Gibson: NBA Scouts Eye European Prospects

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BARCELONA — In a couple of years, Augustinas Jankaitis might be a name NBA fans can get excited about. A 6’7″ forward for Lietuvos Rytas who’d rather dribble through you than around you, the Lithuanian has already garnered attention from draftniks far and wide for his versatility and toughness. 

Yesterday, Jankaitis led Lietuvos Rytas’ junior team to a 72-68 win over Barcelona for first place in the 2012 Ciutat de L’Hospitalet Junior Tournament.

Then, he held in his hands much more tangible evidence of his imminent rise to professional relevance: the tournament’s MVP trophy.

Tucked into the Catalonian foothills just to the southwest of Barcelona, the city of L’Hopsitalet de Llobregat has played host to one of Europe’s premiere youth tournaments for 33 years running, inviting international attention and churning out one can’t-miss prospect after another.

Before he wiggled his way out of Portland to throw no-look alleys to Kenneth Faried in Denver, Rudy Fernandez was a 17-year-old with Joventut Badalona, lifting the MVP trophy after a dominant few days at L’Hospitalet.

In 2008, Nikola Mirotic drew MVP honors for his brilliance with Real Madrid, and he kept the scouts’ saliva gushing the following January by throwing up averages of 28.3 points, 13.7 rebounds, 3.3 steals and 3.3 blocks to earn his second trophy in as many years.

Not to be outdone, fellow big man Jonas Valanciunas ripped it up in 2010 on his way to becoming the Raptors’ first rounder (fifth overall) in 2011.

Then you’ve got your L’Hospitalet-MVP-Turned-Euroleague-Starter crew, featuring folks like Erazem Lorbek, Milan Macvan, Aleksey Shved and Georgios Printezis.

So with writers, agents and over a dozen NBA scouts sitting elbow-to-elbow along the sideline, eight clubs full of overgrown and abnormally talented teenagers filled the little arena with 36 hours’ worth of echoes: the bounce of the ball, screech of the whistle and screens being called out in a handful of different languages.

Yet some echoes take longer than others to rattle around and make their way back to the source; at this year’s L’Hospitalet tournament, these six young men made noise that might be heard loudest several years from now, when they’re playing professionally at the highest level.

Kristaps Porzingis, 6’11″ Forward, Cajasol
9.2 points  |  4.8 rebounds  |  2.6 blocks 

If I were measuring in dinner tables, his wingspan would read “a few.” Porzingis has the arms of an endangered bird and the face of a kid lost at the zoo; he saunters down the court, innocently enough, before pouncing on any shot that dares fly rimward in his presence.

His stroke is incredibly smooth from outside and his release point makes it nearly unblockable, but in the end that may be Kristaps’ curse. I can’t remember an instance in which he turned his back to the basket and threw a hand up in the post; instead, the tallest guy on the court floats from one corner to the next in hopes of snaring a skip pass and firing up a triple.

That sort of benign existence is unacceptable for a kid of his stature and skill set, but coach after coach will happily chisel his basketball IQ while reaping the benefits of his freakishly effortless prowess on defense.

Karlo Lebo, 6’5″ Small Forward, KK Cedevita
6.8 points  |  4.3 rebounds |  1.5 steals

Karlo Lebo leapt his way onto the radar with his boundless athleticism when he was just a 14-year-old. Now, it’s his conscious decision to evolve  that has scouts and agents itching to see what comes next.

Once a bit of a chucker, Lebo’s now using his springy lower body to make life hell for the guy he’s guarding on one end and to get to the rim at the other.

He didn’t make the All-Tourney team, but Lebo will travel back to Croatia as the owner of both the week’s craziest block and its most “ooh” and “aah” inducing alley-oop finish. Not too shabby for a tournament that ran three days and over 100 players deep.

Like every other 17-year-old on the planet, his game could use a spit shine; but as far as raw talent goes, it doesn’t get much better than Karlo Lebo.

Doko Salic, 6’11″ Center, KK Spars
17.5 points  |  10 rebounds  |  1.3 steals 

They don’t make them much more efficient than Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Doko Salic. As soon as that entry pass leaves the guard’s hands, Salic snaps it out of thin air and he’s spun past you to the rim, where he converted 62 percent of his tries this week.

I’m not buying his listed height of 6’11″, but he makes up for the occasional disadvantage by pushing folks off the block and eliminating offensive rebound opportunities.

An absolute bulldog in the paint and still barely 16, Salic is the anti-Porzingis. No threes, no dilly-dallying and definitely no long stretches of invisibility.

When the hardest working guy on the floor’s also the most skilled, things can pretty ugly. At L’Hospitalet, nobody did ugly better than Doko.

Aleksej Nikolic, 6’0″ Point Guard, KK Spars
11.5 points  |  3.8 rebounds  |  1.8 assists

With apologies to All-Tournament selection Josep Perez, the Slovenian Aleksej Nikolic was the best point guard in town this week. He keeps the ball moving as if it were strapped with a bomb, but can also dribble his way into the paint whenever he needs to.

And although I like a kick out as much as the next guy, the next step for Nikolic is looking more for his own shots. They’re there, and he can hit them.

Your teammates will understand, Aleksej. Fire away.

His physical limitations (not the tallest, not the strongest, not a threat to throw it down when he shoots a gap in the defense) should keep him off of NBA draft boards for the foreseeable future, but his poise and ability to conduct an offense as a teenager should stick him on a reputable European club before too long.

Augustinas Jankaitis, 6’7″ Forward, Lietuvos Rytas
16 points  |  6.2 rebounds  |  58 percent shooting 

Among the scouts agents sitting around me, very few expected Augustinas Kankaitis to walk off with the MVP trophy. When he did, however, there wasn’t much objection.

Jankaitis didn’t get the chance to shower us with stats due to Rytas’ devotion to a team approach (only 22 minutes per game), but he took the minutes he did get and turned them into a physical showcase. Dribbling, spinning and banging it off the glass; putbacks off of putbacks; hard screens that freed up lights out shooters like Tautvydas Jodelis; Jankaitis did it all.

If it’s flash you’re looking for, you’re barking up the wrong Lithuanian. He’s here to work.

Albert Homs, 6’5″ Shooting Guard, Joventut Badalona
16.8 points  |  2.6 rebounds  |  1.4 steals

He’s a scorer, and an elite one at that.

Despite his height, Joventut would be best served keeping him at the two, where his jumper would fly freely and his midrange game could blossom under the white hot light of mismatches.

Nick Gibson, editor of EuroleagueAdventures.com, covers Euroleague and other European basketball developments for SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear each Friday. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

 

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