Adidas Eurocamp Day 2-- Polish and Potential

The quality of play on Day 2 of the Eurocamp markedly improved.  While the effort and team play the first day were commendable, it spawned games marred by turnovers and overpassing.  Not so today, particularly the first game of the day between Team 3 (Evan Fournier, Darko Planinic) and Team 4 (Artem Klimenko, Tornike Shengelia, Olek Czyz).  While Team 4 led 29-12 at one point, Fournier and Planinic led a rousing comeback that could not be completed due to the running clock, resulting in a low 48-44 final.

Shengelia and Czyz (pronounced "Chiz") also impressed in the transition drills before the games began, although I only saw half of the players since the rest were in the other gym.  For the drill, each team of 10 was split in half.  The drill was a 5 on 4, with the fifth defensive player sprinting onto the court once the ball crossed halfcourt.  The semi-transition situation allowed the players to be more aggressive and loosen up.  After a make or miss, the defensive team became the offensive team going the other way, where the 5 other players from the original offensive team were waiting.  The teams played two games to 50, with score kept by the coaches.

Evan Fournier made his debut today and immediately established himself as the not only the best prospect on the floor, but the best player as well.  (There is a difference.)  The smoothness and confidence in his game were without peer at the camp.  I heard that his team, Poitiers, runs everything through him, and his experience running the pick and roll was obvious.  He spent most of the game at the point, although this was no challenge for him defensively with the dearth of quick guards in this setting.  Unlike most guards at the camp, he drove hard to the basket and was generally able to finish despite the fact that the refs were calling absolutely nothing.  (I speculated that they might have been under orders to call things a little more loosely given the setting, since nobody wants to see these prospects shooting free throws.  Team 3 was only granted 4 free throws the entire game.)

Fournier's outside shooting mirrored the results from his workout yesterday.  When his man went under the screen on the pick and roll, he was able to drill one set-shot NBA three, while nailing another on a quick release spot-up from the corner after an offensive rebound.  He shot 2-4 on 3s overall against Team 4; like in his workout his 2 misses came when he was unable to get his feet set beforehand.  Overall the Frenchman finished with 13 points on 9 shooting possessions, 4 assists (the rest of the team had 3 combined) and a +13 in a game his team lost by 4.  I missed most of Fournier's second game of the day for the U-20 French National team, although he displayed similar efficiency against the overmatched Russians.

Donatas Montejunas (2011 draftee--rights owned by Houston Rockets).  Montejunas' workout with the Rockets' coaching staff was the reason I missed most of the French U-20 game.  Rockets' assistant Kelvin Sampson ran the workout, although coach Kevin McHale stepped in at various points to offer his unique expertise to the 7 footer as Rockets GM Daryl Morey looked on.

Montejunas looked cut and appeared in solid shape during the hour-long workout.  I'd estimate he's about 230 lbs now, up from the 215 listed on his DraftExpress profile.  The lefty showed off an advanced skill level with left and right-handed jump hooks out to about 9 feet.  Occasionally he'd change up with a coy sweeping right-handed hook.  After some early foibles, he was nearly automatic with these shots against slightly more than token arm-bar post defense.   The Lithuanian also looked extremely coachable, quickly learning the series of advanced spin moves he was taught within one or two repetitions and taking McHale's advice to explode hard on all his moves despite his fatigue as the workout dragged on.  He displayed quickness far above-average for a 7-footer, and has the tools to be an effective pick and roll defender.  I think that his quickness could allow him to be effective taking other bigs off the dribble from the mid-post area once his jumper is enough of a weapon

Montejunas displayed above-average jumping ability compared to the bigs in the Eurocamp, but he's not going to be dunking on people at the NBA level.  I would likewise wager he isn't going to be much of a shot blocker or an especially effective offensive rebounder.  His shooting also has a ways to go, as he hit only 35-40% of his unguarded NBA 3s in the workout.  This isn't really a high enough percentage that he should be taking them in the games just yet.  He did hit his free throws, even while tired.  (When he was exhausted, he was told to shoot free throws until he recovered.)  Also, his hands are pretty small, as he lost the ball a number of times going up for one-handed dunks.  Finally, all of the praise for his moves comes with the huge asterisk that he wasn't facing real defense.  While having the skills to execute the moves in a workout is nice, it means nothing without the ability to react to the defense and make the move without being knocked off balance by a physical defender.

Overall though, I was impressed by the potential his workout showed.  He should be playable for the Rockets next year if he can hold his own on the boards.

Two other players stood out today as well.  Although neither draft-eligible player looks to be a real NBA prospect, they both appear to have long Euroleague careers ahead of them.  Although Darko Planinic has a first and last name combination that might trigger PTSD for Joe Dumars and Rod Thorn, he showed much more heart than either of his namesakes.  I would describe Planinic's game as a poor-man's Non...err, Nikola Pekovic.  Every time down he would race the floor and slam his ass into whoever was guarding him, pushing his defender right under the basket.  On straight postups from the block, he showed an excellent ability to spin into jump hooks with either hand, using his off arm and shoulder to block off the defender.  Going middle, he was often able to use his strength to seal his defender and finish with a layin on the other side of the rim.  Once he received the ball in the post today, it was a near-automatic bucket or foul. He was especially dominant in leading Team 3's comeback from a 17 point deficit in the first game of the day.

Planinic isn't an NBA prospect because he lacks explosiveness (27/24 step/no-step vertical in the camp athletic testing), doesn't provide much defensive value, and is old for the camp with a 1990 birthday. Also, from what I saw he is not the rebounder Pekovic is, although few are.  Nonetheless, the Croatian's toughness should allow him to carve out a solid European career.

Tornike Shenglia, a December 1991-born player with Belgium's Charleroi in the Euroleague, also played well today.  The Georgian forward was originally listed at 6'10" by the camp, and had me thinking he might be an NBA prospect yesterday and the early part of today when he was playing power forward for Team 4. (He later shifted to the 3.)  He was excellent taking bigger players off the dribble with his favored baseline spin moves and taking the ball hard to the basket in transition. He also displayed a decent 3 point shot, although he was 0-4 from the foul line with all 4 misses short.  Unfortunately, as the day went on it became clearer that he would have trouble making it as an NBA power forward defensively or finishing inside.  The biggest problem is that Shenglia is almost exclusively a 1 foot player.  He is effective driving to the basket and can get up for some solid dunks with a head of steam, but proved unable to explode off two feet when receiving the ball under the basket.  He also did not particularly impress as a rebounder, although his Euroleague numbers were solid in that regard.  He provides no shot-blocking and carries a poor defensive reputation.  His vitals testing confirmed that he isn't really an NBA power forward prospect, as he measured at 6'8" in socks and recorded 28.5/23.5 verticals.  While he's been compared to Andres Nocioni, he doesn't have the Argentinian's two-foot explosiveness.  I'll be watching his rebounding closely tomorrow though, because what I saw the first two days did not jive with his solid rebounding statistics.  But my current impression is that he is not a solid NBA prospect unless he can improve his shooting to Matt Bonner levels.

Negueba Samake.  Imagine you are an NBA scout whose job depends on the quality of the recommendations you make to your GM.  You walk into a gym seeing a player you know literally nothing about.  He has the body of Dwight Howard except 2 inches taller with longer arms.  As the workout unfolds, tidbits of information begin to spread among the assembled scouts:  He plays in the French Division B, and only played 10 minutes the whole season.  You aren't sure how old he is.  But watching him dunk is ridiculous, especially one-handed.   His standing reach is at least 9'6".  Of course, his game is completely unpolished and his coordination rather lacking.  Watching him robotically execute post moves, it's clear nobody will ever call a postup for him.  He doesn't even know the proper way to roll to the basket.  He simply doesn't move with the type of grace a natural basketball player possesses.

Watching the scouts shake their heads, it's clear that players like Samake are the bane of their existence.  If you recommend the team take him, odds are it won't work out and it's a black mark on your resume.  If you recommend the team pass and he becomes a solid NBA contributor, the GM will want to know how everyone missed him.  By the time his workout was over, most scouts had left the gym shaking their heads in frustration.*

*It didn't help that Danilo Gallinari was working out at the same time on the other end of the court, providing a ridiculous contrast.

Were it my call, I would take a late second-round flier on him, but only if there were nobody else the team liked.  For the record, I think it's very unlikely Samake will ever play in the NBA, much less be an impact player.  He is 22, and if he's that age and getting no tick in the French 2nd Division there's probably a reason.  His relatively advanced age also does not augur well for his development.  Most disconcerting though was a very simple drill in which he was asked to slide lane line to lane line.  His slides, like everything else aside from his dunking, were awkward and robotic.  Any value Samake will provide is on defense; if he can't really move laterally and get in position to block shots he will have no use at all.

However, his length, strength, and leaping ability give him a 5% chance of becoming a game-changing defensive presence.  There is always the possibility that he just hasn't received any good coaching, and that he could blossom in the right environment.  That's worth a late second round pick.

Finally, a shoutout to center Izzet Turkyilmaz, who has a name worthy of a Yunkish (mild spoiler alert) lord from George R.R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series.  (Don't worry Game of Thrones viewers, you'll know what I'm talking about by Season 5.)

Tomorrow:  The Eurocamp wraps up with the U-20 French team against another Eurocamp All-Star team.  7'0" Rudy Gobert (an Alexis Ajinca lookalike physically) impressed against the far smaller U-20 Russians, going 7-8 with 5 dunks.  It will be interesting to see if he can keep it up against a team with real big men.  Also tomorrow, full reports on my impressions of the camp's youngest (and theoretically highest ceiling) players.


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