Tuesday, April 12, 2011

2011 Nike Hoop Summit: How High Should Bismack Biyombo Go?

For the fourth straight year, The Painted Area was able to do some live scouting of top future prospects at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland. I attended both the game and both teams' practice sessions on Friday, while Jay Aych was at the game as well. Once again, we found the Hoop Summit to be an excellent scouting venue, as the centerpiece was a competitive game between top American players in the class of 2011 against a collection of international prospects, rather than an all-star game. Today, we're focusing on the World Team players; we'll examine the impressive class of U.S. players in the future.

Usually, the Hoop Summit is a look ahead at the following year's draft, but this year, the big story is Bismack Biyombo, a 6-9 18-year-old with a 7-7 wingspan from Congo who has been productive (averaging 6.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 56% FG, and an incredible 2.3 blocks in just 17 minutes per game) for Fuenlabrada in the Spanish ACB (easily the best domestic basketball league outside the NBA), and who is skyrocketing up draft boards for this year's NBA Draft.

Biyombo was very impressive in Saturday's game, completely controlling the area around the hoop defensively at times, en route to a triple-double of 12 points, 11 rebounds and 10 blocks. Many of his blocks were denials right at the rim, including a few against the best U.S. players; by the fourth quarter, it seemed like Biyombo was swallowing guys whole when they tried to attack him inside. The dude was getting his hands on everything, either blocks or boards (though I was surprised to look at the box score and see that only 4 of his rebounds were defensive).

Offense was more of a mixed bag for Biyombo. He scored 12 points on 5-7 FG, a couple of those being powerful dunks off of offensive rebounds (the World guards were seriously bothered by Team USA's pressure and had trouble running a halfcourt offense), including a strong finish over Anthony Davis, considered the top American prospect.

Biyombo had four turnovers, as he struggled passing out of double teams, and his post moves were erratic. He did show a couple nice drop-step moves, though there were others which resulted in travels. Also, Bismack shot just 2-8 at the line in the game, though I thought he had a decent mid-range shooting touch in practice (he shoots just 55% at the line in Spain). Defense is certainly well ahead of offense for Biyombo, but I think there were enough glimpses on O to suggest that there's something there, and that he can be more than just a Ben Wallace-style one-way player.

Biyombo and Lucas Noguiera get some shots up at Friday's practice before the watchful eyes of NBA GMs, scouts and media.

Biyombo has often been compared to Serge Ibaka, understandable considering that they are fellow countrymen, and also, both burst onto the NBA radar quickly after emerging as impressive athletes in Spanish League play at a young age. Considering the "next Ibaka" tags for Biyombo, I was a bit underwhelmed by his performance at practice on Friday (others who had been there for the full week of practices suggested that Bismack looked tired on Friday).

In time, I realized that the two are just different athletes. After the 2008 Hoop Summit, I wrote that Ibaka had "supreme athleticism". Serge is really one of the most explosive athletes I've ever seen - he's an exceedingly sleek and elegant guy on the run. Biyombo doesn't have quite the same sheer explosion or polish as Ibaka, but I would call him more powerful, and his ridiculous length helps him even out the edge Ibaka has in vertical leap. Biyombo is really just tough inside more than anything - it shows that he's been competing against men in the ACB.

Make no mistake, Biyombo is an impressive athlete. He made good blocks and catches on the run, and he has plenty of hops in his own right. The "next Ibaka" moniker is a little too simplistic - they are different players even though there are plenty of similarities in narrative and general strengths/weaknesses at this stage.


That said, as Chad Ford wrote on Monday, the main question regarding Biyombo for this year's draft is this: on the scale of raw young African big men, is he closer to Ibaka or the immortal Mouhamed Saer Sene, drafted tenth by Seattle after blocking nine shots at the 2006 Hoop Summit? I would say that Biyombo is definitely closer in potential to Ibaka.

The even bigger question, then, is this: if Bismarck Biyombo projects to deliver something close to Serge Ibaka's production, just how high should be selected in this weak draft? Ford called him a late lottery/mid-first round pick based on his talks with scouts. DraftExpress moved him up to 7 in its 2011 Mock Draft. In both cases, Harrison Barnes, Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight are rated ahead of Biyombo.

I would take Biyombo ahead of all three players as of now. I like Walker as a potentially potent weapon off the bench, but not as a full-time starter. I'm uncertain about Barnes - I like him, but I'm troubled by his inability to get to the rim or create opportunities for others. And I don't really like Knight, with his low shooting percentages and poor A/TO ratio, despite his penchant for taking and making big shots. Biyombo projects as a dominant defensive force who could become a decent offensive player - I'll take him.

Out of American prospects, I like Kyrie Irving and maybe Derrick Williams better. I'd like to see some representative ACB games for Biyombo before making a decision vs. Williams.

Overall, given the way U.S. players are returning to college left and right (with Barnes possibly next), I think Biyombo should be in the mix for the top 3-4 picks.

I know this may sound ridiculous based on one game by a young kid you've never heard of, and that this sounds like another round of Darko/Tskitishvilian overhype, but remember a couple things:

1. This draft stinks, exacerbated by so many players pulling out. Again, ask yourself, if you thought a player could produce like Serge Ibaka, where should he go in this draft? I'd rather have Ibaka than Derrick Williams.

2. The problem with picks like Darko and Tskitishvili is that these were kids who had never produced against good competition in Europe. The fact that Biyombo has been so productive per-minute for a team in the hunt for a playoff spot in the ACB is an important data point to me. The ACB is better level of competition than the NCAA, without question, especially for big men (Biyombo would have eaten any big man in the NCAA Final Four for lunch).

Potentially a bigger variable for determining Biyombo's final landing place come June is how he rates against other international prospects, who are increasingly taking over the 2011 draft lottery, especially with so many Americans opting out.

Jonas Valanciunas (Lithuania), Enes Kanter (Turkey) and Jan Vesely (Czech Republic) are all also potential top 10 picks, while Donatas Motiejunas (Lithuania) and Nikola Mirotic (Spain) are lurking as well.

Valanciunas, a 6-11 center who has produced well in Euroleague play at age 18, projects to be better than Biyombo, but it's unclear if he will stay in this year's draft.

Kanter is hard to evaluate vs. Biyombo because he is so completely different. Kanter is in many ways very similar to Jared Sullinger, against whom he competed well at the 2010 Hoop Summit. He's skilled, rugged and has developed a strong basketball IQ (Biyombo is still learning the game), but is not terribly athletic and could be a defensive liability.

Vesely looked like a NBA player in a breakout performance at the 2010 Euroleague Final Four, the highest level of competition outside the NBA, but has had an erratic 2010-11 season.

So, there's still plenty of room for stocks to go up and down before the draft, but, as much as Bismack Biyombo has already rocketed up NBA draft boards, I think there's still room to go further still.


There were other international players in action at the 2011 Nike Hoop Summit. Here is a compilation of scouting reports by a combo of Jay Aych and me:

Lucas "Bebe" Noguiera (7-0 C, Brazil, age 18): Noguiera is a string-bean of a player at 7-0/218, with a 7-6 wingspan, and he looked quite impressive in practice, using his length to catch and dunk all sorts of passes. Then, despite the fact that DraftExpress had Noguiera projected as the only 2011 first-round pick in the game other than Biyombo, World team coach Roy Rana inexplicably played him for just 13 minutes - only one player in the entire game played fewer minutes. (While we're here, let's also note that Coach Rana was the second straight World Team coach to employ a zone - still ridiculous in a game meant to showcase players' abilities more than get a W at all costs.)

Noguiera's numbers were pretty good despite the short run - 4 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block, 0 turnovers on 2-4 FG. The block came against potential 2012 no. 1 Anthony Davis. We wonder if Noguiera might project as a mid-first rounder in this draft more than a late one, based on some of the glimpses we saw, but we really can't say for sure, given that we didn't really get to see him, you know, PLAY AGAINST THE GOOD COMPETITION. Just completely ridiculous and frustrating - it's as if Coach Rana were a European club-team coach trying to hide a young prospect from NBA scouts!

Davis Bertans (6-10 F, Latvia, age 18): Did not have the greatest outing vs. the athletes of Team USA (8 points, 2 rebounds on 3-10 FG/2-6 3PT in 17 minutes). His ballhandling appeared very dicey against the Team USA ball pressure, though, from video we've seen of Bertans, his ballhandling looks solid. But even with his uneven play on Saturday, there's no doubt this kid's jumper is pure. Beautiful stroke which looked great in practice on Friday. Does a good job getting legs into shot; gets solid elevation. No excess motion in his jumper, gets his shot up pretty quickly. Moves fairly well, to the point where you could hope he wouldn't get totally abused on the defensive end as a combo forward. Maybe could be compared to Peja. Anytime you're 6'10 and can shoot like Bertans, you should be able to carve out a niche in the NBA. Right now see him as late first-round material.

Kevin Pangos (6-1 PG, Canada, age 18): Appeared to be way out of his league in this game, playing vs. top-flight D1 caliber talent, and also in practice on Friday. Looked overwhelmed by the Team USA ball pressure, length, and athleticism. After watching his performance, one wondered if he might be better suited to matriculate at Eastern Washington University instead of Gonzaga. Realize it's only one game, but you hope to see some glimpses of pro talent like you saw from the likes of Bertans, Neto, Saric and Fournier. Just didn't see any from Pangos on Saturday. Could not create any separation and did very little in way of creating scoring opportunities for his teammates. His Canadian counterpart Myck Kabongo, a McDonald's All-American, is a much better prospect than Pangos. Highly unlikely he ever sees significant time playing in the NBA.

Kyle Wiltjer (6-9 PF, Canada, age 18): Reminds me of Nick Fazekas with highly-skilled inside-out game coupled with poor physical attributes. Odd body with same labored gait that Fazekas had, in which he looks like he's running with flippers on. Should be a nice college player like Fazekas, but should have the same difficulties finding a spot in the NBA. The athleticism and pressure of Team USA affected him - coughed up some turnovers not being strong with the ball. Possibly could find a role as a reserve big, but expect him to eventually be Euro material. Had 12 points, 0 rebounds, 0 FTA on 5-15 FG/2-6 3PT in 23 minutes. Does have an old-school full hook shot in his arsenal.

Raul Neto (6-2 PG, Brazil, age 18): Wish most of Pangos' minutes had been given to Neto (Pangos played 16 minutes; Neto, 17. What did Brazil do to scar Coach Rana, anyway?). Gave Team USA problems last year at Under-18 FIBA Americas - hurt them running pick/roll like a veteran. Wish he had run more pick/roll on Saturday. Did not seemed fazed by Team USA's pressure/speed. Quick with the ball, pushed it ahead in transition well, and created nice scoring opportunities for his teammates a handful of times. Ended up with 4 points, 4 assists, 2 steals, 0 turnovers on 1-4 FG. Converted a nice floater. Was a member of the Brazilian Senior National Team at last summer's World Championships as an 18-year-old (though he barely played). Still think NBA teams need to keep Neto on the radar--possible 1st rounder in the future, at worst a nice 2nd-round stash pick.

Dario Saric (6-10 SF/PF, Croatia, age 17): Overall, a very solid performance (7 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assist, 3 turnovers on 3-6 FG/1-2 3PT in just 14 minutes), especially considering he was easily the youngest player in the game (he just turned 17 on Friday). Put the ball on the deck well for his size and really liked his passing ability - made a few sweet bounce passes; also displayed good court vision/passing instincts in practice. Hit a nice pull-up in delayed transition and buried a 3 off of Neto penetration. Adjusted to pressure well after looking flustered early. Heady player. Definitely one to watch even though he won't be in the draft until 2013 at the earliest.

Evan Fournier (6-7 SG/SF, France, age 18): Hard to tell if he's destined for the NBA or the Euroleague; latter seems likelier as of now. Struggled at times but also showed some nice skills. Like his handle with both hands and he combined this with good footwork to score on a couple drives in the painted area. Good shooting stroke and scoring instincts overall, but not sure if he'd be able to finish in the league (he wasn't able to do so against Anthony Davis in the game). Dropped a nice bounce pass in transition coming out of a spin move. Had 6 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists on 2-8 FG in 22 minutes. Maybe a 2nd-round prospect because of skill package plus smarts.

Mateusz Ponitka (6-6 SG, Poland, age 17): Along with Biyombo, Pontika was the most productive World Team player, with 17 points and 4 rebounds on 7-13 FG/1-3 3PT in 25 minutes. Pretty solid athlete who did not seemed rattled with Team USA physical dominance. Strong drives and finishes multiple times, including a couple nifty reverse finishes. Moved well off the ball, made cuts to basket with purpose. Maybe could be a 2nd-round prospect down the line, outside shot at late 1st round.


At 9:52 AM, Anonymous Filipe said...

Raul Neto lack of PT is very annoying when one remembers his Brazilian team allowed him to play in the game despite he been there 6th man and NBB been on middle of playoffs.

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