No time to write a real post, so let’s review the European contingent in the lottery. Kanter was already covered, here are the rest.
That was the first of many epic showdowns Valanciunas would have with Turkish phenom Enes Kanter, and while the future Kentucky student had his way in New York City en route to 22 points, 17 rebounds and a well-deserved MVP award, the Lithuanian did little to hint that he would develop into arguably the most talented prospect in European basketball just a few years later.
These were the first baby steps Valanciunas would take on the international level, but the talented youngster would progress quickly. First came the NBA Basketball without Borders camp in Istanbul in June, where Valanciunas began to show real potential. Then the Under-16 European Championships in Italy in July, where he led the tournament in rebounding and blocks, and most importantly, helped his team win the championship. All the physical tools in the world wouldn’t mean anything if he didn’t have the will to use them, though. Fortunately for Valanciunas, he’s an incredibly intense competitor, a boundlessly energetic player who never stops working for a moment and whose presence is constantly felt on the court.
He runs the floor extremely well, is quick off his feet and has no qualms whatsoever about throwing his body around in the paint. Not one to just stand around and wait for opportunities to come to him, Valanciunas wants to be productive all the time, which is a big reason he’s been able to earn playing time in such a demanding environment this season, despite his obvious immaturity. “I don’t have very good skills right now, many good moves, so I have to fight,” he tells us. Essentially an afterthought in Lietuvos Rytas’ offense, Valanciunas satisfies his hunger for touches through his work on the offensive glass. The largest portion of his offense (27%) comes from this area according to Synergy Sports Technology, a testament to his length, quickness, timing, hands, activity level and instincts. He pulls down over five offensive rebounds for every 40 minutes he’s on the floor, and watching him play, it’s not difficult to tell why.
As attractive a skill as his offensive rebounding might be, Valanciunas’ most important source of scoring comes from his ability to finish plays created for him by teammates around the basket. He takes special pride in his ability to operate as a pick-and-roll finisher — “That’s my basketball,” he said. This is a skill that should translate to the NBA immediately. Valanciunas does a good job setting screens and then rolling to the basket with pinpoint timing, arms high in the air, vigorously pleading for the ensuing pass. He has extremely soft hands and attacks the rim with real purpose, elevating above the rim and finishing strong, with a dunk if possible – and preferably an emphatic one at that.
He’s still playing around 24 minutes per game, while his scoring production is down slightly. He appears to be shooting the ball better from beyond the arc, though, particularly over his last 12 games, where he’s made 12 of his last 20 attempts, and is knocking down 42% of his 3-pointers on the season. Sifting through his recent film, Vesely is clearly shooting the ball with great confidence these days, boasting a quicker, smoother and more fluid release. This has helped him become more reliable with his feet set than he was in the past. He’s even knocking down the occasional off-the-dribble jumper for good measure.
At least once a game, Vesely will take off from inside the paint (or even outside it) and try to dunk on an opponent emphatically. His penchant for challenging defenders at the rim and the nastiness with which he tries to cram the ball down their throats any opportunity he has is both wildly entertaining and something NBA scouts will love to see, considering the athleticism he’s showing in the process. Another area in which we’re seeing progress is in Vesely’s post-up game. He will always have a size advantage at the small forward position at 6-11, and he’s slowly learning how to use this better. While he hasn’t added much weight to his frame since we last saw him, he does have the ability to establish position reasonably close to the basketball and then just shoot over his opponent. If he can continue to fill out his frame and improve his footwork in the post, this could become an even more dangerous weapon for him down the road.
Vesely continues to struggle in many of the same areas we outlined in previous reports, and it’s still difficult to say that he’s an overly skilled player.
His ball-handling skills remain mediocre at best. Watching him handle the ball in the open floor is definitely not a pretty sight. He’s able to beat his defender off the dribble at times with his first step, but it’s still something of an adventure for him trying to create his own shot from the perimeter—you just never know how things are going to turn out. He’s not someone you want making decisions with the ball. His feel for the game is just average and it’s not rare to see him make bad decisions, particularly in the form of unnecessary turnovers.
If unable to convert with a dunk around the rim, Vesely still has problems finishing through contact due to a distinct lack of strength. He doesn’t put good touch on his shots and is definitely not the most fluid or instinctive offensive player you’ll find. Many times he seems to just throw the ball up on the rim hoping for the best. Even with his prodigious athleticism, Vesely still isn’t much of a presence on the glass. He grabs just one defensive rebound for every 10 ½ minutes he’s on the court, which is a very poor rate. It’s here that his lack of girth and poor instincts seem to show the most. He’s too skinny to put a body on opponents, and he doesn’t pursue the ball off the rim the way you might hope.
He’s added a solid 10-15 pounds of good weight to his frame over the summer, and is playing with as much confidence as we’ve seen since we first laid eyes on him when he was only 15-years old.
Motiejunas’ improved frame has helped him considerably when it comes to scoring inside the paint, as he’s doing a much better job of establishing post-position, and is in turn attempting much higher percentage shots and getting to the free throw line at an outstanding rate. He’s still the same incredibly skilled big man we’ve always known, with his terrific hands, touch and footwork, but now he’s added a degree of physicality that compliments his finesse game quite well.
Motiejunas has been responsible for some extremely impressive possessions inside the paint this season, creating his own shot with a wide array of fakes and spins, using the glass beautifully, finishing with either hand, and sometimes even throwing in some swooping sky-hooks running across the lane for good measure. He looks about as comfortable and natural as a big man can with his back to the basket, but is also fast enough in the open court that he’ll get himself at least one or two easy baskets a game just by beating his man down the floor.
Another area where Motiejunas’ has made notable strides is perimeter shooting. Whereas last season he converted just 21 of 58, or 36% of his overall jump-shot attempts, according to Synergy Sports Technology, this year he’s doing much better, knocking down 6/13 of his 3-point attempts in seven Italian league games thus far. He’s being utilized much more frequently in pick and pop situations, and is showing absolutely no hesitation whatsoever when left open on the perimeter, showing a quick release and excellent range.
Facing the basket, he still has the ability to put the ball down and beat opposing big men with a quick first step and nifty handles, even being able to change directions with the ball and execute sharp pivot moves, which you rarely see from a player this size. At times you’ll see him grab a rebound and ignite the fast break himself, racing up the floor with the ball with the utmost confidence in his ball-handling ability. Motiejunas unfortunately still struggles with the two very important areas that were pinpointed early on in his career as being major weaknesses: defense and rebounding. His defensive rebounding numbers have actually gotten worse this season, now down to a paltry 3.2 per-40 minutes, which ranks him dead last in the entire Italian league amongst both power forwards and centers.
When you’re 6-10, with a great frame, a 7-1 wingspan and good mobility, and you just turned 20 years old, scouts tend to take notice; especially when you’re putting those numbers up against the best competition in the world outside the NBA. Mirotic, for his part, doesn’t look particularly surprised by his success. He plays with unbelievable confidence and poise for a player his age, always looking to make things happen. He’s not afraid to take big shots in clutch situations (as he proved at Siena, in the Copa del Rey) and is clearly earning the respect of his veteran teammates with his stellar play.
Offensively, Mirotic acts mostly as a floor spacer for Real Madrid. He sees most of his possessions spotting up on the wing, cutting to the basket and finishing off of pick and rolls. He’s converted 42% (22-of-53) of his jumpers on the season and is extremely reliable with his feet set. He has also shown consistent range out to the 3-point line. With his excellent size and quick release, Mirotic is a tough matchup for most big men, especially since he’s very adept at using shot-fakes and taking the ball to the basket. He has a nice first step and solid ball-handling skills. He’s generally a very fundamentally sound player. He has an excellent feel for the game and plays relatively mistake-free (compared to his usage).
Mirotic is not a prolific threat with his back to the basket, but he can finish in a variety of ways around the hoop – be it a jump hook, a pretty floater or an elegant scoop-shot off the glass. He’s a very skilled big man with terrific touch, which makes him a dangerous weapon to have considering the many different ways he can score in the half-court. ougher and more versatile than your typical European big man, Mirotic plays with an aggressiveness that bodes well for his future. He runs the court with purpose and is not ashamed to call for the ball forcefully and take a big shot.
While, offensively, it’s not difficult to see why Mirotic has earned minutes, it’s actually on the defensive end where he’s surprisingly emerged as Real Madrid’s most consistent big man.
Mirotic is very fundamentally sound — never off-balance, always staying solid in his stance and rarely gambling for the sake of making a spectacular play. Nevertheless, he’s been fairly productive statistically, showing excellent timing as a shot-blocker and even getting in the passing lanes on occasion, likely aided greatly by his excellent length. He still needs to add strength (as most 20-year-olds do), but Mirotic has a good frame and should be able to see minutes at either big man position in the NBA, depending on who he’s playing next to.