Intriguing Long-Term Bets of the 2002-Class: Igor Milicic & Guilherme Carvalho dos Santos

(Igor Milicic by Steffen Eirich/AdidasNGT)

During the winter holidays, I went on the Talkin’ The Game Podcast to discuss the international prospects for the 2021 NBA Draft. We focused on 2002-born players and discussed all the well-known players, potential first rounders such as Usman Garuba, Roko Prkačin, Josh Giddey, Ariel Hukporti and Mojave King as well as many more. Towards the end of the recording, I threw two names into the discussion, which haven’t been mentioned often in NBA talks, but, in my opinion, have a chance at making the NBA if they hit a high-end outcome. I wouldn’t bet on either making it, but they should definitely be on the radar of NBA teams as intriguing long-term prospects …

Igor Milicic

Team: Orange Academy / Ratiopharm Ulm (Germany) – Height: 2,04 m / 6’8” – Birth Date: August 27, 2002 – Nationality: Poland

Season Stats (German ProB (13 Games)): 13.3 PTS, 5.5 REB (1.6 OFF), 2.2 AST, 0.7 STL, 0.5 BLK, 2 TOV, 46.6% FG, 30.8% 3FG, 67.4% FT in 24 MIN

Skills of Interest: Size, Length and Agility, Shooting + Closeout Attacking, Defensive Upside

It’s not hard to see why Milicic could become an intriguing fit for the modern NBA. Standing at 6’8”, he shows the agility and shooting ability of a guard. While neither his three-point nor his free-throw percentages are outstanding, he attempts five threes a game and shows comfort with various types of shots: pull-ups from three or the midrange, off-screen shooting, and catch-and-shoots against hard closeouts. His shooting mechanics are unusual: he shoots a two-motion shot with a very short second motion and therefore a high release, but they seem to work for him and help him get his shots off under pressure.

He complements the shot with the ability to put the ball on the floor and score/make decisions on drives, though he has room for improvement in both departments. Listed at 84 kg/185 lbs, he currently lacks the strength to create space on his drives, even though he’s explosive enough to get into good positions initially. Milicic does, however, have a good frame, so there’s hope that he can make significant physical improvements in the upcoming years. He’s also able to make all the basic reads (drive-and-kick, drive-and-dish) on the move, but he shows flashes of quite advanced live-dribble passes with his right, so he would be even more interesting if the level of his reads could catch up to the impressive passing skill he displays from time to time. He’ll never initiate a large chunk of an offense, but being able to put the ball on the floor and punish hard closeouts is tremendously important for a shooter.

Bulking up would also help him defensively, where he currently lacks the physicality to play in the German BBL. Nevertheless, the flashes he shows on that end are intriguing. At the POA, he shows at least passable lateral quickness and complements this with good length (which he also uses to contribute on the offensive glass, where he grabs over 1.5 boards a game despite exclusively playing on the perimeter), which has proven hard for opponents to score over. As a team defender, he’s almost always in the right place at the right time and has even been able to make an impact as a weakside rim protector, despite not being an elite vertical presence.

It’s clear that Milicic has a lot of work to put in before he can be considered a legitimate NBA candidate, but the skill level, the feel for the game as well as some of the physical tools make him a long-term option. In my opinion, he’s in a good developmental spot at Orange Academy, and it’ll be interesting to track how much he can improve in the upcoming years.

Guilherme Carvalho dos Santos

Team: Minas (Brazil) – Height: 1,98 m / 6’6” – Birth Date: June 22, 2002 – Nationality: Brazil

Season Stats (Brazilian NBB (15 Games)): 7.7 PTS, 5.8 REB (1.1 OFF), 1.3 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.8 BLK, 1.7 TOV, 45.9% FG, 34.5% 3FG, 65.1% FT in 20.3 MIN

Skills of Interest: Size and Overall Athleticism, Floor Spacing Potential, Slashing (Finishing + Drive-and-Kick), Defensive Upside

In the NBA, the demand for forward-sized players with ball-skills and defensive versatility is high, but the supply is very limited. Gui Santos isn’t that type of player yet, but he’s shown enough flashes during the NBB season as well as in his games for the Brazilian national team for me to believe in his potential.

At 6’6”, he displays above average vertical and straight-line athleticism. Combined with the occasional shifty handling move (crossover, quick jab and then explosion), he regularly creates advantages. After the first steps, he has various direction changing moves in his arsenal, which he uses to lose defenders on the move. At the basket, he’s an athletic finisher, who can convert acrobatic layups as well as finish through contact. He complements the finishing ability with consistently good, though basic, reads on his drives. He’s always aware of his surroundings and readily punishes help defense, which makes him all the more versatile and dangerous once he gets downhill.

The key for his offensive game will be the three-point shot as he’ll need to space the floor for his teammates and keep defenses honest, so he can get to the rim frequently. For now, he’s a low-volume three-point shooter (10-29 in fifteen NBB games this season), but the percentages as well as the mechanics are encouraging. If he can ramp up his volume while maintaining efficiency, he would become even more intriguing as an NBA prospect.

Defensively, his production is still inconsistent, but the flashes are intriguing. At the point of attack, he displays decent lateral quickness and hip flexibility as well as enough strength to not get exploited by physical offensive players, which allows him to defend many forwards. Furthermore, he shows promising signs as a helpside rim protector with his size, length and vertical pop and helps his teams on the boards on both ends of the floor. He still has mistakes to iron out and he needs to improve his screen defense, but the upside looks to be there for sure.

Carvalho dos Santos is at an interesting spot. He’s playing regular rotation minutes for one of the better teams in Brazil as well as the national team, so he currently seems to be in a good developmental situation. If he develops optimally, he will become too good for the Brazilian league in a few years and possibly move on to a EuroLeague or even an NBA team. The potential is there, but it’ll require a lot of hard work and dedication to reach the highest level.

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