2000 generation in Europe seems to be really rich in high level point guards. Carlos Alocen recently played big minutes and put solid numbers in Liga Endesa game vs Barcelona. Andrzej Pluta possess shooting skills close to his father and moreover is legitimate offensive distributor. Very few prospects have physicality and creativity combo like Melwin Pantzar. Mert Akay may be the PG that Turkey has been hoping to have for years. Rokas Jokubaitis recently stole the show from Ball brothers in BBB Challenge. There is even more not pure points but still very promising comboguards like Joel Ayayi, Vit Krejci or Arturs Kurucs. Finally we have to mention the main subject of this piece – Arturs Zagars who may look like 12 years old but plays like he is twice this age and yesterday debuted in Liga Endesa for Joventut Badalona.
Splitting the pick and roll and finishing through contact vs his fellow citizen – Janis Timma is not a bad way to score first ACB bucket. However Latvian guard was a tiny child prodigy able to make fancy plays against much older competition in his country since very early age and even used to play scrimmages with adults at Kristaps Porzingis camp. He first emerged on international scene in Radom, Poland at FIBA U16s in 2016. After successful championship he decided to stay in his homeland for one more year before joining Joventut Badalona which he had tryout with during GBA Invitational 2016 in Prague.
It is not very easy to get significant time on the court in Eba Liga for Latvian guard. He has to compete for minutes against Didac Cuevas or Pol Mollins and if you want to play at the cost of local players then you have to be much better than them. It doesn’t get any easier considering Zagars is quite new to Penya system and that he was recovering from minor health problems not so long ago caused by hitting late growth spurt. Given those circumstances it was unclear how good of a performance we could expect from him in L’Hospitalet Adidas Next Generation qualifier. However the result was amazing and Zagars really showed his best. Beside final game he was the main guy behind team triumph and could very well be considered MVP if Luka Samanic wasn’t on totally different level than anyone else. Arturs finished tourney with 23.4 pts, 10.4 ast, 5.4 reb, 2.5 stl and 28 eval per 36 minutes on the floor. It is even more impressive considering he hit 61.5% of 2pt FG and 48% of threes on 25 attempts including brilliant performance vs host team when he went off for 23 points in 20 minutes including 7/9 from behind the arc.
WHAT MAKES HIM SPECIAL?
Zagars has enormous talent which is moreover supported by hard work. His biggest advantage is how effortlessly basketball related things come to him. Thanks to natural flair and fantastic feel for the game he makes everything he does on the court look incredibly easy. As befits for player with tremendous offensive skillset he doesn’t hesitate to use his assets to score but remains well balanced between creating for himself and teammates. He handles the ball on a string and possess broad stock of advanced combo dribble moves. Moreover he has an ability to read defender intention in either pick & roll and isolations and use it against players who guard him. His hand eye coordination, the way his brain cooperates with the rest of body is a gift and such a superior level in this regard is not possible to achieve even after hundreds hours of hard work for others not blessed with it.
NECESSARY ADJUSTMENTS TO BECOME LEGITIMATE NBA PROSPECT
What could help Zagars beside pushing body limits to become ok finisher is definitely ability to hit deep pull ups. If you can make it rain from way downtown it notably increases your chances to succeed if you are neither physically imposing nor tall at all. This is the main asset which created Steph Curry phenomenon. With a shot threat even 35 feet away from the rim, deep pick and roll defense gets very risky. Also switches are easier to execute as very few bigs can feel comfortable defending far away from the perimeter. However delivering the ball to the rolling man quickly while double teamed by NBA athletes is harder than most people can imagine. Time is priceless and not having to gather the second hand on the ball could be very helpful to pass before the lanes are totally interrupted by cosmic length. This ability and reducing TO numbers would definitely be another useful asset. Stepping up concentration level to avoid 1-2 situations when unforced mistake is made, can at times be something that separates good from great.
Curry’s impact on the game has been visible already but we are about to witness players who grew up watching and emulating his moves coming to the league. Suffice to mention Trae Young mesmerizing NCAA season. Zagars could very well become European version of the guard who doesn’t look like everybody else but finds a niche thanks to mastering the range, outstanding natural instincts and being absolute killer in the way he plays. As for now he still has long road to go and the distance to reach Trae Young’s level may be even bigger than the one which separates Oklahoma’s rising star from chef Curry. Anyway loads of talent are there and betting against Zagars as NBA prospect is not safe at this point. He will definitely be followed closely by all the scouts and executives on upcoming AdidasNGT Finals during Euroleague Final Four in Belgrade where he can help himself even more.
Photo: Joventut Twitter