By Simon Dresden

After taking a look at the 1986 class (automatically eligible) and 1987 class, here’s a look at the 1988 class (and youngsters) of Euroleague prospects.

1988 players

Nicolas Batum

Solid but not a sensational breakout season for Batum. He was expected to take the league by storm, as players with his physical attributes come around once in a blue moon. He received every opportunity to shine by his coach, who started him in every game but Batum kind of stepped back into a complementary role to his less talented veteran teammates. Sometimes he even got frustrated with their play, as you could see that he demanded the ball in some situations, but not enough. He displayed a lot of versatility filling the statsheet nicely and breaking out every once in a while for those jaw dropping displays of potential. He too often explodes for 20+ points or flies in for a dunk, a putback or a block, only to disappear to some extend in the next game. He relies on his jumpshot right now, since defenses in Europe can help out on him when penetrating, and that jumper is shaky at best. A little mechanical in form, he isn’t afraid to take the threeball but his under 30% shooting is telling in regard to his accuracy. On days when his shot is on he is unstoppable, on days when he is off, he lacks confidence.

Batum’s game is tailor made for the NBA setting, where sheer 1-1 ability is at a premium and from an athletic standpoint there are few people in the league right now that can match up with him. He is in the same mold athletically as Rudy Gay with the versatility he displayed this year. He can run and jump with anyone on this planet and if he can figure out his jumpshot he could be deadly, but he also needs to be more aggressive. Batum has franchise player potential and that combined with the experience he brings from being a full time pro in Europe already should make him a hot commodity once draft time comes around. Whenever he decides to pull the trigger on his proposal he could go in the Top 5, depending on team needs.

Danilo Gallinari

A sensational season for Danilo. His team was flat out bad, winning only 3 games. But for Danilo it was an opportunity to shine bright as Milano had no one to step up and take responsibility except for Danilo. He played the most, he scored the most and drew a lot of fouls each game that got him a good share of free throws along the way. He ranks tops in a lot of categories already at his tender age and it is scary to think about what he can accomplish when he gets even more of the veteran poise, which he already has plenty of. He is very skilled for a player with his size, having a little bit of everything at his disposal. He makes excellent use of his body with fakes in all kinds of fashion. He can shoot it and has no fear of doing so while having good percentages for a guy at his age and considering his shot volume. Offensively there are few people in Europe that he has to be in fear of. Defensively on the other hand there is a lot to desire. He is obviously slow footed and the way he can make up for it on offence with his long strides makes him a liability on the other end. To guard players that play his position, which is usually PG, SG and SF he is way to slow, also he makes up a little bit of it with good court awareness and positioning. As his lateral quickness gives him no chance to guard any of the athletic marvels he faces, he usually relies on letting a lot of space between him and his opponent and then use his length to at least challenge the presented shot. His team was fully aware of his deficiencies and often hid him in a zone, where he could use his length to his advantage. He is not much of a shot blocker despite having an excellent wingspan giving him great length.

Gallinari would be ill advised to pass up the next draft. The way he has played this year on Europe’s biggest stage makes him a near lock to be a lottery pick. His stock can only fall after this year. To judge his game from an NBA perspective, he will be in for a hard time. He is no PG in the traditional sense, he is more of a combination SG/SF that can handle the ball a little if needed. He is a solid but not a great shooter, who often outsmarts defenders with his pump fakes, but it is only a question of when he gets figured out. Comparing him to a young Kukoc is unfair to Danilo as he is much smaller than Toni was and not nearly as good a shooter, though he surely possesses the instincts for the game that Kukoc had. He gets his penetration more on his extreme smarts and poise, than on pure speed which could be hard to overcome in the NBA. With slow feet, his biggest deficiency is his defense. Similar to Adam Morrison, he is not and probably never will be able to guard anyone in the NBA at his respective positions. That is a big obstacle to overcome. He could end up in the mold of other European greats that never tried or have failed to succeed in the special setting of the world of NBA athletism. Just think of Bodiroga, Papaloukas, Diamantidis. They all could have played in the league as a role player or bench guy, no question about it, but why waste time like that if you can get the same money while staring in the European environment. Being a lock for this years lottery, Danilo should take this chance, make a lot of money of his rookie contract and maybe hope for an unconventional coach like Don Nelson to take a flyer on him along the way.

Tim Ohlbrecht

Showed some development on a lousy but stacked veteran team that only won 2 games all season and played a defensive slow down tempo, that surely doesn’t fit his style of play. He steadily upped his playing time throughout the season and when Bamberg was ousted, he received plenty of run. His team ran close to no plays designed for him to display any offensive skills, so he had to settle for hustle plays and dishes. The longer the season went the more he got accustomed to the speed and intensity of competition and from the midseason mark he had adapted and was right in it. He had most of the highlights for his team as he was the only one with the adapt combination of athletism and strength to run and jump with the nowadays typical mobile Euroleague front court player. He showed a knack for shot blocking as the season progressed giving his team a defensive presence that it had not known before. He was misused to a certain extend in pick and roll situations, in which he set the pick, rolled perfectly to the hoop only to find his teammates launch an ill advised shot in traffic, instead of feeding him.

Ohlbrecht’s combination of size and athletism seems to make him a very good fit for the NBA style of basketball. He can jump with the best of them, can outrun almost any player his size and has the frame to put on even more muscle to his already 245 lbs without losing any of his agility. His pick and roll is a thing of beauty and if you pair his abilities with a point guard in the Kidd, Nash, Paul class he could easily cash in on 4 alley ups or fast break dunks a night without having to a play run for him. His offensive game right now is strictly highlight dunk or three pointer. He can shoot it with excellent range but was not allowed to do it this year, while being a good free throw shooter, but no in between game and only rudimentary post moves right now. His defense is what earns him his playing time. He is scary presence as a shot blocker, be it blind side or straight up. He alters or changes almost everything that comes his way, while during the season he progressed not biting on every fake. He has the ability to rebound but mainly stuck to boxing out within the team concept, but his raw abilities should make him a good rebounder at any level down the line. Right now he can be a young Kenyon Martin kind of player, but he needs a decent point guard to be productive, while always being able to crack the Top 10 highlights with a dunk or a block. He has first round potential in the future, and may be tempted to enter the draft this year to see where he stands.

Omri Casspi

Casspi found himself low on the totem pole on a stacked roster with a lot at stake and devoted to winning instead of developing young talent. He took some time to adjust to the superior speed of the competition and upped his minutes while being slowly brought along by his coach and mentor. Then when things started clicking for Casspi he, more so his father, had one of his infamous run ins with the coach and management, wanting more exposure for his son. A big uproar ensued and ended not only the coaches tenure but also Casspi’s playing time aspirations as management wanted to make a statement. In his first game back, after sitting out 4 consecutive, he displayed very good combination of skills as he exploded for massive production only to fall back into minor contribution role in the following

Casspi has solid athletism and a good shot which is a combination that ultimately gives him a chance to earn a spot on an NBA roster. He possesses unlimited confidence in his abilities. Which on one hand is good, but also hurts him on other occasions, e.g. when he has to limit himself to small minutes or coming off the bench. He is accustomed to playing heavy minutes and demands it and likely will on any level he plays at. He is able to produce if someone lets him play, but most of the young players and rookies have to go through an adjustment period that means scarce playing time and starts. Casspi appears unable to deal with a situation like that as he sees himself as the best player ever from his country and has an influential family behind him that will not sit still if he is, in their view, constrained from fulfilling his potential. Here we see where the problem lays, we talk far too much about things that have nothing to do with pure basketball ability but politics. NBA GMs and coaches are not eager to baby sit one of their pros, and expect professionalism through and through. Casspi has the tools to play in the league down the road and surely to star in Europe, but does he have the patience to earn himself that status? To this point, he hasn’t proved that, giving the impression that he is a prima donna. At every level he has played at, there has been some kind of run in with an official, coach or management, dating back to his junior days at Maccabi to now. He’s become a risky choice for any team that believes that his abilities to outweigh any potential problems.

The Rest:

Artem Zabelin and Alexey Shved probably took a step in the wrong direction this year. Instead of rejecting the big money that CSKA instantly offered, they would have been better of on a less talent laden, results oriented team, but therefore received more playing time. Both have some intriguing tools but they need playing time to gather experience at the senior men’s level. Not getting on the floor this year has surely not helped their respective development, or immediate draft stock.

Pietro Aradori surprised a lot of people with his productive play but his NBA aspirations are non-existent. As are those of Martynas Gecevicius who did a decent job but seems to be too one dimensional.

The Youngsters:

Antoine Diot made his way into the rotation and with his energy he sparked his team every once in a while, but he seems to be more of a scorer than a distributor.

Donatas Montiejunas seems to be the next big thing on the radar for the future for Lithuania as he gave his debut this year and had some solid production in his three games.


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