Very few players at this age are able to display the kind of gifts and skills that Yaroslav Korolev enjoys. We're talking about a point forward here, who at 6-9 has the perfect size to play the small forward position, with excellent athleticism to go with it, and the skills of a guard.
He's a pretty long kid, as besides his size, he enjoys a nice wingspan. Of course at this age he's far from being a strong player, but his frame is decent, good enough to play in the NBA with no problem at all after adding some strength. He's very quick for being so tall, really coordinated, and combines a good vertical leap with some explosiveness. To sum up, he's quite an athlete, particularly if we're talking about a European guy, and has the tools to make things happen.
Before digging into his skills, it's interesting to point that Yaroslav's father is a basketball coach. It's surely a big reason why the guy is so skilled and fundamentally sound. To start with, he has very good ball-handling skills. He can drive in traffic and handle the ball in transition with ease. He barely losses speed while dribbling and utiziles both hands very well. This is a key department in his game, which allows him to be so versatile.
To complete the playmaking package, he's a quite a good passer. Standing 6 feet and 9 inches off the floor, he has the privilege to see the court particularly well, and he fully takes advantage of it. He can dish it off in many situations: transition plays, feeding a cutting teammate, as well as on drive and dish plays to deliver to an open teammate after causing defensive rotations. He's first a passer, a game creator, then a scorer. He loves to run the offense, but more importantly, he doesn't abuse these skills. He lets the game come to him, not forcing unnecessary situations, not overshadowing his teammates. He doesn't over-handle the ball, playing in the flow of the offense while showing great decision making.
When it comes to scoring, he can use a variety of weapons. He's not a shooter, but he's rather consistent with his jumper. He has range, solid mechanics and shows ability to release it off the dribble if necessary. But he's not too prolific in this department, and it's rarely a first option for him. When he receives the ball, if he doesn't find a good pass (or he isn't fully open, of course), he usually looks to drive rather than firing. With a good first step, he takes his man off the dribble rather easily, and has the ability to finish, whether with a powerful dunk, or with a creative lay-up, depending on the situation. He's pretty fluid and smooth.
If you think that such a talented and skilled guy will likely be a defensive liability, you're wrong. Korolev has all the tools to become an excellent defender, and he already shows quite good results. He has more than enough lateral quickness to defend his position, the length to annoy any rival (that helps him to come up with some steals) and he puts some intensity and effort. He's quite dangerous on the block coming from the weak side, showing good timing in the process. He can give a hand in the rebounding department too, which isn't unexpected given his athleticism and length.
Korolev is a very special player, a big time prospect oozing with potential. He's a guy with a natural talent to play this game, a very high basketball IQ, who plays with intensity and passion and who is a pleasure to watch.
The most natural thing after reading the strengths section of Korolev's profile would be to feel overwhelmed. Yes, he's an extremely intriguing prospect. But it's better to take it with a grain of salt, as that's how he looks going up against junior competition, facing kids. If there's something that can raise some doubts, it's the fact that he's barely played any senior competition this season. How will he answer then? It's still a mystery, even if the odds are in his favor.
Prior to the current season, Yaroslav seemed like quite an inconsistent player, who could get frustrated rather easily, not always focused and concentrated, not mentally strong. It's not clear if he has left all these problems behind. CSKA's junior team is a powerhouse in Europe, they usually win almost all their games, games that are often too easy. It's quite possible that the kid has matured a lot in the last year, though. He has been under the wing of his father forever, including last season in Avtodor Saratov (head coach) and in the Russian Junior National Team (assistant coach). Now in Moscow he's flying alone, and that might have been a big reason for that apparent change in his mentality. Anyway, we're yet to check how he reacts under real pressure, in a more competitive environment.
Like any kid from Europe, he's still skinny. But it's nothing to worry about here. He just needs to add some pounds of muscle, which should come natural as his body matures and he starts to do some work in the weight room. For the moment, he can get outmuscled near the basket in post plays, as well as in rebounding situations.
One of the very few flaws that Korolev shows when it comes to his skills may be his ability to finish with his left hand. He can use it, but he feels more comfortable with his right. Also, clearly having the game approach of a guard, he rarely tries to take advantage of his size in the low post.
Korolev could use some extra work on his shot, even if it's already rather good. Playing against older competition, it won't be that easy for him to drive at will like he does in the juniors.
Korolev became a familiar name in draft circles after a very promising performance in the 2003 European Cadet Championships in Rivas, where he averaged 10.4 points and 4.8 rebounds while helping Russia to the bronze medal.
In the 2003/04 season, Yaroslav made his debut in the Russian SuperLeague, alongside fellow draft prospect Vladimir Vereemenko in Avtodor Saratov. In 18 games, he averaged 5 points, 2.7 rebounds, 0.8 assists and 0.8 steals in near 20 minutes per game, which is not bad at all given his age.
Back to the National Team, this time in the junior version, Korolev played in the European Junior Championships (see links section). It was a pretty inconsistent performance, averaging only 4.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2 assists, although it's important to note that most of the players were one year older.
Right now, Korolev is employed by one of the strongest teams in the world outside the NBA: CSKA Moscow. The problem is that he barely sees any action with the vets, showing his stuff almost exclusively on the Junior Team. There, Korolev participated in the Russian Junior League for CSKA, losing only one game. He averaged 15.9 points (shooting 53% from the field, almost 40% from the three-point line), 5.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks in 25 minutes per game. After great performances in junior tournaments like L'Hospitalet, he impressed a bunch of NBA scouts in the Euroleague's Final Four Junior Tournament, where he averaged 17.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 2.7 steals and 1.5 blocks, while helping CSKA to win. As usual in Korolev's case, his stats doesn't fully show the real magnitude of his game.
With the senior team, he has played a grand total of 2 minutes in the Euroleague and 24 in the Russian SuperLeague, for a combined total of 12 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists.
Korolev has already declared himself eligible for the draft after impressing a number of NBA scouts in the Euroleague Final Four Junior Tournament, but his situation facing the upcoming draft, having barely played any senior competition this season (he played something last year), has almost no precedents. Mix it with his amazing potential, and you have the recipe for a very tough call. If he doesn't withdraw, it would be very difficult to see him falling from the first round. He's too talented and intriguing. But he's also too unproven to have a great chance at making the lottery in such a deep draft. Somewhere in the twenties might be his final destination, although good showings in private workouts going against older guys could boost his stock.
We should mention that at this point we know nothing about his buyout situation in CSKA (if a buyout clause even exists) and also have no knowledge about whether he will be making it over to the States for private workouts, which should be considered an absolute must for such an unknown and untested player. These two factors could greatly affect his stock, for good or for bad.
If he withdraws, in a couple of years he could very well develop into a lottery-worthy prospect.
Korolev might be a great investment for a team that's not in a huge rush to improve via the draft, leaving him in Moscow to develop for a couple of years, like Kirilenko did some years ago (although the recent experience of Sergei Monya and his lack of playing time might discourage some team). On the other hand, he's a high risk bet, and another reason for concern about the whole draft process considering his experience as a player. For the European basketball fan, it would be really disappointing to see a guy who is so promising, but has done nothing in Europe so far to take the NBA path so soon.
Korolev has been playing basketball since he was 6 years old. Obviously, the influence of his father, a basketball coach, is there.
He can speak fluent Spanish after having spent some years in Costa Rica due to his father's work there.
He's a pretty good dunker, winning the dunk contest of the 2005 L'Hospitalet Junior Tournament in Spain (which is where his bio photo is taken from). You can read more about his performance at this tournament in the links section of his profile.