Zalgiris’ rotation and eventually the Lithuanian national team, and it indeed appears that things were moving a little bit too fast as far as the hype and expectations were concerned.
Uros Tripkovic, 6-5, 1986, Shooting Guard, Partizan
24 mpg, 9.5 ppg, 37.8% FG, 37.5% 3PT, 81% FT, 1.9 rpg, 1.5 apg
In what can’t be considered anything less than a wasted opportunity considering the situation he’s been in playing for Partizan in the Euroleague over the past two seasons, the once extremely highly regarded Serbian talent of Uros Tripkovic is still yet to manifest itself on the court on a regular basis, besides limited occasional glimpses from time to time. Although he’s still only 20 years old, it’s hard not to get a sense that he will have a hard time living up to the lofty expectations that were created from the tremendous potential he showed very early on his career.
Last season, he was expected to be Partizan's second option on offense, following Dejan Milojevic. He never reached any kind of stability, struggling to insert himself on a consistent basis and only having three regular season games with 15 points or more, while finishing with a 2-12 record. This season, it got even worse. Partizan surprisingly made the top-16 round, but mainly thanks to its strong frontline. Tripkovic was passive again, struggling to emerge in any kind of go to role, at least as a solid compliment to all the attention that his frontcourt players received after pulling off a few early wins. Uros is talented, with a great shooting touch, solid athleticism, and excellent scoring instincts. He slashes particularly well and passes the ball when he has to.
However, the issue here is that all these things existed two years ago already, when Tripkovic was really a promising Euroleague youngster. Now that he is considered more experienced after two years as a full-time starter, it is very surprising that he is still at the same level mentally. His shot selection can be extremely poor, his concentration level questionable and his frame is still yet to fill out. He doesn't put much focus on defense and is too weak to be a steady factor, despite his solid lateral quickness. The shp surely hasn’t sailed for him yet, as you can still see quite a bit of talent even through the maddening inconsistency, but at some point he will have to produce the kind of results you’d expect from a starting Euroleague guard. Partizan is still in the top 16, and Tripkovic has another year before becoming draft eligible, but it will take quite a bit of improvement to erase the many poor performances he’s had in front of countless scouts over the past two seasons.
Luksa Andric, 6-11, PF/C, Cibona, 1985
11.3mpg 4.3ppg 2.6rpg 0.3bpg
Luksa Andric has struggled to take the next step in his progression that he sorely needed this season, and considering that he is automatically eligible for this year’s draft, his chances of hearing his name called have lessened significantly. Andric’s season has been plagued by inconsistency so far, he has been good in some games, while in others the coach was forced to pull him out after some poor plays, mostly on the defensive end. Speaking of the positives, Luksa is showing nice intensity and energy level, while he has been able to establish himself as a good shooter from mid-range on the offensive side.
He was especially impressive from that distance in a game against Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he hit a series of mid-range jumpers and was a key part in Cibona’s win. He also played good post defense on former NBA player Peja Drobnjak. These instances were too far and few between, though. Andric struggled to rotate properly in the team defense concept and often found himself out of position to make plays. He still has a habit of picking up quick fouls, which has further limited his minutes as a bench player. On the offensive side, he had some success posting up and is quite skilled in that regard, but more often than not opponents where able to disrupt him with their physicality and limit his effectiveness. He will need to learn how to take physical contact better, since he starts panicking and rushes his shot when guarded closely. Andric shows good passing ability and an above average basketball IQ, having a good understanding of the action on the court and a solid feel for the game.
Andric lacks some vertical explosiveness and is a poor finisher around the rim. Instead of dunking the ball instantly, he often does not react fast enough and ends up blowing easy shots. He has good ball-handling ability, but his footwork is poor when driving to the rim. He is still a pretty raw player, with quite a bit of untapped potential. Andric has good size, decent athleticism, very good hands and an excellent attitude to work with, so there might be a hope for him down the road to become an NBA player.
Marco Belinelli 6-5, Shooting Guard, Climamio Bologna, 1986
27.7mpg, 12.8ppg, 1.9rpg, 1.3apg, 32/73 FG, 24/75 3P, 75.6% FT
After an impressive game against the United States in the World Championship in Japan, Marco Belinelli’s stock took a bit of a hit in the Euroleague season. He’s come down to earth a bit as defenses have keyed on him much more intensively, struggling with his shot during a good part of the campaign and showing a pretty one dimensional offensive game. Belinelli has been very reluctant to drive to the basket, instead settling mostly for tough, long range jumpers that didn’t fall at any kind of consistent clip. The fact that he can get his shot off against any kind of opposition might have a lot to do with Belinelli’s lack of aggressiveness when speaking about slashing game. Marco is a jump-shooter in the truest sense, possessing beautiful form on his shot and being able to knock down 3-pointers from almost anywhere on the floor. Whether coming off a screen, shooting off the dribble or simply elevating over an opponent for a fade-away shot, Belinelli shows a high release point, deep range and exceptional touch.
Even if he relies too heavily on his shot to produce points, Marco shows flashes of possessing a solid all-around offensive game. The problem is that he hasn’t shown the willingness to put it all together just yet. He has a good first step and nice athleticism, and is a solid ball-handler with pretty good court vision. Often you got the feel that Marco doesn’t make full use of his abilities and could do so much more on the court, instead of just settling for 3’s from the perimeter. His defensive effort is also above average when he decides to apply himself, using his decent lateral quickness and long arms to disrupt opponents and deny dribble penetrations.
Whether he declares this year or waits until 2008 when he will be automatically eligible, Belinelli has the makings of first round pick. Even though his shooting percentages dropped and his team struggled to qualify for the Top-16, he’s still one of the best shooting guard prospects around. He is also a pretty safe bet, considering that he has that one skill that he could utilize from day one on the NBA court - his shot. With time and good coaching, the rest of his game should develop as well, meaning he has the potential to become more than just a spot-up shooting threat.
Dusan Sakota, 6-9, Small Forward, Panathinaikos, 1986
8.7mpg 2.9ppg 1.0rpg 2FG 2/2 3FG 5/14 FT 1/1
Dusan Sakota was never considered a big time prospect to start with, despite putting up solid numbers in junior competitions as well as a good performance in the Nike Hoop Summit game two years ago. Regardless, he received some attention from scouts in the past few years, but as went goes by, his attractiveness has decreased as many of his weaknesses became exposed at the Euroleague level. There are many question marks around how he might fare against the more athletic and physical competition of the NBA. The fact that he plays for one of the most powerful teams in Europe - Panathinaikos Athens, doesn’t help either since Dusan has struggled to receive necessary playing time as he is not a regular part of the rotation.
Sakota lacks a true position, having the offensive game of a small forward, the size of a power forward, and the quickness of a center. He struggles to stay in front of most perimeter players since he doesn’t have adequate lateral speed. He also hardly shows any post skills and his slight build makes him a regular victim in the post. His biggest asset is his size and perimeter jumper, standing somewhere around 6-9, possessing long arms to get his shot off. He is good shooter with range beyond the international three-point line, but mostly from static positions. Occasionally Sakota will show glimpses of a slashing game, putting the ball on the floor and taking advantage of the unbalanced position of his defender, but this is not his usual resource of scoring. Dusan shows good mobility running up and down the floor, but his athleticism would be a serious issue in the NBA. Defensively he has a lot work to do, even if he shows good awareness and instincts reading offenses and making quality rotations, his lack of speed and strength limits his overall ability on that side of the floor.
Considering that he doesn’t have a true position, is not a impressive athlete and doesn’t show a great skill-set outside of his jumper, Sakota is on the outside looking in when speaking about an NBA draft. While we cannot exclude the option of someone picking him up in the 2nd round, it will take either some great individual workouts or serious improvement in his game over the course of next season to see that happening. Sakota will need to start contributing on the European level sooner rather than later, and a change of scenery might be necessary for him to get some consistent playing time.