Today we look at two European 2014 draft prospects I saw during my recent European trip, Vasilije Micic and Dario Saric. This continues a series of scouting reports that began with Noah Vonleh and will continue with some other select prospects leading up to the draft. Although there will not be time to go in-depth on every prospect, the goal will be to assemble a top-10 “big board” of the best prospects, plus other potential sleepers and busts.
The 6’6 Serbian point guard’s game starts with his passing. If he is drafted and plays in the NBA next year, Micic will be one of the 15 most creative passers in the league immediately. Micic is a master on the pick-and-roll and in transition. He has a rare talent for getting his own players open with pass fakes that bend the defense away from his intended target. Another strong point is his ability to pass off the dribble with both hands. The righty even throws Diaw/Ginobili style hook passes with his left out of the post or along the baseline on occasion. At 6’6, he can see over the defense and could develop a reliable post game in time, as he already weighs a solid 202 pounds.
Equally noteworthy is Micic’s handle. Although he struggled on occasion with the overinflated balls at the adidas Eurocamp, the speed of his dribble is nearly unique for a European player. His dribbling style evokes a younger Deron Williams (he of course lacks that kind of athleticism) with his yo-yo in-and-out dribble, crossover and spin moves. The speed with which he dribbles helps his passing too; if he recognizes an open man off the bounce he can react faster because the ball returns to his hand so quickly.
Shooting isn’t a strength at the moment, but it looks like it could become so in time. His form is solid, and he has the athleticism to stop his momentum and rise up off the dribble when the opposition goes under the pick-and-roll. His shot looked just fine in Treviso, as he showed the ability to isolate against smaller defenders and spin back for 15 footers over his right shoulder or get to the basket. And he managed 4-6 on NBA threes against the overwhelmed USA high schoolers on Day 2, although that shooting performance was nearly akin to shooting in an empty gym as that group hadn’t a prayer on defense.* He started the season with his Serbian club team Mega Vizura on fire from the three-point line, but cratered to under 30 percent as the season went on.
*Micic lit up the US U-19 team in Prague last summer. It was no surprise to see him decimate this U-18 US squad with him a year older and the opposition a year or two younger.
The decline in shooting as the year went on illustrated a potential weakness: his stamina. After dominating early on the first day at the Eurocamp, Micic really struggled as the day went on. He looked exhausted at times, turning the ball over and getting lit up on D as his spirit seemed to wane. That dovetailed with occasional frustration with some teammates who did not share his basketball IQ to produce a mediocre performance the first day.*
*He did not play on Day 3.
Micic’s health is also a worry. He tore his ACL in 2011, and has also missed time with various ailments such as a recent broken hand. His defense at the point guard position is also going to be a concern. He is 6’6 and has decent quickness, although that is more in a straight line than in the short, choppy side to side steps needed defensively. Micic possesses a relatively well-muscled body by the standards of a 20 year old European, but could certainly benefit from getting stronger. He also is not the most explosive finisher at the rim, although he did shoot a very encouraging 54 percent on twos this year. When he gets to the rim the defense is often in a compromised position as a result of one of his fakes, allowing him finish at a high rate. But available statistical translations peg him about where he is projected, as an early-to-mid second rounder.
I think he is considerably better than his projected range. Micic’s passing is superior to any other point guard prospect in this draft. Although it is possible he may not quite be able to hack it athletically, he is no slower than someone like Jose Calderon or Steve Blake. If he can get by on D, his skill level could make him an average starting point guard. Indeed, the more open NBA game and athletic finishers at his disposal could really facilitate his game.
The health and athleticism risks are certainly there for Micic, but I think he has the third-highest upside of any point guard in this draft behind Marcus Smart and Dante Exum. That would at least merit a pick in the first round.
This year’s scouting field trip from the adidas Eurocamp was to the Croatian capital of Zagreb, about four hours from Treviso.* A gaggle of NBA scouts and a few intrepid journalists made the trip for Game 2 of the Croatian league finals, a Zagreb derby between Jusuf Nurkic’s Cedevita and Dario Saric’s homestanding Cibona. Cibona is Drazen Petrovic’s former squad, and the game took place on the 21st anniversary of the sharpshooter’s death.
*By the way, if you’re ever driving on a Slovenian highway, make sure you stop at a gas station and pick up a 15 Euro vignete toll tag. Yes, there is no sign for it. Just trust me.
The game was also played two nights after the air conditioner went out in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and it was immediately clear why the Spurs’ European players professed to have no problem with the heat in San Antonio. The conditions the players’ association decried as “unacceptable” are standard in Europe, as the temperature inside Petrovic Basketball Hall was at least 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). Cedevita and Nurkic managed to pull away down the stretch for a 69-61 victory that all but clinched the series for them, quite an accomplishment over a Cibona team that had won the Adriatic league behind the Saric’s heroics.
Saric had wowed this year as MVP of the Adriatic league at age 20. Unfortunately, this was not Saric’s best game. Foul trouble, overall fatigue, and the oppressive heat limited him to 17 points on 3-14 shooting, 10-15 from the line. While it is unfair to judge Saric on his worst game in a while, his performance reinforced many of the doubts I have about him at the NBA level.
At 6’10, 223 lbs, Saric does it all for Cibona from the four position. He loves to grab and go and is a terror at the Adriatic league level* in transition with his excellent Eurostep and passing vision. He runs pick-and-roll and also posts up smaller defenders on the box. He finds the open man well when the defense rotates, although his passes generally do not wow. Saric also deserves credit for his toughness; the game saw a cheap shot each time down the court, and Saric did not back down and even went on the offensive at times.
*Cedevita are no slouches, featuring former NBA player Nolan Smith, NBA draftee Tomas Zubcic, former Michigan State Spartan and NBA draftee Goran Suton, and Nurkic.
The problem with Saric is what exactly he will do at the NBA level? The issues start with his physical profile, which compares to Hedo Turkoglu. He is 6’10, but has a small 6’10 wingspan for his height. Despite playing inside defensively, he blocked only 0.6 shots per game against less athletic opponents than he will face in the NBA. Although he rebounds well at the Adriatic League level while playing inside, he likely will be below average for the four due to his below average two-foot jump and skinny frame. Even if he bulks up a little it is hard to imagine him being anything better than a bad help defender, rebounder and post defender at the NBA level if asked to play inside. He might be hideable on the wing against lesser options, but playing him at the three mutes his effect on offense.
So Saric already comes with defensive demerits. What is the offensive upside? With a mediocre (though not bad) shot that takes him an hour to get off, he really needs the ball in his hands to be effective unless he can significantly improve his J. In the Adriatic league he has the quickness advantage playing the four, although he was effectively limited when guarded by Cedevita’s relatively mobile bigs. Any quickness advantage disappears if he plays on the wing in the NBA. Although he could potentially be effective posting up some threes, that would require a commitment to getting him the ball regularly. With many teams playing two other post players and other offensive mouths that need to be fed, expecting Saric to get a steady diet of postups is unrealistic. Similarly, most teams are going to have better pick-and-roll options than him, although if he improves his shooting enough he might have value as a weakside player who can also put the ball on the floor and run a secondary pick-and-roll.
Available statistical translations are not particularly high on Saric, putting him in the mid-first round at best. If those models were more optimistic that his great Adriatic league performance would better translate, then it would be easier to dismiss the concerns raised by the eye test. Turkoglu represents Saric’s upside, and only if he can develop the Turk’s ability to shoot from NBA range off the pick-and-roll. Otherwise, his NBA role is unclear due to his weaknesses off the ball. As we get into the mid-to-late teens Saric may start to make sense, but he is not worthy of a top-10 pick to these eyes despite his great success in the Adriatic league.