Last week we attended U20 European Championship in Tel Aviv, Israel where host defended the title. Not amazing level of competition but event gathered many American NBA executives, location was great and last but not the least important kudos for domestic fans for making amazing atmosphere. Below we present first part of noteworthy scouting orented storylines.
Polish guard Lukasz Kolenda has been somewhat one man army during the tournament in Tel Aviv. He arrived in a bit worse shape than last season during U20s of Division B where he possibly played the best basketball of his life so far but had a notable takeover moments when he looked like a fringe late 2nd round pick. Especially memorable performance happened during the game vs Slovenia as he led Poland to unexpected win and Dragic esque comparison came from opposite staff after that showing.
Statistical breakdown is unfortunately highly disappointing. Lukasz had clearly negative A/To ratio which can be explained a little by low quality of the roster and lack of experience of his teammates who simply didn’t get where to be / how to act in certain moments and were as responsible for losing the ball as a passer in given situation. But to some degree he is still not great controlling the pace and looks herky jerky at times. It is understandable as he never really had a chance to learn from high level PG except short senior NT camps with Lukasz Koszarek. Besides running the point, he also often plays as SG in his team next to typical American scoring guard or even rookie PG like last year. It can be big for his career if he is the playmaker you can trust in crunchtime on high level to deliver the ball, control the tempo and avoid the mistake. Kolenda was also hitting big time shooting slumps with his low and streaky release and is not projected at all to become above average 3pt executor. From positive things he went more times to the right side and proved his scoring ability by penetrating almost any defense at will as PnR ball handler and drawing fouls consistently against opponents specialized in guarding go to offensive options.
There are still areas where he needs to step up but lefty flashy PGs who dish the ball, make plays in traffic like him with that size, energy and physicality are hard to find. Buyout for euro teams is not small but with strong 19/20 season someone may be tempted to seriously consider using that option.
Ukrainian swaggy guard Issuf Sanon showed up in Tel Aviv straight from the NBA summer league in Las Vegas where he suited up for Wizards which drafted him with 44th pick the year before. He was unquestionable leader in the team that maybe lacked individual technique among the members but played very hard and competed day in day out.
Sanon is very vocal player, maybe at times even too much. Ha hardly ever stops talking, provokes rivals a lot and at times seems somewhat annoying but possibly it is what fuels him. At the same time he is never affraid of the moment and pressure doesn’t bother him at all. He is more thickly built and stronger than most of euro guards but at the same time displays really good first step which opens his penetration game. He still tends to try to renavigate the defender and go right at all cost while forced left but ability to play through contact, natural aggressiveness and bravery allow him to put pressure on the rim consistently.
He didn’t shot the ball well like most of the season with Ljublana but really exceled defensively. I think that is his the best selling point actually. He has strong base to contain drivers with his body, likes challenges and plays with effort. Still does too much hand reaching or may lack fundamentals here or there but with seasoning on good euro level can become a specialist who gives more offensively than typical stopper and adds some playmaking from comboguard spot. However in order to do that Sanon needs to keep working on his basketball IQ, obviously hit more open threes like everyone nowadays and hide ego a bit to accept less scoring opportunities. And I think he can make that as he already hustles a lot and does little things that contribute to winning.
Yam Madar. U20s may be the least exciting event when it comes to the discoveries but can be the most interesting as far as breakout performances. Gap in physical development levels off and minutes played with professional team can make given player look like a pro among juniors. Maybe that is why Yam Madar was arguably the most positive surprise of the tournament. Backup point guard of Hapoel Tel Aviv which competes in Shlomo Group Arena on a weekly basis in Israeli Winners League clearly felt there like at home.
2000 born guard was secondary contributor and perfect fit next to Avdija given his talent and ability to play off the ball. It is really rare asset to shoot well off the catch for someone who creates opportunities for himself on the perimeter at will and is efficient in executing them too. Also blend of scoring and playmaking allowed him to be the main guy for short stretches that Deni spent on the bench. Madar possess insane speed, smooth moves, good shiftiness and body control + flair to hit tough attempts. He truly has a spark to create out of nothing and connects court vision and killer instincts on rare high level. While he is flamboyant offensive presence it gets worse on the other end of the floor. Lateral speed is obviously nice but he like to gamble and his frame is somewhat frail.
Anyway Madar was almost two year younger than some of the other participants and may still have more room to improve physically than others. We will see if he is eventually built to play more than 80 games per year against elite athletes in this world but wherever he ends up can possibly be fans favourite given his super brave and enjoyable to watch style.
All eyes were on Deni Avdija in Tel Aviv. That was the biggest average attendance I ve seen on youth levek and tournament gathered the most USA based executives since I scout. We all already know that he is kind of do it all positionless contributor so lets focus on what was new or more visible.
SHOOTING I never doubted that he can be a very good shooter but after five games of U20s stats looked very poor. The video of Deni shooting free throws after the game he made 3 from 8 at the FT line (13/28 combined at that time as well as 7/30 3pt) was really trending on twitter. Since then he stepped it up in last two games (5/12 3pt & 14/17 FT) when it was the most necessary. I still have no doubts he will be good enough shooter but it is somewhat of a small red flag (release is not quick, kicks the legs out at times causing bad balance) which will be evaluated in depth next season by scouts cause without consistent jumper you can end up in high lottery nowadays as a wing.
DEFENSE Deni proved how capable contributor he can be on that end. His best fit in the NBA will most likely be defending PFs. He is just really smart and savvy, knows teamwork and positioning. Was staying in front and challenged surprisingly a lot at the rim. I think he also showed more temper than before but you can’t deny his desire to win and possibly know how in that matter. Top 5 pick label means a lot of pressure. As great as Avdija is he won’t be able to achieve production level anywhere close to Luka Doncic next season in Euroleague or during rookie NBA campaign. Lowering expectations could be good for Israeli rising star but actually production of Slovenian prodigy can actually help Deni to get drafted…higher. Everyone knows now that if you are great basketball player with good size, elite instincts who brings rare versatility to table and can defend at least one position in NBA, you can be very good in USA despite average athleticism. If he performs well with Maccabi on the highest European stage next season then he will be surefire mid to high lottery pick.
Georgios Kalaitzakis is sized and rangy guard out of PAO. He has ok first step for a player his height but length of his strides either in transition or half court is clearly what gives him bigger advantage. Long arms allow him to keep the dribble low and safe while guarded by smaller guards with quick hands (back to the basket playmaking helps in that regard too). He can create out of PnR, pass over the defenders in creative fashion (or in general play over them on the perimeter) or even post up effectively. He knows how to penetrate the defensive gaps, shifts direction on the fly, draws the contact wisely in order to end up on the FT line. Shot has a good reach and can get it off without exceptional shot creation skills but mechanics is somewhat flat and may need a small tweak. He is not exceptional athlete by any means but has exceptional fluidity and is just adept in using his length on either end.
Defensively survives thanks to covering the ground. If it’s not top of the zone probably most suited to defend SF position as quick guards with handles and deep range that he is likely to face in future can go around him. Even without substantial playing time with Panathinaikos Kalaitzakis looked like composed and quite mature player for 20yo. It can be a positive effect of competing on practise with the players like Nick Calathes but as every Greek prospect last years he is literally starving for bigger minutes in domestic league…If given that he can possibly become new Papaloukas.
We can also highlight his twin brother Panagiotis which seems to be making solid strides with his development and is somewhat underrated prospect, close to Top 30 consideration. Hard working and team oriented wing may lack handles and playmaking of Georgios but is aggressive getting to the rim.
It has been couple of bad weeks for Germany’s Joshua Obiesie. Lefty guard seemed to have a good stock in the middle of the season but constant and chaotic changes (one day BBL or FIBA Europe Cup, next day ridiculously silly appearances in German U19 League), Nike Hoop Summit struggle contributed to going undrafted. Once swaggy and borderline cocky player looked in Tel Aviv like he lost that fire within him. It was great opportunity to rebuild but unfortunately he didn’t look comfortable most of the time either on defense and offense. It was clearly team of stretch big Philipp Herkenhoff and Jonas Mattisseck. Even Johsua’s former teammate from IBAM and Minnesotta commit: Isaiah Ihnen looked like better pro potentials at the moment.
Another kind of sad story. Lately few French prospects ended up in very high major colleges and it definitely doesn’t go smooth. Ayayi probably eventually will be fine and whole scouting world will be shocked if he doesn’t play good minutes with Gonzaga upcoming season. Jaylen Hoard seemed to have a first round chance but went undrafted. Other Demon Deacons Oliver Sarr still needs more time. Finally Yves Pons still is a huge liability on offense. Blessed with tremendous physical tools and athleticism. Raw but high flyer who can defend anyone. That’s what I remember from U17s in Zaragoza. Three years after, including two seasons in Tennessee I am really not sure if he got better in anything.
To be continued…