In this piece, I wrote brief note about five international prospects who are flying under the radar for the 2021 NBA Draft.
Team: Zalgiris Kaunas
Born: November 19, 2000
Rokas Jokubaitis is playing very well. In previous seasons, Jokubaitis had a hard time making a clear impact on Sarunas Jasikevicius’s Zalgiris Kaunas. However, this season, Martin Schiller, who came to Kaunas after a good thing in the G-League, greatly changed Jokubaitis’ confidence on the court. He uses Jokubaitis kind of like Zalgiris’ Lou Williams (just as a role, not in terms of skill-set).
In Euroleague, Jokubaitis is averaging 8.9 points, 2.6 assists while shooting 58% inside the arc, and 38.9% behind the 3-points line. Also, he averaged 8.8 PIR in ten games, which is impressive.
If you watching him for the first time, your first glances probably will revolve around his physical tools. Because the Lithuanian guard doesn’t have impressive tools physically. Also, he lacks a degree of elite athleticism hurts his NBA stock a lot. However, it’s impressive that he has a body positioning IQ.
What I’m saying here is that Jokubaitis knows how to use the tools he owns at the maximum levels, although he isn’t physically elite. In pick-and-roll, the coordination in the knees, shifty ballhandling tricks, and change of speed make him almost unstoppable while he attacks to basket as a handler both against bigs and guards.
In today’s NBA, it’s easy to make up for physical lacks for a point guard, if he knows how to play PnR. Because for making snake/host tricks, being a shifty ballhandler is enough. In this area, Jokubaitis, who had impressive moments on Ball Bros game a few years ago, is almost elite.
Playing in 10 matches in Euroleague so far, Jokubaitis is scoring 0.95 points per possession while he plays as a handler in PnRs, according to InStat Basket. Some notable guards who are behinds him in this area: Elijah Bryant, Shane Larkin, Marius Grigonis, Scottie Wilbekin, Jayson Granger, Kevin Punter and Tyler Dorsey, all typically considered good PnR handlers.
If you want eye-test stats, he did snake or host moves 42 times this season in eight games (I missed the Zenit and the Khimki games, sorry). In these 42 moves, he created 60 points by scoring, making an assist, or making a pass to assist.
On the shooting side, Jokubaitis does pretty well as usual. Some of his shooting choices were questionable in the past years, I think he was using unnecessary shots but he’s shooting more sensibly this season – volume is not too high but not too low. I don’t think there are any major changes in his shooting form, same for the versatility: off the dribble, CnS, pull-up, runners, etc.
I don’t think he is ready for the NBA as a defender. Just take a look at some stats quickly. Barcelona scored nine points on Jokubaitis’ defense. Milano scored seven points on Jokubaitis’ defense. CSKA scored 14 points on Jokubaitis’ defense. Valencia scored nine points on Jokubaitis’ defense. So it’s easy to understand that he has room to improve at the defensive end. However, there are some reasons to trust his projection as a defender. While he runs to closeouts, he shows impressive footwork technique and eye-hand coordination with his quickness. He chases the offense very well around the screens but sometimes it’s easy to dislodge him due to his lack of elite physical tools. He has the willingness, the motor runs high but his physical limitations are a huge question mark in general.
At the end of the day, Jokubaitis is a good second-round pick. Because he does good things on top of the European basketball against top-level rim protectors and guard defenders. His future physically will decide his NBA projection.
Team: Antwerp Giants
Born: October 14, 2000
In my opinion, Vrenz Bleijenbergh has one of the best breakouts this season. The Belgian prospect has been on the radar of many basketball teams since the under-16 tournaments because he fits the definition of point forward, one of the most sought-after archetypes of basketball.
However, his inconsistency as a shooter and lack of degree of elite skill-set as a passer almost eliminated his NBA projection but this season, Bleijenbergh has reached a very impressive level.
He scored 80 points, made 18 assists, grabbed 29 rebounds, 77 PIR in total while shooting 35.9% from the 3-points line at the Eurocup level. He clearly can shoot the ball consistently. The best thing here is his self-confidence. For example, against Virtus Bologna and Lietkabelis Panevezys, he was excellent in terms of shooting with huge self-confidence.
However, if I was a decision-maker to pick a prospect, I would like to see more flashes about his shooting flashes, and we still have time to the 2021 NBA Draft. At this point, I think he has shown enough flashes in terms of attacks to the rim. He has solid ballhandling, is very comfortable with the ball while he changes the direction, has soft touch around the rim, can finishes over the rim protectors thanks to his physical tools, doesn’t have excellent first step but decent, and knows how to finish through the contact very well.
As a passer, I think Bleijenbergh, who has good off the court life with huge work ethic and discipline, still has room to improve. He sees the court but it’s hard for him to make true pass all the time. Sometimes, he can get a little bit selfish but I don’t define him as a full-time selfish player.
Bleijenbergh has grab-and-go ability which is important. Because you know, scoring point in a short time after getting the rebound means more possession for your team. And in today’s NBA, players who increase their possession become remarkable. Bleijenbergh has this ability and is versatile.
Although he has physically impressive tools, he can’t yet deliver what you may wait for. Because sometimes, he can make over-help, is asleep as an off the ball defender, and it’s easy to bite him with pump fakes behind the 3-points line. However, you can see his defensive upside. If I have trust in my coaches to develop him at the defensive end, it isn’t a huge problem.
Team: CB Prat/Joventut Badalona
Born: September 10, 2002
Joventut Badalona has some notable talents in their second team: Yannick Kraag, Adrian Domenech, Kris Helmanis, and Zsombor Maronka. All these four players were born in 2002. The Hungarian prospect, who has participated in all youth tournaments since coming to Badalona, made his debut in Eurocup and ACB this season. Maronka has the best potential and he’s clearly flying under the radar in my opinion.
The NBA looking for a unicorn from international pools after Kristaps Porzingis and Lauri Markkanen. Although Maronka isn’t at the good levels in terms of physically (he has impressive length but has a lot of rooms to add weight and muscle) and athletic skills, he is a 6-foot-10 and can shoot the ball consistently. Also, he can create his shot.
He has an impressive mechanical setup on the lower body. The alignment on the knees, bending degree on the hips, jumping degree and strength, overall footwork quickness, and the arc is awesome for his size. The load time is not too fast but also not too lazy. He has over-the-shoulder release, consistent elbow points with 90-degree arc, I would like to see his left-hand a little bit more solid but it isn’t a huge problem. So he is an impressive shooter with solid mechanics, can create his shot with good versatility, and is willing to use the shot – he isn’t a force the shot guy by the way.
While some question marks coming to my mind about his level of athleticism, I also think he has good upside. He’s making dunks, attacks to the basket fluidly after pump fake, and impressive putbacks are making his limits better. I don’t think he is a decent passer and handler in the casual offense. He should work more to hit the 3-points in pick-and-pop games. Also, he has to add more threat as a roller in pick-and-roll games.
Since the quality of LEB Plata is poor, it can always be misleading to evaluate the defense level of a prospect out there. But, based on what I’ve seen so far, Maronka is a good defender when the tempo isn’t too high. He is a good defender in stationary possessions. He is good laterally and that allows him to slide around the perimeter very well. Maronka also can protect the rim but not with blocks, with his body, I mean, he does a good job to contest the shots. The Hungarian prospect knows how to use his physical tools. However, when the opposite team runs PnR or off the ball motions on his man, it’s easy to dislodge him. He isn’t too quick.
Team: Filou Oostende
Born: June 14, 2001
Mario Nakić is one of the players that Ostende’s young core. Nakić, who played for Real Madrid for three years and loaned to Oostende last summer, didn’t make his jumping well to the senior team of Real Madrid after he played well in youth categories. Then, he loaned to Oostende. And this year he’s playing impressive basketball in my opinion.
Averaging 11.2 points in five games, Nakić looks better in all terms.
In my opinion, there is nothing extraordinary to the reason why he plays better this year. He plays the same basketball. He still has quick slashing ability with solid handling and good dribble penetration. Nakić still good as a shooter. He uses his same form, same footwork, nothing extraordinary improving on his body… However, I think that there is a very critical point: mentality.
While he was playing in Real Madrid, I always thinking about his self-confidence, esp, when he has the ball to create his slashing angle. He was a little bit shy with the ball. He was a hesitant slasher. When the defensive line does good ICE/drop in PnRs, Nakić was playing like he forgot everything he thought. However, this year, he does pretty good to handle the pressure.
For example, there was a sequence in the game between Ostende vs Mons-Hainaut Nakić ran the PnR in right-wing but Mons-Hainaut tried to drop it. Then, Nakić did a good job to handle the ball. Mons did double team on him but Nakić was still cool with the ball, he was watching what happens under the basket. He made a turnover but after that sequence, he was still on the game, he didn’t give up. And scored a bunch of points. But in recent years, he was falling out of the game very quickly in such sequences. He was bad mentally.
About his NBA projection, Nakić is valuable because he can stretch the floor with his shooting ability and he sometimes can be a spacing slasher with his attack to the basket ability. Defensively, nothing extraordinary but you probably will know what you can make with his defense. So, he is kinda like a solid defender who plays with average levels.
My concerns about his NBA projection mostly revolves around his physical tools and athleticism level. Nakić has good length and is still improve to add more muscles but I don’t see any glorious upside here. Also, same for his athleticism. I mean, okay, he is a good slasher with leaping, lateral, and linear moves but he can be ineffective a lot to split the rim protectors. Unless he can be a very dangerous shooter, these two rooms will affect his NBA projection a lot.
Team: Novipiu Casale Monferrato
Born: April 12, 2001
The biggest advantage of tournaments like ANGT and Ciutat De L’Hospitalet is that you can see many high-quality international prospects in these tournaments. However, some of these prospects will quickly fall off the radar if they haven’t had an impressive tournament. I think Gora Camara is one of these players.
7-foot-0 Senegalese big man plays like a traditional center. He is an excellent lob target; has good touch around the basket; can jump off of one foot very well but has the habit of two feet leaping; knows how to use his impressive physical tools in traffic to make money; does a good job in pick-and-roll games. He has good hip mobility and uses it very well while rolling to the basket. I think that he has very good mobility for his size. And he also can use his mobility in post-up games. He doesn’t have any fancy tricks in post-up but it’s hard to defend him while he uses his shoulder with hip mobility.
He doesn’t have much shooting ability, but this year he shows some good flashes in free throws. So, maybe he has the upside?
So Camara’s NBA potential at the offensive end revolves around his role as a catch-and-finisher and dunker spot man. But the most important thing that separates him from the other bigs that Camara knows very well how to coordinate his body and find his balance in the air as he goes with the ball to the basket. And unlike many centers whose physical tools are impressive, Camara has a good last touch. I think that makes him a solid NBA pick in every sense.
Defensively, he is a classical big man. He can protect the rim with his body and explosive athleticism. He does a good job in post-up but that’s it. I can’t define him as a good off the ball defender or PnR defender. At the end of the day, the fact that he doesn’t play basketball at an elite level (in terms of league) may raise questions. But I think it is important that he isn’t a raw prospect and fills his 7-foot-0 length with muscle. Also, he already has some advanced tricks. So, a good option for late second-round in my opinion.