Yannick Nzosa – by Isaac Ferrera at ANGT Valencia
In one of the final ACB preseason games, the matchup between Herbalife Gran Canaria and Unicaja Malaga gave us the unique opportunity to watch a match up of the two top international players in a generation, as Jean Montero and Yannick Nzosa are number 1 and 2 respectively in the 2003 class. Despite neither of them getting much playing time in this contest, it was one of the first times we were able to watch them playing against high-caliber pro competition. These are our takeaways from their minutes of play in this game.
Dominican Republic | Team: Gran Canaria (Spain) | DOB: 07/03/2003 | Height: 6’2″
(Yellow Jersey #3)
Montero was the prospect who generated the most anticipation coming into the final preseason game for Gran Canaria, as he didn’t play in any of the previous preseason contests for the team. Montero got only 8:25 minutes of playing time in which he showed some glimpses of why he’s considered as the top international prospect in the class of 2003.
Offensively, Montero had few opportunities to self-create, but he was able to get to the free-throw line out of an isolation drive, where he was able to create space against his opponent with a slight in-and-out dribble before getting downhill and getting fouled.
Defensively, Montero showed his peskiness as an on-ball defender. He was able to navigate screens with ease as a pick-and-roll defender and pressure opponents full-court, being a pest against opposing ball-handlers.
Montero’s activity on the defensive end at times got the best of him. At times he helped unnecessarily on the ball-handler which created open shots for his defensive assignments. On the ball, at times he took bad angles out of ill-advised digs at the ball which left him vulnerable when attacked off the dribble.
Overall, it was a good first minutes against ACB type of competition for Montero, who was able to replicate the ability to create drives and be a positive on-ball defender that he showed at the junior levels. If he finally gets the opportunity to play at the ACB, it will be interesting to see how he manages to improve as an off-ball defender and if he can also translate his ability to create and convert pull-up jumpers from the perimeter.
DR Congo | Team: Unicaja Malaga (Spain) | DOB: 11/15/2003 | Height: 6’11”
(Green Jersey #33)
Defense is the area where Nzosa is expected to bring more value right away and he showed it in a couple of plays during this game. Nzosa was active on the defensive end both at his natural role of rim protector, but also on the perimeter, where he shows the ability to contain ball-handlers and the opportunism to get in passing lanes and come up with extra possessions for his team.
The other big play in the game was a chasedown block in which he was called for a foul, but it’s easy to see how gifted Nzosa is in terms of open-court speed, length and one-foot leaping ability. These type of plays are a regular occurrence every time Nzosa is on the floor, as he’s an engaged defender who is not afraid to attempt to make plays outside of his comfort zone and takes pride on the defensive end of the floor.
Offensively, Nzosa was limited to screen-and-roll actions, where he showed good timing to slip the screen, putting his defender in jail. At his size he’ll demand double teams from defenders at the ACB level coming out of the pick-and-roll, it will be interesting how he’s able to exploit these advantages he will be able to create.
Overall, Nzosa had the best game of all the prospects who got minutes in this game. He looks ready to play right now for Unicaja at the ACB level, as his rare combination of physical tools and his engagement on the defensive end will probably make him an immediate contributor for a professional team.
Montenegro | Team: Gran Canaria (Spain) | DOB: 09/11/2001 | Height: 6’6″
(Yellow Jersey #12)
Kljajic didn’t have many opportunities on the ball, but he did show his slashing ability by attacking a closeout and getting to the free-throw line. Kljajic uses his combination of size, and handling ability to get downhill with power and force opponents to foul him on his way to the rim.
Defensive is where Kljajic made his biggest contributions in the few minutes he had. Kljajic’s best trait has always been his strength which allows him to play bigger than his 6’6″ size. He’s not afraid to hit screens and can switch on to players on the post, like in this case where he effectively holds his position, forces a miss contesting from a standstill and boxes out the rebound.
In this case, he switches from point-of-attack to roll-man defense, who then he is able to wrestle away from the board.
Out on the perimeter, Kljajic has shown some improvement as of late, as he was close to a defensive liability when defending point-of-attack. Kljajic is more mobile laterally now and knows how to use his size against smaller defenders at the point of attack, which allows him to pressure opponents high and disrupt offensive rhythm.
He did get blown by on one opportunity in the perimeter when he took an ill-advised dig at the ball, ending up in a bad angle. It’s clear that Kljajic lacks an elite degree of quick-twitch athleticism to react to opposing ball-handlers in the perimeter, which will make him rely on his defensive discipline in order to survive at the next level.
Overall, Kljajic had a good game in the limited minutes he saw on the floor. He seems to have made a much necessary improvement on the defensive end and it will be interesting to see how he keeps up in that end of the floor and how much he has improved as a shooter – the other area of concern given his inconsistency in previous years.