Previous editions of this same tournament saw the likes of Pau Gasol and Rudy Fernandez blossoming. From last year, three participants were selected in the 2005 draft (Fran Vazquez, Mickael Gelabale and Axel Hervelle), while four more signed as free agents with an NBA team (Arvydas Macijauskas, Fabricio Oberto, José Manuel Calderón and Pat Burke). It wouldnt be a stretch to say that because of the fact that every team in the NBA is represented here, including numerous GMs and player personnel directors, these could be the most important games of the year as far as showing NBA potential is concerned.
Part two of our two part series looks at the undrafted free agents in Spain as well as players that have already been drafted in the past few years and whose rights are still owned by NBA franchises.
With four over-22 players from last years Kings Cup signed to NBA contracts as free agents this past summer, its often just as important to look at the stars of the ACB league as potential targets for the NBA, as well as keep track of drafted players who could pop up as trade bait with the NBA trade deadline nearing.
-Part 1, the 2006 NBA Draft Prospects
-2005 King's Cup Coverage
-2004 King's Cup Coverage
It seems like the number of players whose draft rights are owned by NBA teams grows every season in the ACB League. Obviously the biggest attraction here was Fran Vazquez, a lottery pick who decided to skip the NBA adventure for the time being. Vazquez, along with other unproven players such as Mickael Gelabale and Roko-Leni Ukic, share space with well established stars in the European scene such as Luis Scola or Juan Carlos Navarro.
We have left out players who are not as intriguing or brilliant in their performances here. Particularly recently drafted Axel Hervelle, who had a very discrete showing.
Unicaja Malaga; 1983; 6-10; PF; 1 game, 22 minutes, 0 points, 6 rebounds
Lets remember that Vazquez was selected last June with the 11th draft pick by the Orlando Magic, but chose to remain in Spain after signing a lucrative four-year deal with Akasvayu Girona, an up-and-coming team financially. This move would allow Fran to develop his game at the power forward position, where he enjoys the most potential considering his athleticism and physical characteristics, as Gironas paint game is filled with centers.
However, and this was just another competition where he left it clear, Vazquez is far from becoming a complete forward. His offensive skills are still basically limited to a nice jumper (that wasnt falling for him here) and his ability to finish near the basket. There is no trace of go-to skills, little to no ball-handling skills and very limited post production. Although its not usual for him, he went scoreless in this game.
On the defensive end, in spite of a couple of good sequences coming off the bench in the first quarter, highlighted with some intimidation and rebounds taking advantage of his athleticism, inconsistency was again the dominant factor, suffering particularly against Dimos Dikoudis in the second half. All in all, it was rather a frustrating game for Fran.
Anyway, we shouldnt jump to hasty conclusions. It has only been half a season since Vazquez left Malaga and the beneficial frontcourt company of Jorge Garbajosa which created plenty of spaces for him. Now he suffers more pressure because of his draft position and the gross contract he signed, while he has to adjust to a position on the court where he still doesnt feel comfortable. Next season should be more accurate to evaluate his possibilities of development.
Tau Vitoria; 6-9; 1980; PF; 3 games, 33.2 mpg, 15 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 3 apg, 1.7 spg, 2.3 TOpg
Frustration might be the reason why Scola has shown a questionable attitude on the court during the season, particularly on the defensive end. However everything changed once the Cup started. Scola is a natural-born winner, a fighter, and he delivered the best of himself to help Tau get the final victory.
Not enjoying the most brilliant offensive display of his career, Luis delivered aggressiveness by playing serious defense and capturing rebounds, and got over his offensive individualism to pass the ball and became a true leader on the court for his teammates.
But of course, his scoring was there too. He formed a lethal duo with Pablo Prigioni, showing that hes one of the best players you will find moving without the ball in pick and roll situations (which has become the go-to play of the team). And although being less prolific, he once again displayed his excellent low post game.
His future is pretty much still in the air. Tau might be more willing to let him go (always with economic compensation in mind) this coming summer, once the team secures its participation in the next three Euroleague editions with a solid finish this season. However, thats not a give in at all, and it still remains to be seen how much the Spurs really want him, as he wouldnt be cheap at all.
Juan Carlos Navarro
Winterthur F.C.Barcelona; 6-4; 1980; PG/SG; 1 game, 34.5 minutes, 16 points, 4 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals, 3 TO
Everything started as expected, with Navarro driving defenses crazy. Whether with his three-point stroke (hes very quick releasing the ball as he barely jumps in the process, and can net it off the dribble) or slashing towards the basket using his excellent handles to finish with his trademarked elevated layups, while always working without the ball to receive in an advantageous position, he easily added points and facilitated his teams offensive game.
Better defended in the second half, he put more emphasis on distributing the ball, successfully feeding cutters, playing the pick and roll or leading transition plays with creativity and showcasing his very nice court vision. During Barcelonas drought in the last quarter, he was forced to reassume the scoring load, but found himself over-defended and not receiving much help from his teammates, which led to some mistakes and turnovers.
Drafted by the Washington Wizards in the second round of the 2002 draft, Navarro has reached his prime as a player. Hes such a talented guard that offensively he displays more than enough level to play in the NBA. A shooting guard in Europe, Navarro would be able to escape his undersized condition playing the point with ease in the American league, just as he used to do when he was younger and as he still shows nowadays in certain situations. His defense, average at best, is the biggest concern about him. Here he suffered whenever he was matched up with Louis Bullock or Igor Rakocevic. Anyway, he has a long and very lucrative contract in Barcelona, where hes the franchise player, the clubs emblem, so it would be really difficult to buy him out of there.
Real Madrid; 6-7; 1983; SF; 2 games, 18.5 mpg, 3 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3 TOpg
Not going as unnoticed as his replacement on the wing Marko Tomas (they rarely play together, but usually split minutes at the small forward position), the results were pretty much similar, as Gelabales contributions to his team were rather small. A dunk in transition here, a short shot over a rival there, and little else. At least he tried, but he lost some confidence and his limitations arose in the form of turnovers, way too many considering his scoring contribution. Gelabale really suffers creating his own shot whenever he needs to perform more than a simple move. His average handles, footwork and basketball IQ limit his creativity off the dribble.
Last season we already said that Mickael wouldnt likely be anything more than a role player, probably a very good and useful one, but a role player after all. This season that impression is even stronger. However, at some point he will get over his current inconsistency and again become a productive player for Real Madrid and perhaps eventually for the Sonics in the future.
Tau Vitoria; 6-5; 1984; PG; 3 games, 8.5 mpg, 6 ppg,
It looks as if these last two seasons being the one-and-only star in Split have made him forget everything about the collective approach of the game (he seemed a better distributor back in the junior stage than he does now), as Roko has been incapable of giving fluidity to Taus offense. Every time he steps on the court, the ball movement suffers a significant setback. Not only does he lack the ability, precision, timing and willingness to share the ball as Prigioni does, but his teammates, perhaps thinking that their effort moving without the ball wont be as well rewarded as when Prigioni leads the team, slow down their activity and the offense becomes much more stagnant. Although not as dramatically as in other occasions, this also happened in the Kings Cup to a certain extent.
Of course, Ukic still amazes with his skill set. He is one of the best one-on-one point guards in the ACB League and enjoys an awesome ability to score off the dribble. He showed it in this Cup, getting a fair scoring production considering his limited action, although settling for one lonely assist.
Still, this complicated season in Vitoria is a necessary adjustment process that should reap him great benefits in the near future. However, one shadow has emerged in the last few weeks, as Tau has signed point guard Lionel Chalmers (formerly of the Timberwolves and Clippers), apparently only for Euroleague competition. We will have to wait and see what is Rokos new role for the remainder of the season.
After the trend of NBA teams snatching the top players in the ACB league that we saw last summer, taking the likes of José Manuel Calderón, Arvydas Macijauskas, Fabricio Oberto, Pat Burke and Charlie Bell to the NBA, this season there arent as many interesting guys left in the ACB League.
Tau Vitoria; 6-4; 1977; PG; 3 games, 32.9 mpg, 6 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 9.7 apg, 4.3 spg, 3.3 TOpg
Sort of like we did with Jorge Garbajosa last year even if he wasnt too much of an NBA prospect, this time we had to feature Pablo Prigioni (his successor as MVP) after his fantastic tournament, which comes to confirm an awesome season that has placed him among the best point guards in Europe. Last season, playing off the bench behind José Manuel Calderón (currently with the Raptors), it was pretty obvious that Tau evolved more fluidly with him on the court. But this season has been a true coming out party for him. He leads both the Euroleague and the ACB League in assists per game, with a total of 6.7 per game on average, a remarkable amount for international basketball where assists are much tougher to accumulate.
Prigioni is the ultimate pass-first playmaker, a master of the pick and roll play. His virtuosity pairing with Luis Scola reminds us of the likes of Nash & Stoudemire or even Stockton & Malone. Indeed the team orchestrates its offensive game almost always starting from picks in the high post. Hes the engine that makes Tau run, a necessity for a team that is becoming dangerously dependant on him. In the final, he set a new record of assists in the competition, with 15 dimes. His court vision, while excellent, perhaps is not off the charts, but hes incredibly smart and shows an awesome basketball IQ leading his team and a privileged quick mind.
That quick mind is seeding the terror on the rival point guards, victims of his hunger for steals. Its rare the game that Prigioni doesnt come away with a steal from an inbound pass after a basket. Everybody knows it already, but it keeps happening. In the Cup, he was even more prolific than usual.
You might wonder why he isnt a serious NBA prospect despite his wonderful skills. Well, Pablo is not a great athlete. Hes average in Europe, which would make poor in the NBA. Its questionable whether he would be able to deal with the very quick American point guards. Besides, hes not a shooter a la Jasikevicius, although hes fairly reliable when left open. And hes not a kid anymore. Anyway, if you cant get a look at him in Europe, you will likely be able to enjoy his play in the next World Championships in Japan this upcoming summer.