Day three started off once again with an early morning session, this time dedicated to continuing to work on the chemistry of the individual teams and their half-court sets, shooting stations, and a highly entertaining transition drill. It was here that we got to see Nicolas Batum at probably his best, attacking the basket, getting in the passing lanes, and showing off his phenomenal length and athleticism on some terrific finishes.
Around noon we were treated to a very concise and incredibly informative lecture by legendary Italian coach Ettore Messina, which became much more of a clinic for the players due to the hands on nature of the lesson.
Messina focused primarily on what he describes as the most important fundamental in basketball-passing. He reiterated to the young prospects that their teammates are much more likely to do things like rebounding and defending if they are getting touches, as players who are just standing around offensively watching others play by themselves will quickly lose their motivation to do anything that requires too much energy on the opposite end of the floor.
Rather than just explain his philosophy in theoretical terms, Messina helped the players visualize his many points by pulling a number of current or former CSKA players (Artem Zabelin, Nikita Kourbanov, Alexey Shved) up and using them to demonstrate his points. He started with the art of the post-entry and transition pass, showing with a series of examples why a bounce pass is almost always a superior way of feeding a big man for an easy finish in rhythm than a lob. He continued with an-depth look at the importance of timing to a teams ball-movement, explaining why and how much more easily a player (and thus his team) can gain an advantage on his opponent if he receives the ball before his defender arrives, nullifying the importance of whether the player is fast or not.
Messina urged the players to look at one thing and one thing only when they have the ball in their handsthe reaction of the defense. He stressed the different types of passes the player should make depending on how a defender responds to a screen, displaying how important it is to feed your teammate at the exact right moment. Great players are not just great athletes, they also have great fundamentals, Messina says. He talks about how much more attractive and valuable a player who averages 8 points and 4 assists is over someone who averaged 16 points and zero assists.
Like a true coach, he tried to get the prospects to understand how important it is for young players to listen to instructions and immediately internalize them, so they would not have to be told the same things over and over again. He brought up two former pupils of hisAntoine Rigadeau (present here as a counselor) and Manu Ginobili as examples of players who became great because they were able to quickly put things in their computer [head].
He finished up with a stern warning that prospects of every nationality should hear and internalizeThis is an extremely important time in your career right now Your coaches will tell you things once, twice, and then the third time, if it keeps going in one ear and out the other, they will give up. You are like Angelina Jolie right now, everyone wants you, and everyone wants to help you get better, but if you dont listen and wont continue to work on your game, after a few years, they will find someone else. They wont send you flowers, and they wont call you. Its extremely important for players to hear this from someone like Messina, as they very rarely realize how quickly the hype around them will die down if they dont improve on their weaknesses.
After a quick break, we got to watch three games featuring some of the new arrivals (Nicolas Batum and Goran Dragic) as well as all the others once again. The last game featured the Ukrainian national team and a group of all-stars picked to represent the camp against them. The strength and depth of the camp was shown as the players (by no means the best here) managed to defeat a tough, physically imposing and very experienced (although not very talented) bunch of grown menthe Ukrainian senior national team. For the sake of brevity, we decided to include our observations from the final day as well, in order to cut down on redundancy.
As the game went on and things got slower and more congested in the half-court, though, Batums well-known flaws started to show. He struggled trying to create his own shot from the perimeter off more than a few dribbles, and then began to settle excessively for his long-range jumper, which just wasnt falling today (1/7 from behind the arc). He looked visibly frustrated after being blocked emphatically at the rim by Serge Ibaka and even missed a dunk at one point, as he surely was putting a lot of pressure on himself knowing that this was going to be the only game hell play in.
Its pretty obvious that at this point in his development (as weve stated before) Batum is not going to be any type of go-to guy for any team he plays for, and thus needs a great point guard and a real system to take advantage of his excellent tools, things you arent going to typically find in this type of setting.
At the end of the day, teams know what Batum brings to the table as a prospect (length, athleticism, tremendous versatility, a huge upside) so this probably wont affect his stock that much either way. He certainly deserves props for not being afraid to come out here and show himself, and the thing that was widely considered to be his biggest weaknessaggressivenesswas surely not an issue today.
Serge had 12 points (5/11 FG, 0/2 3P), 8 rebounds and 2 blocks, although 5 turnovers as well, during 29 minutes of the first game of the third day, while he settled for 10 points (5/8 FG) and 4 rebounds in 14 minutes against Ukraine.
One of the positive things weve seen in Treviso from Ibaka is his willingness to mix it up inside and play off contact. He had gained a certain reputation among some people concerning his aggressiveness on the offensive end. His lack of polished low post skills and his ability to shoot jumpers, even with some fade-away moves, lead some people to believe that he was avoiding contact. In Treviso weve seen him going towards the basket and, if he didnt have space to dunk, seek his rivals body to get the upper-hand when it comes to finishing around the rim. Also, the few times he decided to play in the low post, he looked pretty physical.
More positive things came from the short-to-mid range area, from where he looks pretty reliable connecting on his high-released jumpers, sometimes launched after reverse moves. In the end, with his leaping ability, its pretty easy for him to gain enough balance in the air to stay accurate. On the negative side, he struggled putting the ball on the floor, being called for travelling several times as he moved his pivot foot before taking the first dribble. The good news is that, if he ends up staying in Spain the next season, he will have a private coach to work on individual skills, something his game is begging for. If he decides to stay in the draft, he looks like a realistic first round pick regardless of the rawness of his game.
Skill-wise, Jerebko looked comfortable putting the ball on the floor and attacking the rim at this camp, showing plenty of confidence and aggressiveness getting to the basket, and even some nice moves adjusting his body to avoid oncoming defenders in mid-flight. He showed a lot of toughness holding his ground inside the paint when bigger players tried to post him up, and displayed decent lateral quickness staying in front of wing players on the perimeter. Hes a fairly tough guy who doesnt seem afraid to mix things up.
Jerebkos long-range jumper remains the final piece to the puzzle needed to make the transition to being a full-time perimeter player. His release is fairly slow and even though he can hit shots from behind the arc, its too streaky to count on consistently at this point. Regardless, he showed more tools than most of the players at this camp, particularly when long-term potential is taken into consideration, and is someone that teams will look at closely next season in the Italian league to decide if hes draft-worthy.
Dragic played spectacular defense on whoever he was guarding, mainly Rudy Mbemba, whos terrific speed did not faze him in the least bit. He got right into his mans grill on every possession of the game, fighting through screens admirably, showing excellent length and lateral quickness, and getting his hands on countless number of balls. It got to the point that players were just afraid to put the ball on the floor when Dragic was in the vicinity, as more often than not he would find a way to poke it away and bust up plays. He got his team into transition time after time, and made very good decisions once there, finishing strong and intelligently around the basket and getting to the line seven times.
As a point guard, Dragic did a better job than we anticipated based on the up and down season he had. He showed a lot more creativity than weve given him credit for in the past, making good reads and finding cutters slashing to the rim or shooters spotting up on the wing after slashing to the basket himself. His court vision probably isnt spectacular, but if he continues to see heavy minutes in the Euroleague, hes bound to improve his playmaking skills.
On the downside, Dragics shot remains his biggest weakness, which he showed by bricking a couple of ugly pull-up jumpers. Teams in the Euroleague completely took him out of his comfort level by backing off him this season and forcing him to beat them from long-range, and the players here foolishly took the opposite approach (thinking they are playing good defense by pressuring the ball), which played right into his hands. Thats why it probably isnt too smart to get overly excited off what he showed here, but it definitely still leaves some room for optimism regarding his future development. Some team will likely draft him in the second round and see how he continues to progress over the next few years while competing at a high level in Europe, as he clearly still has upside left to tap into.
But even if we could label him as a shooter, hes not strictly a specialist, but can put the ball on the floor with decent handles, passes the rock pretty well and shows a very nice understanding of the game. Hes just a smart player who knows how to play the game. Enjoying nice size for his position and decent athleticism, he just needs to get some strength to easier operate on the floor, although he could also use an extra degree of aggressiveness on defense. He shined in the final day of the camp, especially in the first game he played, collecting 15 points (4/9 FG, 3/6 3P), 4 rebounds and 3 assists, delivering also in the match against the French U-20 squad with 13 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists, although he struggled with his accuracy (4/12 FG, 2/7 3P).
Shveds athleticism, skill-level and all-around talent are a cut above anyone else here, and hes done it despite his noticeably skinny frame while being two years younger than many of the other camp participants. Shved will have to work on his body and especially improve his defensive intensity and technique (he doesnt even get into a stance at times) if hes going to try and make a run at next years draft. It will be difficult for him to see major minutes at CSKA Moscow, so it will be interesting to see where he ends up.
Ponkrashovs shot was falling for him at a much better rate here to close off the camp, going 5/9 over his last two games. Its not the prettiest jumper youll find, but it went in for him at a decent rate both in the games and especially in the drills, where he led everyone by hitting 75 of 100 attempts.
Considering his limited physical tools and the fact that he just hasnt gotten that much better over the last three years, theres a chance that Ponkrashov could go undrafted, although someone could definitely take a stab at him in the late second round.
Meanwhile he produced from the low post showing solid footwork and nice ability to finish with his off hand. Very active as usual, restlessly fighting regardless of his strength disadvantage, showing good positioning at both ends of the court, his length, talent and basketball IQ offer some serious long-term potential that he should be able to start fulfilling as he fills out his still thin body. Hes for sure one of the most intriguing big guys in Europe right now, and might develop into a NBA player down the road (meaning, hes several years away). For the moment, hes a very likely second round pick in the draft.
Melli has a mature frame, and good size at 6-9 if he ever will be able to make the transition to the small forward position, but he didnt show a great deal of athleticism or incredible upside to perhaps backup the strong reputation the preceded him. Then again, hes only 17 years old, so clearly, time is on his side.