Luka Samanic started the season having a very slow start in his first games in a new city and totally different level of basketball. Croatian prospect after showing his versatile skill set in Barcelona youth program playing in ANGT, decided to travel back to Balkans to start his professional career. Olimpija stacked potential in its roster with the additions of Samanic, Sanon, Simonovic and Mesicek (after a stint with Brindisi) is now one of the teams to watch for scouts. Samanic looked to have a huge impact on Petrol Olimpija, however his production level is somewhat below expectations so far. There are plenty of reasons for this case and this production level does not deny his chances for NBA, he is still an 18 year old 6’11 guy, he has plenty of time to unleash his potential and gain experience.
Samanic in his first 5 games with Petrol Olimpija scored just 9 points in total of 52 minutes in ABA/BCL games, had foul trouble in 3 of those games in quick succession. It is pretty much understandable he is adjusting a whole different level in with many new faces in the team. This season, most important thing for him is to establish a role for himself in the rotation, so far he looked more like a fringe player not having defined responsibilities for the teams success. He looks lost in some sequences, especially on offensive side. His best game so far came against Euroleague team Buducnost Podgorica in ABA Liga where he scored 12 points in just 19 minutes in a losing effort. Next two games after that against Crvena Zvezda and Neptunas, he had much less effect on the game. As to say, another important variable will be his consistency on game to game basis. Of course, his consistency is very much dependent on his established role in the team. Lately he started to bring more effort and energy from the bench also showing off some of his tools on both ends.
Luka played as 4 guy alongside with veteran big man Begic in those games as a stretch guy and athletic rebounder. He is quick for his size and has the ability to blow by opposing 4s, but at this point he is rather adjusting his game to the flow and remains patient. In BCL and ABA Liga combined, he is only 1/8 from behind the three point line but he will likely to do better as he starts to gain confidence game by game. On defense he is fighting but not yet necessarily strong enough to defend pro players in low post so he picks up fouls very quickly. His perimeter defense on smaller guys is very promising considering his low stance and intensity in this positions but he needs to be more patient to avoid committing fouls.
LACK OF PHYSICALITY
This is the biggest problem of Samanic which affects him in many aspects on both ends of the floor. While his body is proportionate, he is filling out very slowly. His lack of strength shows in battling for position as he gets push around frequently either in low post situation or during driving to the rim. It also leads to foul trouble (6.4 per 36 in ABA and 7.6 per 36 in BCL) as he needs to bend the rules to recover for lack of power and hand check the opponent before he gets even easier opportunity to score than free throws.
However one thing is being weak physically and other unwillingness to fight. Of course it is correlated and no one really wants to absorb contact with skinny frame as it simply hurts. However Luka doesn’t always play hard which raises question in this regard. You can’t just wake up one morning, press switch button and be like: “Ok now I am finally stronger so I can fight”. What you do now when you still don’t have it tells a lot about mentality and what can future hold when you finally got the missing piece.
When we look from a physical potential view it is so evident he has tremendous upside. Samanic has wide frame that will fill out well. Quick leaper very much light on his feet and very fluid moving on the floor for his position. As he gets stronger, those qualities will start to make much more sense and change the outlook of his performances. Plenty of room for improvement with his combination of skills and athletic prowess. Consistent development is the key.
GOOD Vs BAD
It is better to start of with something he does well already, rebounding. Luka shows his athletic capacity grabbing rebounds above the rim. He possess the fundamental knowledge, finds his match-up quickly after the shot has been taken to box him out. Strength causes some problems but at least he has the instincts to do right.
Speaking of fundamentals, Luka has good basketball IQ on both ends. Rather than forcing the occasion and making mistakes, he is patient on offense and waits for his queue. Spacing has not been an issue, like in the rebounds, he knows where to stand in offense. Lately he is getting more active off the ball. Against Besiktas, he quickly utilized an off the ball top of the key screen to finish the possession with an alley oop dunk. His awareness to detect free lanes helps him to execute those off ball cuts.
We see Samanic dribble the ball down the court time to time but he needs to improve his ball handling in order to become more efficient on isolation. There is a big difference between his speed with the ball and off ball speed. He cannot change directions quickly neither pass out of dribble well at this stage. This problem also limits his first step on the perimeter.
Besides his most overlooked skill is probably playmaking which he is not translating while given limited touches but he can really pass the ball and may prove it more moving forward.
On defensive end, Samanic’s biggest advantage is his quickness. With quick feet he can really hold his match-up over perimeter or even after switches on smaller guys, he can keep up with them. Sits on a low stance however in some possessions he shows he lacks experience. He has randomly reaches for the ball and gives up on his stance on perimeter which eventually leads to a blow by. This is not an often case, he will control this urge with his experience, which lane to close and which side he will let his opponent drive probably build in time.
Around the basket, he lacks physicality and shows a tendency to foul rather than fighting. Confidence might kick in after he gets a bit more stronger. He occasionally blocks opposition coming from weak side thanks to his good leaping ability. Main variable for his defensive effectiveness will be strength and mental approach defending bigs.
WHAT TO IMPROVE
Samanic’s outside shooting consistency is dramatically vital for his draft stock. So far this season, he has not been able to showcase his outside shooting much. To possess more value for NBA teams, he will have to be a knockdown shooter around the perimeter, he has no chance beyond that when we think of the evolution of NBA basketball. His shooting form is very promising, it won’t be surprising to see him specialized in catch and shoot in time.
Another thing we already mentioned is his ball handling. He is just OK for now and improving in this area will unlock many other possibilities considering his athleticism. He can do more than just slashing or settling for spot up jumper when controls the ball well enough to pull up, play isolation and pass out off dribble.
In general, Luka has wide variety of tools in his arsenal but none of them so far is polished enough to show off yet. He only displays a tiny bit of his rare combination of skills. Jack of all trades, but master of none especially on offensive end. When we think about his lack of physicality, he won’t likely show us great output in games but then he can swiftly improve his game in the upcoming season.
Samanic thrives in transition game as a big man and can also hit shots from outside helping his team stretch the floor. He can also drive or dish utilizing NBA spacing when he is in better shape. On defense he can defend after switches but won’t likely an ultimate rim protector when we think of his average wingspan, he will have his moments on help defense.
While Sekou is more physically predisposed to contribute a little for NBA team next year, Luka most likely won’t be ready to play regularly yet. So should he come over immediately after draft or not necessarily? I think it’s still up to later performances. Staying in Ljubljana doesn’t really seem to be more beneficial than being assigned to G League affiliated team. However if he shows enough promise of becoming legitimate part of higher level Euro team it is worth staying here with secured situation and playing time after someone decides to buy him out.
When will he be able to add more strength? How good he will shoot the ball from outside on high volume? How much of a defender he can be in the painted area? Will he get more playing time in Olimpija with better responsibilities? Will he even stay in the draft this year? Is it possible for him to create off the dribble?
It is hard to say what is current stock of Luka – still just outside the lottery? Low first round or maybe even very early 2nd? It becomes more difficult to “sell” Europeans after the failures of them. In Samanic case a bit exaggerated comparisons to Dragan Bender who may be out of the league soon, and labeling him in the past as his poor version doesn’t help at all. If he falls down that much he can become a real steal and someone just must take him considering the talent level. If you recruit potential he can be your choice. Samanic potentially has all the qualities which American executives look for in Europeans while being modern, versatile player with solid positional tools.