Filip Petrušev was born on April 15th, 2000 in Belgrade, Serbia. He started playing basketball for Crvena Zvezda and then Partizan, in his home country. Petrušev ended up signing for Laboral Kutxa, in Spain, as a 16-year old. In 2016, he left for the US to play high school basketball with Avon Old Farms in Avon, Connecticut, before playing his senior season at Montverde Academy in Florida. He committed to Gonzaga to play in the NCAA where he spent two seasons before returning to Serbia to play for Mega Soccerbet this season. Petrušev was also a big part of Serbian national teams in FIBA tournaments, featuring in European tournaments from 2015 to 2018 and the under-19 World Cup in 2019. He was part of the 1st place Serbia roster at the under-18 European championship in both 2017 and 2018, being named for the All-Tournament team in 2018, when he finished with 21.0 points per game on 60.9% FG, 8.7 rebounds per game, and 3.1 assists per game.
In Petrušev’s first seasons at Gonzaga, he finished with 6.5 points and 2.7 rebounds on 11.4 minutes per game. His numbers increased drastically in his second season, where he assumed the starting job for the Bulldogs. He had 17.5 points on 56.2% FG and 7.9 rebounds in 25.9 minutes per game. In spite of that, he decided that the best path to get to the NBA and get exposure was to go to Serbia and Mega, a decision also influenced by COVID-19 and the uncertainty of the college season. At Mega, Petrušev recorded 22.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks on 31.1 minutes per game. He ended up being nominated for the ABA League MVP, Top Prospect, and Top Scorer.
Listed at 6’11”, Petrušev has ideal size for a mobile center or a 4 in taller lineups. He has been adding muscle and working on his frame and, although the difference is noticeable, it should be said that he still struggles against size and strength and that will happen in the NBA as well. He tries to avoid contact when driving to the rim, trying to finish around defenders instead of absorbing the blow. His mobility and body control allows him to stay efficient in these kinds of plays. On defense, his feet are not that quick and he will be targeted by quick guards on switches. Petrušev can stay in front of most wings and exterior forwards/centers and actually offer resistance on their attempts to get to the rim. He is also a quick leaper and has a good enough second jump to be able to put back his own misses.
Petrušev has the ability to put the ball on the floor and attack slower defenders, using his improved shooting prowess (we’ll get there) to fake defenders and get to the rim. He goes right the majority of the time and is much more comfortable with his right, rarely choosing to go the other way. He has some dribble moves he can get to, but only uses his driving ability and isolations in spaced situations, when he has a clear speed advantage over his man.
As I noted before, Petrušev doesn’t really like contact and will try to avoid it on drives, preferring to go around shot blockers and use his touch at the basket to finish. He makes use of his gravity as a shooter to pull his defender to him, attack the closeout and finish before the defender has the chance to catch him. That is also why his speed advantage is key for his success in this kind of play.
Petrušev can operate from the low post and likes to do so although, again, he struggles against size and strength. With his back to the basket, he doesn’t have a big arsenal of moves, choosing to go to the middle and try to shoot a hook above defenders, using his finishing touch. Unable to move bigger players, he has to use his quicker feet and finish over them, but Petrušev tries to use his force most of the time. He also rarely tries to use the baseline to his advantage and spin that way, almost showing the defender his intention as soon as he catches the ball.
He has been working on facing up and shooting when defenders are expecting him to play with his back to the basket. This way, he uses his improved shooting touch and doesn’t have to rely on strength. Also, as that shot becomes more comfortable for him, defenders will have to tighten up on him and he will be able to get past them off the dribble.
Petrušev does a great job on pick and rolls, setting good screens, and knowing the correct timing to roll to the basket. He doesn’t force the issue, instead reading how the defense positions and attacking the open space. Wins his position really well and offers great passing options. According to InStat, Petrušev is 42/61 (69%) at the rim after pick and rolls this season, which proves his ability to consistently deliver in those situations.
Petrušev has been improving his assist numbers and, although that’s not his game and not what he will be looking for, he can pass the ball accurately in many different situations. Petrušev uses his low post play and ability to draw double teams to be able to hit cutters off the ball, with pinpoint passes for easy buckets. He also has the ability to hit shooters or cutters off short rolls, when the defense closes in on him and is able to pull defenders into him on drives and facilitate to perimeter players next to him.
There’s still a lot of work for Petrušev to do in this regard nonetheless. He will look to pass only as a last resort and can’t really make cross-court passes with enough accuracy to be considered a threat yet. But there is hope and room for improvement considering his intelligence, his progress as a passer over the years, and how he already hits teammates.
Filip Petrušev has become an absolute threat on the pick and pop, a skill that will make his value rise as the NBA draft approaches. He is shooting 45.1% from 3 this season on 2.83 attempts per game. He’s also at 41% from the top of the key, the place he shoots the most by far. That’s pretty impressive growth, considering he didn’t even reach one attempt per game at Gonzaga and finished his last season there at 30% from 3. His shot looks comfortable, he gets into his motion quickly and stays balanced, releasing at the highest point. He doesn’t get a ton of lift and that reduces his attempts when heavily contested, but the chances of hitting when left alone or with space are promising.
Another important part of Petrušev’s game, especially if he’s asked to play with an interior presence alongside him, is his ability to play off the ball and make shots. Although it’s on fewer shots and a lower percentage than pick and pop situations, Petrušev can be a good spot-up shooter. All his shots from the corner come from spotting up and he has made most of them even if it’s in a really small sample. He is really good at relocating to find the best place to shoot and give the best possible passing lane to his teammate, spacing the floor, and finding open spots.
There’s a lot to like about Petrušev’s rebounding. He was the second best rebounder in ABA Liga this year, behind only his teammate Marko Simonović. On the defensive end, he does his work early, finding his man and boxing out, and using his lower body strength to hold off opponents. After securing the rebound, Filip tries to initiate the offense quickly, sometimes even pushing the ball up the court.
What’s more impressive is his offensive rebounding ability. He controls where and when the ball will fall, being able to grab rebounds in traffic and against taller players. His quick second jump also allows him to go after his own miss and put the ball back in before the defense can react. His 1.9 offensive rebounds per game this season are a good testament to his work on the glass.
Filip Petrušev is an improving rim protector. He can rotate off the ball and contest shots, using his height and wingspan to make it tougher for opponents at the rim, going upwards and rarely into the shooter. That has been a big focal point of growth for him since his Gonzaga days. He’s able to either come off the help side or stay in front of the attacker and protect the rim, altering shots, and using his physical profile in his favor.
His numbers went up this season, at 1.1 blocks per game, third in the league. He became a lot better at moving his feet and containing or following drives, staying in front of his man, and denying shots. Petrušev’s ability to become a primary rim protector and repel shots at the rim will be extremely important for his success at the NBA level and he has done a tremendous job of consistently improving that facet of his game.
Pick and Roll Defense
One of the biggest flaws in Petrušev’s play and one thing that could affect his game at the NBA is pick and roll defense. He was used mostly in a drop scheme at Mega, where he struggled containing ball handlers and returning to his man. Getting lost in the middle of both and having to give too much space to quicker guards will not cut it in the NBA. He will also need to be quicker to return to his man as NBA interior players are much quicker to get to the rim and smarter at taking advantage of your unbalanced stance recovering to them.
Low Post Defense
Petrušev’s lower body strength and ability to stay balanced is on display when he is down on the low post defending bigger centers. He can take on contact and stay in front of his man given that same lower body strength and keeping bodies away from finishing at the rim. Creating problems early and being able to make attackers receive the ball farther away from the basket, Petrušev has already done most of his work before they even get the ball in their hands. Then, his height, wingspan, and low center of gravity do the rest.
Taking into account Filip Petrušev’s consistent growth and also the number of games played in the United States, at high school or college, it’s hard not to envision Petrušev as an NBA player. He is ready for it, he should be drafted and he can contribute right away for a lot of teams. Petrušev’s shooting is the difference-maker for him right now. His numbers are incredible, he shoots with confidence and has become a clear threat from outside. Something that no one could say when he left Gonzaga. He has the physical tools to play the 4 or 5 and can be paired up with different kinds of players. His all-around offensive game allows that.
Sure, there are a lot of questions and some edges to be sharpened. At least in his first years, he will be targeted by guards on pick and rolls and will have to develop his upper body to be able to withstand and even invite contact when finishing at the rim. There is considerable growth in both his passing and rim protection but those are still areas that he needs to improve. He can only make the easiest passes, mainly from a stationary position, and his frame doesn’t allow him to be the most respectable shot blocker/rim protector.
All things said and done, there is no doubt in my mind that Filip Petrušev will become an NBA player and one with a great future. It’s not for everyone to come into the ABA League and win MVP and best scorer as a newcomer. At 21, Petrušev is an incredible prospect that should make his way and stay in the association. His body is perfect for the modern NBA and so is his skill set.