DraftExpress Essentials for the European Contingent

Let's review the European contingent that could make it to the lottery.

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.

Jonas Valanciunas, 6′ 11″, 240 lbs, C

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.

Jan Vesely, 6′ 11″, 240 lbs, SF/PF

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.

Donatas Motiejunas, 7′ 0″, 215 lbs, PF/C

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.

Nikola Mirotic, 6′ 10″, 210 lbs, PF

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.

45 thoughts on “DraftExpress Essentials for the European Contingent”

  1. What about Biyombo? I seriously think the Raptors should find a way to get another draft pick to get him with… or just take a gamble if they end up with a #5 pick.

    • agreed, Biyombo looks like he can really be a defensive force in the paint. His strength, length, and athleticism, coupled with the energy/intensity with which he plays could dramatically change our interior D. I’d even consider him with the #3 pick, depending on how Kanter does. The combine/workouts are going to be really important for these two guys.

      • well, anytime you can pick a guy 15 spots too high who might be a solid half-decade older than is stated who’s gonna take at least 3 years to develop any semblance of an all-around game, you just gotta do it. but hey, look at that wingspan! and that athleticism!! TREMENDOUS UPSIDE POTENTIAL!!!

    • i don’t know about them late starters. this guy has only been trained proper basketball for about 3 years. thats not nearly enough to keep up with the game at the nba level.

      he has a tremendous physical ability, but i just don’t think he can figure it out in the nba.

      if you are looking for a defensive stopper at the wing kawhi leonard is your guy. athletic, long, hustling, this guy has that energy in his game like gerald wallace.

      why go for something unknown when you have a dude that did two years of college ball and hasn’t even turned 20 yet?

      • i like leonard a lot…think his game translates better to the pros than college. but…unless the raps nab a 2nd 1st round (likely lottery pick), or manage to trade down (both quite unlikely), i can’t imagine they’d take him with a top-5 pick.

    • exactly. like that total scrub out west. what’s him name? oh yeah, something ‘gasol’…’mike’ or ‘mark’ or something?

  2. Biyombo is a 4! Not matter how long his arms are, height plays a factor. So if we are considering drafting him, what are we going to do with are other 4’s: Davis, Amir, Bargs?

    • He plays PF/C and has a 9’3” standing reach which is amazing for 6’9”. He led his league in blocks and FT [ only shoots 55% from the line] and is a serious rebounder. He’s not my first choice for the Raptors but he has sold his game to a lot of guys that are better talent evaluators than me. He could be the top big defender in the draft so depending on where the Raptors pick he might be worth a look.
      If the Raptors picked Biyombo he could play with any of the three guys you mentioned.

      • 9’3″ wing span at 6’9″? If thats true his hands would nearly hang around his shins….. that seems…. ackward….

        • he didn’t say ‘wingspan,’ he said ‘standing reach’…as in, how high can he reach with his heels planted on the floor. it speaks to having a big wingspan (in his case, measured at 7’7″). for a guy his size (measured at 6’7″3/4 without shoes), that’s incredible. given his age, he likely has a bit more growth in him. i’m not dismissing him, as he’s an incredible physical specimen…i just question how long it’s gonna take him to develop into a basketball player that can compete at the NBA level. there are literally thousands upon thousands of guys who are athletically gifted, but couldn’t translate into enough basketball skill to be impactful NBA players.

  3. another euro would really be a tough one for most Rap fans to take, but I’m more worried about getting guys than can defend than whether or not we have too many 4’s

    • Another Euro would be tough for ignorant Raptor fans to take. Smart fans are going to look at each player individually and judge them on their skills rather than where they are from.

        • Colangelo has shown a very good ability to judge draft picks. It’s not as if you judge European and American players any different.

          People have to get over this whole “Euro” thing. Colangelo made a mistake by drafting Bargnani, but it’s not like it was a monumental mistake. And it doesn’t mean that he can’t judge European players. Anthony Parker (who was playing in Europe) and Garbajosa were very good players. The jury’s out on Kleiza, since he was hurt, but he was an NBA player, anyway. So who exactly, other than Bargnani, has the Raptor front office whiffed on?

  4. Read somewhere that Valanciunas is a better long range prospect than Kanter but likely a couple of years away from reaching his full potential.

    IF that is true, I hope the Raps don’t do the desperate thing and draft for quick help. If a player has the potential is be very good in the future, we can wait.

    Next year looks like a strong draft. Being near the top of it, isn’t a bad thing.

    Rather than a quick fix, hope BC or whoever is at the helm builds something that lasts instead of pre-fab playoff contention.

    • i’ve heard there may be contract issues with jonas that could keep him overseas a minimum of 2 more years. not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, and for an organization with the ability to forecast into the future, it’s not a big deal…but i doubt colangelo would draft someone he wouldn’t be able to showcase for quite some time.

      • Exactly what I’m afraid they’ll do –sacrifice long term gain for short term.

        They can either leave him in Europe for a season or two or work him in slowly behind (as it stands now) Bargs, Ed and Amir.

        That is, of course unless Kanter or Biyombo is deemed to have better potential. Gheradini’s connections should help evaluating these guys with Euro backgrounds, if that’s the way they choose to go.

        • It’s not like Kanter is some low upside prospect. Nothing I’ve read has indicated Valanciunas having that much higher of an upside than Kanter to justify this kind of thinking. If anything, the reason why people talk about Valanciunas’ potential is because he’s not living up to how good he could be, given his physical tools. His supposed and self-reported 7’6″ wingspan (9’3″ standing reach) intrigues people the same way Biyombo’s 7’7″ wingspan does. Yet even at only 7’1″ wingspan and 9’1″ standing reach, Kanter is considered the better rebounder between the two; Valanciunas doesn’t seem to really take advantage of his length. Drafting a player with only “perfect world” upside in mind is a bad move.

          • Not saying Valanciunas IS a better prospect. Some feel he is. Others don’t. Raps should be in as good a position as anyone to make that call.

            What I am saying is that I hope they draft the player who’ll be best in the long run rather than the one who’ll provide the most immediate help, whoever that may be. If Kanter provides both, so much the better.

            It’s what makes drafting such a difficult process when there’s no Lebron James on the board when you pick.

            If drafting someone with perfect world upside is a bad move, drafting someone with limited ability, but more polish, in hopes of making one round of the playoffs is a worse one.

            Should be interesting.

    • between kanter and jonas it is not clear who has a “the best upside”.

      kanter projects to be a post player whose main question mark is his size.

      1. he is 6’9” with average wingspan.. most of his shot attemps will be
      blocked. on defence he will be too slow to guard strech 4s and too short
      to guard legit 7 footers.

      2. he is 6’11”-7’0″.. his back to basket game will be unstoppable. on D
      he has a potential to be a solid anchor or a lane clog at the least.

      jonas has a solid length and wingspan whose offensive skillset is yet to be determined.

      he can either develop into a solid defensive centre like joakim noah or settle to be some dude from latvia named jonas.

      it is hard to say ultimately what determines a better upside. one way to
      look at it is in terms of the skillset scarcity.

      this way kanter wins,
      because tough post players are exponentially harder to find.

  5. if we get another soft, euro bumpot who doesn’t play D or is an “enigma” then I’m putting my foot right into the tv screen when they flash BC during the draft.

    The grizzlies are doing better than the raps and they were supposed to be a joke – look who’s laughing now!

    • Kanter, Valanciunas and Biyombo are all reported to be physical players. None of them are named Bargnani. Thankfully, all Europeans aren’t created equal.

      • only euro i’m really leery about is montiejunas, who has a scouting report that reads like one written about bargnani’s doppelganger…though i’m not overly keen on vesely either.

        • Yes. We already have enough dunk contest candidates. We need an interior defensive presence we can build on. If Irving or possibly Williams are available, that interior big man may have to come in another way or another draft.

    • I just hope we don’t draft another black guy who is going to screw us over, I will not survive another Bosh or Carter.

    • Hold on, don’t the Grizzlies have a European center? How the hell are they winning with one of those? That makes no sense? Aren’t they all soft?

      And by the way, in the 16 years the Grizzlies have been in the league, this marks the first time they have ever won a playoff game. And this has to be one of the worst playoffs in recent memory. I don’t think there’s one team that deserves the Championship.

  6. Let’s go for talent and please not get sucked into the concept of a banger to make up for our perceived shortcomings. The mavs are a great example of a team with talent and a few good defensive players making up for three very average defenders in Kidd, Dirk, and peja
    We can add bangers in free agency at the right time no problem.

    • Let’s also not get sucked into one particular playoffs and make decisions from it. Dallas is certainly a good team, but has anyone in the West even played Championship level defense this year? You can never go wrong with going with defense.

      • Dallas is one example .. certainly wouldnt use them as the only team to model after. They do however, show how a team with a defensive concept can overcome bad/average individual defenders. Makese you wonder if Chanlder could have set a different defensive tone here.
        Anyways – the point is, top 5 picks are your only chance to get superstars. If you think Kanter can be that guy, then take him .. if you dont, then take the guy that you think has the best chance to be a superstar. You can find defense and bangers in the 2nd round or free agency. With a few exceptions (Z-Bo, M Gasol, Rondo) .. impact players on good teams in the NBA come from the top 5. We can not be thinking about needs or anything other than talent / superstar potential.

        • I agree about finding superstars in the top five of the draft. I don’t think Kanter’s going to be a superstar, but I think he’s got a good chance to be an impact player in the league and possibly an All Star. And while you can find defense and bangers in the 2nd round, the chance of finding ANY decent player there is incredibly slim, and you’ve got just as good a chance at finding a good offensive player there. The reason they last until the second round is because they’re usually flawed in some way. And I wouldn’t classify Kanter as simply a banger. He a highly skilled player who has a good chance to be above average on both ends of the court. That is why you take him.

          As for Chandler being able to hide player’s defensive shortcomings, I think a great defensive center can only do so much. Eventually the poor defensive player will be exposed. Unfortunately, or fortunately in Dallas’ case, the playoffs this year are some of the worst I’ve seen in a long time and I don’t really think ANY team deserves to win. Whoever does, I think, should get an asterisk beside their name.

          • I think we can agree on the concept around Kanter. If you truly think he can be an all-star .. then take him. I happen to take a different view .. but frankly there are not any good options beyond Irving and D Will .. so maybe hes the lesser of many evils.
            As for the playoffs … I have to disagree. Perhaps because many of your pre-convcieved notions are being proven wrong, you find the ball not entertaining. I think this is one of the best, most exciting playoffs we have had a in a long, long time. The old guard is certainly being replaced by the new, younger, more athletic group .. but you have to be excited about what the league has to offer. CP’s performance in rd 1 was nothing short of amazing. Durant and Westbrook are friguring out if they can be real contenders on the fly. Love me or hate em, but Miami is proving that talent and stars concur all. I couldnt be more happy about the playoffs so far (especially now that Boston and LA are out!).

            • I wouldn’t say my my pre-conceived notions are being proven wrong. Not in the least. I’d say that this season is one that stands out as an overall subpar one, and it’s now showing in the playoffs. Sure, the playoffs are exciting, but that doesn’t mean it’s great basketball. In a better year, I’m not sure whether ANY of these teams would make it to the third round.

              And I think Kanter might end up being the second best player in the draft. That’s not a prediction, mind you. I really don’t have extremely strong feelings about most of the players in this draft, one way or the other. The two guys Im most comfortable drafting are Irving and Kanter. Williams might end up being the best player in this draft, but I am more uneasy about him than Kanter.

              • Disagree big time. The new teams have IMPROVED dramatically vs. last year .. while the old teams stood still. The Heat are obviously way better. Thunder are a year older (which is a lot for guys like Westbrook and Durant, who have only been in the league a couple years .. and btw, gave the Lakers a scare last year). The Bulls are way better. All of these teams not only get to the 3rd round the last three years .. but could easily be champs. Remember how far the Cavs and Orl have got the last few years? Those teams dont have a chance vs. this years’ class. Sure, the Lakers laid an egg, but lets be serious here, the good teams are getting much better, not worse. Would be interested in hearing your rationale to the contrary .. just I cant imagine how you would back that up (with the possible exception of Memphis, who has been surprising, but ZBo/Gasol like they are playing now would hold up against a lot of teams historically)

  7.  Jan Vasely: Best Player in the Draft not named Kyrie Irving–if he takes to coaching like DeRozan could be scary beyond belief! That’s my pick!!!!!!!!


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