By: Sam Meyerkopf/@HoopLikeDrazen
It was a fun tournament at the Adidas Nations. Five International teams from around the world dueled it out for four days with four American teams. Team Africa was the most successful of the International squads, winning the third place game and finishing the tournament with a 3-2 record. Team Latin America finished 2-3, Team Europe was 2-3, Team Australia was 1-4, and Team Asia was 0-4. Here I wanted to discuss the top prospects from the International pool, their roles and position, and how their future development looks.
Papa Diatta, Team Africa (Senegal), F, 6’8″, 1994
PPG: 13.4 RPG: 5.4 APG: 1.2 SPG: 2.2
Offensive Game: Diatta operates as a wing player on offense, who has mostly developed as an on-ball player at this point. He has forward size but functions more as a guard with his tendency to dribble along the perimeter and sometimes the high post. Diatta’s strengths are as a passer, dribbler for his size, court vision and shooting touch. He operated a lot of the half court offense for Team Africa. Is very adept at finding cutters and is constantly looking for the passing cracks in the defense. When he puts the ball on the floor (which he often does), it’s usually to get a mid-range shot or move the defense around to find a passing angle. Not an explosive athlete so his driving ability all the way to the rim is limited but he rarely gets the ball stripped and has a strong handle when going east to west on the perimeter. As a shooter he has a really soft touch on mid-range, short-range, and floater shots. His three point shot is getting there and his form is set so with more practice it should be solid. Shoots well off the catch and shoot but really shoots well dribbling into a jumper, even if he tends to fade away some.
Diatta moves confidently around the court. He’s not quick but he’s crafty enough to create space for himself. When he is able to get free on a dribble drive he has great body control which helps with floater type shots in the paint.
Defensive Game: Plays intense defense and is better at giving a wing ball pressure than trying to stop a guy from backing him down at this point. He is not super quick so faster guys could give him trouble. He also can sometimes overplay his guy because he is playing so intensely. Smart player but value is more on the offensive end.
Needs to Improve: Diatta really needs to work on his off the ball game. A modern small forward is usually a very good cutter, which Diatta needs a lot of development on. He focuses on his work with the ball or how to get it back often. And while Diatta is great at setting up his teammates with his passes, his court spacing and cutting aren’t always factored into how he could set up his teammates. Basically he needs to learn to possess more role player qualities because as he gets into higher level of competitions he will not always be the best player on his team.
Future Development: At 19 years old and still in high school in the US, Diatta was older than most all the prospects at the tournament. But he was the steadying force for Africa and a guy everyone trusted and relied upon. Diatta would benefit from going to a college (next year) where he could get more playing time and get a lot of reps doing different things. But with such feel for the game he is a really intriguing prospect, almost Luol Deng like.
Sidi Ndir, Team Africa (Senegal), PG, 6’3″, 1995
PPG: 16.4 APG: 1.6 SPG: 1.6 3P%: 41.7%
Offensive Game: Ndir is a point guard more in the sense of that he has the ball a lot and less in the sense of setting up his team’s offense and his teammates. So it really begs the question of, is he a point guard or do you want him to be a point guard?
Ndir I would describe more as an attacker. He has a good crossover that allows him space to drive or get off his patented step-back jumper. An athletic player who has a loose handle but it’s hard for a defender to predict what he is about to do or where is about to go. Doesn’t have a diverse finishing game when going to the basket but is totally comfortable with going into contact and getting to the line (drew a lot of fouls, made 3.2 free throws per game). Overall he just loves to shoot and makes a lot of “bad shots”. A one on one player who can get tunnel vision but can really score. He scares you and excites you at the same time. Loves to push the pace and get out in the open court where he is most creative. Can hit people with passes off of the drive but is usually looking for instant impact plays. Almost reluctant to make the easy pass or play because he thrives on action. Really more of a scoring guard in mindset and game and ends up playing point because of his size and how much he has the ball. He hates to get subbed out, shows really intensity all the time.
Defensive Game: Like a lot of Team Africa plays pretty in your face defense and constantly looking to force a turnover. Plays offense similar to defense, wants to force action instead of letting the game come to him. But with his length and athleticism can really cause other guards problems, especially if they try to put it on the floor.
Needs to Improve: If Ndir really wants to be a point guard then he needs to do the more under the radar things that go with being the team’s offensive and defensive manager. Seems more concentrated on his game than the team’s as a whole. This means he needs to make quicker passes and decisions that will make the defense move and get his teammates more involved. He needs to set himself up for easier plays instead of dribbling and working so hard for tough shots. Seeing the whole floor and the play before the play instead of just what the next direct action will be. The physical tools are there but integral parts of the game still need to be learned.
Future Development: Ndir was in the Orleans system in France last year. I would like to see him play up in competition the next couple years and really have to rely on his teammates to succeed. Playing against competition he can dominate physically will only reaffirm some of the bad and selfish habits he’s gotten into. Overall Ndir was one of my favorite players to watch and you can see really loves the game. He looks to pan out as an off the bench scorer but needs to learn to play both guard positions, not just be a small guard who can score.
Nehdi Ngouma, Team Africa (Algeria/Congo) PG, 6’2″, 1995
PPG: 12.8 RPG: 5.0 APG: 2.4 SPG: 3.0
Offensive Game: An extremely quick guard that loves to play in the open court and can feel bottled up in the half court offense. Has really great acceleration, allowing him to speed up quickly. Jets out onto the fast break with a really effective speed dribble and finished with some highlight dunks on the break. In the half court is a good dribble driver but not a very creative dribbler and relies on quickness to get by his defender. Has very quick wrists and feet that allow him to use the hesitation move effectively. Doesn’t have much of an in-between game, tries to get to the rim or shoot three’s. Is a decent passer but only seems to go to that option when he can’t figure out how to score. More of a point guard than Ndir though. Really is just looking for a crack in the defense for a drive, if not he tries to find his shot, and if not he passes. Great as a change of pace guard.
Defensive Game: Ngouma is really intriguingly defensively. He led the tournament in steals at three per game and was a constant havoc maker. Because Ngouma is so good on the fast break, he really tries to create steals or turnovers by pestering the opposing point guard and poking at his dribble for a potential pick pocket. His man-to-man defense allows him to use his athletic skills and quick twitch reactions, but he still could learn a lot about team and help defense.
Needs To Improve: Because Ndir is a little bigger and a more prolific scorer, he has a better chance of being valued as a combo guard. If Ngouma really wants to succeed, the only route seems to be at point guard. This means he really needs to learn how to manage a team. Make quicker decisions, get his teammates easy baskets, and learn to really space the floor and create offense beyond just dribble drives. The passing skills are there, he just needs to become more willing.
Future Development: Is in the Nancy system in France. Along with Ndir, I’d really like to see Ngouma play up in competition so he can’t just rely on physical talents. A really exciting player to watch as next couple years will be crucial in his development.
Michael Nzei, Team Africa (Nigeria), PF, 6’8″, 1995
PPG: 12.6 RPG: 10.6 SPG: 1.4 BPG: 1.0
Offensive Game: Nzei’s offensive game relies on other players creating for him. He is a reactive player, getting scoring opportunities off of guards dribble penetration, put-backs, and alley-oops. He is very effective at these things though and like almost everyone on Team Africa, thrives out on the break. He’s a really active player and a very quick jumper. He can be like pogo stick, continually jumping to try and get his hands on a rebound. Led the tournament in rebounding at 10.6 a game. Has a little bit of a developing jumper but releases the ball really high. Is a good finisher for his size but can have real problems with taller players. Will never shy away from trying to attack the rim but got a few dunk attempts sent back.
Defensive Game: Nzei stays active on defense too. Jumps into passing lanes and can come over for a weak side rejection. Has problem with players trying to body him up or back him down but most of the high school players weren’t trying to do that anyway. Might have to guard both forward spots in the future because of his height and leanness.
Needs To Improve: With a guy like Nzei you probably would rather have him get really good at the things he already does pretty well and see what other secondary skills you can bring up to an adequate level. He’s going to hit the offensive boards, run the floor well, and hustle on defense. Now let’s see if you can add a short jumper, bulk him up a little, and get him to set really good screens.
Future Development: Nzei is currently in high school in the US and will probably go the route of college. He just needs to play more basketball and go to a school where he can get playing time.
Jonah Bolden, Team Australia, F, 6’8″, 1996
PPG: 13.0 RPG: 7.0 APG: 0.7 FG%: 65.2%
Offensive Game: Bolden was forced into the role of leading scorer for his team and while he played well, it’s not where he thrives the most. Bolden is giant for a wing and probably had the biggest wingspan compared to height at the tournament. A good passer who was looked on to create a lot of his team’s offense with some sub-par point guard beside him. A decent dribbler who can get really low with his dribbler but isn’t a dynamic driver. Looks to be better as an off the ball cutter and open court player. Was very efficient and rarely made bad decisions or took bad shots. His frame makes him looks like Nicolas Batum and he has a good overall skill set but I was left wanting a little bit more.
Defensive Game: This is where Bolden’s potential deadly. Stretched out the guy can cover half the court. Getting his hands on passes, coming over to contest shots, and tipping out rebounds. Bolden can just get his fingertips on anything and does a great job of transitioning from defense to fast break offense because he can run the break or finish at the end of it.
Needs To Improve: Shooting. He already has a pretty smooth shot and it’s so extended that it’s really hard to block. Since Bolden looks to be a secondary offensive option in the future, he can really become a deadly player on cuts if defenders have to honor his shot. Catches anything thrown his way, so a great target whether you are trying to get him the ball cutting to the basket or on a kick-out.
Future Development: Bolden is possibly going to go to Findlay Prep for school this fall and then onto college in the future. Already has some high level schools interested in him and he has the type of game that is better off being part of a role on a good team rather than the main option on a lesser team. Probably has the most overall potential of all the players on this list.
Keanu Pinder, Team Australia, F, 6’8″, 1995
PPG: 10.8 RPG: 6.6 APG: 1.0 SPG: 1.8
Offensive Game: Pinder has a similar frame to Bolden although with not quite the wingspan but a little bit stronger. He plays bigger in a sense that he’s great at cutting to the hoop and going after offensive boards, making playing power forward in the future possible. He also looks to have a future off the ball. Not much of a shooter but a good driver because of his length, the best thing about Pinder is he makes quick decisions. He’s usually looking for a lane to cut through and passes or makes a play with the ball quickly, which is preferred for a non on the ball creator on offense. A good finisher who has really good ups and loves to get out on the break.
Defensive Game: Very good on defense. Pinder is great at jumping passing lanes and disrupting on defense. He just moves really well and is so long that he can get places quickly. Almost sneaky in a way and is probably better at playing help defense where he can try to cause a turnover instead of on ball defense right now.
Needs To Improve: Pinder could really become an effective power forward in the NCAA and Europe. Because he will be slightly short for that position, he needs to bulk up more to deal with interior opponents. Pinder could also up his aggressiveness on offense more. Because he makes quick decisions, he can sometimes fade in and out of his team’s offensive flow.
Future Development: Pinder could be coming over for a year of high school and then go to college. Will be interesting to see what forward position he’ll drift towards but he could be an excellent college player.
Lucas Vezaro, Team Latin America (Brazil), G, 6’1″ 1996
PPG: 14.3 RPG: 4.0 APG: 1.3 SPG: 2.0
Offensive Game: Vezaro is a true combo guard, someone who can start your offense as a point or be the primary perimeter scorer at the off guard spot. He functioned as the shooting guard, starting a lot of offense from the wing because of the prevalence of short point guards on the roster. A really crafty player who isn’t extremely quick but finds driving angles. Is a great shooter, probably the best shooter at the tournament when he gets his feet set. Always follows through on his jumper and caught every pass thrown at him. Can shoot off the catch and shoot, pull-up on the drive, or come off a pick and pop it. A good half court offensive player as he can run around screens all day off the ball looking for space for his shot or he can start some offense on the perimeter, creating for others.
Defensive Game: A really smart defender who understood help defense really well, always seemed to be in the proper position. Drew charges, stripped away balls, and went up for rebounds with two hands. Even though he doesn’t have the length or quickness you’d prefer for a perimeter defender, by always being in the right place and using sound fundamentals, he was able to make the right play. Will have to defend point guards as he gets older with his height.
Needs To Improve: Protective ball handling and learning to get his bigs more involved. Vezaro will play point guard in the future and will need to be better at having a firm handle while getting the offense organized. He had trouble when teams hedged out and doubled him on the perimeter, so he needs to become really strong with the ball. Also, and maybe this was just a function of this particular team, but the Latin American bigs were not involved enough. Vezaro as one of the team’s best passers and offensive players needs to learn the value of working inside-out and not just trying to create on the perimeter.
Future Development: Vezaro goes to high school in the US and is in the class of 2016. He’s pretty old for his grade but since he’s not an elite level prospect, it’s fine. He just needs consistent minutes and reps as a team’s lead guard. He reminds me a lot of Federico Van Lacke with his craftiness and shooting stroke. Personally I love his game, would be one of the first international guys I’d want on my team. Probably doesn’t stack up to the rest of these guys athletically but could be a really valuable player at a mid-major college where he would see minutes immediately.
Braian Rodas, Team Latin America (Colombia), SG/SF, 6’6″, 1994
PPG: 18.3 RPG: 5.0 APG: 2.o SPG: 2.3
Offensive Game: Rodas is a wing scorer. He’s hungry for buckets. Was looked upon to score 20 plus a game if his team was going to be successful. Rodas functions as a one on one player who has a deadly pull-up jumper. He has a really lanky frame and it allows him to make big change in directions on the drive. Rodas is a good finisher when he gets all the way to the rim but struggled a lot with his three point shot. His iso scoring abilities were much needed for his team in this setting but would be interesting to see how he functioned on a team where he wasn’t one of the main scoring options.
Defensive Game: Played the equivalent of free safety on defense. Plays off his man looking for steals or a passing lane to jump (averaged 2.2 steals per game). Has amazingly quick hands and combined with his long arms he pick-pocketed quite a few opponents. Still needs to focus in on his on-ball defense but the activity he already shows means it can be bottled into a complete defender.
Needs To Improve: Playing off the ball and the mechanics on his three point shot. He probably shoots better off the dribble at this point and isn’t as comfortable in catch and shoot situations. It’s like he needs to be attacking to be successful. So it’ll be necessary to find ways to be an effective offensive player when he doesn’t have the ball.
Future Development: Would be great for Rodas to go to a situation where he had to learn a system and become part of a team. He seems to have gotten by as being the best offensive player around and would really benefit in developing his non-scoring skills.
Mikhail Kulagin, Team Europe (Russia), G, 6’2″, 1994
PPG: 15.4 RPG: 6.8 APG: 2.2 SPG: 1.8
Offensive Game: Kulagin is well known on the international basketball circuit at this point. He’s a short shooting guard who has a strong offensive game. Kulagin has a feathery outside shot, even if he doesn’t jump much on it. Led the tournament in three point attempts at nine per a game. He seems to float around the court and has a slinky handle that makes him tricky on the dribble drive. Has a real confidence to his game but also seems to get down on his teammates. Had that “I’m better than the rest of my teammates” body language and he was but his attitude didn’t help the team. Was very streaky, either in or out of his flow and really looking for his own offense and not his teammates. Has the scoring toolbox for a guard but we’ll see if his whole game develops.
Defensive Game: Very quick on his feet so can defend driving guards but he’s more focused on offense than defense right now. The Russian team was also desperate for his scoring. But when focused can steal artist, we’ll see about his total defense.
Needs To Improve: Overall decision making skills. I called him a short shooting guard but if he wants to be a high level player at the pro level he’s probably going to have to be a point guard. And he has the ability to do this, he had the ball in his hands a lot at this tournament, but needs to learn to see the whole floor and not just his scoring options.
Future Development: Already getting some minutes for Triumph in Russia and should play a bigger role this year. Will be a good situation for him playing with more experienced teammates he’ll have to rely on. Has the moxie and scoring ability to survive but I question his mentality and hope it approves, as he is still very young.