By: Valentin Le Clezio / @BBfromLA
A French flavor has been surrounding the capital city of Serbia the last couple of years. A young and talented contingent of French prospects has decided to settle up far from their native land to follow the instructions of Dusko Vujosevic and play in front of the raucous crowd of Pionir Arena.
Everyone of them had different reasons to join the most successful club in Serbia but they all had two common denominators: they wanted to be pushed, mentally and physically, in order to improve as men and basketball players and they are represented by the same representation agency (BeoBasket).
Westermann is the one leading the way. Following two pretty successful seasons with Asvel in ProA, and a MVP award at the U20 championship, he decided to take the next step in his promising career and leave France. Rytas in Lithuania and Partizan were the two most interested projects as they proposed a starting point guard spot and insurance of playing at the highest level of Euro basketball (Euroleague). Westermann chose Partizan and what was seen as a very bold move back then is now seen as genius tactical decision. He could not lead “his” team to the Euroleague Top 16 but Westermann turned into the leader of this extremely young Partizan squad. He was the player making clutch decisions and last second shots, the one talking in huddles and had a very promising Euroleague season from a statistical standpoint. He was able to show his incredible creativity for a player his size and cover most of his deficiencies (speed, athleticism…) thanks to a high basketball IQ. He struggled shooting the ball during in Adriatic league games (31% on all his jump shots) but showed some promises in that sector against better competition (43% shooting the three in the Euroleague). More importantly, he really seemed to have improved defensively over the past 18 months. He is now able to cover much more ground when moving laterally and rarely gets caught on Pick and Roll situations. He has gone from being a liability in that department to being average in the defensive scheme of Vujosevic.
He ended last season on a high note with a MVP award of the Adriatic League Final.
In his last year of NBA Draft eligibility, it is not a given Westermann will get picked by an NBA team next June, nor that he wants it, but he made sure to show Europe what a talent he is and how he could develop into one of the very best European point guards.
Lauvergne was the second Frenchman to join Dusko-Nation, with his friend (they played together at INSEP) Leo Westermann. If Westermann’s move clearly paid off, what about the return on investment for Lauvergne?
Simply off the charts.
Buried into a 9th or 10th player role for French champion Chalon-sur-Saone, Lauvergne lost patience and clashed with the coaching staff in November 2012. Gregor Beugnot, Chalon’s coach, famously declared, “I am going to follow very closely his future”. Hopefully he respected his promise and was able to applaud Lauvergne’s incredible journey during the next 6 months. Following a quick pit stop with Valencia BC (six points and four rebounds per game in five ACB games) he signed a 2 1/2 years contract with Belgrade. Lauvergne wanted to work harder and needed to be pushed at practice. He couldn’t have gone to a better place than Partizan’s three or four hour practice sessions. His improvements was very impressive and he quickly obtained the starting power-forward spot. More than the energizer he always has been, Lauvergne started to grab rebounds at a high-rate (best rebounder of the Euroleague so far this season) and even showed a great touch around the rim (54% in 13 Adriatic games last season).
The Denver Nuggets made Lauvergne the 55th pick of the 2013 NBA Draft. It did not end the amazing turnaround of Lauvergne’s career. And last but not least, he made the cut of the French National team roster after a series of strong performances in friendly games. He did not get much playing time in Slovenia but ended the summer with a nice Gold Medal.
The forward is now averaging over 31 minutes a game in Adriatic league games and over 33 in the Euroleague. He has become one of the leaders of Partizan and is getting plenty of touches on the low blocks, something that would have been unthinkable 10 months ago. Davis Bertans’ injury also enabled him to play more as a stretch four but his outside shot is still a major work in progress (18% from three this season). If he can develop an efficient jumper from 15 to 22 feet, the NBA might come sooner than later for Lauvergne. If it doesn’t, Lauvergne will be fine anyway. He turned around a career in a span of eight months.
The last newcomer in Belgrade and not the least talented, is Boris Dallo (1994 born). He’s a long (6’5 with a good wingspan) and athletic combo-guard. He’s now backing-up Leo Westermann at the Point-Guard position.
Dallo made his pro debut last season in ProA with Poitiers. From an individual standpoint Dallo had a normal season for a rookie (12 minutes a game and 23 matches played) but Poitiers struggled all season long and finished the season at the last place of Pro A (10 victories-20 loses). It did not prevent NBA scouts and GM’s to come overseas and keep an eye on the talented Frenchman.
Dallo didn’t want to play in ProB and he almost ended up signing for ProA newcomer, Antibes. Following a long saga between Dallo, his agent and the club, the discussions were eventually interrupted. He wouldn’t sign for the Mediterranean ball club.
BeoBasket ended up finding him a (very) favourable landing spot in Belgrade. He has yet to make a great impact on that team but the potential and the promises are clearly there. He averages over 16 minutes a game in Adriatic contests and is trying to adapt to his new role of being a full-time point guard. Calling plays, organizing a team, knowing the spots in which your teammates like to receive the ball and other Point-Guard skills are not things you can acquire overnight. Dallo is in the middle of this process but he could not find himself in a better place to go through this important period of his evolution. Not a pure Point-Guard, Dallo’s intangibles fit the NBA games more than those of Westermann or Lauvergne. Explosive off-the dribble, possessing athletic abilities enabling him to explode at the rim, Dallo needs to keep improving his ball-handling, shooting and to keep getting stronger. He has all the tools and Partizan gives him the opportunity to improve his overall game. If he seizes it, the 2015 NBA Draft is already tomorrow.