Only on paper are the U20 Euros a junior tournament — in practice these teams are stacked with players who inhabit spots on high-level pro team rosters; the bodies are bigger, the finishing more aggressive, the moves the result of thousands of reps.
At the same time the U20s are a great place to see players outside their usually still limited pro or NCAA D1 roles.
Helsinki at the heart of the proud young basketball nation Finland provided a worthy setting. These tournaments never attract much attention, but the Finns flooded Helsinki Ice Hall in thousands (over 5,000 for the Finland-France encounter) to see Finland & Lauri Markkanen play.
Great setting for Finland-France at the U20 Euros. pic.twitter.com/9BlxI1SXQJ
— Simon Jatsch (@sJacas) July 19, 2016
Despite Markkanen’s dominant play, Finland were eventually relegated (despite a 3-4 record) from U20 Division A together with Belgium and Hungary.
Spain, in the absence of a dominant star, won the title on the back of a team effort. Lithuania regrouped after injury to their best player (Martynas Varnas) and grinded their way into the title game. Turkey looked like Nr.1 gold contender before falling to Lithuania in the semis. Germany got a strong 4th place result; they’ll be amongst the top contenders once the 98/99 generation enrolls in the U20s, if they ever show up at full strength.
Markkanen & co.
NCAA exports make a signficant percentage of U20s attendees, usually either about to embark on- or coming off their freshman year. Markkanen was the obvious headliner here, and he delivered big time by averaging almost a point per minute (24.9 PPG in 26.5 MPG) and filling up the statsheet. UNC Greensboro’s Francisco Alonso was huge for Spain, but others left scouts with mixed impressions: Yankouba Sima was unable to finish anything in the paint, Federico Mussini looked downright ordinary and couldn’t get past the first line of defense, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk had sizzling two minute stretches where he single-handedly turned defense into offense, followed by numerous ineffective half court possessions, Thomas Akyazili looked more secondary ballhandler than playmaker.
Zone D reigns in HELSINKI
35.3% of Spain’s defensive half court possessions were in zone; they finished 1st in both half court and overall defensive rating. The U20’s zone possessions versus half court possessions rate exceeded those of the U16s, U18s and the NCAA tournament, according to Synergy Sports data. Zone is popular wherever it is effective; winning trumps everything else.
Turkey & Germany pressing full court
Germany and Turkey frequently pressed aggressively full court. Blessed with several athletic & aggressive guards & wings (Jallow, Mushidi, Figge in particular), Germany regularly zone-pressed before falling back into matchup zone. They got results, forcing 3.8 turnovers per game via the press and holding opponents to 0.565 PPP in possessions finished directly against the press.1
But enough about team & tournament context. Player notes follow below.
Top 5 Guard Performers
Francisco Alonso (SG/PG, Spain, 25-May-1996, UNC Greensboro)
Spain’s leader. Grinds on D. Runs into moving screens, contests shots, talks, plays with an edge, tough. Strong/athletic frame. Checked the opponent’s best perimeter player (e.g. Lomazs in QF, Obst in SF) when they played man-to-man. One of the main ballhandlers in Spain’s balanced offense; led the team in PnR possessions at 9.1 per game. Never finished a FIBA Europe tournament at 40% FG or better, but was aggressive on the ball, launched pull up shots or turned the corner to make plays in the lane. UNC Greensboro combo guard. Could walk into the rotation of a bottom third ACB team right now.
Rihards Lomazs (SG/PG, Latvia, 14-Apr-1996, Ventspils)
Made plays the entire tournament. Dropped 31 points on eventual champions Spain in a 70-79 quarter finals loss, finished 7th in scoring at 15.6 PPG. Played hard like a maniac. Strong, rugged, explosive Ventspils combo guard who plays with real swagger. Kept attacking the basket, lived at the foul line (2nd in tournament in FTM/G), made 91% of his foul shots. Has real in-between game, was 4/8 on runners. Much improved feel. Attacks switch defenders off the dribble, attacks well off the catch. A top 3 shot creator in Helsinki. Super aggressive defender who is active, boxes out, simply gets after it. Had his game face on the entire tournament. Wants to be “the guy”; a role he won’t be playing in the pros in the near future.
Tolga Geçim (PG-SF, Turkey, 27-Mar-1996, Banvit)
In a long list of promising tall Turkish wing ballhandlers, Geçim is beginning to distinguish himself as a real playmaker with feel, smarts and method to his game. Was the main creative source in Turkey’s effective transition offense (tied for 3rd with Spain in transition PPG), pushing the ball aggressively on every opportunity, including out of the own defensive rebound. Unselfish: attacks the paint, drops it off. Has improved athletically and possesses more burst than his slender frame suggests. Defensively a mixed bag; isn’t overly physical but anticipates well and is first to loose balls.
DIEGO Flaccadori (SG, Italy, 5-Apr-1996, Italy)
Has established himself as one of the top guards in the 1996 generation. Played a lot of small forward on paper next to scoring guards Mussini & Moretti. Finished the tournament on 17-5-4. Drilled 45.5% of his threes. 4.4 PPG (53.6%) at the rim was third best amongst non-bigs behind Okobo and Mykhailiuk. Battle-tested as a real Serie A rotation player. Creative, smooth, skilled; gets into the lane, makes plays. Pull up game, advanced layups, showed tremendous feel. Italy went to him in the post for stretches. Still has that wiry frame and is unlikely to ever be an above average defender.
ELIE Okobo (PG/SG, France, 23-Oct-1997, France)
Strong individual performance overshadowed by a poor team result. Okobo (born October 1997) was the youngest lead guard in the tournament but already checks a lot of boxes as a playmaker. Got to the hoop out of ball screen- and off-catch situations (5 PPG at the rim to lead all non-bigs), finished 6th in transition PPG, scored efficiently as PnR ballhandler (1.2 PPP to lead everyone with 30 or more PnR ballhandler possessions), drilled runners and three point shots at a high rate. Okobo has good burst in Euro youth basketball context, got past defenders in switching situations and made plays in the lane. Didn’t show much vocal leadership and got an earful from coach after every bad play. Youngest player on the roster.
Federico Mussini (PG, France, 12-Mar-1996, St.John’s)
Disappointing tournament. Had problems creating separation all week in ball screen situations and couldn’t drive past close out defenders. 88.6% of his half court attempts were jumpshots; drilled just 23.8% of his pull up shots. Not playing with high confidence.
Thomas Akyazili (SG/PG, Belgium, 15-Jan-1997, Colorado)
Solid all-around performance but failed to establish himself as a lead guard. Has a strong, athletic frame but lacks burst & ballhandling; had problems creating separation in half court and is an average pull up shooter. Attacks hard in transition, finished 3rd in made free throws and 4th in transition PPG. Shot merely 38.9% at the rim, often forcing semi-layups against long defenders. Competitive, fearless baller anyway, who plays hard on the defensive end.
Balint Mocsan (SG, Hungary, 18-Jun-1997, Idaho State)
Hungary went 0-7 in Helsinki, didn’t play any defense and had two guards (Pongo & Mocsan) in the top 10 in usage percentage. But Mocsan certainly made his mark, drilling contested jumper after jumper and finishing 4th in scoring at 17.6 PPG. Spent equal time & off ball. Led tournament in PPG in off-ball-screen situations. On the ball, Mocsan moves with real speed into his shot, keeps balance, made an elite 51.9% of his pull up attempts. Jumpshooting is his bread & butter (81.4% of his FGA were jumpers) and he’s extremely good at it. Translatable skill set.
Sheriff Drammeh (PG, Sweden, 8-Jun-1996, Hawai’i)
Sweden brought two promising & productive bigs but lacked backcourt creativity and finished dead last in transition points. Drammeh had to carry the bulk of halfcourt playmaking, leading to some seriously ugly offense. Chucked a lot of jumpers: 10.2 per game, 7.5 of those off the dribble, most from mid range. Led Helsinki in iso possessions. Went just 1/19 from three. Overdribbling and not enough passing. Positive communicator, teammates listen to & like him.
Rendijs Feikners (PG, Latvia, 31-Mar-1996, Florida Gulf Coast)
Latvian backup PG in Helsinki. Really pushed & attacked and got into the lane, but had poor finishing & decision-making there. Had several turnovers against full court press.
FIIFI AIDOO (SG/PG, Finland, 5-Apr-1996, Grand Canyon)
Strong, athletic combo guard who’s not much of a shot creator at this point. Occasionally got out of control on dribble drives. Is a real defensive difference maker in both on & off ball defense. Really battles. Draws charges and had a couple of huge blocks in the France game.
Andreas Obst (SG, Germany, 13-Jul-1996, Giessen)
Germany’s half court playmaker. Led the team in PnR possessions per game at 13.1. Obst is aggressive, plays with swagger and made big shots, but poor shooting numbers continue to haunt him. Made just 25.8% of his jumpshots (38.7 eFG%). Attacked the hoop like a maniac in elimination games; finished top 10 in usage rate (28.8%) and 12th in scoring (13.9 PPG). Obst has a good frame, is tough, defends and helped an offensively fairly limited team a great deal despite his inefficiencies.
Oleksandr Kobets (SG, Ukraine, 15-Apr-1996, Cherkasy Monkeys)
A real baller with a versatile scoring skill set and advanced feel for the game. Is a scoring threat running PnR, coming off the pindown, making a play in transition or off the post catch. Had 13.6 PPG. Has NBA range, takes plenty of shots but unselfishly delivered a bunch of super passes to Mykhailiuk as well. Went after it on D as well, played tough, physical ball. Looked like a top 5 guard in the competition, then disappeared in the Germany QF game and finished the tournament by going 6/30 in the last three games. Disappointing.
Marcell Pongo (PG, Hungary, 3-Mar-1997, Weissenborn/Ulm)
Never quite certain if Pongo is legitimately good or merely a tease. Had inefficient, shot-hunting performances in Finland and Austria (U18 B 2015). Launched 5.9 pull up jumpers per game in Helsinki, made 19.5% of those. But the long, athletic, risk-taking and at times spectacular playmaking is real and has potential to translate. Pongo also finished 1st in DRB% amongst guards, far ahead of the pack. A triple double candidate on a good night.
ZAN Sisko (PG, Slovenia, 29-JUN-1997, Cibona)
Skilled PnR playmaker who carried Slovenia’s half court offense, finishing 5th in Helsinki in total PnR possessions per game. Extremely clever passer (2nd in AST% at 41.2), has tremendous feel, plays ball screen offense like a veteran. Smooth mid range game coming off the ball screen. But he’s no athlete, had issues facing length/athleticism and doesn’t make any extra plays on either end.
KRISTUPAS Zemaitis (SG, Lithuania, 24-Jun-1996, Vytautas)
Surprisingly made the All-Tournament team. Though leading Lithuania in PnR possessions per game (9.7 PnR), Zemaitis wasn’t truly running the point in Helsinki, usually moving into a ball screen situation off the catch after a teammate had advanced the ball up court. Zemaitis is physically limited and an average ball handler, but had his fair share of quick-release-zero-lift long range bombs.
Berk Uğurlu (PG, Turkey, 27-Apr-1996, Fenerbahçe)
Has seemingly been around forever. Has run a million ball screen possessions in his career already, is elite at using the re-screen, gets into the lane, has mid range game, makes plays.
TAMIR Blatt (PG, Israel, 4-May-1997, Hapoel Tel Aviv)
Israel got a super result in Helsinki by finishing 12th on a 3-4 record, in large part thanks to Blatt’s playmaking. Was 2nd in PnR possessions at 16.7 per game, had the 6th best AST% (37.5) and was deadly spotting up when he got the ball back, drilling 53.1% (76.6 eFG%) of his shots in catch and shoot situations. Blatt is far from one-dimensional against average opposition, getting past defenders with smarts & decent speed and showing super footwork in the lane (look out for the “other foot” layup), but had poor games when Spain (Yusta) and Germany (multiple players) used long, athletic defenders to slow him down.
Defense & Intangibles
YIGIT ARSLAN (SG, Turkey, 12-May-1996, Tofaş)
Best perimeter defender in the tournament. Super aggressive, led tournament in STL% (5.6), anticipates well, locked in, competitor, team player. Mostly off ball on offense; made good, selfless plays in off-catch situations. Really turned defense into offense, finished 5th in transition PPG (3.9).
KARIM JALLOW (SG, Germany, 13-Apr-1997)
Wreaking havoc on D with his length & athleticism. Elite defender on this level. Very good switch defender who holds his ground in post D and on the glass. Merely roaming around on offense. Poor feel & decision making. Defense plays him for the jumpshot.
Vitaliy Zotov (PG, Ukraine, 3-Mar-1997, Budivelnik)
An afterthought in Ukraine’s backcourt rotation coming into the tournament but ended up a key player. Pass-first playmaker who sets offense up extremely well and finished 1st in AST% (41.5). Faultless decision maker off the catch when he gets the ball back later in possession; makes smart plays against the close out. Tough defender who fights through ball screens, boxes out and gets his hands in; finished 7th in STL%. Talks to his bigs, first guy off the bench in a time out, a leader by example.
MARGIRIS NORMANTAS (SG, Lithuania, 27-Oct-1996, Rytas)
Strong, relatively slow two guard who was one of the toughest dudes in Helsinki. Played a large role in bringing Lithuania to the gold medal game. Lacks burst and therefore struggles to beat his man off the dribble but he’s clever, moves the ball with purpose and is clinical operating off the catch. Not a quick release, not a pull up shooter, needs time & space. Physical ball screen defender who fights through screens & switches/boxes out bigger players. Plays like a veteran.
SYLVAIN FRANCISCO (PG, France, 25-May-1997, LIberty Christian HS)
Skinny, short, quick, pesky on-ball defender who finished 2nd in STL% (5.5) behind Arslan. Super on-ball- and one pass away defender who gets his incredibly quick hands in and generates deflections & turnovers. Not shy to sacrifice his body and run into moving screens. Very raw on offense: just setting up, never attacking, still only learning the game, didn’t want to make mistakes. PG on defense, not a lead guard on offense. A late 1997.
Doğuş Özdemiroğlu (SG, Turkey, 17-Apr-1996, Yesilgiresun)
Another aggressive & fairly athletic Turkish perimeter defender. Played pesky full court defense, showed hard hustle and ability to fight switch on bigs in PnR defense.
Kostja Mushidi (SG, Germany, 18-Jun-1998, Mega Leks)
3rd youngest player in the tournament. Had mixed results on offense which is not a first; as a merely average ballhandler he’s jumpshot-dependent. But really helped Germany find their defensive identity. Proud & athletic defender who went after it and had a bunch of huge blocks in transition and as weak side defender.