Three players from Poland played in NBA so far: Marcin Gortat, Maciej Lampe and Cezary Trybanski. Beside The Polish Hammer others presence was very episodic. Balcerowski seems to have a real shot to become 4th countryman but is not very similar to his predecessors. Maybe to Maciej Lampe but only as far as talent scale instead of playing style is concerned.
So who does he resemble? There is not that much +215cm basketball players running on the courts all over the world. Also very small percentage of them is fairly mobile, can shoot and put the ball on the floor. Given those similarities, coming from Baltic region and the same team they currently play in (Herbalife Gran Canaria) later in this article I decided to investigate if magic stash Anzejs Pasecniks and Polish rising star on Canary Island – Aleksander Balcerowski can be considered similar players.
First of all Olek is not clear cut “Polish Markkanen” or “Polish Porzingis” as some NBA fans would love to announce him in his homeland. He neither has amazingly toned muscles, and toughness-cockiness-swagger combo like Finnish forward nor unbelievably quick trigger for 7’3 guy who also possess enough wiggle with the ball to make pull ups comparably to 6’0 guards like unofficial mayor of NYC – Kristaps Porzingis. He could possibly be considered one and done college player but just not Top 7 pick caliber. At the same time he doesn’t seem to be such a late bloomer physically who can ultimately make a jump to franchise player.
Comparison to Porzingis is not very appropriate from one more reason. I understand that currently absolutely gold standard for (at least) 7’2 white players who can shoot and have some handles is Latvian Knicks star. However how often can talent like him emerge? How many times teams and fans expectation went down after forcing themselves to find the next X or Y player? I believe every unathletic shooter from Europe with at least little Draft consideration who stood around 7 foot was compared to Dirk Nowitzki. How many of them ever came close to Mavericks living legend? I understand the matter of dreaming big and idolizing. Moreover studying the game is crucial and desire to learn from the best can only help you. But from scout or expert perspective you have to look at things from more reasonable perspective.
Apart from that, Olek shows a lot of promise to offer in future NBA executives exactly what they need. NBA offenses are not fully run by only pure point guards anymore and playmaking responsibilities are shared also among big players. With taller & more athletic wings it’s harder to execute advantage on every mismatch as it used to be and extending the range was the key to survive in today’s league even for established bigs like Brook Lopez, Nikola Vucevic or Marc Gasol. If your shot is a threat your defender needs to come closer which means more space for others to operate. Also considering growing number of players with great stroke nowadays, the demand for those who can supply them in accurate dishes is on the rise as well. This all sounds promising and Polish prospect definitely seems likely to fit in. However recently I heard some opinions that Olek could possibly play 4 position in NBA. It is a little bit difficult to agree. While scrolling down the rosters it is hard to imagine him being able to defend and cope with athleticism that majority of current PFs possess. Olek legs are not great. He is fairly mobile but not even the most desired rim runner type considering how slow he is for NBA standards. Personally I don’t think he will ever be able to produce for himself on face up situations further away than on perimeter. The only way to make it happen is propitious situation on the court which can possibly take place for short stretches. By this I mean opposite line up with frontcourt player of similar characteristic to Olek so you could blend and fully use his assets on 4 offensively and give responsibility to defend the 5.
At the time of writing this article Olek is coming from more than less positive Adidas Next Generation Tournament. Considering circumstances – delayed flight, just 4h of sleep, playing on glucose without proper meal and having two games at the first day, it was hard to expect from him miracles or even consistent performance as there was simply not enough time to recover. Also I wasn’t predicting Olek’s domination at all as he just turned 17 and partners with Biram Faye to create GranCan bigs duo. Senegalese player is a ball hog and more ready than any of his peers for playing with adults which is a must use in such tournaments. Here it may be more about results than experience regarding the prestige of junior Euroleague competition.
Before I start with Pasecniks I have to hand it to Olek. After already being known from his shooting skills and handles he is trying to put those two things together and makes strides towards legitimate shot creation with the ball. Mostly simple pull ups for now as right to left or between the legs crossovers were not helping him to gain much space even though they were kept low to the ground and looked quite fluid for gigantic player. There is still plenty of time to refine it down the road and we can expect visible progress in his coordination and explosiveness as he stopped growing and is fully recovered. I also have to keep in mind that Porzingis at the age of Balcerowski was not even ready for ACB episodes.
Main difference comparing to Pasecniks may be the earlier stardom. Even though Olek is down to earth kid, you can google plenty of articles about him in various languages. Older teammate emerged pretty much after FIBA U18s in his homeland back in 2013 where he composed twin tower tandem with Porzingis. Before this summer Olek will have in his resume Jordan Brand Classic, Basketball without Borders either European and global editions, Moreover he was recently called up to the camp with senior national team. Pasecniks may have had more “peace of mind” working on his craft and strength over the years being somewhat a little in Porzingis shadow. On the other side Poland struggles to produce high level talents frequently and basically all eyes gonna be on Olek next seasons. Also Pasecniks left his country few years later to continue in Spain. From time perspective he could have done it earlier since his progress in VEF after mentioned successful championships with Latvia was a bit disappointing.
Relatively to age, Olek seems to have more skillful offensive repertoire. He tries to face up even too much at times but you got to like jab steps or dribble moves of 7’1-7’2 teenager. He makes effort to offer more than just straight line drives and also shows flashes of being more consistent playmaker. He definitely benefits from modern era as a lot of mentioned skills are correlated with evolution of the game and adjustment of training process to that. Plus 5 years ago terms like positionless line up or stretch big were clearly a bit less common. Balcerowski stroke may also seems a little cleaner and he undeniably has more pounds on his frame. The downside is his graceful manner on the court. Pasecniks also didn’t welcome physicality with his skinny built but he was clearly more energetic and electrifying player. He was faster in defensive rotation and operated better as PnR man by rolling to the rim quickly. Also while Olek can seem more crafty finisher around the rim, Anzejs already had signature post move to his left hand.
As of now Balcerowski seems to have advantage in fundamentals and be ahead of 17-18yo Pasecniks. However his predecessor was more of physical late bloomer who made amazing progress once he adjusted to Spanish environment. That development pace may be hard to achieve anymore for Polish prospect. Currently Anzejs is having likewise season to previous one. He plays more in Eurocup but didn’t step up his promising 3 pointer or rim protection and even though he is a 1st round pick may still not be fully equipped to play in NBA. This is not something that should worry 76ers front office at the moment considering their other stashes, current frontcourt situation and more players (even undrafted) coming to league when they are ready.
But what future holds for Olek? I believe he is 1st round potential as well. Balcerowski is definitely not your typical above 7 foot player skillwise. If he was not him also regarding natural fitness then he would have clear cut translatable NBA potential if given favorable situation for further development and stating that his work ethic is as good as I keep hearing from reliable sources. Since he probably finally stopped growing we will know more next years if his athletic limitations are that serious to stop him from utilizing his tremendous versitality in National Basketball Association. Also he definitely needs more toughness and poise consistency to survive on the highest level especially on defensive end.