Thursday, June 30, 2011

Early 2012 NBA Draft Thoughts: Evaluating the High School Class of 2011

Back in April, The Painted Area was able to do some live scouting of top future NBA prospects at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland. Normally, this event is a showcase for players who will be drafted in future years, but a major story of the 2011 Hoop Summit was the emergence of Bismack Biyombo, who became a top prospect in this year's draft. As a result, our original Hoop Summit post in April focused on Biyombo and the international players on the World team.

We'd been hoping to follow up soon after with our take on the Team USA players, but then we had regular-season wrap-up followed immediately by playoffs, yada yada yada, and this post got delayed. So we decided to hold this Team USA post until now, post-Draft, as this is mainly a look at players who are expected to be major factors in the 2012 NBA Draft.

The 2011 edition of the Nike Hoop Summit offered a particularly good look at the top prospects in this year's high-school class - quite possibly a nice peek ahead at several of the 2012 NBA Draft's lottery picks - as seven of the top eight ranked players in the ESPNU Class of 2011 rankings were in the ballgame. Those seven are all currently ranked in the top 16 picks on Chad Ford's 2012 Big Board.

(Of course, the 2012 Draft should also prominently feature several players who chose to return to college for the 2011-12 season. We've previously offered in-person scouting reports of Harrison Barnes and Jared Sullinger, after watching them at the 2010 Nike Hoop Summit, and Perry Jones and Terrence Jones, after catching high-school games of theirs in 2009-10. We think those scouting reports still hold up pretty well.)

For the Hoop Summit, I attended both the game and the last day of practice. Once again, I found the Hoop Summit to be an excellent scouting venue, as the centerpiece was a competitive game pitting USA vs. the World. Additionally, I watched the two other major all-star games - the McDonald's All-American Game and the Jordan Brand Classic - on television. Even though they are all-star games, I believe history has shown that the best players generally rise to the top in these games. Not always, but often. Also, I saw other high-school games for a few of these players. OK, on we go with the high-school Class of 2011.


If I had to characterize this group generally, I'd have to say it's a defensive-minded class. Across the board, guys really got after it on D at the Hoop Summit, playing a 2-2-1 trap from about three-quarters court that fell back into a tough half-court man-to-man defense. Team USA held the World Team to just 37.5% FG shooting on the game, including a paltry 3-21 (14.3%) in a first quarter which set the tone for a 92-80 victory. It's a good group of American prospects, with defense definitely being ahead of ball skills for these young players, for the most part.

Two of the key leaders for Team USA were a pair of Kentucky recruits, Anthony Davis (6-10 PF) and Michael Gilchrist (6-7 SF). Currently, the Chicago-bred Davis is considered to be an early consensus choice as the potential no. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. I had been a bit underwhelmed by Davis in the McDonald's All-American Game, even though he put up big numbers (14 points, 6 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 blocks on 5-8 FG in 21 minutes), and also at the abbreviated Team USA practice prior to the Hoop Summit.

After watching Davis in the Hoop Summit game, I started to get more of a sense of what the hype is about. The central narrative around Davis is that he'd been a guard all his life, until a late growth spurt turned him into a 6-10 player with uncommon open-court skills, making him suddenly elite. Indeed, Davis is fairly gangly, as he still seems to be growing into his body. He was very active on both ends at the Hoop Summit, displaying why his game has drawn comparisons to the young KG, as he was very active in challenging shots and trapping on D, running the floor, and showing the ability to pass, catch and finish on the run.

All told, Davis went for 16 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks on 8-13 FG in 23 minutes, and he followed that up with an even more impressive line in the Jordan Classic: 29 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks on 13-15 FG in 29 minutes.

Still... there's something missing with Davis that keeps me from anointing him as an unassailable no. 1 or future superstar, as of now. I respect his full package of skills in the open floor, but I'm uncertain about him as a go-to offensive player in a half-court setting. I look forward to seeing more of Davis at Kentucky, but for now, he's not my no. 1.

As far as Gilchrist goes, I'm trying not to get too irrationally exuberant. I love watching the guy play - there's a real Pippenesque all-around quality to his game, with the way he defends all over the court, hit the boards and passes. The big question mark around Gilchrist is whether he'll be able to score enough to be a true NBA star. In a matchup between the top two ranked high-school teams in America, for example, Gilchrist was held to seven points on 2-11 FG as his St. Patrick's (N.J.) team lost to their rivals from St. Anthony's (N.J.).

In the Hoop Summit, Gilchrist's offensive game was on, and I thought he was spectacularly good. He contributed 16 points, five rebounds and five blocks on 6-9 FG in 25 minutes, and he really did a little bit of everything. Gilchrist knocked down a three, he hit a pullup two, he converted a runner and-one, he lead the break. And it was Gilchrist's defense and blocked shots which were especially impressive: he had a block on the run, a block vs. a seven-footer (Lucas Nogueira, a good prospect), a chasedown block.

I thought Gilchrist's all-around play was excellent in all three all-star games, though he did shoot just 1-4 on threes and 11-20 on FTs overall. He needs to be a more consistent scorer, there's no doubt. But if he can improve in that area, I think Gilchrist has a shot to go no. 1 in 2012, which would really be something, as it would mean Coach Kevin Boyle's St. Patrick's program would have produced top picks in two straight years, as Kyrie Irving played there also.

There was another Kentucky-bound player, Marcus Teague (6-2 PG), on the Team USA roster, and I have to say I'm largely unimpressed by Teague after watching him in all three all-star games. Much like the other top PG in the class, Canadian Myck Kabongo, Teague is fast, but way too turnover-prone, and questionable in both decision-making and shooting ability.

Teague had six points on just 3-10 FG in the Hoop Summit, with three assists and 2 TOs in 22 minutes. That was after a three-assist/five-TO performance in the McDonald's game, on just 4-10 shooting. All told, Teague went 0-4 on threes in the three games.

Strangely, the guy I like best in this class right now is a player who didn't really get to show his stuff at the Hoop Summit, James McAdoo (6-8 PF), who's headed to North Carolina. McAdoo was constantly in foul trouble in Portland, and was never able to get his game on track, finishing with six points and seven rebounds on 2-4 FG in 15 minutes.

But I loved the way McAdoo played at both the McDonald's game (17 points on 8-13 FG in 21 minutes) and the Jordan game (26 points and 14 rebounds on 10-16 FG in 27 minutes). McAdoo's a smooth and explosive athlete who can both finish alley-oops and hit deep jumpers (he made 3-4 threes overall). He also has excellent length, which he used to his advantage by shooting into passing lanes defensively to create turnovers and easy buckets.

I thought McAdoo was better than Davis at the McDonald's game, and comparable at the Jordan game. I'd rate McAdoo as my no. 1 in the class currently, though I'd certainly have Davis, Gilchrist and Quincy Miller (a Baylor recruit who missed most of the season with a torn ACL) all in the running, as well. I do recognize that McAdoo's size could end up being an issue in the league - he could another inch or two of height. Along with Barnes and Sullinger, I think these will be the six elite players in the 2012 NBA Draft, should all decide to come out.

One thing that's clear is that I absolutely can't wait to watch Kentucky and North Carolina play next season. Considering returning players, the two teams could end up producing as many as eight lottery picks (Barnes, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, McAdoo, Davis, Gilchrist, Jones, Teague), with a few other potential first-rounders in there as well (Kendall Marshall, P.J. Hairston, Doron Lamb). Getcha popcorn ready for when these teams square off at Rupp Arena on Dec. 3. 11 potential first-round picks in one game! I wouldn't mind turning the whole thing into a seven-game series!

On we go. One player whose ball skills are definitely ahead of defense is Austin Rivers (6-3 G/Duke), who was Team USA's offensive leader with 20 points on 7-11 FG and 3-4 threes. Rivers, the son of Doc Rivers, is exceptionally quick with the ball and has a gorgeous crossover in particular, as well as deep shooting range.

I have little doubt that Rivers will be an outstanding college player for Coach K, but I find him to be overrated as a pro prospect, given that he's ranked at the top of the class. He is a shooting guard through and through, as he's a gunner with subpar court vision. Given that, I just don't see him having the size or explosiveness to be a true star in the NBA. I think Rivers will struggle to score at the rim in the league, as he did in the Hoop Summit when Biyombo denied him. And after watching Rivers not only in the three all-star games, but also in high-school matchups vs. Gilchrist's team this year and Brandon Knight's last year, he's just not as good of a passer as he needs to be, given his good-but-not-great athleticism.

Quinn Cook (6-1 PG) will be Rivers' backcourt-mate at Duke, where they should be a potent tandem. Cook is a relatively low-rated player in the class (no. 37 by ESPN) who had an excellent Hoop Summit, with 12 points and three assists (against only one TO) on 5-7 FG/2-4 3PT in 16 minutes. Cook also scored 14 in 21 minutes in the McDonald's game. Cook strikes me as a player who'll be a standout in the college game, but I'm not sure he'll be an impact player as a pro PG.

Tony Wroten (6-4 PG/Washington) is a mercurial player whom I've had the chance to see several times here in Seattle, as he attended Garfield H.S. in town, the alma mater of the likes of Brandon Roy, Jimi Hendrix and Bruce Lee. Wroten was ranked right up at the top of this class as a freshman, but he's been plagued by maturity issues, which likely played a role in his getting snubbed from the McDonald's game (ludicrous on a talent basis), and which - along with a torn ACL suffered during an ill-advised stint playing football as a junior - caused him to slide in the rankings (down to no. 16 on ESPN).

Wroten's performances in the Hoop Summit and the Jordan Brand Classic offered reminders that a lack of talent is not his issue. His court vision is at times stunning, and easily the best in the class in my opinion. Wroten ranked right up there with Davis and McAdoo as the best players on the floor at the Jordan game, with a line of 16 points, seven rebounds and 10 assists in just 16 minutes. His passing was simply extraordinary in that game.

The problem is that you never know exactly which Wroten you're going to get. In the practice prior to the Hoop Summit, my facetious estimate was that Wroten had 27 points, 26 assists and 25 turnovers in the scrimmage. He's always making plays, good and bad. Walker Beeken of DraftExpress made the observation to me in Portland that Wroten doesn't pass to pass, he passes for assists, and I think there's some validity there.

Wroten was certainly the proverbial box of chocolates at the Hoop Summit, with four points, five assists, three TO's on 1-4 FG in 17 minutes. He seemed to alternate bad plays with good ones - an atrocious TO followed by a gorgeous full-court pass to Davis; an exceptional display of court vision offset by a lack of awareness leading to a 24-second violation. He did get after it on D, and just had all manner of beautiful passes - alley-oops, backdoors, no-looks, underhanded dishes - to remind observers that he is still one of the top talents in this class.

I saw Wroten twice during his senior regular-season, and again got a taste of the Jekyll/Hyde nature of his game. In the marquee game of the annual King Holiday Hoopfest, played on the big stage at the University of Washington, Wroten seemed to try too hard to put on a show, throwing multiple 100-mph no-look passes that were so ridiculous that they induced laughter as they flew out of bounds.

The other time I saw him, Wroten was just masterful with a 32-10-10 triple-double against a good opponent. These were a legit 10 assists, too - no NBA cheapies, as he repeatedly set guys up at the rim. He was as under control in this game as he was out of control at the King Hoopfest.

Wroten's an interesting case athletically. He certainly has excellent size for a PG, and outstanding speed as well (he ran an eye-popping 10.78 100 during track season this spring). There is some question as to whether the torn ACL may have robbed Wroten of some explosiveness - he does not seem to have great explosion vertically, though the southpaw is a very strong driver, almost always going to his left, and capable of acrobatic finishes.

Really, Tony Wroten will determine how high he ultimately gets drafted. He has the talent to vault himself into the top 10, I'm convinced, but if he can't keep his head on straight consistently, he could just as easily become a second-round pick.

Florida-bound Bradley Beal (6-4 SG) is one of the top-rated players in the class, and he looked good on the all-star circuit. He's a strong and tough player who showed off his finishing ability at Hoop Summit with a good strong dunk on the break. Beal's numbers were only OK in Portland (8-4-3 on 2-6 FG in 24 minutes) after a 17-5-4 in 21 minutes in the McDonald's game. Beal draws comparisons to Ray Allen as a shooter, though he hit only 2-11 threes on the all-star circuit. He's a solid player, no doubt, though size could become an issue for him as he's clearly an SG.

Adonis Thomas (6-6 SF/Memphis) is a top-10 ranked player who was really underwhelming to me across all three games. He was certainly a non-factor at Hoop Summit, where he had two points on 1-5 FG in 14 minutes. Amazingly, that was his best all-star game, as he shot a combined 3-24 FG in the three games. Yikes!

Rakeem Christmas (6-9 PF/Syracuse) was the oldest player in the game (well, depending upon what you think Biyombo's age is!), at almost 19 1/2. He was decent at Hoop Summit, with two points, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal in 17 minutes. Doesn't project to be an impact pro.

Friday, June 24, 2011

2011 NBA Draft Musings: The Biyombo Divide & More

Another NBA Draft night is in the books. While I don't think there were any epochal shifts in the NBA landscape, there was plenty of fun and intrigue to be enjoyed, as usual. Cleveland has to walk away as the biggest winner of the evening, for nabbing the most bankable player in the draft in Kyrie Irving, as well as another promising prospect in Tristan Thompson, though I do wonder if the Cavs will regret passing on Jonas Valanciunas at 4 as time goes by.

Overall, though, the most interesting storyline around the 2011 NBA Draft to me, now and into the future, revolves around Bismack Biyombo and his development. I thought that Biyombo caused the most distinct split in opinion among draft evaluators, professional and amateur, in this year's class.

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress - who is, in my opinion, one of the two giants for NBA Draft coverage, along with Chad Ford - had Biyombo ranked as the 3rd-best prospect in this class. In a tweet last week, Givony said, "Biyombo's combination of length, athleticism, intensity, aggressiveness and smarts is simply unheard of. Pass on him at your own peril."

On the Timberwolves blog CanisHoopus, Stop-n-Pop did epic work with deep data analysis to create his 2011 Draft Board, and concluded that Biyombo should have been the no. 2 pick in this draft. Here's an excerpt:
    Biyombo will rebound AND block shots. He will foul and his offensive game will definitely be a work in progress, but I’m fairly confident that he will be able to rebound and block shots like an established NBA player from day one. He is also the most athletic player in the draft. Awesome production in two key categories + amazing athleticism is a no brainer.

    We don't bat an eye when a guy like Derrick Williams shows signs of being an upper-level shooter with an upper level ability to get to the line; why do we show apprehension with a guy who might be better at two skills that likely have a better history of transferring to the NBA? Why not pair the possibility of upper level shot blocking, defense and rebounding with upper level rebounding and efficient scoring (Love) and passing (Rubio)? Rubio + Biyombo + Love has the possibility to be this amazing collection of upper level role players who are simply in need of a single high volume scorer. It sets everything up for the Season of Redemption for Senor Skittles.

    Anywho, this guy absolutely deserves to be taken with the 2nd pick. The only question about why he should be taken lower has to do with questions of pick value. He’ll be a tough sale to casual fans on the day after the draft, but Biyombo is the pick. He has to be.
I watched Biyombo practice and play at the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland, and came away thinking along similar lines. I think Bismack Biyombo is the third-best prospect in this year's class, and I'd probably be more likely to have Biyombo (and possibly Valanicunas, too) in the same draft "tier" as Irving and Williams than not.

Again, a big part of why I like Biyombo is in the context of this year's draft, which was weak at the top relative to previous years. I think he's a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate, which alone gives him a far higher ceiling than most players in this draft. Offense is obviously a question mark, but I don't think it needs to be much more than what Ben Wallace provided, given the level of basket protection I believe Biyombo will provide.

I believe in Biyombo because of his exceptional defensive production in the Spanish ACB (in a small sample size, granted), a higher level than NCAA ball, coupled with the way he completely dominated the basket area in the Hoop Summit against several players who are expected to be top 10 picks in next year's draft - and who would have been top 10 picks last night, frankly, given that it's expected to be a stronger draft in 2012.

I have no doubts Biyombo can become a dominant defender, and believe that he can become good enough on offense. The main reason to doubt Biyombo, in my opinion, are questions about his age. Givony has looked into this issue as closely as anyone, so I trust his judgment when he says he believes Biyombo is 18, or 20 at most.

Of course, reasonable people disagree on this player evaluation. Lots of hoop fans seem skeptical of Biyombo, and seem to expect him to be another Darko/Skita-type bust as an out-of-nowhere prospect. Jay Bilas ranked Biyombo just 18th on his list of prospects. John Hollinger had Biyombo 11th on his Draft Rater. Even in this space, Jay Aych was willing to commit to Biyombo as only a top 15 prospect in his scouting report, concluding with this:
    I do understand the apprehension some NBA decision-makers have about Biyombo. Biyombo only has one season of substance under his belt, and that was only 15 games. And his rawness on the offensive end gives you pause. He needs a ton of polishing on the offensive end and he might always be a big liability.

    But Biyombo's elite physical skills allow him to wreak havoc on defense and the boards much like Ben Wallace. And he's proven his worth against serious competition in Spain.
What Bismack Biyombo becomes as a player is the most fascinating storyline of the 2011 NBA Draft to me. Needless to say, I think Charlotte was a big winner yesterday. I love the value in both Biyombo at 7 and Kemba Walker at 9, and liked the trade which landed them the 7th pick. They may take a short-term hit in essentially giving up Steven Jackson for youngsters, but I like the moves for the MikeCats in the long-term, and think yesterday's actions were a promising sign that the surprising hire of Rich Cho as GM has finally brought a sense of rationality to the decision-making process in Charlotte.

-- On the flip side, I thought Minnesota could have done better overall, though the grade is still incomplete. I think Derrick Williams is the 2nd-best prospect, but a bad fit for Minnesota because he overlaps with Kevin Love. We'll see if the Timberwolves can turn Williams into a better fit via trade, but I think Minnesota should have considered Biyombo at 2, primarily because he fits their needs very well (I concur on that point with Stop-n-Pop above) and also because I don't think there's a wide gulf between the two prospects. I think Williams is better, yes, but I could see Biyombo's defense being better than Williams' offense in the league.

Couple that with the Timberwolves' somewhat comical slide backwards with a serious of trades - I was amused that I thought they made good value picks at each slot, only for it to be continually revealed that these picks were made for other teams - for nothing more than money, a top-14-protected future pick, Brad Miller, and Malcolm Lee (who I do like at 43, but still) and I thought the end result was underwhelming.

I was also a little surprised that Toronto didn't take the plunge on Biyombo at 5, to go all in on a culture change with defensive-minded Dwane Casey taking over as head coach of the league's worst defensive team.

-- Otherwise, I liked what Chicago did in picking up Nikola Mirotic for the future at 23. Givony had him ranked at 7 among this year's prospects, while Jay Aych considered him a lottery-worthy prospect in his recent Mirotic scouting report here.

Mirotic slipped because he recently signed a long-term deal with Real Madrid, and won't be coming over for another two-to-four years. He's only 20 now, and has already produced at the highest levels of European competition. He could be a nice battle-tested piece ready to slip into Chicago's rotation and help them continue to compete for championships as the decade moves on. I am concerned about Mirotic's average athleticism, but the value of this pick was unquestionably exceptional.

-- Meanwhile, I thought Sacramento had a terrible day, with a mind-boggling trade which both made its team worse and caused it to drop from 7 to 10. I am generally pro-Jimmer Fredette. I think he can be a potent scoring guard off the bench, but I worry that the expectations for him seem to be growing too high. I see him being expected to play a prominent role in Sacramento, and I think that's too much to ask, especially right off the bat. Given what transpired, Sacramento would have been better sitting at 7 and selecting one of the many available prospects better than Jimmer.

-- I thought that the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks made an intriguing low-risk move in essentially acquiring Rudy Fernandez for the 26th pick. Mark Cuban claims he hired Rick Carlisle because analysis showed that players produced much better for him than for other coaches. Rudy should be a good test case of this phenomenon - I'm always amazed at how Rudy plays with an entirely different style for the Spanish national team – he seems to be much more aggressive, attacking and crashing the boards – than he has in Portland, where he has underachieved.

If Carlisle can extract more of Rudy’s talent, this could be a sneaky little move for the champs. If not even Carlisle can, Dallas will likely be Rudy’s last NBA stop on the way back to Spain.

After a promising rookie year in 2008-09, with a 15.5 PER, Rudy has regressed, with PERs of 13.1 and 13.4 in the last two years. In looking at Rudy's numbers, his decline seems to have come mainly in his shooting numbers, as his true shooting percentage dropped from .588 as a rookie to .522 last year. A comparison of his 2-point and 3-point field goals are what fascinate me:
               2P%   3P%   FG%
    '08-09 .470 .399 .425
    '09-10 .395 .368 .378
    '10-11 .453 .321 .370
After a strong-shooting rookie year, Rudy's FG% numbers have plummeted down to the 37-38 range, but for entirely different reasons in the two years. In 2009-10, he couldn't make a two to save his life (possibly a result of his back injury), but last season, his two-point shooting rebounded, and it was his inability to hit a three which sunk him. If Carlisle and Dallas can coax a season out of Rudy in which he can synch up his shooting on twos *and* threes, they may have added a solid rotation piece.

-- Other thoughts... I am mystified in general by the postseason rocketing up the charts by Klay Thompson, and in particular by Golden State’s infatuation with him. It seems like the Warriors would have been better off with one of the more defensive-minded players still on the board at that point.

I thought that Washington continued to take small, smart steps forward in its rebuilding process, continuing to pile up young assets with the picks of Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack. I'm torn on Vesely - I like his strengths, but worry that his whole is less than the sum of the parts; I just wish he had more production. I think it's going to be vital for Washington to take advantage of Vesely's post-up game, which is underrated and should be effective given Vesely's height advantage vs. NBA small forwards. In any event, the Wiz should be fun to watch with Vesely and Singleton being two more athletes who can get out and run with John Wall.

Also, I liked the value Houston got after starting the night at 14 and 23, acquiring Marcus Morris, Donatas Motiejunas and taking a flyer on Jonny Flynn.... Smart move by Oklahoma City, as usual, at 24 in grabbing Reggie Jackson, who should be able to fill the void whenever Eric Maynor inevitably leaves to become a starter elsewhere.... And it must be reiterated that the Clippers are losers on this night after trading away what became the no. 1 pick, as Irving would be a perfect fit for their young club. I still don't fault the logic of the trade, and its grade can't be completed until we see if the Clips are able to do anything with the 2012 cap space they opened up in the deal.

-- Finally, one question in looking at college-conference breakdowns: what the heck is up with the Big Ten? JaJuan Johnson was their only first-rounder last night, and he was taken at 27. That makes just three first-rounders in the last three years, with Evan Turner in 2010, and the immortal B.J. Mullins in 2009. They've been dwarfed by other power conferences over that timeframe. The Big 12, for example, had four players selected in last night's lottery alone.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Davis Bertans & Bogan Bogdanovic - 2011 International Draft Prospect Scouting Reports

We'll end our series of international draft prospect scouting reports by focusing on two possible late 1st/early 2nd round prospects, Latvia's Davis Bertans and Croatia's Bojan Bogdanovic.

Davis Bertans
6-9 SF/PF
Union Olimpija (Slovenia)
18 Years Old

Right now Bertans is projected as a late 1st Round/early 2nd Round selection. Spurs are supposedly interested and maybe see Bertans as a younger version of Matt Bonner.

Davis played most of year with Union Olimpija, a Slovenian team that made the Top 16 round of Euroleague play. Though, Davis did not log any minutes of Euroleague action. Bertans only saw 10 minutes per game in both Adriatic League games and Slovenian League games. Averaged 4 ppg in his 22 games with Union, and shot nearly 50% behind the arc.

This kid's jumper is pure. Beautiful stroke with no excess motion that he gets off pretty quickly. Does a good job getting legs into shot; gets solid elevation.

Basically all Union asked Bertans to do was catch-and-shoot. Which he did rather effectively, but the only offensive plays of substance Bertans was placed in were either spot-ups or shots off screens. Hard to tell if can do anything else from his limited playing time with Union.

Seen some tape of Davis playing in Latvia and he did appear to have a solid handle, but could not glean too much else. Not sure if he's better suited to play the SF or PF in the NBA. Moves fairly well, to the point where you could hope he wouldn't get totally abused on the defensive end as a combo forward. He did seem to be foul prone in his limited minutes in Slovenia.

Not sure he brings much else to the NBA besides his catch-and-shoot ability. Though anytime you're 6'9 and can shoot like Bertans, you should be able to carve out a niche in the NBA.

Bojan Bogdanovic
Cibona (Croatia)
6-7 SF
22 Years Old

Bojan is the best available automatic-eligible international prospect (born in 1989), who led the first round of Euroleague play in scoring (18 ppg). His all-round offensive skill package could peek the interest of NBA teams selecting in the early-to-mid 2nd round.

Bojan was Cibona's main option, who can hurt the defense in a variety of ways: running pick/roll, isos, post-ups, shooting off screens, spot-shooting and driving to the rim.

Often he will begin his post-ups on the perimeter. Then likes to methodically back his defender down usually looking to turn over his left shoulder for a reliable turnaround jumper. Sometimes will shoot a half-hook in place of a jumper. Much smoother going over his left shoulder. Needs to work on some countermoves.

His 3pt. numbers were not great this year--30% in EL--but has proven in the past he is a steady shooter. Is not too bad pulling-up off the bounce either. Can drive the ball effectively going either left or right and can finish in traffic. Showed an ability to knock down shots running off screens, which could come in handy in the NBA.

What hurts Bojan's NBA profile is he does not possess the requisite athleticism to play on the wings in the U.S. Part of his effectiveness with Cibona is due to him being a solid athlete in Europe, maybe even could be considered slightly above-average athlete. But when/if he comes over to the States, he becomes a subpar athlete for his position.

Should definitely struggle guarding wings in the NBA since he was no great shakes guarding European wings. Particularly got torched in iso situations this season. Wasn't much better in other defensive situations either. Doesn't rebound well for a player his size.

I waver back-and-forth on Bojan's NBA prospects. Can his varied skill set somewhat offset his average physical attributes? For what it's worth, he did play well vs. Team USA last summer and has proven his worth at the top level of Euro ball.

Other possible 2nd Round Int'l prospects (all players are automatic eligible 1989-born): Giorgi Shermadini (7-0, center, Union Olimpija): Mindaugas Kuzminskas (6-9, SF, Zalgiris): Robin Benzing (6-10, SF, Ratiopharm Ulm): Xavi Rabeseda (6-5, SG, Fuenlabrada)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Nikola Mirotic - 2011 International Draft Prospect Scouting Report

Nikola Mirotic
Real Madrid
6-10 PF
20 Years Old

More international prospect scouting reports:
Jonas Valanciunas | Bismack Biyombo | Jan Vesely | Donatas Motiejunas

Nikola Mirotic played a key role off the bench for one of the top Euro clubs, Real Madrid, this season. The young forward, a Spanish national born in Montenegro, was impressive in limited minutes and showed he could hang with the top competition in Europe.

In 20 Euroleague games, Nikola averaged 6.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg and shot 55% on 2PA & 38.7 on 3PA in 15 mins/game. His numbers in the Spanish ACB are nearly identical.

The major sticking point forcing Mirotic down draft boards is his contract situation in Spain (recently re-upped for three more years with Real). Currently slated for the late 1st round with the Spurs and Mavs interested. If not for his contract situation, Mirotic would be a surefire lottery pick, if not a Top 10 selection.

Doesn't need three years of seasoning--can help an NBA playoff team right now. Next to Kanter, has the most refined skills package of any int'l prospect in the draft. If there was a MENSA for basketball IQ, Nikola would be a card-carrying member. He plays like a 10-year vet--the game comes so natural to him.

No questions about his fundamentals or on-court smarts, but some reservations about his physical skills. Solid athlete for Europe, but looks to be subpar at the 4-spot in the NBA. Believe he can cover for his athletic shortcomings somewhat because of his package of skills, size and smarts. Wouldn't hurt to start chugging the whey protein to add beef to his 225-lb. frame.

Perfectly fits the role of a stretch-four (four-spreader)--shot nearly 39% from the 3pt. arc in both the EL & ACB. Nice balanced jumper where he really extends the follow-thru high. He really took the old coaching adage of "extending your follow-thru like you're shooting in a phone booth" to heart.

He will be a deadly pick/pop option--he shot 70% eFG pct. on his pick/pop attempts this season. Did not take a ton of pull-up jumpers, but when he did, everything looked good. Shows glimpes of being a pull-up threat in the future.

Maybe his most impressive skill is his cutting ability. Impeccable feel of when and where to make cuts. Terrific ability to read his teammates and defense to sneak to the open spot at the perfect time. It didn't hurt that Real Madrid was one of the best passing teams on Earth. The spacing and orchestration of their offense was textbook.

Does a terrific job adjusting shots at the rim when defenders are near him. Shields the ball well. Will utilize reverse lay-ins and double-clutches or sometimes even a well-timed ball-fake. Can finish with both hands around the rim. Doesn't get great lift off the ground, so you wonder if some of the shots he gets off in Europe won't fly in the NBA.

Constantly using ball fakes on the perimeter. Solid ball-handler for a PF, who loves to drive the ball left. Actually, maybe favors the left hand too much for a right-hander. Has soft hands and snatches errant passes out of his area.

Though Nikola did not isolate much this season, I feel he has the tools to be an iso threat in the future. Likes how he lines up his defender and is resourceful using ball fakes. Don't let the low assist totals fool you, he's got some passing skills--adept at bounce passes.

Right now his post game is solid and he has all the requisite tools to push it to another level. Great foowork and ability to feel his defender makes him very dangerous with spin moves. And he tends to make them quick. Though he did not make a ton of turnaround jumpers, he looked good on his attempts technically, which is promising.

For a guy in serious need of some lbs., he guarded the post very well. Stays with his man thanks to nice footwork and anticipation. Also, like how he uses his chest to guard in the post (very similar to what we noticed in Omer Asik last year). On defensive post possessions, Nikola was able to hold his opponent to 28% shooting. There were a few instances where he did get backed down easily, which is to be expected. But for the most part, he was able to hold his ground thanks to a wide, balanced base.

Guarding in iso situations, he was equally impressive--held his opponent to 28% shooting and forced a TO on 20% of the iso possessions. Like his post defense, he makes up for a lack of natural agility with good footwork and outstanding anticipation skills (very similar to Motiejunas). Does a good job beating the ball-handler to spots and forcing him to change direction.

Like Motiejunas, Mirotic performed well defensively in Europe. But much like Motiejunas, not sure how well the defense translates to the U.S. Will often be at a disadvantage athletically. Though, his instincts, effort and technique might allow him to be a serviceable defender in the NBA.

Mirotic is about as well-rounded a player as anyone in the draft. His feel for the game might be the best in this draft class. His mediocre rebounding and average physical attributes temper his effectiveness somewhat. But think this kid can be exactly the type of smart role player every contending team needs in the rotation.

Three years is a long time to wait and can understand if certain teams don't have the patience. But if you're a team with multiple picks or a squad that does not need immediate help, it would be hard to pass on a legit lottery pick like Mirotic.

*--(Synergy Sports Technology provided data for this report)

More international prospect scouting reports:
Jonas Valanciunas | Bismack Biyombo | Jan Vesely | Donatas Motiejunas

Monday, June 20, 2011

Donatas Motiejunas - 2011 International Draft Prospect Scouting Report Scouting Report

Donatas Motiejunas
6-11 PF/C
Benetton Treviso
20 Years Old

More international prospect scouting reports:
Jonas Valanciunas | Bismack Biyombo | Jan Vesely | Nikola Mirotic

Donatas Motiejunas chose to enter his name in this year's draft after a successful season in Italy. The big Lithuanian lefty is an inside-out threat who plays a big role on Benetton Treviso as its second scoring option.

Treviso finished fifth in regular-season Serie A (Italian League) play and recently lost in the semis to eventual champ, Montepaschi Siena. (Serie A is probably the second-best domestic league in Europe after the ACB in Spain).

In 37 games in Serie A, Donatas averaged 13 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 1 apg, 2 TOpg & 53% FG in 26 mins/game. In 18 Eurocup games, he put up 10 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2 TOpg & 40% FG. in 26 mpg.

Donatas appears slotted into the 15-25 range of the first round currently, which seems about right. He's fallen on some draft boards over the course of the season because there have been some questions about his desire. Though he doesn't have the activity level of Vesely or Valanciunas, not sure I would categorize his game as passive. He goes hard to the offensive glass, gives effort on the defensive end and doesn't mind working down low.

Solid athlete for his size, but not in Vesely's league and doesn't seem to have the length of Valanciunas. Runs the floor fairly well, but does not have the lift of Vesely or Valanciunas. I'd have to imagine Donatas weighs more than his listed 222 lbs. He definitely looks bigger than he did in '09-'10.

Projects to be a tough matchup because of his face-up ability. Barely gets off the ground on his jumper, but his touch is pure. And opposing bigs will have to follow him out to the 3pt. arc--44% on 3PA in Serie A. For some reason, Donatas shot only 4-for-28 on 3PA in Eurocup action, but that seems to be an anomaly. A proven pick/pop commodity, who will come in handy in the pick/roll-heavy NBA.

Not just another Euro big who prefers the perimeter, Motiejunas spent plenty of time with his back to the basket as Treviso's main low post threat. Possesses a varied post game thanks to great footwork, solid ball skills and fakes. Clearly has a better low-post game than Valanciunas right now and is one of the top post scorers in this draft.

Is capable of making moves over both shoulders, but would say he is smoother going over his right. Can finish shots around the rim with both hands. Likes to attempt hooks with both hands--his lefty hook is much smoother. Will sometimes unleash a sweeping righty hook with varied results. His touch on his post attempts can be a little dodgy.

Very dangerous with spins and drop-steps. Does a great job setting up his moves with shoulder fakes with the dribble then spinning opposite into hooks or lay-ins. And he can do this over both shoulders.

His passing out of the post is strong. He quickly gets the ball to the open man and can make passes off the dribble. Like Vesely, uses re-posts wisely.

Not quite as deadly of a finisher as Jonas, but not bad around the rim. Does not really shy away from contact, he just doesn't play through it well.

His ball-handling skills are adequate for a big and when he puts the ball on the deck, it's usually going to his left. Rarely showed the ability to pull-up off the dribble.

His overall rebounding numbers are not great for a 7-footer, but he does hit the offensive glass fairly well. Adept at put-backs and a tip-in threat like Valanciunas. His turnover and foul rates are a little high. Does get to free throw line at a solid rate--4.6 FTA per in Italy--and he made them at a 72% clip.

Somewhat surprisingly, Motiejunas guarded the post better than I initially realized. Uses a quality balanced stance and clean footwork to move well with his man. On his defensive post possessions held his opponent to 32% shooting and forced a TO nearly one-fourth of the time (according to Synergy).

Held his ground better than his countryman Valanciunas. Kind of strange since Valanciunas was recently listed at 245 lbs. This might have to do with Donatas having better feet and balance in his positioning. Though, Motiejunas does not alter shots like Valanciunas does as a help defender.

He was equally stout guarding out on the perimeter. Did a commendable job defending in iso situations--held opponent to 31% shooting on iso possessions (according to Synergy). He doesn't have great natural agility, he makes up for it with good footwork and anticipation. Does not show hard on pick/roll, but will challenge shooters most of the time.

Even with these positive assessments of his defense, not sure how well he's going to hold up defending NBAers. Imagine he will struggle some, but at least, it does not seem he will be a major defensive liability.

Not positive which frontcourt position is his ideal spot. I guess right now PF makes more sense because of his lack of bulk. But not sure he can keep up athletically with some NBA 4-men.

His multi-skilled arsenal should assure he gets picked in the first round. If he wants to establish himself as a starter in the league, he needs to improve his defensive rebounding and continue to add weight.

More international prospect scouting reports:
Jonas Valanciunas | Bismack Biyombo | Jan Vesely | Nikola Mirotic

Friday, June 17, 2011

Jan Vesely - 2011 International Draft Prospect Scouting Report

Jan Vesely
6-11 SF
Partizan Belgrade
21 Years Old

More international prospect scouting reports:
Jonas Valanciunas | Bismack Biyombo | Donatas Motiejunas | Nikola Mirotic

Czech Republic's Jan Vesely has proven himself at the highest level of Euro ball for a few years and was a key cog in Partizan's run to the Euroleague Final Four in 2010. (M. Haubs wrote about his breakout performance at the Final Four last year.) Vesely is a potent combo of size and athleticism, who's a Top 10 talent in this draft.

Jan's a natural SF who has the capabilities to swing over to the 4-spot when needed. Fierce finisher in half-court situations. Rises high for emphatic dunks. Can be effective in either a half-court system or uptempo scheme. And Jan has the seasoning and skills to start right away in the NBA.

In 15 Euroleague games this season, Jan averaged 10 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 1 bpg, 1.3 spg, 1.6 TOpg & 53.6% shooting in 27 mins/game. His numbers in 26 Adriatic league games were very similar. Vesely was named the Serbian League Player of the Year and recently helped Partizan to a Serbian League title.

With the third pick, Utah needs to think long and hard about scooping up Vesely. Could be the perfect fit at the SF spot to replace Kirilenko (especially if Ty Corbin continues to run some of the flex). Does compare somewhat to Kirilenko: AK47 is the better passer and shot-blocker, but Vesely has the better post game.

Most impressive (and underrated) part of his game might be his post-up ability (better in the post than Valanciunas). Advanced post game with drop-steps, running hooks and turnaround jumpers over both shoulders. Very comfortable turning over his right shoulder on the right block to hit jumpers. Excellent footwork and smart at using re-posts. He also passes out of the post well.

Partizan would often cross-screen Vesely into post-ups, similar to flex cuts/screens so prevalent in the Utah scheme. Vesely's adept at pinning or sealing his defender for quick post-ups. His length should give difficulties to nearly every SF trying to guard him on the block not named Durant or Rudy Gay.

Another aspect of his game Utah should like: affinity for working the baseline. Very effective finisher cutting or driving the baseline. Could be dangerous on the weakside cuts prevalent in the Utah system.

The thing holding Vesely back from being the clear-cut third pick (and possible star in the league) is his dodgy shooting touch. Jan did shoot 35.7% from 3pt. range in the Euroleague, but only managed 28% in the Adriatic. He was dreadful at the FT line: 44% in Euroleague, 54% in Adriatic. He had similar issues in the 19 games in the Serbian League, where he shot 33% on 3PA & 40% on FTA.

When watching Vesely shoot the ball, you wonder why more of his shots don't find the bottom of the net. You could easily see him improve his shooting numbers with just a little tweaking.

Nothing egregiously wrong with his shooting mechanics. But has wild variation in the end results of his shots--sometimes misses shots very badly (plenty of airballs & bricks). He does get his legs into his shots fairly well and his follow-thru is quality. He tends to float some on his shot, but nothing extreme.

Decent ball-handler for his size who can drive the ball going left or right. And he's not just a straight-line driver--he can change direction on the bounce (solid crossover move). Will force some shots up with defenders on him--propensity for some ill-advised runners. No real ability to hit pull-ups in the mid-range.

Like how he drives the ball hard and goes at the rim with purpose, but sometimes goes too quickly on his moves without surveying the floor. Needs to learn more patience, to triple-threat his defender before he puts the ball on the deck.

What makes Vesely arguably the best and most well-rounded international prospect is his ability at the defensive end. Vesely has proven himself to be a reliable defender in Europe and his talents should transfer over thanks to his great size and legit NBA athleticism.

According to Synergy Sports, Jan performed very well in iso possessions, where he held his opponents to 36.4% shooting and a third of the iso possessions end in a turnover. Shows good balance and footwork on the perimeter. Great agility for guy his size, keeps his feet underneath his hips well.

His post-up defense graded out just as well--held his opponents to 26.7% shooting. Though, Vesely will need to add a few lbs. to his frame to better guard post-ups in the NBA.

Like Valanciunas, has a little aggressive streak to his game that gets him in some foul trouble. Crashes the offensive glass very well and is a put-back artist.

Vesely has all the tools to be a quality starter in the NBA. If he can refine his shooting touch, won't be surprised if he has a career equal to Derrick Williams.

*--(Synergy Sports Technology provided data for this post)

More international prospect scouting reports:
Jonas Valanciunas | Bismack Biyombo | Donatas Motiejunas | Nikola Mirotic

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bismack Biyombo - 2011 International Draft Prospect Scouting Report

Bismack Biyombo
6-9 PF/C
Fuenlabrada (Spain/ACB)
18 Years Old

More international prospect scouting reports:
Jonas Valanciunas | Jan Vesely | Donatas Motiejunas | Nikola Mirotic

We continue our series of scouting reports on international draft prospects with a look at Bismack Biyombo, the post player from Congo who quickly emerged on the scene with his performance in the Spanish ACB and at the 2011 Nike Hoop Summit.

M. Haubs was on hand in Portland for the Hoop Summit, and - given Biyombo's potential to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate in a weak draft - believes that Biyombo is one of the top three or four prospects available this year. Jay Aych delved into the video from Biyombo's play in the ACB and offers a different take. Here it is:

Biyombo's team in Spain, Fuenlabrada, finished a respectable seventh in the ACB regular season and was bounced by Real Madrid in the first round of the ACB playoffs. Biyombo left the team in early April, prior to the ACB playoffs, to attend the Hoop Summit against the team's wishes, and was not welcomed back to the club.

In 14 ACB games, Bismack averaged 6.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.3 bpg, 55% FG pct and 55% FT pct in just 17 mins per. Good numbers per minute, with those per-minute block numbers really standing out.

There are absolutely no questions about Biyombo's physical skills: 9-4 standing reach, 7-6 wingspan and 245 lbs. of chiseled muscle. And if he's as young as he states (or even 21), he will still likely fill out some more into the 250 lb. range.

[Note that Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress looked into the age issue, and came away believing that Biyombo is 18 to, at most, 20 years old.]

Compared to Kenny Faried, another high-energy rebounder/defender, Biyombo has the edge. He has four inches of standing reach and 20 lbs. on Faried. Plus, most importantly, Biyombo played and proved himself against much better competition than Faried (or any NCAA player) did.

Clearly, Biyombo is the best defensive big in this draft. Biyombo can immediately pay dividends on the defensive end in the NBA and projects to be a major defensive force in the future.

Biyombo is simply a monster shot-blocker--led the ACB in blocks, even with his limited playing time. No doubt he will be a helpside terror like his compatriot Serge Ibaka.

At the risk of an oversimplified comparison based on identifying characteristics, a la Dirk-Bird, here are Ibaka's numbers from when he played in the ACB: 7.1 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.0 bpg, 55% FG pct and 72% FT pct in 16 mins per. Very comparable, with Serge being a better FT shooter, but - surprisingly - Biyombo with much-higher block numbers than the young man who ended up leading the NBA in blocks per minute in 2010-11, and was third in blocks overall.

As much as Biyombo's ability to alter shots off-ball is great, it's his ability to change them on the ball that was especially impressive. Of the 21 charted defensive post plays for Biyombo on Synergy Sports Technology, he blocked 6-7 shots on the ball and severely altered 3-4 more shots. Nasty. Granted, a limited sample size, but still nasty.

Overall, Biyombo's post defense was stellar this year. On those aforementioned 21 post plays, his opponents managed to shoot just 22% (according to Synergy). Holds his position well, even against veterans, shows good balance and shuffles his feet well. Very sound in his approach.

Also, seems competent guarding outside the painted area. Shows hard on pick/roll and moves his feet well on the perimeter. Can legitimately guard both frontcourt positions. Though, he's not without his flaws defensively. Sometimes loses sight of the ball and has a tendency to over-help.

Biyombo might struggle a little adjusting to defending NBA talent, which is expected of any newcomer. But he will be much more prepared than any college prospects to defend against NBA offenses thanks to his time dealing with the talent and precision of many of the ACB teams.

Like Valanciunas, Biyombo is tough on the glass, particularly strong on the offensive boards (2 off. rpg). Though, Biyombo does not measure up to Valanciunas as a tip-in threat.

Not much nuance to his offensive game. His hands are suspect, has no ball skills, no passing ability and poor shooting touch. Can't score outside of 5 feet; pretty much just capable of dunks & lay-ins.

Did not have too many post-ups plays called for him, probably rightfully so. Scored a few times where he took advantage of the defender being out of position and spun to the rim. Rarely ever doubled in ACB play, but when doubled at the Hoop Summit, had no clue how to react.

Definitely has issues with turnovers--1.7 TOpg in 16 mins--which seem to be a byproduct of his shaky hands or poor ball skills. He's really not as smooth rolling/cutting to the rim as you would hope/expect. Sometimes takes too long for him to gather himself before he goes up with his shot.

Would not categorize him as a great finisher. If he catches the ball on cuts/rolls and he doesn't have a clear path to the rim, he can struggle to adjust his shot if a defender is between him & the rim. He's just not as effective as Valanciunas finishing in traffic at this point. Good finisher, not great. Also, he rarely makes contact when setting screens; I would hesitate to call what he does as "screening".

From what I've seen, I believe Biyombo is a top 15 talent in this draft. Toronto could really use his talents, but the #5 pick might be too high to take him. In play for picks #7-#9 (Kings, Pistons, Bobcats). Could make sense for the Kings with the possible departure of Dalembert. Pistons might see him as the second coming of Big Ben. The Bobcats are rumored to be high on Bismack, though they would be better served looking for someone who can score.

Utah is a possible destination at #12, considering they need to upgrade their interior defense. If he's still around at #17, the Knicks would be foolish to pass him up, considering he perfectly fills their interior defensive void.

I do understand the apprehension some NBA decision-makers have about Biyombo. Biyombo only has one season of substance under his belt, and that was only 15 games. And his rawness on the offensive end gives you pause. He needs a ton of polishing on the offensive end and he might always be a big liability.

But Biyombo's elite physical skills allow him to wreak havoc on defense and the boards much like Ben Wallace. And he's proven his worth against serious competition in Spain.

*--(Synergy Sports Technology provided data for this post)

More international prospect scouting reports:
Jonas Valanciunas | Jan Vesely | Donatas Motiejunas | Nikola Mirotic

Monday, June 13, 2011

Musings on the NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks

Well, then. Game 6 of the 2011 NBA Finals was stunning on many levels, and I certainly have to eat some crow after proclaiming LeBron James the best basketball player alive just two weeks ago. It's a stunning turn of events for James, with such an underproductive series, especially in key moments. I really don't know what to make of him right now, after another strange playoff disappearing act, just after dominating the Eastern Conference Playoffs.

But that's for later. Today is a day to celebrate the 2010-11 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, one of the more improbable NBA title outfits, for sure. Here we go:

On Friday, I posted about how exceptionally good Dallas has been in close games in recent years, specifically noting how dominant the lineup of Kidd-Terry-Marion-Nowitzki-Chandler performed in clutch situations throughout the 2010-11 season, both regular season and playoffs.

Well, here's a further quantification of what clutch play meant to these Mavericks, following up on Jeff Fogle's work for Hoopdata, which showed that Dallas had outscored Miami 60-26 in the 24 minutes which covered the last six minutes of Games 2-5, collectively.

In my post on Friday, I noted that I preferred Tom Haberstroh's definition of a close game as one which was within five points at any time in the last five minutes, rather than just judging by the final score.

Since Fogle already started the work, I created a bit of a mashup, compiling the Dallas point differential in the final six minutes of any playoff game which was within five points at some time in that final six-minute stretch. 16 of Dallas' 21 playoff games met this criteria, plus the overtime period in Game 4 vs. Oklahoma City for a total of 101 minutes, marked as CLUTCH below.

Here's the comparison:
             DIFF   MIN  PER 48M
    CLUTCH +77 101 +36.6
    OTHER +44 912 +2.3
    OVERALL +121 1013 +5.7
Just to clarify this, that means the Mavs outscored their playoff opposition by 77 points in 101 minutes of what I've defined as crunch-time play, almost double what their total differential was in 912 minutes of all other action, and note that a full +36 of that +44 came on one Sunday afternoon in early May which delighted Laker haters around the globe.

Dallas outscored its playoff opponents by 36.6 points per 48 minutes in the clutch! And by just 2.3 points per 48 minutes in all other action. That's the championship right there, folks.

The decisive factor in this championship run was superior execution down the stretch. Even that Lakers series - which lingers in memory as complete dominance due to the Game 4 destruction - easily could have been 2-2 with the Lakers going back to L.A. holding home-court advantage.

In Game 1, the Lakers were up 94-92 with 40 seconds left and the ball in Kobe Bryant's hands. In Game 3, L.A. was up 87-81 with 4 minutes left. But both times, the Mavs slayed the beast with the baddest clutch reputation in the game, and the sweep was on.

Certainly, a decent chunk of that clutch execution can be credited to the superior coaching of Rick Carlisle and his staff. As far as specific moves made by Carlisle in the Finals, I don't have much to add to John Hollinger's summation.

I loved this Hollinger comment after their comeback win in Game 4:
    This is the type of thing Dallas did a lot this season. No, not pulling off miracle comebacks, but getting opponents to stop playing their game and leaving them stumbling into the locker room wondering, "How'd we lose to those guys?" Mavs coach Rick Carlisle is a master of junking up the game and did it again in the fourth quarter Thursday; as a Heat staffer told me a day earlier, the Mavs keep making you think, and can subtract a lot of an opponent's flow and spontaneity in the process.
I totally agree, as I really thought Carlisle and his staff were superb all season, both in consistently having the Mavs well-prepared with smart game plans, and in making in-game adjustments as well as anyone. For the entirety of the season, I really feel like this is one of the greatest coaching jobs in NBA history.

Look again at the names of the Mavericks who played in Games 5 and 6:
That's an absolute beast on top in Dirk, for sure, and Chandler is a seriously tough defensive center. But, as much as Jason Terry stepped up in the Finals, he's still a sub-All-Star player, who doesn't seem like he should be a no. 2 offensive option on a champion (what would you have said if I'd suggested he was one two months ago?). Credit Jet for delivering, but also Carlisle, for doing things like dropping in the staggered pick-and-rolls in the Finals, to give Terry room to operate and put him in a position to succeed.

And, I mean, on the other end of the roster, Dallas couldn't or wouldn't even play Brendan Haywood, a very good backup center, or Peja Stojakovic, who provided 8.8 points per game in the first three rounds (which was miraculous enough in its own right), thus relying on contributions from Brian Cardinal and Ian Mahinmi.

On top of all that, this Dallas team now becomes the second-oldest team to ever win an NBA championship, trailing only the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls.

I really don't understand how this roster won a championship, and I swear, I say that out of the utmost respect for these Mavericks: these players and coaches wrung every ounce out of their potential.


When I call this one of the best NBA coaching jobs ever, I don't think it was just Carlisle. All season long, I've thought the Mavs' outstanding corps of experienced, professional assistants were underrated factors in their success. Somewhere, George Karl is smiling, as three of his assistants from his 1996 Western Conference champion Seattle SuperSonics - Terry Stotts, Dwane Casey and Tim Grgurich - were on the coaching staff of the Mavericks.

Back when I handed out my 2010-11 awards, I gave my mythical Tex Winter Award for best assistant coach to Dwane Casey, the architect of Dallas' zone defense. It's just ludicrous that Casey, who has seemed to interview for every opening in the past few years, keeps getting passed over for head-coaching jobs.

New Warriors owner Joe Lacob recently hired Mark Jackson as his new head coach, and it's certainly his prerogative to hire Action Jax if that's his preference. But his stated reasoning against hiring Casey, in a recent interview with the San Jose Mercury News, seemed like an example of what I consider to be the unfair perceptions about Casey, encapsulated in this excerpt:
    I could've waited [to interview Casey, which was scheduled for after the Finals] but frankly he didn't meet all the criteria that Mark Jackson meets to me. He's probably a very good coach but he's 54 years old, he's a little older... he's a guy who has been a head coach before.

    I think one of my criteria - not that I view Minnesota as a failure, because that may not be his fault — but I really wanted to hire somebody with a fresh start. I wanted to take a fresh approach. We did.

    And I hate to use the word "re-tread" - he's not a re-tread. Dwane Casey's a good coach. But we just really didn't want to go down that path if we could avoid it.
Let me note a few things here:
i. Tom Thibodeau is a guy whose opportunities were delayed for nonsense reasons that had nothing to do with his coaching ability, such as not having time to interview because he was in the Finals (OK, Lacob was concerned about losing Jackson to Detroit by waiting, but still, it's crazy that being in the Finals is so often considered a detriment). Also, Thibodeau is currently 53 years old. Phil Jackson was winning titles in his 60s. Nothing to do with whether he can coach.

ii. To hint that Casey's time in Minnesota might have been a failure is unfair. He inherited a team in decline (look at the non-Garnett names on this roster!), and in 2006-07, Casey had the Timberwolves overachieving at 20-20 when he was fired, replaced by Randy Wittman, who went 12-30 with the same personnel as the Garnett era spiraled to a close.

Casey has had a year and a half of opportunity as a head coach. To suggest that he can't provide a fresh approach, after designing the defense which flummoxed the Miami Heat, is absurd.

iii. Yes, Casey is technically a "re-tread", but do you know who else is a re-tread? How about Rick Carlisle? How about Doc Rivers? To even float the term is unfair to Casey. It's an empty term with negative connotations.

Like Tom Thibodeau, Dwane Casey is a championship lead assistant coach, and like Thibodeau, he should be a head coach. Casey may yet get an open job, possibly in Toronto, but he deserves an emerging team such as the one Thibodeau got in Chicago. The Clippers, in particular, made a mistake in choosing Vinny Del Negro over Casey last summer, in my opinion.

It should have been clear that Tom Thibodeau deserved a head job after the 2008 Finals, and it should be clear that Dwane Casey deserves one now.

With the entirety of 2011 Playoffs behind us, with the emergence of Marc Gasol in Memphis and importance of Tyson Chandler as an anchor of Dallas' championship, I wanted to float this question: could last summer's trade of Tyson Chandler from Charlotte to Dallas be considered worse than the infamous Pau Gasol trade?

In retrospect, it sure seems like the Chandler trade was the major decisive move in turning Dallas into a champion. Chandler and Alexis Ajinca were traded from Charlotte to Dallas, in exchange for Eduardo Najera, Matt Carroll and Erick Dampier (who had an unguaranteed contract).

Now, I'm not suggesting that Chandler is anywhere near as good as Pau overall, but Memphis now has three contributing young players - Marc Gasol, Darrell Arthur and Greivis Vasquez - as a result of the Pau trade, whereas Charlotte has absolutely nothing to show for it.

Maybe the Bobcats wanted to deal Chandler to avoid losing him for nothing, as he is now a free agent, but they got absolutely nothing - garbage players and little savings - for their starting center.

It's debatable, but it seems like Michael Jordan and co. deserve more heat for its "donation" (as Gregg Popovich called the Gasol trade) to the Dallas championship cause.

And it certainly wouldn't be the only piece of 2011 revisionism which looks favorably upon Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson. The Jason Kidd-for-Devin Harris trade and the Shawn Marion signing were widely-panned, including by me, as making the team too old. I thought Dallas needed drastic change after the 2007 playoff collapse, and should have considered trading Dirk, with the likes of KG and Kobe on the market. Mea culpa. Everything looks brilliant this morning.

I've often noted in this space the simple truth that ownership really matters in the NBA. I've thought that Jerry Buss has been the most important person - more than any player, coach, or executive - in delivering the Lakers' many championships of the last 30+ years.

On the one hand, it's patently obvious that Cuban is a great owner, with 50-plus wins in every full season as owner, after inheriting a team that was close to the league's biggest laughingstock in the '90s.

I thought Henry Abbott's post on "the stealth Mavericks" was a brilliant reminder of how Cuban has left no stone unturned in pursuit of a championship. Dallas is the only team with a sports-psychology coach, in Don Kalkstein, the only team with a statistical analyst working so directly with the coaching staff, in Roland Beech. Beech was the one whose data analysis discovered just how effective a coach Carlisle was.

Again, look back to the top of this post - the team's margin of error was slim, and every little edge counted. I don't believe that these Mavericks would be champions today without Cuban's innovative ideas and hires on his staff. Ownership matters.

Certainly, he's also willing to spend whatever it takes. Despite the perception that the Heat were the team which was making it impossible for small markets to compete, it's the Mavs who were the luxury-tax paying team with a payroll $20 million higher than Miami's. This was a victory for wealthy teams, as well.

And finally, Dirk, the king of the basketball world today. Nowitzki has cleared moved into the realm of the top 25 or so players in history with his performance in carrying the Mavs to the title. Almost 33, as a 7-footer with exceptional shooting ability and workout regimen with Holger Geschwindner which keeps him flexible, Nowitzki figures to age well, so he figures to rack up some gaudy stat totals when all is said and done. Dirk's already at 22,792 career points, ranking 23rd all-time in the NBA, with 10 All-Star Games, nine All-NBA First or Second Teams, one MVP, and now, one championship and one Finals MVP.

Here are a few other thoughts:
- While I do think Dirk has become a better scorer, more comfortable in the low blocks, and no longer bothered by the stronger smaller players who used to give him trouble, I'm not sure how much better of a player he's become. I think it underestimates how good he's been for a long time.

His PERs have dropped from their peak, mainly due to less rebounding. What struck me, at a quick glance (and with a small sample size disclaimer), is that he has now consistently lifted his production in the playoffs compared to the regular season, after a stretch of underachieving, comparatively. Here's a comparison of regular-season PER vs. postseason, with playoff games in parentheses:
           REG  POST  (G)  
    04-05 26.1 20.1 (13)
    05-06 28.1 26.8 (23)
    06-07 27.6 20.9 (6)
    07-08 24.6 26.3 (5)
    08-09 23.1 28.4 (10)
    09-10 22.9 28.3 (6)
    10-11 23.4 25.3 (21)
Since the nadir of his non-showing against Golden State in Game 6 in 2007, Dirk has been a complete clutch playoff assassin, with true shooting percentages over .600 in the last three playoff seasons, the best playoff TS%'s of his career.

- I get the sense that a little bit of backlash has developed against European players as a whole, yet we're now at two of the last five Finals MVPs hailing from Europe (Dirk and Tony Parker in 2007), with Pau Gasol not too far away from earning a third, after producing 19 points and 18 rebounds in Game 7 last year.

- On a final note, I have to say that, after Steve Nash left, the Mavs had been one of my least favorite teams to watch in the league, with their methodical style of play, but for some reason, I really enjoyed watching this Dallas team play all season. I loved how they executed and how smart they were. And I loved watched Dirk unleash that shot that John Krolik described as a "mid-to-high-post fadeaway [that] may be the most unstoppable and consistent shot since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's skyhook."

I leave you with my favorite manifestation of said shot from this playoff run, against blanketing defense from Nick Collison, to cut Oklahoma City's lead to 101-98 with about 1:30 left in Dallas' miraculous comeback in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. Ri-Dirk-ulous:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Mavs-Heat: Followup Thoughts on Clutch & Game 6

Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus wrote a post this morning following up on our post from yesterday about Dallas' outstanding performance in close games in recent seasons, and it helped clarify my thinking further. While I would like to know specifically what Mark Cuban and Roland Beech (Dallas' primary statistical analyst) found in their research suggesting Jason Kidd was especially good at "win time", I wanted to note that I don't believe there is a mystical quality to clutch performance.

I believe the most important factor in consistently successful clutch play, offensively at least, is continue to run an offense which is similar to what's effective in the rest of the game - to get good shots above all.

Note that New Orleans is the one team that's been even better in close games than Dallas. That's no coincidence to me. They continue to run their offense, and they have a superstar in Chris Paul who (similar to Jason Kidd) primarily focuses on creating and finding good shots, wherever they may be, rather than devolving into hero offense.

And that's the alchemy that makes Dallas so good down the stretch, too: they keep running their offense and getting good shots, and Carlisle does an outstanding job of calling the right numbers and making the correct tweaks, such as the staggered pick-and-rolls which have been so effective in allowing Jason Terry to create good shots for himself and others late in games in the Finals. Yes, some of these are isolations, especially for Nowitzki, but they're generally similar to ones the Mavs run all game, putting Dirk in position to create good shots in mid-range areas.

Meanwhile, looking back over the entire 2011 playoffs and the progression of LeBron James' performance as a clutch scorer, I think we can say he was rather lucky vs. Boston and Chicago, and rather unlucky vs. Dallas. He's been taking the same relatively low-percentage hero shots each time. Several of the contested threes he hit late vs. Boston/Chicago were worse than the clean look at a three he got late in Game 5 on Thursday.

Maybe the percentages are now such that LeBron is due to sink a few hero threes which carry Miami over the top in the next few days, but in my opinion, the best thing he can do is focus on better shots. In this matchup, I believe that he (and Wade too) can't really post up enough, even in crunch time. Dallas has had success walling off the lane from the perimeter for a good chunk of the series, and the smaller defenders have had a very tough time containing James and Wade whenever they've gone to the blocks. They've often needed a double-team, and both Miami superstars have carved those up with their passing.

Given that LeBron's average of 3.2 FTAs in the series is really hurting Miami, I also believe that working the low blocks gives him a better chance of getting to the line, though he does need to be more aggressive down low. James let Kidd off the hook late in Game 5, as he had him posted up, but turned it into a long step-back jumper. He needs to be aggressive enough to draw a double-team; he's such a good passer that his post-ups are probably even more efficient in producing points when he's passing out of a double-team.

I'm apparently in the minority of people who thought LeBron played very well overall in Game 5. I thought the passing by both James and Wade was truly exceptional - the two players combined for 11 assists on at-rim baskets overall. James created several points in the fourth quarter on aggressive plays that led to assists.

Also, if one late call - the charge taken by Chandler - which was correct but very close, goes the other way, there's likely a 180-degree difference in the perception of LeBron's game. Yes, as mentioned above, James wasn't aggressive enough against Kidd in the block, and he missed an open three that he dribbled into. His zero points scored in clutch situations in the series (vs. 26 for Dirk) have been a problem, without doubt.

But very few teams in the league would have beaten Dallas on Thursday, with the way they shot. Game 5 will not be the one Miami looks back on if they lose the series. It'll be Game 2 and Game 4. I don't think LeBron cost the Heat Game 5, but I do think he cost them Game 4 with his passivity, and that may end up being enough to cost Miami the series.

As I wrote in's 5-on-5 on Thursday before Game 5: Prior to last year's Game 5 versus Boston, LeBron had never truly let his teams down. Now he is on the verge of costing championship-quality teams playoff defeats as the better team in two straight years. I believe he's now at a defining crucible of his career, and I can't wait to see what happens.

Maybe it'll be fair, maybe it won't, but the perceptions of James, Wade and Nowitzki will likely be altered by what happens over the next three days. I have no idea what's going to happen, and I can't wait for the ball to go up at American Airlines Arena.

Friday, June 10, 2011

On Jason Kidd and "Win Time", and the Greatest Clutch Lineup on Earth

Like many others, I did not think that the 2008 trade which sent then-almost-35-year-old Jason Kidd from New Jersey to Dallas for then-almost-25 Devin Harris was a good deal for the Mavs, primarily because of the respective ages of the players, and I certainly didn't foresee Kidd helping to fuel a stirring playoff run in 2011, at 38.

Out of the many amazing things in this remarkable playoff spring by the Dallas Mavericks, that's the primary one I keep coming back to: how is Kidd able to even be out there?

As a reminder, if Dallas can get just one more win, Kidd will become the third oldest player to start on a championship team, behind Kareem in 1987 (age 39) and 1988 (40), and will become the oldest guard to do so.

Obviously, being a guard should make it much tougher for a older player to stay on the court athletically, yet Kidd's not only done so, but look at his defensive assignments in the past three series: they've included Kobe Bryant, Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, with some matchups against Kevin Durant after switches. All of them All-NBA First or Second Team players - how is Kidd able to even stay on the floor against these guys at 38? Yet, he's managed to not only survive against these stars but thrive - several of the names mentioned above have been the subject of severe criticism for their play in series vs. Dallas. (Note that Zach Lowe offered typically astute and nuanced analysis of specifically how Kidd has been able to compete against these stars defensively.)

I keep thinking back to the 2010 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, when I covered a panel called What Geeks Don't Get: The Limits of Moneyball, which included Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. Here's part of what I reported:
    [Panel moderator Michael] Lewis asked [Rockets GM Daryl] Morey if he believed in clutch stats, long a controversial difference between common fans - who worship the art of the clutch - and statheads - who tend to believe that the idea of clutch statistics are not definitive and conclusive.

    Morey artfully answered, "We don't make any decisions based on the belief of that." Interestingly, Cuban disagreed, and said that that was one reason he wanted Kidd, whom he believes plays differently in "win time" than he does in the other 45 minutes of the game.
I've always trusted the (fairly controversial) studies which have suggested that there's no consistent difference between clutch and non-clutch performance in baseball, but I can understand how basketball could be different, mainly because players could choose to avoid the big play, whereas baseball have no choice but to come to the plate when they're up, or field the ball when it's hit to them.

Still, I'd consider myself "skeptical but open-minded" on the topic. I believe in data where it is applicable, and that's the part that fascinated me: did Cuban (whose stat analyst, Roland Beech, reportedly works as closely with the coaching staff as any in the league) actually have the data to say Kidd was particularly effective in the clutch?

When Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus did an extensive study on team performance in close games (i.e. those decided by five points or fewer) in 2009, he didn't find any clutch magic. As he concluded:
    There are two extreme schools of thought on close games--those that believe they are primarily decided by luck and those that feel they are primarily decided by teams and demonstrate their true ability. Neither position is supported by the data.

    Instead, what the results tend to show is that the difference between good teams and bad teams is mitigated in close games.... When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Say you were coaching (or cheering on, if you prefer) an underdog team playing a powerful opponent. If I gave you the opportunity to advance directly to the final five minutes of a close game, even if you were trailing by a couple of points, you would take that scenario because anything could happen over the shorter period. The same logic can be applied to explain why we see more upsets in the one-and-done NCAA Tournament than in the NBA's best-of-seven postseason. The smaller sample draws all teams toward .500
Yet, when Pelton went back to the topic last year following Cuban's comments at Sloan, he noted that the Dallas Mavericks had a history of outperforming its expected performance in close games since 2004-05 which was exceeded only by the New Orleans Hornets.

Here are the season-by-season numbers for Dallas:
    Season    CW   CL    CW%   xCW%    Diff
    2004-05 14 9 .609 .584 +.024
    2005-06 15 7 .682 .586 +.096
    2006-07 20 4 .833 .606 +.227
    2007-08 9 12 .429 .565 -.137
    2008-09 17 5 .773 .519 +.253
    2009-10 18 7 .720 .545 +.175
    CW/L: Close Wins/Losses
    CW%: Winning percentage in close games
    xCW% Expected winning percentage in close games
In 2010-11, the Mavs did it again, though not by an excessive margin, with a 17-11 (.607) record in close games which exceeded the .582 percentage which would be expected by a team with Dallas' record in non-close games.

(Back in April, Tom Haberstroh had a great piece which noted that the definition of "close games" should not be based on the final score, but rather, whether a game is close at any time in the last five minutes. Check his chart: by that measure, Dallas' record in close games was an exceptional 35-18 (.660) through April 25 (regular season and playoffs). Since that time, Dallas is 10-3 in such situations, running its overall close-game record to 45-21 (.682).)

Of course, Kidd didn't arrive until February, 2008, so these numbers speak to the Dirk-Terry era as a whole. Still, the measured data shows that Kidd has been exceptional in the clutch for the past two seasons.

According to, Kidd led the league in plus/minus in clutch situations (defined as "4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points") in 2010-11 with +119, and ranked fourth in 2009-10 with +87 (note that LeBron James ranked first).

One stat in particular which stands out has been Kidd's three-point shooting in the clutch, at 45% over the last two seasons, as compared to 38% overall.

Kidd has certainly been a key factor in the several stirring comebacks the Mavs have pulled off in the 2011 Playoffs, and a spin of the StatsCube shows that the Mavs have outscored their opponents by a staggering +71.1 points per 100 possessions with Jason Kidd on the floor in clutch situations.

Anecdotal examples of big plays by Kidd in the clutch are all over the place. Yes, he knocked down a huge three to put Dallas ahead 105-100 late in Game 5, but many of his clutch plays have been subtle and/or defensive ones (he's averaging 3.6 steals per minutes in playoff clutch situations), such as a deflection of a LeBron pass which ruined a Miami possession with the score 99-97 last night.

There was a strip of Udonis Haslem following a UD offensive rebound in the massive Game 2 comeback which led to a turnover and fast-break hoop to tie the game at 90-90. In Game 4 mega-comeback vs. Oklahoma City, there was a hustle steal after Russell Westbrook appeared to have him beat.

In what I consider one of the most important games of this whole run - Game 1 vs. the Lakers - Kidd harrassed Kobe Bryant with aggressive defense, helping force two turnovers (and then knocking down the last two FTs) in the final minute, turning a 94-92 L.A. lead with 40 seconds left into a 97-94 Dallas win. Kidd also forced Kobe into tough shots down the stretch of Game 3, helping turn defeat into victory there as well. As lopsided as that series seems in memory after the Game 4 blowout, it easily could have been a 2-2 series if not for superior clutch play by Dallas in Games 1 and 3.


Certainly, Jason Kidd has performed exceptionally well in the clutch for Dallas, but take a step back, and an even clearer picture develops: the Mavericks lineup of Jason-Kidd-Jason Terry-Shawn Marion-Dirk Nowitzki-Tyson Chandler appears to be the greatest clutch lineup on Earth.

The numbers bear out that this team has been extraordinary in clutch situations for the past two seasons, reaching new heights in these playoffs. We showed you some selected clutch metrics for Kidd above. Let's integrate some other players.

Here are the 2010-11 league leaders in clutch plus-minus:
    Kidd, DAL +119
    Terry, DAL +118
    Nowitzki, DAL + 116
    Chandler, DAL +92
    Westbrook, OKC +90
Here are the 2010-11 league leaders in clutch plus-minus per 48 minutes:
    Marion, DAL +38
    Nowitzki, DAL +38
    Kidd, DAL +37
    Terry, DAL +37
    Williams, CLE/LAC +36
    Chandler, DAL + 34
Here are the 2009-10 league leaders in clutch plus-minus:
    James, CLE +116
    Nowitzki, DAL + 102
    Williams, CLE +95
    Kidd, DAL +87
    Terry, DAL +71
The triumvirate of Kidd-Terry-Nowitzki keep showing up, and clearly the lineup of Kidd-Terry-Marion-Nowitzki-Chandler was the most productive clutch lineup this season.

Now that's continued in the Playoffs and Finals, with multiple major comebacks, and a domination of Miami down the stretch, outscoring them 60-26 in the final six minutes of the five games combined. That's a +34 in the last six minutes cumulatively, while Miami has been +30 in the first 42 minutes.

The data backs up this lineup as a whole as well. We noted earlier that Dallas was outscoring its opposition by 71.1 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs in clutch situations with Kidd on the floor. Here are the numbers in that situation for each of the five members of that lineup:
    Marion +83.3 (38 min)
    Terry +74.3 (49 min)
    Nowitzki +71.8 (50 min)
    Kidd +71.1 (50 min)
    Chandler +68.7 (48 min)
I truly believe that the Mavericks have outperformed their roster's talent level all season, and two things in particular have struck me about this team all season long: they execute exceptionally well, and Rick Carlisle (and his coaching staff) have been exceptionally good at both game planning and in-game adjustments. Both elements are obviously serving Dallas well in clutch situations.

Also, note that another thing Cuban said at the Sloan Conference was that he thought that one of the biggest edges for him was in understanding 5-man lineup performance. Considering that Beech is the creator of, which is where those clutch +/- stats are from, and that he works directly with the Dallas coaching staff, I'm sure the organization is well aware of these numbers.

Have Mark Cuban and Roland Beech found something here? Have they discovered the ultimate clutch lineup? I included the total minutes as a reminder that these are ridiculously small sample sizes. Note that these same metrics show LeBron James to be a premier clutch performer over the last several seasons, which has not translated to clutch play in these Finals, after he was very clutch vs. Boston and Chicago. Please also note the irony that these same clutch Mavs were victims of one of the greatest playoff comebacks ever, in the Easter Saturday resurrection of Brandon Roy in the first round.

But with multiple years of data piling up - punctuated by this spring's stunning playoff run of comebacks - it's getting hard to conclude anything other than Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Jason Kidd being extraordinary, special clutch players.

And the greatest clutch lineup on Earth could be the difference which delivers a long-coveted title to Cuban, Dirk, Jet, J-Kidd and Dallas fans. They need to do it one more time.

Addendum (Sat. 6/11): I've offered some followup thoughts on clutch, looking ahead to Dallas-Miami Game 6, after reading Kevin Pelton's followup to this post from this morning.

Also on The Painted Area: Jay Aych's international scouting reports: Ricky Rubio | Jonas Valanciunas

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Jonas Valanciunas - 2011 International Draft Prospect Scouting Report

Jonas Valanciunas
6-11 Center
Lietuvos Rytas (Lithuania)
19 Years Old

More international prospect scouting reports:
Bismack Biyombo | Jan Vesely | Donatas Motiejunas | Nikola Mirotic

We'll start our series on international draft prospects by focusing on Lietuvos Rytas' Jonas Valanciunas, one of the top international prospects, along with Enes Kanter, Jan Vesely and Bismack Biyombo. The consensus is that Jonas is a lottery talent and we have to agree, the Lithuanian should not last past the 10th pick.

Lietuvos Rytas is a quality European franchise that managed to advance to the Top 16 stage of Euroleague play. Jonas was an extremely efficient player, with these averages in only 15 minutes per game:
7.7 pts, 5.8 reb, 71% FG (#1 in EL), 88% FT, 0.7 blk, 1.4 TO

Using John Hollinger's translations for Euroleague stats to NBA numbers, Valanciunas' production was quite impressive, especially considering he was just 18 for the season (he just turned 19 last month), and also played a tough schedule (out of 15 Euroleague games, eight were played against powers Panathinaikos, Montepaschi Siena, FC Barcelona and Caja Laboral). Here's what Jonas' 2010-11 Euroleague numbers translated into NBA stats, per 36 minutes:
13.5 pts, 15.9 reb, 0.7 ast, 62.3% FG

Jonas's numbers in the Lithuanian domestic league (LKL) were just as impressive, in 20 minutes per game:
11.5 pts, 7.3 reb, 67% FG, 78% FT, 1.8 blk, 1.8 TO
Valanciunas led the LKL in blocks and FG pct., was third in rebounds.

The first thing that jumps out when watching Jonas's game is how long he is - seems like he could dunk on his tippy toes. Not positive what his standing reach is, but would imagine it's in the 9-5 range. His length is a big part of his effectiveness.

Along with incredible length, his overall activity level is another key to his success at the highest level of Euro ball. Impressive that a young guy with a relatively thin build is willing to bang bodies with stronger men. Does not back down from contact. Appears to have a decent frame that looks like it could handle 15 lbs. or so. Listed around 240 lbs., though he looks closer to 230.

Would call him a solid (not great) athlete with good hops. His running style is a tad awkward but he does move with good pace thanks to long strides. Jonas is not quite as fluid as another mobile Baltic big, Andris Biedrins, but he's longer.

Jonas and Biedrins do have similar games in that they both lack a refined offensive game but they shoot a high pct., rebound hard and block some shots. Both guys have issues with committing fouls. But Jonas does differ by drilling his foul shots.

Love how he keeps the ball up high and rarely brings the ball down when he catches a pass or a rebound (reminiscent of Pau). Also, like how he has a habit of providing a high target with his hands when rolling/cutting to the rim. Pretty good hands and show signs of snatching passes & rebounds out of his area.

A menace on the offensive glass - averaged nearly 2 off. rebs per game in EL, nearly 3 in LKL - where his length allows him to be a tip-in threat much like his countryman Ilgauksas, or Pau.

He is an excellent finisher in transition, off cuts or rolls. Most of his makes are coming off of lay-ins, tip-ins, dunks or short hooks. He converts at an incredible rate, though his points are not coming because of a varied post games or jumpers.

It's somewhat surprising to see how well he usually establishes offensive post position considering his lack of bulk. Though once Jonas gets the ball, his post game will not wow you.

Prefers to turn over his left shoulder where he likes to finish with a little righty hook. When on right block, he likes to take a few dribbles into the paint, then spin back for his righty hook. The touch on his hook is alright, not deadly.

Would not consider his footwork fluid and he sometimes looks awkward trying to go over his right shoulder. No sign of a turnaround jumper.

Rarely took jumpers anywhere on the floor this season. From the few perimeter jumpers and free throws we saw, his shot looks decent. He uses his guide hand to help push his shot a little too much, but his follow-thru is nice. With the way he converts FTs at a high rate, reasonable to think he can develop a solid mid-range jumper.

I would say his passing out of the post is adequate. He won't pick the defense apart with his passing, but he did seem to make quality reads most of the time.

Defensively, Jonas is kind of a mixed bag currently. Right now, he has a difficult time guarding the post - he allows his opponents to shoot 53% on post-ups. He has trouble holding ground and his offensive man has an easy time sealing and backing him down.

He can't hold off his man with just his forearm and this forces him to lean his whole body on his man, further compromising his balance. This makes him very vulnerable to spin & counter moves. He leans so heavily on his man, when that man makes a counter, it's likes a chair is pulled out from Jonas and leaves him off balance.

His defensive stance needs to be tweaked. Has a tendency to lurch his torso over too much instead of sitting back on his butt. Needs to learn to align his body like he's squatting a barbell. Couple this with average agility and you could foresee Jonas being exposed by some NBA athletes in pick/roll situations.

When he is able to stay with his man, his length allows him to bother shots on the post. Also, his length is a factor off the ball, where he's a capable shot-blocker. His block numbers were nothing special in EL play (0.7 blks per), though he did manage 2 bpg in the Lithuanian league.

Think he has the tools to be at least an adequate defensive presence in the NBA. And when/if he fills out, works on his stance, maybe he becomes an above-average defender.

The major negative to Jonas's game right now is the foul trouble - he average 3 fouls in both the EL & LKL. His fouls seem to stem from his overaggressiveness at times, and his lack of strength. He sometimes will get offensive fouls fighting for post position, which, in turn, up his turnover numbers. His turnovers are a little high, as well - seem to come from his aggressive nature.

He is not ready to be a starter in the league yet. He needs to work on his body and curb his habit for fouls to earn meaningful minutes.

Though, his length should allow him to be a factor on the glass and finish some shots at the rim almost immediately. His combo of length and solid mobility should allow him to cause some problems defensively to a degree. He'll definitely continue to have problems guarding the post until he beefs up.

You see a guy like Tyson Chandler playing a key role for a championship-level team and it's not absurd to imagine Valanciunas playing a similar role later in his career.

*--(Synergy Sports Technology helped provide data for this report)

More international prospect scouting reports:
Bismack Biyombo | Jan Vesely | Donatas Motiejunas | Nikola Mirotic