Endless Value: The Crazy 2003 International Pool

In the international player pools, I think the 2004 generation has the highest talent ceiling. There are some pretty interesting lottery candidates in the 2005 generation. The 2006 generation is just like the 2002 generation: mixed. However, none of them have, in my opinion, the enormous depth that the 2003 generation has.

PS: I wish that Adem Bona and Thierno Mamadou Sylla were here but they’re playing high school in North America now…

While names such as Yannick Nzosa, Jean Montero, Lefteris Mantzoukas, Fedor Žugić, Jeremy Sochan stand out as clear NBA candidates, names like Tafare Gapare, Tristan Vukčević, Gael Bonilla, Joshua Ojianwuna, Michael Caicedo, Pape Sow, Agustin Ubal, Nikola Jović, Miguel Allen, Konstantin Kostadinov, Iaroslav Niagu, Matteo Spagnolo, Maxime Raynaud, Davide Casarin, Gustan Knudsen, Assemian Moulare, Adama-Alpha Honey, El Hadji Ngom, Sasa Ciani, Nathan De Sousa, Justin Ochaya, Dyson Daniels create a good atmosphere with some of their pretty important assets that fit for the NBA mod. Like many people, I am lost in this deep pool. I can easily identify Nzosa as the top prospect in this class.

Yannick Nzosa is not a unicorn big man like Kristaps Porzingis and also, he has not debuted at a FIBA event and did not have too much playing time at ANGT. However, it is easy to screen him due to his perfect performances with the Unicaja Malaga at EuroCup and ACB. Also, he was doing a pretty good job with the Stella Azzurra Roma for three years.

My main reason to consider him as the best prospect is revolving around his unique skill-set on defense. Nzosa is a primary rim protector, however, he is not a defender who just protects the rim very well but lacks perimeter defense, etc. The 7-foot African center is active in the offense’s passing lanes, does a perfect job on closing-out due to lateral quickness and game feelings, and utilizes his stiff defensive stance around the perimeter. The best thing here is that he can do all those things in the best European basketball league and EuroCup.

On the offensive end, Nzosa is a traditional bucket getter but I do like his versatility in the pick-and-roll games. While he is not a space creator due to lack of shot, Nzosa can stretch the floor thanks to his gravity effect as a screener. I mean, the defense cannot take a risk on his rolling, there always will be a tagger or help-defender to cover his rolling. Since Nzosa is able to make a pass in stationary situations, his team can find open shots.

Nzosa’s shooting and post-up efficiency are the most key questions at this moment. I do not think that his a bit lanky frame will be a problem because Nzosa has tremendous biomechanical awareness, he can use every part of his body in every situation and this makes him a pretty good offensive threat, in my opinion. Also, despite the length, his linear speed is good.

After Nzosa, I have five names that very close to each other: Ousmane Dieng, Jean Montero, Lefteris Mantzoukas, Fedor Žugić, and Jeremy Sochan.

To be honest, I do like Ousmane Dieng more than Montero. Standing 6-foot-9 with a quite good frame and muscle mass, Dieng provides a multipositional skill-set on both sides of the court. He can operate the wing pick-and-roll games very well, plays as a secondary initiator, and knows how to take advantage of his matchup with his passes. He has a natural touch and average court vision. As an individual scorer, his arsenal is so deep, in my opinion.

While he still has room to improve as a shooter, the French native has shown a ton of flashes of shot creation, scoring off the dribble, spotting-up, clutch 3-point hit, off-screen hit, etc. I do like his shooting mechanics but to be honest, he should be more balanced while releasing the ball.

On the other hand, I am completely on his dribble drive stock. He is super fluid and quick athlete both on the open court and in the tight space. He attacks to the rim with full-speed but also smartly, I mean, he is able to use some flips, in-and-out, changing direction tricks if he needs. Has a pretty mature touch around the rim, Dieng can be an explosive athlete on off the ball motions.

I think his defense is very underrated. Ousmane Dieng does fantastic jobs in many defensive situations that not reflected in statistics sheets. He is able to chase his man around screens very well, can hold his island around the perimeter, and can be a pesky defender due to his well-coordinated body and length. At the end of the day, he is a 3-and-D plus secondary ballhandling player who can be a great athlete in the future.

Jean Montero is a phenomenal prospect. The reason for that is clear: he is a great scorer. Montero can do everything on the offensive end. Sometimes, he pulls the trigger almost from the logo range, sometimes, he hangs out with his advanced dribble move to fool the defensive line and finish possession with smooth touch around the rim. Also, he is a good passer and shows some tricky passes.

On the defensive end, I do like what he brings to the table. Despite the length, he is a pretty good athlete and shows his athleticism skills on defense very well. Especially, I am impressed by his lateral speed, core strength and flexible hips. His rare combination of flexibleness, lateral quickness, game feelings, and energy make him a hunter around the perimeter. And his rebounding ability is good and this makes him more dangerous as a scorer (grab and go).

However, I do not think that Montero is one of the best two prospects of the 2003 international prospect pool and my reason is off-the-ball motion.

If Montero is going to be an NBA player, how much will he be able to control the ball while he is on the court? If you think Montero will be a primary ballhandler as a player who plays 25 minutes per game, how comfortable is his current performance? I’m not talking about ANGT Valencia, I’m talking generally. I love Montero’s crazy scoring arsenal, really, but unfortunately, I doubt how effective he can be when the ball is not in his hands. Yes, maybe a 3-and-D player, but does he offer a good enough defensive projection at the NBA level to get that label? I think no. Montero is an exceptional scorer, a good passer, does his best on defense, and shows rebounding ability. However, at the end of the day, I cannot see him in the starting lineup for this moment.

Lefteris Mantzoukas provides a tremendous ceiling and also, his current skill-set is good enough to consider him as an NBA prospect, in my opinion. The 6-foot-9 wing will play for the Panathinaikos next season.

Mantzoukas is a skilled plus stretch forward who can shoot from three or mid-range with a quick and comfortable shot. He is a perfect shooter for his size and position with a low shooting pocket to a smooth release a little above his head with unorthodox wrist curling but still produces good arc. I do think that he has room to grow as a movement shooter despite some flashes of off the dribble.

As a slasher, he does a good job while attacking close-out and exploiting his matchup. He can control his speed and shows good coordination that allows him to do something in tight space. He does not have that much good handling but his mature moves with the ball in his hands make him a good slasher, in my opinion.

I have some serious concerns about his level of athleticism for the NBA level but his explosiveness and fluidity already here, so, he has a chance to piece everything together.

As a defender, his interior defense based more on IQ than physicality or aggression. He showed some flashes defending around the basket in head-to-head/face-up situations and nail although lack of strength hurt him here again against stronger players. However, he has a relatively strong stance in the post and always battles above his weight-class with consistent intensity. While he is not a shot-blocker or huge rim protector due to lack of vertical pop, elite aggressiveness, and strength. Does a good job using his length and quick eye-hand coordination to contest shots with nice timing. He shows good awareness and reaction time.

Mantzoukas provides pretty good versatility on offense. He can be a 3-and-D type player but also, he will be able to fill up the space that his team has. He reminds me of Danilo Gallinari, to be honest.

Jeremy Sochan is so damn good. Playing with somewhat unique versatility, Sochan is a Unicorn prospect but the biggest difference here is about his length: Sochan standing 6-foot-8. I mean, he is not a classical Unicorn but I would like to define him as a Unicorn prospect. Because, this kid can do everything, literally everything. It is possible to see his stepback 3-point shot, one dribble mid-range shot where he got plus 1, slashing with long strides, slashing with hesitation move, slashing that he finished with a two-handed strong dunk, transition bucket, flashes of gravity passing…

Sochan is quick, fluid, talented and explosive. He provides a huge versatility on both sides of the court. He is a pretty good multipositional player and can shift any offensive and defensive position during the game.

On defense, Sochan is good. He is able to protect the rim like a primary monster rim protector, knows to cover the perimeter due to wingspan and backward move, does a good job on off-the-ball nations with his multiple efforts, can switch into 1 to 4, and shows good awareness.

If I was an NBA team that had a great season and have a draft pick from the second-round, I would be super happy. Because Sochan likely will still be available around the second round and having an elite level two-way Swiss Army knife player like him would make me so happy.

PS: He will play for Baylor next year.

When I think of this class from the subjective window, I can say that Fedor Žugić is my favorite prospect. He has good size but lack of width and elite strength create some concerns naturally. However, his exceptional athleticism, decent shooting, and tremendous team playing mentality make him a player that can play with any kind of offensive system, in my opinion.

He is like Deni Avdija, actually. You know, Deni was waiting for the ball around the corner, after catching the ball, he was going to the rim quickly or converting the 3-point/one-dribble mid-range shot or trying to use his gravity effect with drive-and-kicks. Žugić does the same but the most important difference is Žugić does not have a perfect frame.

However, again, his level of athleticism is an outlier for his position. I am not saying that he is like Russell Westbrook or John Wall, but he is similar to that. Also, his shooting, passing and overall slashing, decent perimeter defense are other assets that all NBA teams looking for.

And now, the fabulous deepness is starting.

The best thing about the 2003 international pool is there are too many prospects who provide versatile offensive skills. In these fascinating potentials, Tafara Gapare creates a huge difference. Standing 6-foot-9 and coming from New Zealand, Gapare can do everything on both sides of the court. Literally everything.

While he does a perfect job to exploit his match-up due to the tremendous first step, excellent smooth and explosive athlectisim, changing direction, hesitation move, Gapare is able to generate 3-point shots both as a catch-and-shoot target or shot creator. He has a compact two-motion shooting form but can be a bit, wild shooter.

Unlike his peers, he uses his exceptional athleticism in a controlled way and shows mature decision-making mechanism. He can make a big difference on the court with his awesome court vision and excellent passing arsenal.

I cannot define him as a primary ballhandler or a great creator, however, as a secondary initiator, Gapare does an excellent job to exploit his match-up to create passing windows. Playing with good BBIQ, Tafara is able to run the pick-and-roll actions due to advanced dribble moves and one-handed quick and strong passes. He does a perfect job of screening the floor to understand who waits for what and how he should throw the ball.

Gapare has always had an advantage in tournaments where he played against his peers as he physically had outlier tools compared to his age. For this reason, he did not avoid forcing the positions on offense. However, this is not my biggest doubt about him. Gapare played so much on physicality on defense that he showed almost nothing technically. He has knowledge of rotation, but many times in passing lanes he chose to be a hunter to be an all-around defender, which could be a big problem in the future.

Nevertheless, Gapare is a player who gives you hype while you are watching him due to his somewhat unique potential.

Tristan Vukčević certainly does not offer you an exhilarating, fancy, flashy skill-set, but he does such good things as a traditional big man that he is also undergoing a good development as a shooter that it is super hard for me to say that he is not similar to Brook Lopez.

Shows impressive footwork and body movement on the post, Vukčević does a good job to make a lot of money as a post-scorer due to his solid-touch, ability to shift his body to the defender to dislodge him, and fascinating quickness with the ball in his hands.

While he is not that good a pick-and-roll player, his ability to convert some 3-point shots might make him a pick-and-roll/pop target, which is good. He has a two-motion shooting form with good ball placement, nice release point, consistent elbow points, and perfect last-touch. However, I am a bit concerned about his lower body form.

As a slasher, well, Vukčević has a way to go, to be honest. However, he has shown flashes of some perfect close-out slashes with quick first step and aggressiveness. The most important thing here is his decision-making mechanism. He can be a very wild slasher.

While I do not have any above-average word for Real Madrid’s big man, Barcelona’s Mexican star prospect, Gael Bonilla takes all my words with his outstanding defense.

Bonilla is one of the best defenders in all prospect classes. He can guard multiple positions, can protect the rim amazingly, energetic on the passing lanes, and has a gravity effect under the basket.

Bonilla is a smart and quick reaction defender but quickness in terms of body movement is my question. I mean, against the quicker or shifty ballhandlers, he stays behind them. The lack of elite quickness and lower body tools hurt him here. However, if the ballhandler doesn’t have any bump-and-fade, advanced, or in front of the defender finishing abilities, Bonilla shifts his body, uses his arm length, and makes block with tremendous timing. He knows how to avoid the foul in block situations. He just makes blocks using his upper body, timing, and BBIQ. Bonilla can block his opponent from the back, front, or side. He’s not a freakish blocker like Yannick Nzosa or Adem Bona, but he’s a smart and technical blocker rather than a flash or quick blocker.

Bonilla is a defensive playmaker. His head is looking for surprise cuts, off-the-ball screens, and weak-side games but while doing it, Bonilla also manages his man. He always talks with his teammates directs them.

On the offensive window, he provides a bit of versatility. He has not an elite shooting threat but he hit some 3-pointers last summer, especially against Canada and despite misses, he created his shots.

Bonilla’s shooting form is not unorthodox but it doesn’t look comfortable. While the ball leaves his hands, the balance hand looks good. He gives good momentum and holds the arc very well. However, his right (shooting) hand doesn’t look good and his shooting hand positioning is inconsistent. Solid finisher overall, has good tricks here like reverse, eye fake, little pumps, baby jumps, etc. Can give pass, body, burst, and eye fakes before attacking the rim. So, yes, he is 6-foot-8 and can manipulate the defense. Despite Bonilla’s upper body strength, he is not a good finisher in tight spaces due to lack of elite lower body athleticism and soft touch. He is not a player who forces the game but sometimes, he goes to the traffic and loses the ball.

If there will be an NBA talent from the enormous NBA Academy in the short-term, it probably will be Joshua Chidiebele Ojianwuna. I cannot define him as a modern-era big man, however, after watched the recent academy tapes, I can say that he could be the Julius Randle type of player.

He already is a dominant interior scorer who provides mobility, explosiveness, and game IQ. He has a pretty fantastic touch around the rim despite his average footwork. Playing with high-motor, Ojianwuna is able to convert buckets in tight-spaces due to his ability to use his strong, very strong body very well.

On the other hand, he is not a good shooter YET, but as I mentioned above, seems like he did a good job in this regard. Shoots the ball better, especially, elbow mechanics definitely looks better.

Joshua is a tremendous shot blocker. He jumps off the floor with tremendous quickness, maximum reach, and physicality. He knows how to avoid the foul in the air. Unlike his peers who play as a center, Ojianwuna is very smart to close the offensive angles on off-the-ball motions. I cannot say that he is a multipositional defender, however, his perimeter moves and active hands allow him to protect the perimeter shield.

Nikola Jokić is an outstanding basketball player who comes from Serbia. I do believe that we will see another Nikola in the NBA who comes from Serbia. Nikola Jović is the most intriguing name of this class, in my opinion. Playing with perfect versatility on both sides of the court, Mega’s wing is able to make tough shots, knows how to use his length to exploit his matchups, does a good job as a pick-and-roll operator, and definitely can make advanced game readings to make the best decision on the court.

Shows impressive explosiveness and craftiness with the ball in his hands, Jović is a hunter on defense. He slides around the perimeter quickly and smartly, also, comes to the table with many deflections and steals.

From the NBA window, having a three-and-D guy is one of the best archetypes. In this class, Dieng, Žugić, and Mantzoukas are definitely this type of players. However, these three players have some extra skills. On the other hand, Michael Caicedo, Pape Ablaye Sow, and Miguel Allen provide this fantastically.

These three shooters have a way to go to adjust some mechanical stuff, but they are good. Caicedo, MVP of ANGT Valencia, is a typical 3-and-D player. He possesses a strong frame with excellent length, mature decisions, and excels at off-the-ball motions on both sides of the court.

Pape Ablaye Sow is the perfect wing who has decent shooting, exceptional athlete, good defender, and a smart player overall.

Miguel Allen’s shooting form is a bit more problematic than others due to his shoulder anatomy. However, he provides two-way offensive skills with shooting first, which is crucial.

Like Pape Ablaye Sow, El Hadji Ngom, his teammate at Baskonia, is a good forward from Africa. It is hard to define him as a good shooter, he has a lot of room in this regard. However, Ngom can put the ball on the floor and attack to the basket physically. On the defensive end, it is possible to see his outstanding blocks, however, he lacks game feelings which causes a ton of rotation mistakes.

If you want to read something about the perfect defender, ND Okafor is your man. He possesses amazing qualities on the defensive end, both physical and instinctive. One of the best anchors in the 2003 international pool, he does much of his best work defensively protecting the rim. ND’s game instincts and general ability to protect the rim are perfect. Not a defender who just blocks against back-to-the-basket, face-up, or transition plays. He’s also a defender that can make perfect blocks by sliding to shooters after pick-and-roll plays. In those possessions, he combines his high vertical pop with good balance and to avoid fouling. Even when he can’t block the offense, he completely covers the offense’s angle to shoot. Apart from blocks, Okafor knows very well when, where, and how to rotate around the rim.

On the individual scoring side of the job, Okafor provides interior tools. Active on the offensive glass, possesses glorious second jump, high-level motor finisher in the paint, and does a good job to finish positions with solid touches around the basket. It is difficult to block his finishes because his release point is really high. Not a slasher or something but if there is a gap under the basket while he has the ball in his hands inside the 3-point line, can drive to the basket quickly. However, it’s not his major job, and he sometimes can be turnover prone if forces the drive a lot due to a degree of solid ballhandling skill-set.

Real Madrid has been producing a lot of guards from their tremendous facilities. One of the legendary coaches of the European basketball, Pablo Laso likes to give huge responsibilities to youngsters. As you can see on Luka Dončić. Also, Sergio Llull, Sergio Rodriguez, Facu Campazzo… Anyway. Real Madrid’s 2004 generation is superb in terms of guard rotation. Urban Klavžar and Juan Núñez García there. Also, Hugo González and phenomenal Kyllian Michée coming from younger pools. For the short-term, 6-foot-4 Italian wizard man Matteo Spagnolo stands out.

Spagnolo is not crafty as Carlos Alocén. Also, he has some issues with his 3-point shot. However, he does a great job to use all the things that he has. As known, piecing everything together is one of the most common problems about prospects.

Spagnolo plays with fantastic maturity, does a good job adjusting his skill-set in different game tempos and can be the main factor as a lead guard.

The Italian guard has outstanding snake move that allows him a lot of separation on the move, also, his solid finishing touch and being a scrambled guy for the defense make it hard to predict what will he do with the ball in his hands.

On defense, Spagnolo is a perfect point of attack defender due to game feelings and perimeter rotations. I believe that he will be able to switch into wings due to his projectable length.

Another 2003 born talent from the Real Madrid factory is versatile Hungarian wing, Konstantin Konstadinov. Standing 6-foot-8, Kostadinov has the ideal size and frame to be providing multipositionality on both sides of the court.

To be honest, I was feeling a bit bad about him around December 2020 after I saw his superb low moves. However, he did a great job to keep on track in such a short time and that’s why I am still thinking of him as an NBA potential.

Kostadinov is not an elite shooter due to low and a bit problematic shooting mechanics, but, he can be a fireman as a drive-and-kick target. His shot form is heavy, he does not have the desired loading time but his compactness, sharpness and solid touch allow him high-percentages in wide open.

The primary bullet that I would take from his offense comes from his dribble moves. Kostadinov, who has a strong and flexible body, does a great job while turning corners, attacking the defender’s hips with the low stance, and finish it smartly. He can be either a smooth or explosive athlete.

It is hard for me to define him as a clear interior scoring threat but he has shown some flashes of post scoring with drop step, short rolling hit, etc. which gives some promising signals for the future.

On defense, he has a little bit of everything but my biggest takeaway is his rim protection. I mean, he is not a primary rim protector but possesses a degree of quality as a secondary rim protector due to excellent vertical leaping and game feelings. Also, fairly good rebounder.

I do like what South America has from the prospect windows. In this case, Agustin Ubal has the best potential. Comes from Uruguay and playing for Barcelona, Ubal has a degree of quality basketball skills. When I watched him first, I was especially impressed by his decision-making mechanism like a veteran guard.

It is true that he likes to throw a bit risky passes but at the end of the day, his way to use the defense’s gap with his game feelings and advanced reads makes him a primary initiator and ballhandler who can adjust the game tempo.

As a passer, Ubal uses all the gravity effects that he has. Despite his average wideness, he can make excellent passes in tight spaces. The best thing about Ubal’s offensive arsenal is his ability to hang out with his dribble driving to draw a lot of fouls. Not a good shooter yet but as we saw at the ANGT Valencia, the Uruguay native is going through a good process.

Now, if you are ready, we are going on to a quick trip. The Russian big man Iaroslav Niagu is a great mobile and smooth athlete with his size, does a good job as a post scorer with good footwork, and definitely has the potential to be a switch defender. France has a lot of prospects and Maxime Raynaud is shadowing. Raynaud provides tremendous pick-and-roll scoring and average rim protection while can hit 3-point shots. Other French prospects, Armel Traoré, Kenny Kasiama, and Nathan de Sousa greeting us from there. Traoré stands out due to his exceptional athleticism while Kasiama provides versatility on offense. On the other hand, Nathan de Sousa is most likely to be a good Euroleague player if cannot make the NBA just because of his impressive game IQ, versatile passing, and good one-and-one offense.

Yousef Khayat and Assemian Moulare are not were born in France but they are playing there. Khayat is a great role player who excels at off-the-ball motions and provides solid slashing. Moulare is… good scorer but really has a lot of room to be an all-around scorer.

You will like what Fiston Ipassou brings to the table with his outlier athletic skills and game feelings. Also, Dyson Daniels is so good. Playing with good scoring instincts, Daniels has been flying under the radar for a while but I believe he will be a spotlight player next season due to his game feelings, mature scoring arsenal, and point of attack defense.

It is hard for me to ignore Musa Sagnia, Rubén Dominguez, Mambourou Mara, Duje Brala, Marc-Antoine Loemba, Emilis Butkus, Gustav Knudsen, Egemen Usta, Modibo Diaby, Sasa Ciani, Freds Bagatskis, Ian Granja, Adama-Alpha Bal, Babacar Sane, Grace Aluma, Rafa Santos, Justin Ochaya but… it is enough.

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