This past Sunday the FIBA U19 tournament in Crete wrapped up with a US victory over a good Croatia team. Coming into the tournament I was most excited about getting to watch Croatia play the US due to the matchup between the US’s star-studded roster and Dragan Bender, a potential top-5 pick in next year’s draft. Unfortunately, due to a sneaker dispute between Bender and the Croatian team he didn’t play in the tournament. Nonetheless, there were still a fair amount of prospects I was interested in on the US, Greek, Croatian, Spanish, Chinese, and Turkish teams. For some of these guys I didn’t pay much attention to them while they were on the court, and others I watched every single minute of in this tournament attentively. Part 1 is on the non-team USA guys, part 2 below covers team USA and include rankings for the whole group.
Potential Future Second Rounders: Team USA was chock full of talent, and filled out their bench with a couple role player types who could end up making it to the league. L.J. Peak is long armed and quick on the defensive end, but struggles putting the ball on the floor and is a sub-30% outside shooter at this point. He was a freshman at Georgetown last year, and if he can combine his defense with either improved shooting or ball handling he could make for an interesting prospect. Jawun Evans is really quick with the ball in hands and does a great job staying with his man in the open court, but he’s really small and lacks the high-level creation skills needed to make up for his size. He’ll be a freshman at Oklahoma State next year, and his speed gives him a chance to be an NBA guy down the road if he can add to his skill level. Justin Bibbs just finished his freshman year at Virginia Tech and is a good shooter with good size for the 2-guard spot, but he lacks on the defensive end and creation side of things. Still, he shot 41.3% from three on over 3 attempts per game in the ACC as a freshman, and if he adds more as a creator he might have a C.J. Wilcox type college career.
Caleb Swanigan has some really interesting skills as a great screen setter with good passing vision and impressive mobility for his frame, but he’s completely ground bound on both ends and doesn’t have the type of offensive coordination to make up for his lack of leaping. I don’t see it with him, but he’s really strong and long, so he can probably be turned into at least a really good college player. Thomas Welsh is a pretty standard big guy with above-average athleticism who sets good screens, finishes at the basket, and protects the rim. He doesn’t stand out as an athlete or have exceptional skills or feel to make up for it so he’s not particularly exciting, but he’s got a very good chance of at least being drafted due to his solid all-around package.
Potential First Round/Likely Second Rounders: Jalen Brunson was one of the stars of the tournament, and is a pretty good athlete with good ball skills, passing vision, and a good outside shot. He’s small for a PG and will probably get the low upside tag early in his career so he might stay in college for a while, but he’s got some hop to his step that belies his stocky frame, and he’s a really good decision maker with great instincts on the defensive end. His skills and feel contribution is intriguing, and I could see him killing draft models due to A/TO numbers and STL% and rising into the mid/late first round a la Tyler Ennis and Tyus Jones before him. If not, he’ll be a killer college player at Villanova. Allonzo Trier is a powerfully built guard with a strong first step and a good outside shot, but he lacks standout athleticism or advanced creating skills. His defensive quickness is not super impressive, but he’s a good enough athlete with some skill and feel that he could make for a good 3-and-D prospect after some seasoning under Sean Miller at Arizona.
He didn’t play a ton at Louisville last season, but I liked what I saw from Chinanu Onuaku when he did, and I liked him again during the tournament. He’s a bit small for a center, but has enough length and bulk to both guard the post and protect the rim so I’m not too worried about that at the next level. Defense would be his calling card at the next level, and other than his size he has the complete package for a defensive focused center. He’s not an amazing leaper or super mobile, but he’s definitely above-average in both areas and has incredible hands and timing for a big, letting him rack up both steals and blocks. The most impressive part of his D is his awareness and activity level as he constantly involves himself in the play by being in the right position, and is a really great team defender in addition to being a good on-ball one. Offensively, Onuaku displayed horrible feel this past year in college but actually showed some decent passing vision in the tournament due to his comfort against lesser athletes. He’s a good lob threat around the rim and actually has pretty soft touch around the basket though, so he could be a good pick and roll finisher. He doesn’t really create for himself on offense, and also doesn’t stretch the floor at all, but he has decided to shoot his free throws granny-style, which is pretty awesome. I like him as a defensive oriented big who can play in pick and roll and think he’ll deserve to be a mid/late first rounder next year, but am not sure if he’ll get that kind of hype.
The one guy in this group who might deserve to be in the group above is Terrance Ferguson who was one of the four rising HS seniors on team USA. His frame needs to fill out a lot, but he’s got the length to play the 2 or the 3 and above the rim athleticism to go along with a reputation as one of the best shooters in HS basketball. It’s easy to see how he could be a lottery pick when he can run the floor and finish all over the competition and also come off screens to knock down threes. For now though, I’m a little out on the Ferguson hype. Despite playing in the US’s trapping defensive scheme, he rarely used his length and athleticism on the defensive end and displayed mediocre quickness when guarding on the ball. On offense, if he wasn’t shooting the three he never really created for himself or his teammates, and he only shot 33.3% from deep despite his reputation. If he turns into the elite shooter he’s billed to be, improves his handle a little, and utilizes his tools better on defense he could be a fantastic 3-and-D wing, but until I see more from him I’m a bit skeptical about the hype.
Potential Lottery Picks: The three most exciting US players by far were the other three rising HS seniors, Harry Giles, Josh Jackson, and Jayson Tatum. They’re the top-3 players in their class, and all probably would be lottery picks next year if they could jump from high school. Jackson is over a year older than the other two, something important to take into account when evaluating them, but he’s still a really high-level talent. The first thing that you notice watching him is just how rangy he is. His skinny frame accentuates it, but he’s long and springy and in team USA’s pressing scheme he was able to flash his quickness and instincts to make plays all over the court. Other than his lack of strength, he’s really a great defensive prospect and has the quickness of a guard with a true small forward frame. His first step and second jump both pop off the screen on offense, if a defender is too close to him he can blow by them from triple threat and he makes a big impact on the offensive glass. The rest of his offense is a bit more raw. He’s got good passing vision but is turnover prone due to an erratic handle, and struggles to get all the way to the hoop if defenders sag a bit because he lacks advanced moves off the dribble. He shot 50% from three for the tournament, but he was reluctant to take them and his 61% from the line is probably more indicative of his shooting ability. The age makes things a little less impressive, but he’s got superstar level athleticism and good instincts to go along with at least an average skill set for a wing so he’s a super intriguing long-term prospect.
Tatum isn’t quite Jackson’s level of athlete, he’s not as good a leaper off of no step, preventing him from hitting the glass the same way, and he doesn’t have true guard level quickness guarding in isolation like Jackson, but he’s still an impressive athlete in his own right. His length and instincts made him a playmaker on the defensive end off the ball, and he can play above the rim around the basket. Where Tatum has the advantage is as a ball handler, and he does a great job creating space for pull-ups. When he does get to the rim Tatum has great footwork to make space for himself, but right he now he struggles getting there in the half court due to defenders playing off him and not having a truly elite first step. Like Jackson, Tatum doesn’t really have three-point range right now, but he shows enough in the midrange to give hope he can develop. Between Tatum and Jackson I give Tatum the slightest of edges at this point, he’s behind on athleticism but still a very good athlete in his own right and might have even better instincts to go along with more skill and being a year younger in his development.
All were impressive, but Giles definitely stood out the most when watching this group. Giles is a bit undersized for a center at 6’9 without shoes, but a 7’3 wingspan and a helluva lot of athleticism mean the 5 might be his best long term position. Giles isn’t a dominant offensive player and shooting 46.5% from the field isn’t great, but he isn’t a dunker only either. Attacking from 15 feet and in Giles is very agile, and has the type of huge hands that allow him to extend the ball where it needs to be. In the post, Giles has advanced footwork for his age, but his mediocre shooting touch contributed to his low field goal percentage. It doesn’t go in consistently yet, but Giles is a confident and smooth shooter from 18 feet and in, and even took a three during the tournament. Giles threw some very impressive passes during the tournament, but he dribbles himself into trouble and isn’t always the most willing passer so his A/TO ratio ended up mildly frightening at 0.7/2.6.
On defense, Giles doesn’t have the instincts of a great shot blocker, but his vertical leaping and length make him a dangerous rim protector. Probably the single most impressive thing about Giles is his mobility on the defensive end, I’m not sure if there are any guys in the NBA right now who play the 5 and can truly switch onto guards, but Giles has that type of lateral quickness. Another area in which Giles wowed was rebounding the ball, he averaged a ridiculous 20 rebounds per 40 minutes due to his big hands and leaping ability. Giles profiles as a potentially elite defender who is a great finisher in pick and roll can create for himself facing up and in the post and can shoot outside of 15 feet. It is unrealistic to expect all of that to come to fruition since he is only 17, but he has that type of upside, and I think he is a likely future #1 pick.
My opinions for many of these guys will change as I watch more of them in the NCAA and in Europe, but for now here is my quick take on where I would rank the prospects from this tournament.
1. Harry Giles – one of the better prospects I’ve seen in recent years, a potential star if he follows his current trajectory.
2. Jayson Tatum
3. Josh Jackson – Tatum gets the slight edge for now, but this will be an interesting battle as I watch them more over the next couple years.
4. Furkan Korkmaz – if he had come out in this past year’s draft I probably would have had him 13th on my board; hopefully comes out next year now that he is eligible.
5. Chinanu Onuaku
6. Terrance Ferguson – ranking Onuaku over Ferguson could easily look silly in hindsight, but for now his defensive presence intrigues me more than an athletic shooter who doesn’t shoot that well and doesn’t use his athleticism.
7. Jalen Brunson – think he’ll surprise some people with how good he is right away.
8. Georgios Papagiannis
9. Tyler Dorsey – could easily see him having a Rashad Vaughn type of freshman year, but is probably a better defensive prospect.
10. Allonzo Trier – not totally sure what to make of him, didn’t really stand out during the tournament, but has solid tools and a good reputation.
11. Egemen Guven
12. Nik Slavica
13. Marko Arapovic
14. Ivica Zubac – I didn’t mean to rank the Croatians together, but it ended up this way. Slavica was most intriguing to watch, but Arapovic has a much better long term reputation and could easily be the better prospect.
15. Yankuba Sima – is a bit old and not that good, but a combination of athleticism and maybe having an outside shot is enough to excite me.
16. Justin Bibbs – he can shoot the three and has the frame to be a good defender, maybe something there.
17. Thomas Welsh
18. Jawun Evans – his speed popped off the screen, that is semi-intriguing enough.
19. Yanhao Zhao – has got some nice looking bounce to his step handling the ball, but shooters who don’t shoot well can only go so far.
20. L.J. Peak – has a long way to go to be a useful offensive player, but the defense is definitely there.
21. Marc Garcia – another shooter who doesn’t shoot well.
22. Caleb Swanigan – just don’t see it with him as an NBA guy, Tom Izzo probably would’ve proved me wrong, but now that he is going to Purdue I doubt he’s ever a serious prospect.
Hopefully, I’ll have more content out soon on Summer League thoughts, and some thoughts from the FIBA U20 and U18 Europe tournament.