Thursday, June 28, 2012

2012 International Draftee Scouting Reports (Part III): Evan Fournier

Evan Fournier
6-7 SG/SF
Poitiers (France)
DOB: 10/29/92

Fournier is the highest-rated international prospect this year and likely the only prospect that has a shot of being chosen in the first round. Currently slated to go somewhere in the late first round, or possibly early second round, which seems about right.

Fournier was the top player on Poitiers, a bottom-dwelling team in the French Pro A League (LNB). In 30 LNB games, Evan averaged 14 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.5 spg, 2.2 TOpg and 42.5 overall shooting in 26 minutes/game.

Plays with confidence and smarts of an experienced vet. Clever, fundamentally sound player. Capable of playing three positions.

What pushes him down late in the first round is the uncertainty how much his game will translate to NBA. Solid athlete in Europe but will be a below-average athlete compared to NBA wings. He also needs to bulk up.

The key to his success is his superior ball skills combined with nice footwork. Uses jab-steps and change-of-pace dribbles well to set up his defender. His first step is impressive.

Has the full arsenal of dribble moves: very good crossover, spins, between-legs, euro-type step-thrus and step-backs.

Capable of creating shots for himself in isolation situations. Uses step-back move well to create space for jumper.

Poitiers ran a ton of offense through Fournier this season. Ran plenty of pick/roll and fared very well when looking for his shot off pick/roll possessions where he put up 0.98 points-per-possession, according to Synergy Sports.

Good finisher in traffic thanks not so much to good hops, but more good body control. On all shots at the rim he managed a very respectable 1.25 PPP. Good passer for a wing, finds teammates the other side of the floor well.

Another thing giving GMs/scouts pause about Fournier's potential was his subpar shooting numbers this season--only shot 28% on 3PA. Though, don't think he's as a poor shooter as the numbers suggest.

He does possess a nice stroke but does not seem to always get his legs underneath him. He did a good job hitting pull-ups off ball screens. Think he just needs to get more consistent getting his legs into his shot.

Not a bad defender by Euro standards. Anticipates well (seems to know the ball-handler's tendencies) and has decent footwork. Does a good job forcing his man to change direction.

Possesses quick hands that help him get a good number of steals. Multiple times stripped the ball right out of the ball-handler hands, which was impressive.

Definitely will have issues trying to keep up with NBA wings on the defensive end. He's just at too much of a quickness disadvantage.

His strong package of smarts, ball-handling and footwork could help him compensate for a lack of quickness vs. NBA wings on the offensive end. He proved he could snake his way into the lane in France, which is probably the most athletic domestic league in Europe.

*--Here's what we had say about Fournier's performance at the 2011 Nike Hoop Summitt:
Evan Fournier (6-7 SG/SF, France, age 18): Hard to tell if he's destined for the NBA or the Euroleague; latter seems likelier as of now. Struggled at times but also showed some nice skills. Like his handle with both hands and he combined this with good footwork to score on a couple drives in the painted area. Good shooting stroke and scoring instincts overall, but not sure if he'd be able to finish in the league (he wasn't able to do so against Anthony Davis in the game). Dropped a nice bounce pass in transition coming out of a spin move. Had 6 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists on 2-8 FG in 22 minutes. Maybe a 2nd-round prospect because of skill package plus smarts.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

2012 International Draftee Scouting Reports (Part II): Kostas Papanikolaou & Furkan Aldemir

Kostas Papanikolaou
6-8 SF
DOB: 8/1/90

The best automatically-eligible prospect available. Kostas has proven himself as a quality role player on one of the best teams outside the NBA and as a valuable member of the Greek national team.

His game could translate well to the NBA because he's a nice athlete with good size for his position. Plus, he's an efficient player who understands his role and keeps his mistakes to a minimum.

Helped an over-achieving Olympiacos squad to the Euroleague title and the Greek League crown. Was huge in the EL final game vs. CSKA making all five attempts from the field (3-for-3 on 3PA) for 18 pts.

Main responsibilities on Olympiacos were to spot-up and move to open spaces. In 22 EL games, Kostas averaged 6.1 ppg (49% overall), 3.4 rpg, and 0.5 TOpg in 20 mins/game. His numbers were slightly better across the board in Greek League play.

Synergy Sports rated him very highly on the offensive end overall where he produced 1.1 points-per-possession, which is excellent.

His shooting numbers were not great this season (33% on 3PA in EL, 35% in GL), but he possesses a nice stroke and should be respected from behind the arc. Likes to set up in the corners.

Rarely would isolate and most of his drives to the rim would start off of catches where his defender wasn't set.

Besides spotting up, Kostas made a great living moving off-the-ball this season, usually waiting for Vassilis Spanoulis to find him. Very adept sneaking baseline. Good finisher on drives and cuts, not to mention in transition.

Though he rarely posted up this season, he looked comfortable with his back-to-the-basket. Definitely an area of his game that could be fleshed out and expanded upon thanks to his touch and good size.

Has an adequate handle that allows him to throw a crossover or spin move into his drives on occasion. But doesn't create shots for his teammates off the dribble.

Would categorize him as a solid defender by Euro standards. His technique is sound and his effort is good. Just wonder about his ability to keep up laterally with NBA small forwards.

What you see now from Kostas is pretty much what to expect from him the rest of his career: a role-playing SF who can be a corner 3pt. threat, score occasionally on cuts or drives and grab a few rebounds.

If a team is searching for a reserve SF, Kostas' a safe 2nd-Round pick.

Furkan Aldemir
6-9 PF/C
Galatasaray (Turkey)
DOB: 8/9/91

What jumps out first about Aldemir is he looks significantly bigger than he's listed. Just appears to be much heavier than 220-230 he's listed at, not to mention a few inches taller.

Not sculpted but he seems to be a naturally strong kid; seems to have a strong base. He definitely could tighten up his upper body to add more strength.

Some concerns about him being undersized, but those concerns might be overstated. Seems to have long arms, but could not find official measurements for him. But whatever the case, he plays bigger than his current measurements.

For the NBA game, he projects strictly as a center. No way he can keep up athletically with NBA 4-men especially with the trend toward stretch-4s.

Proved he could hold his own vs. Euroleague bigs and not afraid to bang bodies with older players. Love how Aldemir does not shy away from contact, very physical.

In 18 EL games, Furkan averaged 6.5 ppg (52% FG pct.), 5.1 rpg and 1.1 TOpg in 16 minutes a game.

Right now his best attribute is his rebounding ability. Five boards in 16 minutes of EL action is very good. He's put up impressive board numbers playing for Turkey's junior level teams as well. Grabs balls out of his area. Tough on the offensive glass.

Most of offense comes off rolls or cuts--nearly 60% of his possessions--and he scored at a pretty good rate (1.23 points-per-possession). Good hands allow him to catch and finish in one clean motion.

Can definitely be effective as a roller in the NBA. Rarely ever attempts jumpers and his scoring arsenal is pretty much dunks or lay-ins.

His physicality allows him to draw fouls, but also causes him to pick up fouls at a decent clip. Bet he has trouble staying out of foul trouble his first few years in the NBA. Will take some time adjusting to how NBA refs call the game, particularly stricter enforcement of screen setting.

This kid sets some crushing screens. Some of the screens he sets in Europe won't fly in the NBA (not always squared up).

At this point, his post game is nondescript and Gala did not call his number down low too often. He does do a good job carving out deep post position thanks to his strong base. He has a knack for picking up fouls around the basket.

Not a great athlete but moves better than his lumbering physique would initially suggest. Runs the floor hard and is a capable finisher in transition.

Does a solid job guarding the post. His technique is pretty sound. Uses his chest and strong legs to help him battle his opponent (something his countryman Omer Asik did well in Europe).

Thought he was alright in pick/roll action where he shuffles his feet better than expected. How he handles NBA ball screens could be another story. But do think he can do a serviceable job guarding most NBA centers on the block.

Definitely could be a nice 2nd-Round draft and stash pick as he's probably not quite ready for the NBA. In the NBA, he should be able to rebound at a high rate, score on rolls occasionally and not be a major liability defensively.

Monday, June 25, 2012

2012 International Draftee Scouting Reports (Part I): Tornike Shengelia & Tomas Satoransky

We'll begin our series of international draft prospect scouting reports by focusing on two possible 2nd round prospects, Tornike Shengelia (Georgia) and Tomas Satoransky (Czech Republic).

Tornike Shengelia
6-9 PF
Spirou Charleroi (Belgium)
20 Years Old (Born 11/91)

In 12 Euroleague games, Shengelia averaged 7.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg and 1.7 TOpg while shooting 43.6% overall (31% from long range) in 18 minutes of action. His Belgian League numbers were similar, but he managed one more rpg in Belgium.

Spirou was one of the weaker teams in the Euroleague and were eliminated after the first round. Spirou lost in the Belgian finals 3-2 to Oostende.

What you like about Shengelia is his willingness to throw his body around vs. older players. An above-average athlete by European standards with a solid build. Could probably use 5-10 more lbs. but he handles contact fairly well.

Proven to be a reliable rebounder. Besides rebounding, his other strength is ball-handling. Good handle for player his size and combines it with solid footwork to drive the ball effectively.

Very adept utilizing spin moves. Also will use hesitations, crossovers and reverse spin fakes. Even adept with a Euro-step move on his drives. Uses his handle mostly to wind his way to the rim. But not a point-forward type like Hedo. Tornike's rarely looking to dish the ball to a teammate.

Spirou would call upon Shengelia to isolate quite a bit. According to Synergy Sports Tech, 20% of Tornike's offensive possessions came on isolations, where he produced at a solid clip. But it's either all the way to the rim, or nothing; has no intermediate game. It's pretty much all lay-ins and dunks for Tornike.

What holds Tornike's game back is a lack of a reliable jumper. Shows no inkling of being able to hit pull-ups. NBA defenders will likely give him a big cushion and this could temper his driving ability, considering he will be defended by better athletes. But still think his ball-handling/footwork combo can allow him to sneak by NBA defenders at a decent clip.

Got a fair amount of post touches this season and did a solid job scoring on the blocks. Dangerous spinning baseline on both blocks. Finishes well with his left hand. But if the defender can keep him a few feet away from the rim he has trouble finishing off his post moves. His lack of touch limits his post game as he can't reliably score with a hook or turnaround.

Decent (but not great) finishing ability. Capable scorer in transition, rolls and cuts (does move well off the ball). On plays close to rim tracked by Synergy, he managed 1.09 points-per-possession, which is average. You would expect a player of his athleticism to be a somewhat better finisher vs. European comp.

Would categorize him as a subpar defender by European standards which should raise concerns about his NBA prospects. Looks to be a liability on the defensive end. Tends to be slow moving his feet laterally. It doesn't help that he hunches forward and fails to bend his knees adequately. His post defense is suspect as well--he doesn't hold his ground well.

Another concern is propensity for fouls--averaged roughly three fouls in 20 mpg in both the EL and the Belgian league. His free throw shooting needs improving as well (68% in EL, 63% in Belgium).

Projects to be an energy forward off the bench in the NBA. Ideally prefer a NBA energy forward provide some rebounding, garbage buckets around the rim and some solid defense. Tornike can provide two of the three but not sure he's capable of quality defense in the NBA.

Nonetheless, he's proven to be a valuable contributor in the best league outside the NBA. That's enough to warrant consideration as a possible 2nd-Round pick.

Tomas Satoransky
6-7 PG
Cajasol Sevilla
20 Years Old (Born 10/91)

Tomas piques the interest of NBA decision makers because he's a 6-7 point guard with good athleticism. Satoransky was a quality contributor on Cajasol Sevilla, a team that finished a respectable 18-16 in the ACB and was bounced by Real Madrid in the quarterfinals.

In 36 ACB games, Tomas averaged 4.8 ppg, 1.3 apg, 2 rpg, 1.4 TOpg while shooting 43% overall in 17 minutes per game.

What's really holding him back from possible first round consideration is his poor shooting ability. Shot only 27% behind the arc. It's safe to give him plenty of cushion when he's handling the ball.

Satoransky's shot is in need of serious retooling. Doesn't possess an ideal follow-through: seems to twist his shooting arm resulting in a very labored release. Basically his shot needs to be overhauled. Shows no ability to hit pull-ups at a closer range.

Doesn't help his game that he's a mediocre finisher at the rim (1.06 points-per-possession on shots at the basket). A little disappointing considering his size and decent hops. Though, he does show promise with his floater.

Sometimes seems to take off on forays into the paint without any plan. This leads to haphazard shots or passes into traffic.

His athleticism doesn't really seem to shine through in half-court situations (at least on video). Satoransky doesn't really explode to the rim or swiftly turn the corner. And he doesn't really elevate at the rim on his half-court drives.

He did test out very well athletically at the Euro pre-draft camp and his athleticism becomes more apparent in transition situations.

Natural comparsion to another big, athletic PG, Alexey Shved, who was a being considered as potential 2nd-Round pick in 2010. But we were much higher on Shved's NBA prospects (even thought he should have been a first-rounder) than Satoransky's.

Shved's jumper was somewhat erratic a few years back but his mechanics were not too bad. Plus, Shved looked solid hitting shots off the bounce. Just think Shved was/is a more dynamic player with more bounce to his movements.

Don't find Satoransky to be a super creative playmaker or passer. He's not bad, just don't find his passing ability to be unique. Also, his assist rate was nothing special.

Though his defensive numbers were not great, Tomas impresses on defensive end with terrific effort and focus. Possesses a sound defensive stance, moves his feet and changes direction well. Also, works hard to get around picks.

Now how this translates to defending NBA guards, particularly opposing points... not sure. Some points will cause him problems, but think he will be able to hold his own defensively in the NBA. His length and good footwork should allow him to give a little more space than other guards.

Might to be to Tomas' benefit to be paired with an undersized 2-guard he can cross-match with so he can switch onto shooting guards sometimes.

Would constantly pick up the opposing point way up high and try to hound the ball-handler. Cajasol constantly asked him to be in ball-pressure mode. Sometimes this would backfire as the ball-handler had too much room to get by.

Like in Shengelia's case, would like Satoransky's NBA prospects better if he had a reliable jumper.

Not overly impressed with his overall game, but the fact he handles the ball so well for his size (and possesses enough athletic talent) makes him a 2nd-round target for teams looking for a reserve point.

Friday, June 22, 2012

LeBron James and the Platinum Standard of Forward Play

Hello, folks. Sorry we've had to step away for the fascinating 2011-12 NBA season due to some personal reasons. Jay Aych will be back with some FIBA coverage during this Olympic summer, and along with that, I am determined to finally change out the damn template before London.

Beyond that, I just wanted to offer a few words on the man who has probably been the central character in this blog since The Painted Area was launched in 2006, LeBron James. Prior to the season, I picked the Thunder over the Heat to win the championship, ultimately choosing OKC because I felt I simply couldn't trust LeBron, given that I thought his underachievement had cost his teams championships in both 2010 and 2011.

Now, more than any feelings of right or wrong, or love or hate, my main thought is that James is simply a richly, fully deserving champion after such an historically great playoff run, in which he averaged a 30-10-6 on 50% shooting, for a 30.3 PER.

In the closeout Game 5 on Thursday night, it was a warm cycle-of-basketball life moment for this old hoophead, as LeBron's commanding 26-11-13 (including assists on 8 threes) echoed one of the greatest individual performances I've ever seen, the signature game in Larry Bird's career, when he hung a 29-11-12 on the Houston Rockets to clinch the 1986 title in Game 6 of the Finals.

I've long thought it to be the platinum standard of forward play. Here's a 9-minute package of Bird highlights from that game in case you're interested:

I caught a Bird game from the 1984 Finals a few months ago and a little surprised to realize, 'Wow: *that's* how LeBron has to play.' It was striking to go back and see Bird move fluidly between perimeter and post within the offense, spending most of his time operating 17-feet-and-in, always with his superior vision and unselfishness proving the decisive factor that made him truly unstoppable in his prime.

That was the LeBron James I saw in the series once Miami got into its groove, making his catches around the elbow, moving down into the post against smaller players, then ultimately destroying the Thunder when the double teams came and James set up open shots all over the court. (And, oh yeah, James happened to be guarding all over the court.)

26 years later, another platinum standard in forward play, with June 21, 2012 feeling like a historical marker among basketball dates, every bit as much as June 8, 1986, or June 12, 1991, for that matter. And now, after Jordan won his of first of six titles at age 28, and Shaq won his first of four at 28, and Wilt won his first of two at 30, LeBron James has his first NBA championship at age 27, and now fully occupies the same rarefied air as Larry Bird, MVPs and champions both.

Remarkably, Game 5 was arguably not even one of James' best three games in the 2012 Playoffs. I'd take the back-to-the-wall road jobs in Game 4 at Indiana (40-18-9) and Game 6 at Boston (45-15-5 on 19-26 FG) ahead of Thursday night, and probably Game 5 vs. Indiana (30-10-8) as well.

Beyond hoping that we've seen only the beginning of a Heat-Thunder rivalry for the ages, my parting thought is one of amazement upon remembering anew that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are not maximum-salary guys in the league. Really, stop and think about that again: LeBron and D-Wade are not max-salary guys.

As we've mentioned in this space after previous championships, you'll usually find sacrifice somewhere around the title, whether it's guys like Manu Ginobili and Lamar Odom sacrificing minutes - possibly giving up the glory of All-Star berths with lesser numbers and ultimately less money.

In Miami, it starts at the top. No, you can't say that guys making $15-16M a year are "sacrificing", by any means. But the reality is that max-quality players in their 20s just don't take less than max money, it doesn't really happen, yet three guys have done it here. You might not like how they went about it, but it's undeniable that Miami's Big 3 placed winning ahead of money as their no. 1 priority. The Mike Miller contract it afforded them finally paid off, and even if that was only for one night, it was enough to earn the Miami Heat's Big 3 a deserved reward for their choice of priorities.

Congratulations to the 2011-12 NBA champion Miami Heat.