You know many names were nominated as superstars in the international prospect classes of 2002, 2003 and 2004. So who are among the under the radar prospects? What can these players do in the future? In this series, I will dive briefly into the under the radar prospects from 2002, 2003 and 2004 classes before detailed reports.
Team: International Basketball Academy of Munich
Born: 24 July 2003
Best Skills: A little bit of everything but has not any 100% weapon yet.
Emilis Butkus was born on July 24, 2003, in Vilnius, Lithuania. He started basketball when he was six thanks to his mother who told him: “You have the potential to be a good basketball player, I trust you.” Subsequently, his interest in basketball increased. The Lithuanian National Team’s performance at the 2011 EuroBasket and the success of Zalgiris Kaunas were turning points for Butkus. He decided to take serious steps in basketball after all these things. He first played at the Marčiulionis Basketball Academy. Then he went to Vilnius and played there in 2018 and 2019.
His father has a gym, his mother works as a designer. He likes to read biography/autobiography books, play chess, and listen to rap. A coach in Lithuania told me that Butkus is a hard worker and total basketball-crazy. He said that Butkus worked hard and in his spare time strived to watch games from all leagues and improve in every sense. But he can also be very pessimistic at times.
Standing 6-foot-6 with a 200-pound strong frame and 6-foot-8.5 wingspan, Emilis Butkus is impressively advanced physically compared to many 17 years olds anywhere in Europe in my opinion. By looking only at his upper body you would define him as a stud who’s more than ready to step on the floor at the high-levels. Average width shoulders, strong and average length arms, strong core and chest. Great strength in arms and core give him the opportunity to get stronger in the future if he puts in the work in the weight room in my opinion.
Butkus needs work on his lower body. His footwork is not quick, I don’t think that his hips give him any energy or reverse advantage. Not good vertically or laterally in my opinion, and not quick off of his feet. He also has a lot of room to get stronger on his legs. For someone with at least two years until the NBA Draft, his upper body is very good, but Emilis Butkus needs to keep working in the weight room for natural growth. I think there is a lot of improvement on his lower body. The biggest question mark about his NBA future for me is his athleticism. Butkus has average pop that allows him to get good elevation and release on his shot but he doesn’t have good vertical pop overall. He isn’t particularly smooth around the basket. He can run fast in transition.
An intelligent offensive player, Emilis Butkus is a decent scorer from all-three levels. The 17-year-old wing does his best work on offense as a mid-range creator but he’s also a spot-up 3-point shooter. His 3-point volume is not too high but he is a floor spacer.
Butkus can create his shots in the mid-range after one dribble or two dribble or burst fake dribble. He can stay balanced even in traffic around the basket by using his upper body strength, popping well and finding mid-range looks.
I’m not a big fan of his 3-point shot due to low volume. However, for the future, he has really nice potential to be a great catch-and-shooter, in my opinion, because of his shooting mentality. Butkus knows where and how to shoot; he’s fearless and looks to shoot when he finds the ideal angle. Even when he can’t find the ideal angle, he can shoot thanks to his aggressiveness which I think is important going forward.
His shooting form looks a little bit unorthodox. His shooting pocket is high, and his release point may be too high.
I think his shot mechanism makes it hard to block for opponents. Butkus has a solid mechanic rather than fluidity. After he gets the ball, he sets up his feet and raises his arms in a very short sequence, which is good.
My biggest concern about his shooting is sometimes he uses a lot of unnecessary mid-range shots. He should use his 3-point mentality on his mid-range shots, as they are not so efficient.
His refined footwork allows him to create separation for a jumper in the paint, but also, he can maneuver up and under to finish around the basket. He is not a great rim attacker for now, but when he playing as an off the ball motion player, he runs well around the baseline, takes the ball and finishes well with contact. As an on the ball player, he is not a great rim attacker. First step, change direction ability, vertical pop and last touch (more solid than soft) are notable problems in my opinion.
As a passer and dribbler, he is not good or not bad in my opinion. Sometimes he showed that he excels at staying in control under pressure and maintaining a live dribble in isolation or pick and roll situations but he is also prone to very simple turnovers. He can make pocket passes, read-and-react passes, and kick outs but not consistently. Butkus needs work on his court vision and full-court dribbling in my opinion.
My positive takeaways about his offensive performance are his motor and aggressiveness. Butkus never backs down from fighting to plunge in for rebounds, from being effective around the rim even though he’s not on elite length.
Butkus is pesky in the passing lanes, using his strength, active hands, refined footwork and solid stance. Covering the pick-and-roll situations well thanks to his game reading ability but needs work here. He struggles in keeping up against quicker point guards and stronger forwards naturally.
Emilis Butkus’ defensive motor is not as high as on offense, but his solid frame and good instincts work for him. At the end of the day, as an on ball defender, putting his opponent under pressure and closing the angle of the shooters, I think he’s a positive. But there are some important things where he is still a negative.
Butkus is an aggressive player, however the lack of speed and strength in his lower body, and the lack of athleticism has a very negative effect on his off the ball, painted area and transition defense in my opinion.
He fights through screens but he’s not very good at passing by them. He’s not doing unnecessary help defense, not bad on rotations, and his team awareness is average, but his skill-set on defense in general, what he can do is not enough to make him a good off the ball or paint defender.
Butkus is a great positional rebounder with a quick second jump, aggressiveness and BBIQ.
Emilis Butkus is a good prospect with shooting threat, aggressiveness, and moderate defensive performance. He’s fine in size & frame. But athleticism, rim scoring, and his ceiling on the defensive end are big question marks in my mind. I think his development in these areas will determine his career.
Team: Donar Groningen
Born: 5 March 2003
Height: 6′ 2″
Best skills: Consistent spot-up three-point shooting form, transition finisher, effective on the ball and high motor defender.
Dekker was born in Groningen in the Netherlands. Some members of his family had played handball, Dekker played handball for a while when he was 5–6, but Dutch football was good in his time. He played football for a while, but when he was 8–9 years old, he completely turned to basketball.
Julian Dekker was one of the two most important players in the Netherlands, who won a silver medal in the 2019 U16 Euro Championship B. Dekker, who played well with his contribution to shooting on the offensive hand, had a good harmony with Armin Strojil, one of the stars of the tournament.
In this tournament, Dekker averaged 12.5 points, 1.5 assists, 1.5 rebounds, 2.6 turnovers and shooting 49.3% from the court and 40.6% from the 3-points line in four attempts per game. He showed his best performance in this tournament against Denmark, a semi-final game, with 19 points, four rebounds, and one assist. He also played important minutes and did a great job in the final game against Poland.
Locally, he plays for Donar Groningen, where he began his career and turned professional. He trains with the senior team sometimes but typically plays in the under-18 league. Despite playing against 17 and 18-year old kids, Dekker was the best scorer on Donar’s U18 team.
Standing 6-foot-2 shoes with a +1 wingspan and skinny 175-pound frame, Julian Dekker has a lot of important room to grow, narrow shoulders, almost no length arms, hollow chest, thin core. His lower body is by far better than his upper body in every sense. Vertical pop is excellent, not explosive but good for someone at 6-foot-2. Dekker moves quick laterally, especially on defense. Very, very fast linearly. I think the best thing about his physical tools is his combination of speed and coordination.
At the end of the day, what negatively impact Dekker’s career projection most is his lack of physical tools and athletics. He has the potential to be an above rim and traffic finisher, and his BBIQ on the defense can may make him a versatile defender, but his lack of both length and strength limits his basketball skill-set on both sides of the court.
If he can physically fill his upper body a little bit, if he can make the jump that Jalen Brunson made, I think he could find a very comfortable place in the NBA. But otherwise, he may be a player like Arnoldas Kulbolka, who is not able to jump into the NBA because of lack of good physical tools and athleticism package.
Julian Dekker’s game generally revolves around spotting up for the 3-pointer, running the floor in transition looking for easy layups/floaters, or playing one-on-one offense in space.
He’s an average finisher with solid, and quick, but hard touch. Can finish with either hand and also has quick footwork and great acceleration ability, and hip turns. Body coordination makes him a good finisher but there are some bad things.
Julian Dekker can’t finish in traffic due to a lack of ideal physical tools. He is not someone who can play and finish in tight spaces with the ball. Plus, he is not good off the ball finisher in the painted area. He is not someone who can run without the ball to under the basket from corners or wings and score after taking the ball, this is something that is never included in his offensive identity.
He can dribble the ball quickly and has BBIQ (1–2, through legs, behind, change of pace/hesitations) but he can only use this speed well in a clear area for one-on-one offense. In other words, he is not someone who can change direction and score between two defenders on the strong side of the offense. Also, he cannot use tricks like long floaters because he doesn’t have soft touch. He’s a quick leaper/finisher in the paint, but not someone who really explodes up. If Dekker can increase his ability to drive and attack the hoop strong and do it consistently, he will inevitably draw more fouls to get to the line.
Dekker’s shooting form is solid with a smooth follow through, he has an excellent quick catch and release and smart footwork. After Dekker takes the ball, he gets it out of his hand in a very short time, using the coordination in his body, the energy he receives from his hips and the fluidity in his wrists. He is not the best shooter in the 2003 class but he has one of the best shooting forms.
Despite forcing some shots in crowded paints, Julian Dekker does not take many poor shots elsewhere. He has good shooting BBIQ and mentality. If his team needs a 3-pointer, he waits mostly in the left corner, takes the ball, steps with his right foot and shoots.
Dekker is not a good mid-range and self-creation shooter. He should improve on mid-range jumpers and has room to get better as a movement shooter. As a spot-up shooter, he creates his space by taking a very quick and smooth step to his right or left to get the ball out if he is in his opponent’s block angle.
Advanced momentum ballhandler and half crafty-half classic passer. Reliable handler with quick footwork and average awareness. His handling awareness is not always high but he did show some really good flashes.
For example, while finding a layup hit in transition in possession at the 2019 FIBA U16, he saw that his opponent was running from the left-wing and he carried the ball to his right.
The biggest problem with his handling is that he can lose the ball in tight spaces or against intense defense because he is not physically strong, but this is not a big problem as he is not a primary handler, but of course, it is something that he needs to improve.
He is not an assist machine but showed some impressive flashes as a mixer and in drive-and-dish situations. If he is fully committed to the game and plays to win the match, he can make excellent creative passes. Am I buy his passing skill-set? Yes. Is he a great passer? No. Good skills but some chemistry problems. But I always buy his reliable handling and good dribbling abilities.
Julian Dekker does not have the length and size to be a good defender. He also does not have a great deal of defensive versatility but brings a huge fight and BBIQ to the floor competing and does some important things on the ball defense.
On the ball defense, Dekker’s lateral movement, excellent speed, good hand-eye coordination, ability to transfer energy from his feet and react very quickly make up his physical tools to lack of strength and elite length. He doesn’t have great steal or deflection ability in any area of defense, but he is very good at covering all angles of his opponent and doing this for 22 seconds from the full court. The high-level motor is impressive.
However, when his man going to the basket with physicality, Dekker’s on ball defense is not effective. So he struggles to defend from within two steps of the perimeter.
I’m not a fan of Dekker’s overall team play but I think he’s a little better at this on defense. He’s not someone who talks to his teammates, always makes the right rotation, and he’s never a defensive playmaker either. But he does a nice job guarding his man along the perimeter and he knows how to protect the shell, go to open man/extra pass/slide, etc. He does a good job tagging the roll and recovering to his man. However, he sometimes does unnecessary help-defense.
In pick-and-roll defense, he shows good anticipation and a degree of tenacity guarding the handler. His smooth stance and quick body reaction, lack of size and length precludes him from being switchable going forward, again.
I’m a huge fan of his transition defense. In transition, he is good at returning to his half-court as quickly as possible and closing his opponent’s angle with his hands and BBIQ, and he also knows how to make the right foul.
He does a great job closing out, his quick body and quick reactions make him a good closeout defender. Does not have great athleticism tools in terms of smoothness or popping when getting out to shooters but his coordination and motor help him here.
Dekker needs some works on off the ball defense. Despite this, he does a good job running around the screens, and his BBIQ but his physical tools limited him here. He struggles against second screen or burst fakes too much. Also, sometimes he gives reactions too late.
Julian Dekker is a reliable shooter and an excellent scorer on some possessions. At high levels, he can be a player who can give his team a good scoring option off the bench. But the limitations of his physical tools raise a big question mark in my mind. Because many of the deficiencies in his game package come from this. But it’s important to remember that he is only 17 years old and still has time to develop.
Born: 2 April 2003
Height: 6′ 5″
Best skills: Can finish around the rim, good quickness with the ball, effective one-on-one scoring.
Duje Brala was born in 2003, in Zadar, Croatia. Brala’s father played professional basketball for 25 years. Brala was impressed by his father’s work discipline and love for basketball and began playing basketball at the age of five for local teams in Croatia. Brala’s mother is a banker and his father now works at an insurance company.
After joining Zadar’s youth team, Brala received offers from some teams but did not want to leave because both his family and close friends were in Zadar. Playing in a high-tier European team in three years is his biggest goal. Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar are his all-time five players.
I learned from an assistant coach working for local teams in Croatia that Brala comes to training early and works hard on dribbling the ball and handling the ball. After training, he trains 3-point shooting until he gets at least 50 makes. The biggest factor in his level up to Zadar’s senior team was being very disciplined in every sense.
Standing 6-foot-6 with a 190-pound lanky frame that is still filling out and a 6-foot-7.5 wingspan, Duje Brala has great size for a 17 years old prospect who can play as a point guard, shooting guard and small forward.
Brala has a wide chest with good muscle mass on them that go to his core muscles and legs. Shoulders are very narrow and there is a lot of room to get stronger. His arms are good sized but needs some special programs for his biceps and triceps. Wrists are smooth when using a shot or attacking the rim. Hands are not too wide but not narrow. At the end of the day, Brala has room to grow on his shoulders and arms. But as I said, his size is really a huge plus. He has time to add muscle, just 17 years old and playing in one of the best prospect countries.
Brala’s lower body is almost great. Very fast feet, strong legs and nice mobility on his hips. Doesn’t have great hip turns but his hips help him on attacking the rim to change direction — this is his special and probably best move. There is nothing very important or extra in his lower body, except that he has to maintain his development curve.
Brala has great body coordination, good laterally and linearly, can run full court in four seconds both with the ball or without the ball, impressive first step, excellent change direction ability both on the ground and in the air. However, lack of vertical pop, some aggressive around the rim athleticism hurt him.
Duje Brala is not an explosive, dazzling athlete, nor does he have the fluidity that a perfect slasher should have, but he has the BBIQ of the classic Yugoslavian players, excellent change direction ability, speed, coordination, and body rigidity. He should be a little explosive and aggressive playing at higher levels. Brala also looks very unbalanced when falling to the ground after rising. As he falls to the ground after each rim attack throughout the season, I thought, “He must have been injured.”
Duje Brala is a great attacker to the rim, can finish around the basket with some tricks, has a crafty Euro step, deceptive ballhandling to create his pull up from mid-range. Duje Brala is not a good shooter yet, but solid mechanics present the possibility of improvement behind the 3-point line as a catch-and-shooter and around mid-range as a shot creator with one/two dribble jumper.
Brala does his best job on the offensive end with attack the rim. Secondary right-handed and deceptive ballhandler read well his opponent’s defensive line after takes the ball. He chooses the area he will react to well and uses his impressive change direction ability to go around the rim.
As he goes around rim, he usually ends positions with regular layups — can finish with both hands, knows how to use the glass to increase ball momentum. He doesn’t yet have top-of-the-line finishing skills like sneak, and bump and fade, but he usually lifts his right knee with perfect timing and momentum, coordinates his body well, maintains aggressiveness, and does nice goofy foot outside/inside hand finishing.
Despite not having the perfect athleticism package, he can change direction in the air and go to the basket. Also, he’s very fast.
My concern about his finishing that Brala sometimes forces these possessions. Because he trusts himself so much, he is trying to physically fight against defenders who are great rim protectors, shot blockers or smart defenders, but he usually cannot score in these spots. I think he has to be smarter in these positions.
In off the ball motions, Brala’s arsenal is excellent. He usually waits on corners and after takes the ball, he uses his burst, great linear movement, goes to the basket and finishes possession with baseline backboard tap style. Also, he is a great transition runner to make something on the offensive end as an off the ball player — also as I said, he can finish himself in these situations.
I would like to see him more active when he is not a clear duty man in off the ball motions. If Brala doesn’t take the ball in offensive action, he’s not someone who can use screens to create spacing for his teammates and change geometry from weak-side to strong-side. I think he should improve in this regard.
Shooting is the most complicated thing on his offensive arsenal in my opinion. He showed some good flashes as a catch-and-shooter behind the 3-point line and as a shot-creator around the mid-range but he’s not consistent.
His shooting form looks solid but lack of strength and narrow shoulders hurt him here. Nice vision, good timing, good handle the ball but his last kick in the air, release and shot pocket create problems. His pocket is inconsistent: Sometimes too high, sometimes too low. He has a lot of room on his shooting but if he can hit 35% on 3.3 3PA, his career projection will change seriously.
Brala does not have elite BBIQ, pass the ball repertoire and pick-and-roll scoring. Brala is not someone who can create crafty, unexpected things on the offensive end with his handling, dribbling, or passing skill-set. He is not someone who can create great opportunities for others. He can’t score or make assists in pick-and-roll situations. After taking the ball on top of the key, he goes to the three-four steps behind the 3-points line, reads the game and reacts well.
Brala is a deceptive ballhandler who can create a shield around the ball. He usually does not turn it over while attacking, but he does a lot of turnovers when he forces positions, in half-court passes, passes from the corner to the top of the key, and against hard double teams.
Duje Brala was one of the players in both NJT and Zadar standing wing side on 2–3 zone defense many times. In the 2020–2021 season, he has been fully involved in man-to-man defense in both games he has played so far.
As a team defender, Brala’s motor works — has not a high-level motor but enough to find a good place in team harmony. He has a good BBIQ positionally, knows how to protect his team’s defensive shell, and rotates correctly. Brala covers a ton of ground, shows good quickness sliding on the perimeter, and regularly picks the pocket against ballhandlers.
My concern about his team defense ability is actually about off the ball defense. I mean, when Brala is off the ball, he sometimes watches the ball a lot, gives a natural reaction, but in the meantime, he creates a very clear spacing for his own man. I think he should increase his awareness a little more.
Coming with a lot of deflections around the baseline, perimeter and in transition situations, Duje Brala is a good perimeter and on the ball defender with great intensely.
When he defends his man on top of the key, Brala‘s one foot is inside the 3-points line and his other foot is outside the 3-points line. If his man dribbles, Brala can combine his feet with his hip turns and close his man’s angle. But interestingly, he can’t do this in wings and corners.
Brala’s quick footwork, good lateral and linear movements, almost excellent body coordination on the ground and nice eye-hand coordination allow him a ton of steals. Also, his game instincts help him here.
Not a great shot blocker or something but Brala showed nice awareness knowing when to rotate into the paint. On the ball rim protection, DB can be pushed off his spots as well, even if he beats his man to the spot. I don’t think he can be a good rim protector (as I said, he is a good perimeter and intense on the ball defender) or something, but this is not necessary.
Not a good pick-and-roll defender. He has the quickness to get over the top but can get lazy sometimes and he is not someone who can run around the screens well due to lack of elite strength and some self-confidence problems…
Brala is not good but not bad on closeouts. He does a nice job getting out to shooters with keeping his hand up, running to shooters (good timing here) and using great body coordination. However, sometimes he is not someone who can do “wild, aggressive, consistency” closeouts.
On the rebound side, all good things… Duje Brala’s rebound skill-set is excellent. He makes up for his lack of elite strength and vertical pop with great feel for the game, timing, and grabbing handle. All good words both on the offensive end and on the defensive end for his rebound skill-set.
Duje Brala has a great one-on-one weapon on the offensive end. He can create his 2-points situations with multiple styles. On the defensive end, his peskiness on ISOs and good sliding ability around the perimeter are important. Also, he is a great rebounder. The team environment in Zadar is a good plus for him to improve. Playing with the new great generation in Croatia is also a good plus. However, his lack of strength, mental problems, going to very high levels in a very short time (will he continue to be open to improvement?), Almost nothing in the pass the ball skill-set, and some consistency problems on the defense create question marks in my mind.