Prospect Discovery #1: North Macedonian First League

This is the first edition of Prospect Discovery. The intention of this series is to have a corner on this website where we can provide our first impressions as we come across players that we either haven’t watched before or that we have just a surface level of knowledge about.

The “discovery” in the title refers more to the initial stage of coming across a standout prospect while watching game film and less to actually being the ones who “discover” the prospects: after all, players are competing at a certain level because they’ve been watched and, yes, already “discovered” by a number of Coaches, Agents, Team Directors/GMs and other decision-makers in organized basketball.

Andrej Mitrevski

Team: TFT Skopje | DOB: 09/17/2003 | Height: 6’3″

Mitrevski has been on the radar for a few years already. In 2019 he was clearly the best player in the North Macedonia U16 squad at the FIBA European Championships where he finished as the tournament’s second-best scorer, putting up 19 points per game, along with 3.6 rebounds and 3.1 assists.

Eighteen months later, and Mitrevski is a key piece for a TFT Skopje team that is second in the North Macedonian League with a 10-3 record. Mitrevski is making his mark as a scorer, with 9 points in 23 minutes per game while shooting 35% from three. More impressive, however is the fact that a good portion of those points are self-created.

Mitrevski doesn’t exactly have the quickest first step, nor the most explosive/shifty ball-handling ability, but he’s effective at exploiting mismatches to get to the rim, and once he’s there, he’s able to convert tough shots that require an advanced level of both touch and hangtime.

When his primary defender gives him space off a screen, Mitrevski is able to make the defense pay by shooting off the dribble. Again, there’s a clear limitation in terms of explosive ball-handling, which leads me to think that there are certain types of shots that are outside of his comfort zone at this stage, namely those that require an advanced ability to create separation off the bounce (e.g. step-backs)

Defensively, despite not being extremely athletic laterally, Mitrevski is able to stay in front of most guards and plays with effort on that side of the floor, generally attempting plays outside of his comfort zone. His best trait on the defensive side of the ball might be his timing, as he’s opportunistic to take digs at the ball and to come up with deflections and steals in the passing lanes, generating extra possessions for his team.

The key for Mitrevski will be improving in terms of shiftiness, explosiveness, and short-area quickness, three aspects that aren’t especially easy to improve. But even if he doesn’t develop further in those areas, the fact that he’s contributing to winning basketball at 17 years old, while maintaining an average-to-good level of efficiency is incredible.

Considering his multi-level touch in shots off-movement and his ability to contribute as a defender at this age, if he continues his trajectory of development and reaches even his medium outcome, Mitrevski should be able to contribute to winning as a complementary scoring guard at a higher level of competition, for either an NCAA program or a high-level European club in a few years.

Lejson Zekiri

Team: MZT Skopje Aerodom | DOB: 09/17/2001 | Height: 6’8″

Besides current Washington State Cougar Andrej Jakimovski, Lejson Zekiri was the other standout player for a North Macedonia team that finished fourth in the 2019 U18 FIBA European Championships Division B. After one season playing in the US at Fork Union Military Academy, Zekiri is now back in North Macedonia playing for MZT Skopje where he’s showing improvement across the board.

Zekiri is a 6’8” forward who stands out due to his combination of size, top-tier mobility (both north/south and laterally), fluidity as a ball-handler and touch as a shooter, which makes for an extremely intriguing profile as a perimeter forward.

With the ball in his hands, Zekiri is able to attack closeouts with excellent timing and to selectively create drives in one-on-one situations when he has a favorable match-up on the perimeter — mainly slower bigs who come out to contain him. His driving profile would be even more enticing if he was able to create separation out of physicality on drives, which he’s not able to do at this point due to his slight frame.

Zekiri also shows moments of shooting potential. He’s shooting just 26.7% from beyond the arc in the 2020-21 season, albeit on a good volume (5.7 attempts per 36 minutes), but there are clear factors for optimism in this area. Namely his previous track record as a shooter (over 35% from three in FIBA competitions), but especially, his ability to convert shots off the dribble in the mid-range, where he’s able to rise over smaller defenders to get his shot off.

Where Zekiri shines is on defense. He’s able to use his combination of size and elite mobility in space to contain opponents on an island, cover drives, and contest shots at the rim. While he’s not physically developed to a point where he should take on the role of an interior defender, he shows enough awareness and the requisite size and length to take on a secondary rim protector role.

Zekiri’s profile as a 6’8” dribble-shoot-pass forward with versatile defense is an extremely enticing one at any level of competition. If the shot comes around with more consistency, Zekiri should find his way to the highest levels of European competitions sooner rather than later.

Andrej Andonovski

Team: MZT Skopje Aerodom | DOB: 04/02/2002 | Height: 6’8″

Andonovski lands on this list mainly due to his projection as a modern four. Standing at 6’8″, Andonovski is not at a point where he’s able to impose himself physically against grown men at the four, let alone at the five (a position that he sometimes covers for MZT Skopje), as he can get overmatched when he gets dragged to the post by opposing bigs. But what Andonovski leaves on the table in terms of strength, he compensates with his combination of height, length, mobility, and coordination for his size.

A prolific rebounder for his size, Andonovski is able to use his length and size to contribute on the glass on both ends of the floor. Once he comes up with a defensive board, his fluidity as a ball-handler makes him a threat in coast-to-coast drives where, despite not being extremely shifty, he is able to reach an impressive top speed with the ball in his hands. As a finisher, Andonovski might lack the sheer power to convert over bigger defenders, but he shows a good combination of length and touch which allows him to get really good extension finishes through crowds.

Andonovski also shows flashes of perimeter skills, as he’s shooting 37.5% albeit on a low volume — just 2.2 attempts per 36 minutes. Something similar can be said about his passing profile, where he is efficient but on a fairly low volume. Andonovski is able to use his size to find teammates over the top of the defense from stationary motions, showing good vision to find cutters, and while he averages just 2.4 assists per 36 minutes, he’s fairly efficient at moving the ball, posting up a positive 1.6 assist to turnover ratio during the 2020-21 season.

Andonovski won’t be an explosive rim-protecting five at the next level of competition, but a team could benefit from his combination of size and fluidity at the four. If the perimeter skills continue to develop and he becomes a reliable off-ball floor-spacer, his value grows exponentially as a modern four who moves the ball efficiently and can exploit mismatches in the perimeter.

Luka Savicevic

Team: MZT Skopje Aerodom | DOB: 02/19/2002 | Height: 6’3 | Comitted to UNC Greensboro (2021 class)

Savićević is a 6’3” combo guard whose main selling point is his ability to create advantages off the live dribble and to exploit said advantages on the move. While he’s not extremely quick or explosive, Savićević is patient operating in traffic with the ball in his hands and his combination of ball-security, deceptiveness, fluidity, and creativity with the dribble allows him to manipulate defenders and create advantages. Savićević also does a good job of using screens to his advantage to generate defensive breakdowns and to put defenders in jail.

Once he’s on the move, Savićević is quick and decisive to react and creative to find teammates, quickly recognizing double teams, traps, and help defenders and finding the open man, whether they are by the dunker spot or at the three-point line.

Shooting is the area where the evaluation gets murky. Statistically, Savićević’s profile is impressive for his age, as he’s shooting 35.6% from three-point range on excellent volume (8.1 attempts per 36 minutes) — all numbers that correlate with what he has shown at the FIBA levels in previous years. Beyond the stats, Savicevic shows enough versatility as a shooter to convert shots off movement and against heavy defensive pressure.

However, the shot mechanics are unorthodox, to say the least. Savićević shoots an exaggerated two-motion shot where both his elbows flare out and he has an overly aggressive wrist snap which leads to extreme variance on the power and trajectory in which his shot comes out, generating long/short misses. How you value Savicevic as a shooting prospect is going to be largely related to how much weight you put into a player having the “correct” shooting mechanics into your projections.

Overall Savićević’s creativity off-the-bounce will make him a valuable player at any level of competition. For someone who is not a primary initiator and is undersized (both in terms of height and strength) to defend a vast majority of opposing wings, the evolution of his shooting will be key. If he can maintain his level and volume of shooting despite his unorthodox mechanics, Savićević will be a valuable add both for UNC Greensboro starting next season and for any mid-level European team once he finishes his college career.

Other Prospects of Note

• According to the stat sheet, Sidiki Kone (2001, Mali) is having an extremely productive season for Crn Drim Struga, where he’s posting a statline of 10.7 pts, 15.2 reb and 1.8 blk per 36 minutes on 57.1% from the field. The bad news is that (a) he has just played three games for the team, all of them in January of this year and (b) there isn’t any tape available of said games.

But going by his Serbian League tape, where he played the first half of the season for Sloga, Kone shows potential as a nimble 6’11” big who operates mostly at the rim as a pick-and-roll finisher + offensive rebounder, being able to use his body control to create establish better position on the post and create semi-open shots. With that being said, his touch fails him at times and he’s not always able to capitalize on those opportunities in crowds.

Looking overmatched and certainly prone to turnovers at the Serbian league, Kone seems to have found his footing in the North Macedonian First League from a statistical standpoint at the very least; a longer stay at this level of competition might prepare him for when he gets his next shot in a more competitive league in future years.

Strahil Nikolov (2000, North Macedonia) is an older prospect, turning 21 years old later this year. While Nikolov is clearly not looking at the college level at this point, he’s an interesting prospect to track for a number of reasons. From a physical standpoint, Nikolov possesses an impressive combination of strength and mobility, which allows him to play bigger than his listed 6’6″ size. The TFT Skopje prospect plays a physical brand of basketball, where he’s comfortable setting tough screens and banging down low with opposing bigs, while also showing his nimbleness and body control when defending in the perimeter.

Nikolov is also interesting skill-wise. He does most of his damage in the paint as a pick-and-roll finisher that mixes in some moments of back-to-the-basket self-creation, both situations in which he shows solid footwork and touch against contact and length on the interior. But Nikolov is versatile enough to show some perimeter skills in terms of spot-up shooting and stationary passing over the top of the defense.

If Nikolov can continue to extend his range both in terms of his jumper and in his drives (which currently extend mostly to short and mid-distance face up drives out of post-ups), he should be an interesting bet for European teams that need a strong but undersized four that can play with energy, make his presence felt on the interior and defend various frontcourt positions.

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