The FIBA Europe U18 tournament has long been considered one of the most prestigious international youth basketball events. The tournament often attracts most of the top European players within the required age range, and this year was no different. The event was headlined by Frank Ntilikina and Isaiah Hartenstein, two possible lottery picks in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Ntilikina caught the flu and was somewhat disappointing early on in the tournament, as the French coach kept his minutes down and Ntilikina further limited his own playing time by getting into some foul trouble in the first couple games. Still, even during this stretch his defensive capabilities immediately stood out and he was able to smother opponents with his lengthy wingspan. Often denying opponents transition opportunities, Ntilikina also did an excellent job closing out on shooters after tagging the roll man in the paint.
France finished group play with an undefeated record, and while Ntilikina struggled to get going offensively, his teammate Sekou Doumbouya absolutely took over a couple of games. Doumbouya is a 6’8 combo-forward, who has long been considered the top prospect of his generation in Europe. His explosive athletic ability completely overwhelmed opposing defenders and, at times, Doumbouya seemed to get to the rim at will, dunking on whoever was waiting for him once he got there. His play quickly caught the attention of those following the tournament. Currently, his most important attribute might actually be his age. Doumbouya only turned 16 a few days AFTER the tournament was over. Many of the other players he matched up against were almost three years older than him. It’s almost unheard of for a player so young to be so dominant against much older and more experienced competition. Doumbouya won’t even be eligible for the NBA draft until 2019, but he’s already considered a future lottery pick and as he continues to polish his footwork and jump shot, he may end up going top-three or even contending for the first overall pick with players like Marvin Bagley and Romeo Langford.
As Doumbouya carried France into the knockout stage, Frank Ntilikina seemed to get better and better and it was his turn to lead the team. Ntiliikina absolutely exploded in the semi-final against Italy, once again dominating defensively, but also bombing three after three and constantly putting the hapless Italian defenders into disadvantaged positions in the pick-n-roll.
On the other end of the knock out bracket, Isaiah Hartenstein’s German team seemed to be on a crash course to the finals, where they were destined to match up against France. Early on, Hartenstein, along with draft prospect Kostja Mushidi and break out forward Oscar da Silva, seemed to be almost toying with the competition. Most of the big men in this tournament were 6’8 or 6’9 and usually no bigger than 6’10. As a true 7’0, along with his skill and athletic ability, Hartenstein could score almost anytime he wanted to. When the double and triple teams came, he calmly found teammates cutting to the basket or spotting up outside the arch. His effort defensively has been questioned in the past, but he looked solid enough in this tournament, finishing as one of the top shot blockers.
In the semi-finals, Germany faced the Lithunian team that had just barely beaten Russia on a miracle half court buzzer-beater by point guard Arnas Velicka. Lithuania was led by forwards Tadas Sedekerskis and Arnoldas Kulboka and while they were without a doubt one of the better teams in this tournament, Germany had far more talent and depth. However, when Lithuania got out to an early lead, Hartenstein’s demons came back to haunt him. He began to show disappointment in teammates that missed shots or messed up on defensive rotations. He also started to loudly bark at the refs and, at one point, failed to get back on defense while arguing with an official. Finally, the German coach simply sat his star big man and Lithuania was able to hold on to their lead and fend off Germany’s attempts at a come-back.
At times, Hartenstein looked like the most talented player in the entire tournament, but at other times his emotions began to get the best of him. This isn’t only to comment on his character but even his play, as he often makes some absolutely bone-headed decisions and had some of the worst turnovers in the entire tournament. His focus also still comes and goes defensively, although it has gotten better and he did a nice job protecting the rim, as well as moving his feet when switched out on opposing guards and wing players.
Kostja Mushidi had a pretty disappointing tournament. He was able to be effective at times and he continues to impress with his court vision and quick, accurate cross court passing, but his jump shot is highly inconsistent and he didn’t really display the type of athletic ability that he often seems to be credited with. Mushidi is a decent defensive player but he isn’t a shutdown man defender, nor is he quick or explosive enough to rack up a large number of steals, blocks and deflections.
Oscar da Silva was a revelation here in my eyes. At 6’9, and possibly still growing, with at least a 7-foot wing span, da Silva moves like a guard and is able to use his quickness and length to cover up for any defensive mistakes of his teammates. He is a monster in transition and displays fairly nice touch around the rim. Clearly, he still has a long way to go, but with his mobility and size he can be a valuable playmaking power forward with the ability to switch out on wing players and perhaps even guards.
It’s been mentioned by almost every well-regarded NBA analyst that the league currently has a desperate need for wing players with size, athletic ability, and versatile skill sets. This tournament managed to highlight a few players with such potential. Joining Doumbouya and Ntilikina on the French team was Elhadji-Digue Diawara, a 6’8, lengthy athlete who was one of the more explosive players in attendance. He’s already 18 years old and still fairly raw, however his natural tools are certainly promising and his feel for the game and motor seemed good enough to consider him as a future prospect. Israel’s Yovel Zoosman is more of a power forward at this stage, as he struggled with his outside shot and still needs to work on his handle. However, he’s another athletic player with good size and excellent defensive instincts. He finished the tournaments as one of the leaders in steals and did a fine job guarding a variety of the top offensive threats on opposing teams. Agasiy Tonoyan was the break out player for the Russian team, one of the tournament’s biggest positive surprises. Tonoyan played excellent defense throughout, flashed some athletic ability, and was especially effective as a ball handler and playmaker. His jump shot is still streaky but he is one of the better prospects from Russia in the last few years, perhaps since Sergey Karasev. Sergi Martinez and Olle Lundqvist are two ’99 born players who were already fairly well regarded coming into the tournament and continued to show off their games. Martinez still plays more like a big man in a wing’s body but he is a good athlete with some budding skills, including improved range on his jump shot. Lundqvist has a long way to go, especially as far as his physique, but already has great feel, a solid handle and the ability to make plays off the dribble. If he figures out how to use his size more effectively on the defensive end and adds some consistency to his three-point shooting, he has some of the talent necessary to be drafted in the first round down the line.
Tadas Sedekerskis made the all-tournament team and seemed one step ahead of the competition mentally on both ends of the floor. He provided terrific defensive play throughout and used his mature body to create opportunities around the basket for himself, whether off the dribble drive or by posting up. His three-point shooting failed to impress and it seems, at this point, he’s destined to be more of a power forward than a wing, but seeing him standing next to Hartenstein and Ntilkina in the picture of the all-tournament team, he looked to be at least 6’9 and maybe even 6’10.
Lithuania made a run all the way to the finals, thanks to solid contributions from almost the entire team and, as usual for the Lithuanians, some great coaching. Unfortunately, Arnoldas Kulboka, a highly hyped forward coming into this tournament, struggled throughout and is someone who ended up being pretty disappointing. He was eventually able to knock down three-pointers at a high rate and with solid efficiency, which remains by far his best skill. Alas, almost all other areas of his game leave much more to be desired, especially on the defensive end, where he was consistently dominated by players both big and small.
Dzanan Musa was another player who probably hurt his stock in this event. He did a great job drawing fouls, but the referees made a lot of questionable calls throughout, and I’d argue that the officiating in this tournament wasn’t very good overall. Musa was crafty in taking advantage of the overly eager refs and went to the free throw line at an absurd rate. He once again displayed some solid ball handling and the ability to run the pick-n-roll fairly well. However, it seems like he hasn’t really added anything to his game since this summer’s U17 World Championship and largely remains the same player. Against older competition he was unable to impose his will and was often forced to settle for low percentage, well defended shots. The lack of elite athletic ability is starting to be a problem for Musa as the competition level gets tougher. Furthermore, the Bosnian team often hid him defensively, keeping him away from guarding some of the top opposing scorers. When given the chance, he did a decent job locking up one-on-one, especially as his effort level increased in the later stages of games. His biggest weakness defensively seems to be his absolute refusal to box out.
Borisa Simanic was another player that left observers wanting more. I’d argue that he still ended the tournament with solid numbers, but Serbia failed to qualify for the “playoff” and Simanic ended up hurting his ankle before sitting out the last few games of the event. His quiet and shy demeanor is beginning to be questioned and some have wondered about the type of passion he has for the game. Otherwise, his shooting and ball handling remain outstanding for a player his size, but at this stage it’s really hard to see him being a first round pick in this year’s draft.
Overall, it was an interesting event, although some were let down by the lack of true dominance from any single player or players. Ntilikina won the MVP award and he, along with Hartenstein, still remain the top prospects among ’98 born players. However, a few players didn’t quite live up to the hype. This weekend the Adidas Next Generation Tournament will have its first round of games in Spain and some of the top ’99 and ’00 born prospects will be in attendance. I’m eager to continue to follow some of the top international players as the year goes on and I’ll have another International stock report as soon as I’m able to get my eyes on some more film of these guys. Some of the up-and-coming Brazilian prospects have especially caught my attention recently, guys like Pedro Barros, George de Paula and Felipe dos Anjos. I’ll do my best to find footage of these players for a future write up.