Notes from U16 Baltic Cup

Frederiks Meinarts #23 and Kajus Kublickas #8 - by Linas Zemuglis

Frederiks Meinarts #23 and Kajus Kublickas #8 – by Linas Zemuglis

The Huawei U16 Baltic Cup was one of the first post-pandemic international youth tournaments in the world. In a summer where FIBA tournaments were cancelled, this was the perfect opportunity to watch some of the best talent in the Baltic region. Despite not having some of the top talent in the 2004 class in attendance (mainly Lithuanian forward Paulius Murauskas and Estonian standout Henri Veesar), there was definitely some players who could develop into high-level professional/NCAA Division I talent given their performance at the tournament. Here’s a rundown on some of the best prospects in attendance.

Frederiks Meinarts

Latvia | Team: DSN Riga (Latvia) | DOB: 10/03/2004 | Height: 6’11”
Projected Roles: Rim Protector, Spot-Up Shooter
  • Really good size and length at 6’11” with long arms which he uses to finish at the rim and contest shots. Has long legs that allow him to sprint the floor with good speed and eat a ton of space within a few strides.
  • A factor as a rim protector given his size and length. Shows an impressive activity level, looking to contest every shot in his general vicinity. Can act as a help side rim protector, as he’s able to rotate and contest shots in time. 3.7 blocks per 36 minutes in the tournament. Positive block/foul ratio.
  • Not super coordinated yet in terms of defensive footwork in the perimeter, but not shy about going out to the perimeter and containing on switches. Has some drive-coverage equity, as he’s able to turn his hips, stay in front of drivers and contest shots at the rim with effectiveness relative to his size.
  • Shows stretch-big potential. Assertive as a shooter for his age, doesn’t waste any time overthinking his jumpers, which makes him quick to get into his motion. Could improve a few things mechanically (low release from his chest area, legs too close together which can affect balance, over-aggressiveness in his wrist flick which causes long/short misses), but the touch is definitely there.
  • Skinny frame with narrow shoulders. Will definitely need to work on his strength before getting to the next level.
  • Has the fluidity to make drives in mid-distances and should be a factor as an interior catch-and-finish scorer given his size and length, but is bound to struggle to get to where he wants on the floor, to create space and to keep his balance against physicality on the interior. Shot just 33.3% from the restricted area in the tournament.

Overall: Meinarts was clearly the best long-term prospect in attendance considering his combination of size, defensive production, shooting potential and flashes of ball-handling. Continuing to improve on his strength and becoming more consistent as a shooter will be the keys for his projection to the next level, but it’s a safe bet to think that he’ll be able to add value to professional or NCAA Division I teams two or three years down the line.

Rokas Jocys

Lithuania | Team: Stella Azzurra (Italy) | DOB: 03/30/2004 | Height: 6’5″
Projected Roles: Drive Initiator, Secondary Handler, Versatile Off-Ball Shooter
  • Good size for a wing with secondary handling potential at 6’5″ with a strong frame for his age, which allows him to play through contact as a driver and finisher at the rim.
  • Able to initiate drives with a solid – though not elite first step and really good body control that allows him to get through tight spaces. Able to create separation on the drive out of sheer physicality, really good at putting a body on his defender to create space at the rim. Gets downhill with more speed than power, tends to slow down on his final steps, relying more on his ability to withstand contact than on his momentum.
  • Versatile shooter who can convert jumpers against heavy defensive pressure. Effective at shooting off the dribble when given space, able to make defenders pay for going under screens either when he’s acts as the handler, or when he gets a dribble hand-off from the screener. Shows flashes of shotmaking vs contact from inside the arc.
  • Creative passer on the move who is able to find teammates off the live dribble. Able to create advantages, attract help defenders and generate open shots for teammates.
  • Good at using his size to create defensive events and generate extra possessions for his team: 4.6 steals per 36 minutes at the tournament. Could improve as a one-on-one defender, has a tendency to be upright in his stance and can get blown by with simple changes of speeds.

Overall: Jocys was the top wing prospect at the tournament, as he was able to use his positional size and developed frame to bully opposing defenders on drives and finish at the rim at a good rate, while also showing flashes of shooting off-movement and creating for teammates on the move. His low shooting percentage (18.2% from three-point range) and high turnover rate (5.7 per 36 minutes) put into question his efficiency if he’s asked to step into a high-usage role right away, but the foundational skillset for a secondary handler and self-creator at the wing position is definitely there for Jocys. Being more engaged as an on-ball defender would also benefit him, giving him yet another weapon to add value to teams at the next level.

Davis Davids Ozers

Latvia | Team: Movistar Estudiantes (Spain) | DOB: 03/28/2004 | Height: 6’4″
Projected Roles: Drive Creator, Gravity Passer, Spot-Up Shooter
  • Good physical profile for a wing at his age, standing at 6’4″ with a strong frame which allows him to play through contact on both ends of the floor.
  • Aggressive slasher. Constantly looking to attack the basket and initiate contact on the drive. Really good body control to navigate tight spaces with the ball in his hands. Shows touch as a finisher at the rim against contact and in awkward angles. Assertive to attack mismatches. Knows how to get to the free throw line: 10.3 FTA per 36 minutes on a 0.667 free-throw attempt rate during the tournament.
  • Gravity playmaker, able to find open teammates on his way to the rim. Creates advantages with his combination of strength and body control on the move which makes him a hard cover for opposing defenders. Creates open shots for teammates after defenders collapse on him. 4.6 assists to just 1.1 turnover per 36 minutes during the tournament.
  • Shows some early potential as a spot-up shooter. Two-motion release, good balance and good alignment relative to the rim. 33.3% from three-point range and 77.8% from the free-throw line. Only 3.4 three-point attempts per 36 minutes, should increase volume as a shooter.
  • Not extremely quick or explosive. His first step is solid but not elite. He’s more fluid than quick with the ball in his hands and doesn’t gain much momentum going to the rim, even slowing down in his final one or two steps. Relies more on physicality and touch than on elevation and extension to finish at the rim.

Overall: Ozers shows the foundational skillset of an off-ball wing, as he has the requisite positional size and projects to be a positive as a driver, passer on the move and as an off-ball floor spacer. Given his lack of elite quickness and explosiveness, the next step for his development will be to find his optimal defensive matchup, but given his developed physical frame, he could potentially play bigger than his size and defend slower off-ball guards and wings in the perimeter.

Kajus Kublickas

Lithuania | Team: Zalgiris (Lithuania) | DOB: 09/02/2004 | Height: 6’0″
Projected Roles: All-Around Initiator, Spot-Up Shooter, Advantage Driver
  • Tremendously creative passer who shows extensive knowledge of bounces and passing angles. Excellent pick-and-roll operator who is able to take advantage of defensive miscues and find the roll-man in a number of ways. Shows flair and deceptiveness as a passer, can find teammates through traffic and awkward angles. Routinely delivers no-look passes.
  • Poised and in control as a ball-handler, shows the body control and handling skills to dribble his way out of double teams and tight spaces. Can attract the attention of the defense with his handles and create open shots for teammates out of the advantages he generates.
  • Drive initiator who shows really good change of speeds to beat his man on the perimeter. Shows excellent body control to navigate through tight spaces and split the defense when trapped high in the perimeter. Has really good bend which allows him to quickly turn the corner. Good speed with the ball in his hands, gains a ton of momentum going to the rim, especially with his final two steps. Shows good hangtime to finish at the rim, compensating to some degree for his lack of elite size.
  • 33.3% from three; a good percentage given his age but on a low attempt rate – 3.1 3PA per 36 minutes. 0.222 three-point attempt rate through the tournament. His offense seems to be based on passing and slashing, will need to make the shot a part of his arsenal at some point, considering the limitations his size will bring at the next level.
  • Listed at 6’0″ but looks even smaller. Unable to create any sort of space on the drive out of physicality, bounces off of opponents. How much he will be able to grow is a key for his projection to the next level.
  • Inefficient on offense even considering his age: 25.9 FG% and 7.7 TOVs per 36 minutes.

Overall: Kublickas was one of the most creative and flashy players with the ball in his hands at the tournament, as he was able to show his versatility as a passer and his ability to get to the rim. Getting stronger physically is a must for Kublickas, as some of his offensive struggles, like his low shooting percentages inside the arc and his high turnover rate, can be attributed to his inability to keep his balance against contact, which makes him prone to turnovers and missed shots at the rim.

Laurynas Klimas

Lithuania | Team: Zalgiris (Lithuania) | DOB: 01/27/2004 | Height: 6’0″
Projected Roles: All-Around Initiator, Advantage Driver
  • Creative ball-handler and passer. Able to withstand defensive pressure and dribble his way out of tight spaces, which allows him to play with poise in traffic, attract the attention of the defense and create open shots for teammates. Shows ambidexterity as a passer which helps him find teammates on the move both to his left and to his right. Executes pick-and-roll plays well, taking advantage of double teams and hitting the roll man with timing and accuracy. 6.7 assists per 36 minutes on 1.6 A:TO Ratio during the tournament.
  • Shows flashes of shot-making ability inside the arc, he’s able to create space for his pull-up jumpers with crossovers and stepbacks. Elevates well into his shot, which allows him to get his shot off against smaller defenders.
  • Will need to extend his range to three-point range: 0-for-9 from beyond the arc in the tournament and 62.5% from the free-throw line.
  • Shot 27.2% from the restricted area on the tournament. Despite his excellent body control which allows him to get to the basket after navigating tight spaces, and his flashes of finishing at the rim in off-balance situations he will need to develop as a finisher at the rim given his size limitations. Mostly relies on his touch off balance and would really benefit from adding floaters and runners to his arsenal.

Overall: Klimas’ uncanny ability to create open shots for teammates and his creativity as a ball-handler will always make him an interesting prospect to watch, but despite the highlight-worthy flashes, he will need to develop his scoring arsenal to a point where he can become at least and average spot-up shooter and drive finisher. Otherwise it’s hard to project his fit at the next level if the only area he excels at is the passing.

Karl Poom

Estonia | DOB: 07/09/2004 | Height: 6’6″
Projected Roles: Advantage Driver, Forward Defender, Spot-Up Shooter
  • Shows defensive potential to defend frontcourt positions. Was asked to defend the post often given his team’s lack of size. Able to contain penetration to some degree, especially from 3s/4s. Able to switch on some occasions, but not suited to defend backcourt positions full time, lateral mobility is limited and can get blown by when defending guards. 11.5 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 0.4 blocks per 36 minutes.
  • Fluid with the ball in his hands for his size. Able to leverage his size to create space against smaller defenders. Not tremendously quick but moves with good speed with the ball against pressure. Not explosive at the rim but crafty, knows how to find the open space and how to use fakes to create space for himself.
  • Slow two-motion shooting mechanics, but generally consistent and reliably off the catch. Shows touch and can’t be left open. Shows flashes of self-creation from inside the three point line; slow but fundamentally sound footwork to create space and shoot off the dribble out of dribble moves.

Overall: Poom was the best player in an Estonian team that lacked size and overall talent, which forced Poom to play 4s & 5s as his primary defensive matchups. Poom showed an interesting combination of size, defensive flashes, ball-handling ability and shooting potential. Poom’s projection to the next level will be dependent on him growing into the size of a pro-level 4/5 to fully take advantage of his size against smaller defenders on the drive, and his development as a shooter.

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