It’s that season of the year, the NBA Draft season, and in ID Prospects we would like to bring to your attention some auto-eligible International ballers from the ’99 Generation who won’t be picked on July 29, but are still worth your time as pros that will be going places in the FIBA scene.
We travel to Estonia, a country whose basketball tradition is generally considered a bit below the level of its Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Latvia, but has been achieving positive results as of late and is growing fast in terms of prospect development. Some of the most recent Estonian commitments in the NCAA (Matthia Tass, Kerr Kriisa, Leemet Böckler) give us a good idea of what’s coming. This College Basketball gang alongside Henry Drell (2000) and the players we talk about in this piece form an intriguing backbone for the Estonian national team in the near future. Meet Kristian Kullamäe, Sander Raieste and Kaspar Treier, three ’99 born ballers wearing the Estonian Blue across Europe
Nationality: Estonia | DOB: 05.25.1999 | 6’4″ height – 186lbs | CB Bahia San Agustin – Spain LEB Oro
Son of the former player Gert Kullamäe, Kristian spent his early development years at Audentes SG, the top Estonian sports school, and has been part of the NT youth program since he was 15. In 2016 he joined Rockets Gotha, and after three seasons in Germany including a 12-game stint at the top-tier BBL, Kristian moved to Spain to play with Real Canoe in the LEB Oro (second tier of Spanish basketball). His promising 2019-20 campaign was shortened by Covid-19, but it was enough to grant him a contract with San Pablo Burgos. The twice Basketball Champions League winners sent him on loan to CB Bahía San Agustín where he led the LEB Oro alongside his teammate Ronnie Harrell in points and minutes played.
Standing at 6’4″, with long arms (wingspan N/A) and an intriguing frame to fill up, Kullamäe has the ideal profile to play both guard spots and make it count against smaller PGs. He’s got nice shoulders and has put some muscle of late, though his legs are thin which doesn’t limit his speed or balance but it does llimit his explosiveness. Kristian is not much of a lateral athlete either, and usually plays below the rim on both ends of the floor. Despite the lack of pop and what first impressions might suggest, Kullamäe is fairly physical and strong, and knows how to use his body to finish through contact, lock up matchups in different situations, and even post-up against smaller opposition.
BANKABLE SKILL/ROLE – Ball Screens Offense and Secondary Initiator
Kristian Kullamäe comes across as a perfect example of versatile combo-guard and secondary initiator. Since he entered the international youth scene, Kullamäe’s been considered a natural shot-maker especially at club level, but also a nominal PG with Estonian NTs able to meet the team’s needs in different set-ups. Although he made some noise at the 2022 FIBA Eurobasket Qualifiers as bucket-getter, Estonia has always tried to capitalize on Kullamäe’s size as floor general. This trend has found its continuation in LEB Oro at CB Bahia San Agustin, where his impact as facilitator has increased significantly (1.83 to 3.17). In Palma, Kullamäe has flourished sharing duties at the point with FC Barcelona academy product Pol Figueras. He’s kept things simple at first and then improved his reactions and reads in half-court sets. Kristian creates advantages for himself and others via PNR and DHO action (5 per game according to InStat), hitting the roll-man on the move with an array of passes (lobs, thread the needle, pocket ones…) as well as picking his spots and standstill shooters with kicks and skip passes usually after going right in the initial high-ball screen. As Kullamäe’s deliveries have gone from strength to strength in quality and diversity, including ball-moving and transition, TOs are the main issue in order to translate this approach to a more athletic and fast-paced environment like the ACB next season.
Even If he’s not quite there in terms of raw burst and vertical leap, Kullamäe has indeed grown as self-creator that slices defenses on the back of his handle and balance. He can change pace-dribble, lower the shoulder, keep the drive alive and cut the corner. Kullamäe has regularly displayed his firepower in the lane with floaters, scoops and high layups, and has improved lately with his off-hand touch. Likewise, Kristian is very capable of exploiting mismatches and drawing fouls on an island or tight spaces, making a 89.2% clip from the FT line.
On top of his ball-screen game and becoming an ISO guy, Kullamäe has probed his offensive ascendency at CB San Agustin scoring from behind the arc, particularly off the catch. While Kristian 3pt-percentages have dropped to 30.3% shooting a higher volume (6 attempts/game), he still boasts an impressive 1.18PPP in the CNS plays. Kullamäe is also a versatile shooter that gets extra-looks and enough separation for himself in the midrange or above the break with one-two dribbles, quick footwork and step-backs. Besides this obvious sniper threat, Kullamäe’s one-motion form could use some clean-up regarding his guide-hand placement as he tends to shoot with both hands. Having said that, Kristian’s ball spin doesn’t vary much from one shot to the next, and his fast release looks pretty solid. Still, a few tweaks could bring more consistency to his mechanics and grant him the ‘off-screens sharpshooter’ consideration in the short term.
Cut, Post Up and Transition Game
Although he’s used to having the rock in his hands, Kullamäe’s offensive mindset means he keeps alert and hunting for buckets in a variety of ways. Off-the-ball, Kristian has a knack for the backdoor with changes of direction and light feet to catch feeds from the top of the key and punish matchups in straight cuts (1.12PPP). His frame and agility allow him to absorb contact in traffic and occasionally they are also in full display around the rim when Kristian turns drives into post-up moves. For those he relies on IQ, footwork and touch again to turn around and score over smaller matchups. In addition, Kullamäe is good rebounder and a high-flyer on the open court, always the first option for his teammates in early offense and 1×0 runs.
With the ideal size to defend PGs even if he can get in trouble switching onto big men in PNR coverage, Kullamäe is versatile enough to matchup shooting guards and wings on-the-ball. There’s undoubtedly some athletic shortages and a tendency to go under the screen at times, but when engaged Kristian is physical and reactive. He shuts down driving angles and can do a job with his length in closeouts. Kullamäe’s activity in man-to-man has been reflected on team-D, where he’s noticeably stepped up. Kristian has made the most of his tools in rotations, tagging the roller and containing bigger bodies at the rim. Awareness, quick hands and anticipation have also bumped his steal-ratio to 1.43 per night especially towards the end of the season, which suggests there’s plenty of room for growth as a two-way player. That’s his most exciting outcome in my view. To make it at a higher European level, Kullamäe will need to get rid of defensive breakdowns and foul trouble which might cut short his impact during games.
Because of the responsibility he shoulders whether he plays with his club or the Estonian NT, it’s easy to forget that Kullamäe is just 22 years old. He’s learned his trade away from home, worked on his versatility for a long time and added a cold blooded approach in the clutch. But to establish himself in the ACB against faster and bigger matchups, Kullamäe will need to gain some more muscle, speed up his hip-turns and improve his overall decision-making. It’s unlikely Kristian will see large minutes and usage-rates early on, but all the same we can picture him as the guy who brings the ball up off the bench, hits casual threes and hold his own after some tough defensive tests. Kullamäe certainly fits the second unit offensive motor archetype that plays through picks and consistently creates looks for himself and the team. Bet on him to break in the rotation and make his mark with San Pablo Burgos rather sooner than later.
Nationality: Estonia | DOB: 03.31.1999 | 6’8″ height – 231lbs | TD Systems Baskonia – Spain ACB
Another product of Audentese SG (the biggest sports school in Estonia), Sander Raieste moved to Spain in 2016 after signing a five-year contract with the Euroleague powerhouse Baskonia. He played professionally for two years in the Spanish LEB Plata (third tier of Spanish Basketball) as part of one of the most talented classes ever assembled by the Basque club, alongside Lautaro Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez, Jurij Macura and Arturs Kurucs. To complete his development, Raieste was loaned to Kalev/Cramo in the 2019-20 season, gaining crucial experience in the VTLB United and the PAF League before returning to Baskonia as full member of the first-team roster. Sander is a full Estonian international since June 2018.
Lean and extremely long but clearly lacking some weight and muscle at this point of his career, Sander Raieste’s profile combines plenty of functional athleticism and footspeed with an exciting dose of versatility. Ideally, he fits the line-up as a swingman, but his body control, swiftness and explosive lift allow him to matchup guards as well as smaller big men, and give him some edge at the rim finishing lobs and runners over most opposition. Sander has an impressive non-stop motor too, and can accelerate-decelerate in short distances moving off-the-ball. Naturally hunched on his stance, Raieste generally suffers against stronger and bigger players, but he’s a solid lateral athlete that always tries to impose his plus-wingspan (measurement N/A), disrupt plays and narrow angles and passing windows.
BANKABLE SKILL/ROLE – Versatile Perimeter Defender
Working under Dusko Ivanovic, a coach that doesn’t believe in zone-defense and demands his men to keep the pedal to the floor at all times, D value was always going to be Raieste’s calling card at Baskonia. Young players with the rare chance to play for Dusko know the drill; stay in front, work as a unit, wait for your shot. Sander’s season began superbly being named in the starting-five several times thanks to his high-energy approach. Towards the finale of the year Raieste was regularly out of the game-day squad, though. Even with little playing time (about 6 minutes per game) we can argue Sander has gone places on his own end particularly working for the team. He’s been quick to step in the paint or tag the roller as low-man, but also to recover and closeout above the break with long strides and plenty of length. If anything, he was generous to a fault overhelping down-low, giving too much space to shooters at times. At point-of-attack Raieste can flip his hips and mirror his man, and usually hustles non-stop and shuts down angles from his forward-bent stance. He’s toughen-up navigating screens but there’s still some tendency to get stuck on picks which likely will need to be addressed on the weight-room. On PNR coverage, Sander´s positional size makes him a switchable defender that goes straight-up against frontcourt players, but he’s bound to foul deep under the basket unless he can anticipate or deflect the entry pass.
Cutting, Offensive Rebounding and Transition
Although at Kalev/Cramo Raieste wasn’t considered a proper secondary initiator, this year there’s been a noticeable step-back in terms of handling and shot-making responsibilities. Raieste’s larger contributions to Baskonia’s offensive schemes come mainly off-the-ball, whether he is in the open court (1.38 PPP in transition according to InStat) or via other high-percentage shots such as straight-cuts and put-backs. Sander is remarkably fast down-hill, especially as a pass-receiver that gets uncontested buckets. In half court sets, he’s shown his agility and instincts at the rim through backdoors and runs at full speed. Raieste doesn’t need to leap high vertically either on one foot or both feet, often finishing the play with emphatic dunks. Similarly, Sander impacts the game crashing the offensive glass with the tools at his disposal (anticipation, pop, length) and he’s always a putback-threat for defenses.
With the rock in his hands Raieste is highly effective against closeouts thanks to his long first step: he squeezes through in the lane and the baseline making the most of his leaping ability and reaching the hoop even through contact. Despite being right handed, Sander is remarkably efficient attacking the rim from right to left. An excellent finisher with his off-hand, he gains separation with his frame and scores off the glass with the full arm extension. In contrast, although he’s lively and skilled, Raieste hasn’t run ball-screens situations or called plays nearly enough. In addition there’s not much hesitation or change of speeds in isolation just yet. He can throw the odd crossover at mismatches or the spin move in the lane, but until Sander gets the more chances and improves his bag of tricks to break matchups off the bounce, he’ll continue to be an aggressive straight-line slasher rather than a self-creator.
Passing / Playmaking
Related to this absence of minutes as self-creator, Raieste’s playmaking is limited to drive and dish action feeding cutters or big men, along with some kicks and catch-and-drive situations that can create passing openings. On top of that Raieste is a willing and efficient ball-mover that pursues the extra-pass and express himself in the fast-break with push-forward kicks after stealing the rock or securing the rebound.
It’s only natural to think Raieste belongs in the 3&D archetype when he’s made 38.5% and 40% from long range last couple of seasons. Those numbers have to be read carefully, though, since shooting volume was minimal at Baskonia. Regardless of his consistent lower-body, squared feet and catch-on-the-hop fundamentals, Raieste is not a versatile off-movement sniper that creates looks off the dribble or comes off screens as of today. In fact, the bulk of his shots from behind the arc are Catch and Shoot attempts from the corners and the weak side. His two-motion stroke is susceptible to adjustments in the future since ball-placement, guide-hand and long dip bring variables and a certain lack of rhythm to the jump-shot, starting the release only at the highest point of his lift. Getting his shooting shoulder out front and gaining core strength could be the way to build up balance and precise repetition. Sander’s FT shooting form and numbers look another positive indicator at 75% clip, but then again the sample has been small and makes difficult to take it into account when evaluating his mechanics
It’s been a tough learning-curve season for Raieste and he’s fall a bit off the radar at the top European level (Euroleague and ACB). Still, there’s so much to like about him that it’s easy to understand why he had legit Draft buzz not that long ago. Even without sufficient meaningful minutes, Raieste’s athleticism, fluidity and D versatility open the door to a wide range of outcomes. From all-around perimeter guy to classic 3&D, to defensive playmaker. He can also take the 4 spot in small-ball line ups, and ideally there’s room to become a secondary initiator for short stretches with his bounce and balance. However, there is work to do strength-wise and playing through contact yet, as well as improving shooting consistency and some bits of feel on both ends. Anyhow Raieste’s ceiling is so intriguing that wherever he shows up next season he’ll be worth watching.
Nationality: Estonia | DOB: 09.19.1999 | 6’8″ height – 210lbs | Dinamo Sassari – Italy LBA
As many Estonian prospects of note have done before, Kaspar Treier left his homeland in pursuit of the hoops dream at an early age. He moved to Italy at 15 and signed his first professional contract in 2017 with Poderosa Montegrano, a team from the Italian second-tier basketball league, on the back of an MVP award in the U20 Italian Nationals. After three seasons learning his trade in the A2, Kaspar joined Dinamo Sassari last summer to play in the local top tier and in the Basketball Champions League. He is a regular member of Estonia’s senior squad since his debut back in November 2018. Treier also has dual citizenship, Italian and Estonian.
Standing at 6’8 with the average size to play forward (wingspan N/A), Treier immediately catches the eye for his strong build-up and broad shoulders. He loves a workout and his raw strength comes handy to hold and bump into bodies around the paint. Kaspar combines this tremendous frame with a developed wall-up technique which allows him to be physical, eat space in the post and make himself bigger against most opponents. He’s got thin legs for his upper-body, though, and is not an explosive leaper by any means. Kaspar lacks height, standing reach and an efficient second jump to become a rim protector, and his overall lack of elite athleticism and hip-turn are bound to be exposed in the perimeter. Regardless of that, Treier has light feet moving in slides and can beat big and small players to the spot, attack the rim in straight lines and run the floor with ease.
BANKABLE SKILL/ROLE – Mobile 4 or Floor Spacer
Although he possesses a classic combo-forward profile, Treier has essentially been considered a frontcourt player and filled the lineup as modern face-up PF for the bulk of his career. He’s particularly solid as a spot-up shooter that can really score from the corners or anywhere above the break, but additionally Kaspar gets a fair bit of looks in pick-and-pop action. Whether he suits up for Estonia (more in a starter role during the Eurobasket 2022 qualifiers) or coming from the bench for Sassari, Treier has built his game playing off a classic post-up big (Kotsar, Milos Biran…), spacing as a catch-and-shot threat that exploits mismatches and driving opportunities. His shooting form is intuitive, quick and well-balanced despite the 30.4% clip from three this season. Perfect body alignment plus nice dip and lift in rhythm with his one-motion stroke on the way up. His back is a bit of a too rigid inviting some occasional flare-elbow in his guide hand, however. Even like that, shot looks solid and you could easily bet on Treier hitting it off-the-catch regularly at a higher volume (1.11 per night according to InStat). The fact that Kaspar rarely settles for midrange jump-shots and makes 82.4% of his FTs is another sharp example of his potential as floor-stretcher.
Despite spending most of his playing time behind the three point line, Treier can be productive around the rim (1.1 PPP) especially in ISO post sets and as play-finisher rather than as a roll-man. He ducks in and goes to work deep, making the most of his muscle and thickness. Kaspar has also shown now and again, the IQ to recognize and exploit switches against smaller players, and even though his back-to-the-basket repertoire relies too much on his preferred right hand over the left shoulder, he’s produced flashes of advanced footwork plus the ability to make his way in with spin-moves and reverse layups. Treier is certainly used to bullying smaller guys down low, but his obvious size limitations and struggles in the paint against digs and doubles should be addressed in the long term. Eventually he’ll need to develop a counter-move with his left hand and cut TOs in the process.
Driver, Playmaking and Passing
Kaspar Treier’s offensive impact on-the-ball is restricted to attacking closeouts and transition offense as of today. He can create shots for others in a few situations with straight-line kicks and simple reads, but actually Treier is just not used to handle the rock or generate gravity off the bounce as a pure playmaker. There’s some tendency to suffer from tunnel vision under pressure and he can easily walk into a trap in traffic. His bounce and decision-making are improvable as well, but on the other hand he’s shown ability as a stationary passer and a reactive ball-mover hitting entry passes to his big man. Nonetheless, the low assist-ratio at 0.46/game shows there’s way to go until he can consistently generate more offense for his teammates.
Cutting and Rebounding
Off-the-ball Treier can hurt teams as an opportunistic cutter who plays next to a skilled center. He’s usually smart to react to collapsing defenses and poor rotations, and can likewise crash the glass from the baseline and the weak side. The sample is small, but Treier’s instincts and mobility maximize his chances with easy tips and putbacks. More importantly, he’s not afraid of drawing and absorbing contact on his way to the rim, and such high percentage shots bolster his production in short spams and bump up his FT attempts.
On the defensive end, Treier combines positives with rather workable traits. Despite being an absolute unit that stops bigger guys on their tracks, Treier’s post-D is limited by size, lower-body and the fact that he rarely plays above the rim. There is still intriguing value in his mobility and motor. Those tools are essential to stunt and recover, protect the middle, anticipate passes, lock-up the baseline and contest long shots. Moreover, Treier is a natural in transition D, quick to get back, body straight-up in the lane picking the ballhandler. However, Kaspar has more problems when asked to step-out or switch in PNR defense. The timing of his reactions is not always ideal, and he can fall for fakes and jab-steps with easy fouls or beaten by the explosive bouncy guys changing speed and direction. In addition, defensive rebounding is the vital upgrade needed in Treier’s game right now (just 1.66 per game during the 2020-21 season). At Sassari he’s struggled to impose himself in the glass and pick his man in boxouts, partly because of his all-around mindset. Anyhow, Treier needs to do a better job at positioning and using his frame to anticipate matchups. Such progress would make an immediate impact and increase his playing time.
With everything said and considering the small-5 role doesn’t look sustainable for him; is there any chance Treier can evolve into a more classic tweener who matches wings in the near future? As pointed out previously, bounce, reactivity and hips could prove too much of an issue in this regard. I can see him navigating screens and chasing bodies, though, but foul-trouble would surely be an concern early on. Kaspar still looks equipped to occasionally defend skilful ballhandlers on island, but his current off-ball approach making clean shots off-the-catch, cutting mistakes, exploiting defensive strengths and going places in the glass looks the safest and most likely outcome. All of them in order to extend his minutes on the court and build valuable experience at European medium/high level while he matures and polishes his distinctive skill-set.