The international team starts practicing six days before the game, as they have much greater obstacles to overcome than Team USA. The world squad's first obstacle comes way before they even have a chance to get on the basketball court. Communication is always an issue for the players from so many different countries, and this year is no exception. Most of the players speak some English, but more often than not it takes a few tries to get a drill correct after the English-speaking coach communicates the directions.
Today we are taking a first look at three prospects, all of whom have been written about on DraftExpress at one point or another.
Motiejunas has every tool you could ask for on the offensive end. The footwork he displays in the low-post is nothing short of jaw-dropping for a player of his age, and you especially see it from the low-post. Motiejunas moves in a smooth and nimble fashion, and does a great job of selling the defender on his fakes. The sharpness and execution of these moves mirror what you'd normally see from a much older player, and it appears that he can create a shot in any given situation.
If the great scoring tools down low weren't enough, the Lithuania also shows a good number of skills away from the basket. Motiejunas shows a smooth shooting stroke, and hit a three pointer from NBA range in practice today. The international team runs frequent elbow pick and rolls, and he often gets to pop high for a 20-foot jumper, which he has shown excellent accuracy with over the past 2 days. The Lithuanian big man can do more than just shoot from mid-range, however. He seems very comfortable driving to his strong hand off the dribble, and in this setting, always finds a way to finish near the hoop.
With the plethora of offensive skills he shows on offense, a player like Motiejunas must learn to play as the focus of the defense. He has already responded to this quite well, and appears to have a great feel for the game. In the low post, he rarely forces anything, choosing to throw the ball to the open man if the defense doubles on the catch, and he always feels where the defense is coming from. On the drive, the big man always knows where the open shooter is, and has no trouble throwing the correct pass.
For all of his offensive skills, Motiejunas has a long ways to go to even become average on the defensive side of the ball. Though he shows the intelligence to know the pick and roll coverages and help defense schemes, he rarely shows the toughness to use this knowledge to his advantage. He was exposed a number of times in the post, where Milan Macvan would just back and him down, and easily finish over him. The first step to improved defense will be added strength. His frame should be able to take another 20 pounds without adversely affecting his mobility. Since he shows good toughness on the offensive end, he reasonably should be able to make an impact defensively with added muscle, but he must also show the desire to play on the other side of the ball as well. The fact that he sports such a poor wingspan, thoughjust 6-11, is clearly a hindrance.
Considering all his tools and current level of productivity overseas, it will be very interesting to see how he fares against the athletic front line of Team USA. The international guards traditionally tend to struggle to get the ball to the big men in this setting, so his reaction to not always being involved offensively could be interesting to watch as well. As a 1990 born player, Donatas Motiejunas will be eligible for the 2009 draft, and he seems to be the most likely candidate from this group to use a solid performance here as a springboard to the NBA draft-- though all signs now would point to another year playing overseas
Images of Leandro Barbosa pop into your head after watching him for a while, and for a number of reasons. The Frenchman has a good wingspan of 6'6", and shoots the ball with a similar trajectory as his Brazilian counterpart. He shows very good accuracy with his three point jumper, and his mid-range game strikes you as even more impressive. Whether it's the pull-up 18 footer off the dribble, or the floater from about 8 feet out, it seems that Jackson can really put the ball in the hoop comfortably from anywhere on the court.
Physically, he lacks size, but does have some very nice attributes in his favor. Jackson looks like he has spent a lot of time in the weight room, and weighed in at 195 pounds. He shows a very quick first step to the basket, and an explosive vertical leap to match it. The long arms combined with explosive leaping ability aide the young guard with the way he finishes at the rim. When he can't dunk the ball, he still shows very good patience in going up and finessing it in around the outstretched arms of the defense.
The one lingering question around Edwin Jackson seems to be the point guard question. On one hand, he appears to be exclusively a scoring guard, and judging from his shot-selection at various points during practice, he might be handcuffed to being a scorer his whole career. He does occasionally pull the ball out and call a play, however, and his court vision would be considered more than acceptable for a lead guard. It would be greatly beneficial for him to be in a situation where he had to develop his playmaking skills out of necessity, and the athletic full-court defense of Team USA might give him a chance to show more in that regard. International guards usually struggle against the pressure of the athletic Americans in this setting, and Jackson is by far the most athletic guard on this team. This may provide the perfect look at where he stands as a point guard (if anywhere), and in turn an NBA prospect.
The immediate comparison that jumps to mind when watching him would be a shorter and even less athletic version of Kevin Love. Like Love, Macvan is an incredibly intelligent offensive player when it comes to getting position or passing the ball. The Serbian showed great awareness of where his shooters were spaced on the perimeter during the scrimmages, and he always positioned himself to screen the defender of the shooter on the weak-side. This created a number of open looks for his teammates throughout the day.
Offensively, Macvan likes to overpower his opponent, and shows very nice touch on his right handed hook shot. He understands angles on the backboard quite well, which becomes a very important aspect of the game for below the rim bigs against athletic competition. For both practice days we've observed, the big man looks very comfortable with stepping out and shooting the mid-range jumper as well. From the high-post, he also showed extremely impressive passing skills with his ability to find the cutting guards.
Defensively, Macvan has struggled to match-up in any situation where his bulk or strength doesn't come in handy. The big shows very good fundamentals on the glass, always putting his huge body into his man, but he only collects rebounds in his area. He really struggles to guard quicker bigs who like to face up and drive, and doesn't really contest many shots either.
As the toughest player mentally of the group, Milan Macvan gives you a lot to like about him as a player. Hes also the most experienced of this group. Until he gets in better shape, though, it's hard to envision him becoming a great NBA draft prospect, and even then his physical attributes might fall short.
The following measurements were taken the first practice for the World Select team. The heights listed are WITHOUT shoes.
Matias Nocedal, Argentina
Weight 180 lbs.
Edwin Jackson, France
Weight 195 lbs.
Nikos Pappas, Greece
Weight 210 lbs.
Mateo Gaynor, Argentina
Weight 180 lbs.
Mamadou Samb, Senegal
Weight 195 lbs.
Tomislav Zubcic, Croatia
Weight 218 lbs.
Milan Macvan, Serbia
Weight 258 lbs.
Kevin Seraphin, France
Donatas Motiejunas, Lithuania
Weight 220 lbs.
Weight 240 lbs.