You don’t have to be an expert to say that youth and winning is very rare combination. You can’t just throw all the best prospect into one organization and win games vs experienced competition. There must be a balance between talented rookies/sophomores veterans and guys in their prime. Olimpija won just 6 from 32 games in ABA and BCL and has a poor 10-7 record in weak domestic league. Ljublana based team played already 49 games (Euroleague bound Real Madrid “just” 42 for example). You are neither prepared physically for such an intense schedule as a youngster nor you have time to work on your skills while constantly travelling and preparing the plan for a battle with the next opponent. Lack of patience from the management, coaches changes or playing without quality point guard most of the season doesn’t help either. To sum up instead of being prospect hotbed, Slovenian powerhouse is a organisation where only outstanding individuals can stand out. Last week, I had a chance to attend their home game vs Zlatorog lasko and evaluate performance and situation of four prospect from both teams even though Ukrainian guard Issuf Sanon was sick and Luka Samanic in need of a rest. Here are my thoughts:
After slow start to the season, Samanic improved notably last weeks. Over December and January, he averaged 17pts and 9rebs per 36 in major competitions. Seems like he rebuilded his confidence a little in weaker Slovenian league and finally started translating his talents onto higher level like BCL or ABA. While comparisons to Bender (taller, better in basically everything but failed badly) in the past didn’t help at all, recent success of Rodions Kurucs can lift Luka stock again. They are not very different players. Both are fundamentally sound, skilled, very fluid with decent athleticism. They are also characterised by great size for forwards, ability to slash, take part in transition, make open shots, rebound and being capable defensively. While Latvian wing has been slightly better guarding opponents, had more consistent motor & more physicality, I believe that Croatian talent has been a bit better with ball in his hands. Situation is a bit different as Samanic plays regularly on better level than Leb Gold (which is still by the way very underestimated league) and didn’t have injury troubles in the past but if Luka’s range goes down for some reason to mid second round he can be a real steal considering how much he fits the modern ball. Moreover I still believe that in this class he is legitimate choice for 20-30 range and that he is hardly failable on NBA level if jumper translates well and frame bears additional bulk. He may be filling out not everly fast but is well proportioned and current Olimpija situation is somewhat NBA schedule without NBA treatment which slows down the process. However more worrying than gaining weight is demeanor and lack of warrior spirit which used to be a concern in the past. I see improvement but overall character related things are not as easy to change as it seems. As far as stroke, touch is very promising but statistical samples from pro and youth stages are average at this point. It will be big determinant as 3pt % is often what separates those who made it and those who didn’t in the group of versitale but masters of none type of players. Highly gifted but some question marks are still remaining. And will remain until the Draft and beyond but potential is definitely not one of them.
Subpar season so far for Washington Wizards stash. Sanon is definitely not the one who could fix Olimpija’s game organisation problem as he still gets very questionable as main decision maker with the ball. His court vision is average and often he attacks with reckless abandon, starts two step and looks for open teammate last second while hanging in the air without pre action feel which often leads either to traveling or bad passes. Despite athleticism, some wiggle, swag, confidence and bravery in one on one game which was very attractive on youth level he remains better option on defensive end. As of now, Sanon finished with double digit in only 7 games from 41 contests, often records minus efficiency, has more turnovers than assists and made only 11 from 59 three pointers in ABA Liga & BCL. On the other hand, while there is a lot to like on defensive end in his poise, willingness to press way above three point line, strong base which allows to contain the contact or solid foot speed, how much is it actually supported by fundamentals? He does get overaggressive and many of fouls seem to be easily avoidable as he doesn’t calculate in a wrong way. In all competitions combined he averages 6.23 pf per 36. To protect a bit Ukrainian guard we have to mention that he has been playing basketball on solid pro level barely over one year now after previously arriving almost out of nowhere as a draft candidate. However lack of progress is really worrying. As of now he looks more like a slashing guard with underwhelming basketball IQ who has very good but not elite tools & just ok skill level to compensate. Lack of shooting and decision making which puts you kinda out of position is probably the worst existing combination for guards even if one becomes capable of locking down anyone. He can be better than now especially in first regard but there is occuring a risk that it may be somewhat wasted pick without any refinements next year. Isn’t there actually handful of likewise players in G League or among college seniors? Speaking of it isn’t going to G League and proving he is something more the right idea?
Montenegrin big had the worst showing of the season as he went scoreless. He started the season with Italian team Roseto to complete homegrown status there but came back to Ljublana on the beginning of November. He sees the most limited minutes in major competitions but had single really good games here and there so far. What stands out positively this season is activity on the glass. Rebounding numbers are ridiculously good for 19yo especially in stronger leagues where he debutes: 12.9 per 36 in Slovenia, 13.4 in ABA and 13.5 in BCL. He plays with good motor and his energy, athleticism or rim running are definitely above average. From statistical standpoint we can dig some downsides as well like just 2 blocks in nearly 200 minutes in Adriatic and Champions League which is way below expectations even regarding inconsistent playing time he was given. Also he commits 8.9 and 5.7 fouls per 36 respectively in two leagues mentioned above. It kinda tells a lot about how much he struggles on defensive end. He may fight more than in the past but fundamentals especially in PnR seem bad and he gets completely lost. Also gets thrown away while entering hard contact with other centers. Other than that I would risk a statement that he is not used the right way. On the youth level he was often pick and pop target and showed promise of utilizing his projectable stroke. As of now SImonovic attempted only 5 threes in 21 ABA & BCL contests and is basically used as a garbage big man in iso heavy system with little ball movement. Dreams about being drafted may have to be postponed until the next season but defensive improvements and contributing shooting wise are his only chances to make it as well as simply being given bigger role.
Thon’s brother reunited with his former coach from Athlete Institute in Canada after somewhat unsuccesful adventure in Switzerland. Mostly used as a modern small ball big who tries to make an rebounding impact, generate missmatches offensively and prevent them on defense. He has a good situation as he is being invested in, knows the philosophy (crucial for someone with feel shortcomings) and the competition level is not demanding at all. Despite the tools, Overall Matur is less talented than other family members and remains as raw as intriguing thanks to his profile. He has very skinny legs but actually upper body looks ok. Mobility and solid speed are big advantages as he can really lower his body and move up & down quite fast. He is more useful on defensive end where he uses wingspan to cover ground. He plays with good attitude, seems very coachable and in process of creating some good habits. He does put the ball down at times and shots deep mid range including pull ups or turnaround jumpers but mechanics may need a little tweak. However he is far from being able to create his own offense consistently and really has ways to go until can contribute and be involved vs better opponents in those type of plays. Good percentage is mostly an effect of put back prowess as there is very few rivals with next level size or athleticism. Maker is a long strider who attacks closeouts ocassionaly but not dynamic, powerful or explosive enough in order to be able to take it all the way to the rim and finish above it. But he can outrun every throwback center and does it at every opportunity. To sum up, maybe he doesn’t ooze with potential but fits modern ball but turning 21 this year doesn’t help and there may not be enough promise in his game to get any serious stash looks. Still there is bigger mistake margin in this evaluation than usual as Maker is newly arrived prospect in Europe and I don’t have an advantage of knowing his history & progress since early age like with others who were born here or came over earlier. Anyway his ceiling seems more of a G League grinder who is not necessarily close to making it to the camps or temporary contracts.