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.
The Best of the Undrafted Players
David Yapkowitz breaks down the best players who weren’t drafted in Thursday night’s NBA Draft.
Ben Wallace, Raja Bell, Avery Johnson, David Wesley, John Starks; those are just a few former NBA players who didn’t hear their name called on draft night, yet went on to have pretty impressive careers.
Each year there are a few undrafted players who end up making a team’s roster and turn out to be solid contributors. This past season, players like Ron Baker of the New York Knicks, Yogi Ferrell of the Dallas Mavericks, and Derrick Jones Jr. of the Phoenix Suns went undrafted in 2016 yet ended up as regular rotation guys for their teams. In Ferrell’s case, he became a starter.
With the 2017 NBA Draft come and gone, here’s a look at some of the top undrafted players who might be able to strengthen a team’s roster.
Johnathan Motley was the best player on a Baylor team that was a No.3 seed and made it to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament. He averaged 17.3 points per game on 52.2 percent shooting and pulled down 9.9 rebounds per game.
At 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds, Motley is definitely in the mold of a versatile wing player who can play multiple positions and thrive and in today’s NBA. What he needs to do, however, is improve his outside shot. He shot only 28.1 percent from three-point range. One crucial aspect for hybrid forwards is to be able to step out and hit long range jumpers.
His stock often fluctuated in various mock drafts; some had him going in the first round, others in the second. Per The Vertical’s Shams Charania, Motley signed a two-way contract with the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday.
P.J. Dozier was one-half of South Carolina’s star duo that helped propel them to a Cinderella run to the Final Four in the NCAA Tournament. The other half, Sindarius Thornwell, had his name called, but at the end of the night, Dozier was still waiting.
Only a sophomore, Dozier was the second leading scorer for the Gamecocks with 13.9 points per game. He was always projected to go in the second round on most mocks and perhaps he came out a bit too early. The talent is there though.
He can have success as a team’s combo guard off the bench. He will need to work on his shooting though. He shot only 40.7 percent from the field, 29.8 percent from three. He’ll be in summer league with the Los Angeles Lakers, and from there will hope to entice a team to bring him to training camp.
Melo Trimble might have been one of those players that needed to strike while the iron’s hot. Two years ago, he was talked about as a probable first-round pick had he declared for the draft after his freshman year at Maryland. Instead, he stayed until his junior year and his stock fell.
He actually turned in an impressive junior campaign with 16.8 points per game, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.7 assists. He shot a respectable 44.4 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from three-point range.
Trimble will play summer league with the Philadelphia 76ers, and like most undrafted free agents, will look to turn his performance into a training camp invitation. He probably projects to be a backup point guard should he find a place in the league. He had first round and possible lottery talent before, however, so maybe all he needs is an opportunity.
In today’s game, where teams put a premium on versatile, do it all type players who can play multiple positions, Devin Robinson certainly fits that description. Robinson is a long, athletic forward who can step out and hit outside jumpers while locking up his opponent’s best wing scorer.
Florida had a surprisingly solid run in the NCAA Tournament and Robinson was a big part of that. His junior year, his best year yet, saw him average 11.1 points per game on 47.5 percent from the field and 6.1 rebounds. He showed a much improved outside shot, connecting on 39.1 percent of his looks from downtown. In the tournament, he upped his averages to 28.3 points on similar shooting percentages.
Robinson will be in summer league with the Washington Wizards, a team that often times lacked production off their bench last season. Depending on how he performs in summer league, don’t be surprised to see him on the Wizards roster come opening night.
Playing in the shadow of Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker in years past, Nigel Hayes was given an opportunity as a senior at Wisconsin to show what he could do as the focal point of an offense. His numbers didn’t jump off the page, but he did play well enough to be given a shot at making a team’s roster.
His 14 points per game were good enough to tie teammate Ethan Happ for the second leading scorer on the team. As a power forward, he was actually the second leading assist man with 2.7. One area he’ll need to improve on to make an impact in the NBA is his outside jumper. He shot 39.6 percent from three his sophomore season. This year it was down to 31.4 despite taking a similar number of attempts (2.5 and 1.9 respectively).
Hayes looks to be one of those players in between positions. He lacks the quickness and range to thrive at small forward but is a bit undersized at the NBA level for power forward. He is an incredible energy player, though, and players like that have been able to carve out nice careers. He’ll be in summer league with the Knicks, and given their current state of affairs, they need all the help they can get.
In the mock drafts that projected him to be drafted, L.J. Peak was most likely going to be a second round pick. That’s not to say he doesn’t have first round talent. He’s a big guard that can play both guard positions.
Despite Georgetown’s futile record this season, Peak was a standout. He was the team’s second-leading scorer at 16.2 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the field. He was also their top playmaker, dishing out 3.5 assists. In the NBA, he most likely can find a role for some team as a combo guard off the bench. He only shot 32.7 percent from the beyond the arc, however, so if he wants to make an impact in the league that’s one area he’ll need some work.
He’s set to go to summer league with the Houston Rockets. Depending on what roster moves the Rockets make, it will be tough for Peak to make the final team. They already have two guards capable of playing both guard spots off the bench in Lou Williams and Isaiah Taylor. Taylor’s contract isn’t guaranteed, but he probably has the inside track due to his familiarity with the team. In any case, a strong summer showing should lead Peak to a training camp invite with another team, if not the Rockets.
NBA PM: Losers Of The 2017 NBA Draft
Who were the two parties who came out of draft night worse off than they went in? Spencer Davies explores.
As the book closes on the 2017 NBA Draft, the league takes a bit of a break before going full throttle into the free agency portion of the off-season.
Before we get there, though, Basketball Insiders will take a look at the winners and losers of Thursday’s draft to get you caught up. Our own Benny Nadeau already took care of the former, so this piece will focus on the two parties who came out of the night worse off than they did going into it.
Early Entrants Going Undrafted
The amount of talent in this year’s draft class was undeniable, so those that decided to come out of college too soon instead of returning to school for another year suffered tremendously.
Let’s take a look at some notable undrafted players that entered as underclassmen:
Simmons was an interesting story this past season with the Arizona Wildcats. It was a difficult one-and-done season for Simmons, as he had trouble converting on the perimeter (33 percent) and contributing anything other than scoring.
In the first couple of months as a freshman, he was basically an every game starter and played at least 28 minutes per game for the team. As the year wound down, though, the 6-5, 175-pound shooting guard barely saw the court, and the time he was given came during blowouts.
His decision to enter the draft was questionable and a gamble, and most teams saw it the same way. Luckily for Simmons, he was reportedly able to come to an agreement with the Memphis Grizzlies on a free agent contract.
A player that surprisingly didn’t get selected was P.J. Dozier from South Carolina. In his sophomore season, the 20-year-old swingman took on a much heavier workload and dramatically improved his game on both ends of the floor.
Dozier was one of the best defenders in the SEC and in the entire NCAA, as well as an aggressor on offense. He was not bashful and took his new role in stride. Over the course of one year, he attempted six more field goals per game and upped his three-point success by 8.5 percentage points.
He also snatched almost two more rebounds per game and averaged nearly two steals for the Gamecocks. Dozier going undrafted was a head scratcher, but the Los Angeles Lakers made sure he landed on his feet with a deal.
Briscoe is more of a hybrid type with a bulky build for a backcourt player. In two seasons under John Calipari at Kentucky, he was pretty consistent with his game as somebody who will give you a little bit of everything.
He’s not particularly a good shooter, but he can get some rebounds and dish it out to make the right plays. You’ll see that with when he’s playing for the Philadelphia 76ers in Summer League.
Blakeney—a sophomore guard from LSU—proved that he can shoot the basketball and be a pure scorer (17.2 points per game) when given the opportunity, but what about the defensive end of the floor? He’ll need to work on that, as well as his all-around game that won’t make him a one-dimensional threat.
He hasn’t received an offer from a team yet, but he’ll likely get a chance to showcase his talents in either Orlando or Las Vegas.
The trend here seems obvious—if you’re a shooting guard and haven’t gotten at least three years of college experience, it may not be wise to declare. Executives understand that they need players with the “do-it-all” quality and not just pure scorers that can’t bring more than one or two skills to the table.
Over the past week, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Jimmy Butler and his future with the Bulls. There were rumors all over linking him mainly to the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the dark horse candidate to land the All-Star was the one to pull the trigger.
After the first selection in the draft was made, the Minnesota Timberwolves came to an agreement with Chicago that reunited Butler with his former coach of four years, Tom Thibodeau. The deal came a few weeks after an exit interview regarding the team’s direction that reportedly went well.
The 27-year-old’s trainer didn’t hide his displeasure about the move, but it’s understandable from the perspective of VP of Basketball Operations John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman, who strived to “set a direction” for the franchise.
However, what they received in return for Butler was not nearly enough for a man that is just now entering his prime as one of the best two-way players in the game today. In exchange for Butler, the Wolves sent Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine to Chicago. Furthermore, the Bulls were able to move up nine spots in the draft, but it cost them their 16th pick to do so.
LaVine is as exciting as a player as any young talent in the NBA, but he’ll enter the season coming off a brutal ACL tear that ended his year prematurely. It will probably be a little while before the 22-year-old sees the floor, and, as the centerpiece of this trade, it’s definitely risky not knowing how he’ll respond to the injury.
While Dunn could have plenty of promise as the starting point guard of the future, his rookie season in Minnesota left a lot to be desired. The only defense of his inclusion as one of the key pieces in this transaction is being a top five pick in last year’s draft with untapped potential.
With the seventh overall selection, Chicago drafted Lauri Markkanen out of Arizona. In his lone season under Sean Miller, the seven-footer was a key cog in the Wildcats’ run in the PAC-12 and NCAA tournaments.
The talent is clearly there as a sharpshooting stretch four or five, but with Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic already in the mix at power forward, the fit may be a problem. He could see some time at center, but remember, Robin Lopez, Cristiano Felicio, and Joffrey Lauvergne are holding down the fort there, too.
Markkanen’s situation will all depend on if qualifying offers are made to Mirotic, Felicio, and Lauvergne.
To add the cherry on top of the Bulls’ rough night, they excited some fans of the organization when they took Jordan Bell out of Oregon early in the second round. That hope quickly diminished when the Golden State Warriors paid $3.5 million for the pick, and Chicago agreed to send him to the Bay.
Bell was one of the sexier names in the draft for a good reason, but the money was more important to the Bulls, who will have some more decisions to make this summer with their veterans on the roster likely not wanting to be a part of the rebuild.
Without their superstar of the last three years, and still with an inexperienced head coach like Fred Hoiberg to develop the young talent brought into the organization, it’s going to be a little while before basketball is king again in the Windy City.
Hawks Didn’t Expect John Collins To Fall To 19
Newly-minted Atlanta Hawks GM Travis Schlenk had a relatively easy decision drafting John Collins at 19.
During Travis Schlenk’s first NBA Draft as Atlanta GM, fortune smiled as center John Collins of Wake Forest, a player rated highly on Atlanta’s draft board, fell to the 19th pick.
“Through the whole week, we had guys ranked, and he was the highest guy there,” said Schlenk to assembled media at the Omni Hotel, adjacent to Philips Arena. “We thought he’d go a little higher. We had a couple options on the board to move back, but once we saw that John was going to be there, we didn’t entertain any of those.”
Schlenk added that Atlanta also tried to move up but was unable to execute a trade.
“We did have some conversations about trying to move up,” said Schlenk. “We had one player that we targeted that we really wanted to move up for but were unable to do so.”
The process of building the team’s draft depth chart was collaborative, Schlenk added, which meant Collins’ selection was by consensus rather than by decree. Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer was among those whose input factored into the selection.
“I have a lot of faith in the group that was here before I got here,” said Schlenk. “They’ve been a huge asset to me coming in here in the middle of this process. As I’ve stated all along, I view Coach Bud and I’s relationship as a partnership. It doesn’t do us any good to take a guy that he doesn’t like, so he’s got a voice in it for sure.”
Schlenk was asked about areas where Collins needs to improve and didn’t shy away from questions about his defense.
“That was kind of the knock on him at Wake Forest,” said Schlenk. “But a lot of times, especially in college — when you’re the main focal point — you’ll see the best offensive player doesn’t want to get in foul trouble so he can stay on the floor. We interviewed him in Chicago. That’s what he said: “Coach Manning said, ‘Don’t get in foul trouble, I can’t afford to have you off the court.'”
The Hawks GM also talked about Collins’ shortcomings as a shooter.
“One of the first things we’re going to work on with him is a jump shot,” said Schlenk. “In college, all his scoring came in the post. And he’s got a good post game. We just need to extend his range out, especially the way we play and the way the league’s going.”
But overall, Schlenk was extremely positive about the opportunity to add a player with the upside of Collins, a player who is far from a finished product.
“Last year you saw his athleticism, and then the big jump that he’s made from his freshman year to his sophomore year,” Schlenk said. “Obviously, being the most improved player in the ACC, you see the growth he’s made. And he’s still a 19-year-old kid, so there’s still a lot of room to grow.”
In the second round, Atlanta selected shooting guard Tyler Dorsey, who shot 56 percent from three and averaged 23 points during Oregon’s run to the Final Four. The Hawks also selected 6-10 French center Alpha Kaba of Mega Leks, a likely draft-and-stash candidate. With Collins’ youth and lack of polish, it may take some time to judge Schlenk’s first draft. But fortunately for him, the decision was a relatively easy one since the team didn’t expect Collins to fall all the way to 19 where Atlanta could grab him.