Part one of our report from Crete. Playmakers & wings follow.
Vassilis Charalampopoulos (SF/PF/C, Greece, 6-Jan-1997, Panathinaikos)
A swiss army knife on this level. Pointless to argue whether he’s to be slotted as a wing or big: Charalampopoulos was the only player in Crete to regularly appear as pick and roll ballhandler, pick and roll screener and in the post. Successfully moved to the five for long stretches in a crucial group phase game versus Germany and in the knock out phase.
Gave defenses a headache with his ability to roll or pop as a screener. Many opponents chose to switch, and Charalampopoulos seriously went to work in the resulting post mismatch situation, either scoring himself or cleverly creating team offense versus the double team. Kicked out of 59.1% of his post ups. For comparison, of 258 players in D-League, college and international basketball last season with 5 post up possessions or more and 20 games played minimum, the most passing-oriented player (Caleb Green) had a post kickout rate of 52.4% and just 12 player passed the 40% mark. Greece scored 1.14 PPP on his 44 post ups, where Charalampopoulos turned the ball over just three times.
Charalampopoulos moving to C at -10 & acting as screener gave GER problems they couldn't solve. pic.twitter.com/HbCEqHfby4
— Simon Jatsch (@sJacas) July 19, 2017
Had super on-court chemistry with Koniaris; the two formed a deadly one-two punch for Greece. Enthusiastic, intense, focused. Deserved MVP title.
TRYGVVI Hlinason (C, Iceland, 28-Oct-1997, Valencia)
Huge tournament for the late-blooming big who’s only been playing basketball for three and a half years and was brought to Valencia via Jon-Arnor Stefansson this summer (check out this detailed profile by Mike Schmitz over at ESPN).
An athletic five who has legs like tree trunks and finished numerous plays above rim level (on lobs & putbacks) in Crete. Led the tournament in putback PPG (3.9), finished 6th amongst big men in transition PPG, was 2nd in roll man PPG (excluding pick and pop). 0.882 PPP on individual post ups. Had a high 41.4% kick rate on post ups. Had mixed success in the post. Is a fairly solid passer and possesses good feel. Had problems against Israel’s swarming defense. Still new to this game, but there’s a steep learning curve.
Hlinason tied for 2nd in BLK%. Has long arms and blocked several jumpshots. Is a deep-sitting defender in pick and roll. Had to play extended minutes for Iceland, and coaches wisely chose to not waste his energy on hedge-outs, hence we didn’t get to see him step out and defend the pick and roll on the perimeter. Had serious problems containing Moritz Wagner one-on-one on the perimeter though on the tournament’s last day.
Big men who came late to the game or were advised to play basketball because of their size always face questions about motor & work-ethic; Hlinason did his best to address those, looking focused, aggressive and enthusiastic most of the time.
AMINE NOUA (PF/C, FRANCE, 7-FEB-1997, ASVEL)
Came into the tournament with serious high-level pro experience, which translated onto the court in the form of aggressive, purposeful no-nonsense basketball. Noua wasted no time whenever the switch came, attacking the mismatch hard in post ups and crashing the offensive glass. Finished 3rd in putback PPG (2.9) and 5th amongst bigs in transition PPG.
The combo big moved into the power forward role in Crete and helped himself plenty by shooting the ball well: drilled 6/13 triples in 209 minutes in Crete, versus just 3/13 in 729 minutes across competitions for ASVEL last season. Rolled on just a quarter of his ball screens. Hit crucial triples versus Serbia.
At his best a poor man’s Augustine Rubit. Deserved All-Tournament nomination.
SIMON BIRGANDER (C, SWEDEN, 23-OCT-1997, Joventut)
Birgander had his breakthrough at last year’s U20s, was relegated with Clavijo from LEB Gold, registered for the 2017 NBA Draft, surprisingly chose to not withdraw, went undrafted and signed with Joventut Badalona, where he’s likely getting real ACB minutes.
Played extended minutes in Crete and looked gassed at times, but still finished the tournament 1st in TRB% & DRB%. Is on a steep learning curve, having improved as a ballhandler (frequently pushing the ball off the own defensive rebound at the U20s), on elbow slashes, showing good touch in the post- and, occasionally, from mid range. Has a playfulness to his game that translates to plenty of extra passing and opportunistic off-catch drives when you wouldn’t expect him to attack. Chatting and joking around with opponents.
Not the toughest player around. Disappeared in the 2nd half of his Last 16 matchup with Hlinason. Isn’t a rugged/physical athlete. Finesse player. ACB is a league with plenty of physical traditional Euro centers. We’ll be monitoring.
Moritz Wagner (PF/C, Germany, 26-Apr-1997, Michigan)
Wagner had a slow start to the tournament but finished on high note (though 5-8 placement games typically aren’t the most competitive games at the U20s).
Good things happened when he played the five. Had dominant games against two of the best bigs in the tournament (Hlinason, Birutis). Made use of his speed advantage and crafty mid range game. Finished extremely well on lefty drives. Operated well from the elbow. Ran the floor hard. Finished 2nd amongst bigs in transition PPG (3.7). Popped on 70% of his ball screens; Birutis & Hlinason weren’t comfortable stepping out.
Didn’t produce well in the post. Posted up to score. Just 12.5% kick rate on post ups. Had the highest TOV% of any regular post player in Crete. Is at his best when attacking off the catch out of pick and pop or a cut to the elbow. Went just 2/12 from three point range.
Led the tournament in STL% but finished on below-average rebounding numbers. Didn’t give his team any stability when things weren’t going their way versus Greece & Spain. Wagner’s modern 4/5 skillset is exciting though.
Ömer YURTSEVEN (C, Turkey, 19-Jun-1998, NC State)
A productive tournament for Yurtseven (finished 9th in scoring, 4th in putback PPG, 4th in BLK% & 2nd in TRB%), but Turkey remained a team of individuals and eventually crashed out of Top16 versus Germany.
Yurtseven has been around for years, hence his game, legit size, tremendous touch in the paint, accurate timing as a rebounder & shot blocker, as his lack of ability/interest to bend his knees and cover ground on defense have been under scrutiny.
What’s notable is that, while Yurtseven circa two years ago looked set to become a regular shooter from elbow range, he was operating almost exclusively in the paint in Crete. Did not score a single pick and pop basket. Hit just 1/6 jump shots.
LAURYNAS BIRUTIS (C, LITHUANIA, 27-AUG-1997, Zalgiris)
Lithuania dumped the ball into the post all tournament and counted on their bigs Birutis & Echodas to produce offense. Both responded by scoring efficiently and moving the ball well versus the double team.
Birutis, a narrow-shouldered, slender big with long limbs burst onto the scene at Kaunas NIJT 2015 and has made serious progress as an on-ball player since, finishing more aggressively, making faster reads and consistently making the right play versus help defense. Is practically ambidextrous and finished well with either hand. Kicked out of 37% of his post ups while ending the tournament on the lowest post up TOV% of all players in Crete. Is still not a good finisher versus long & physical defense, and not the toughest player around.
Finished 7th in BLK% and altered a great many shots as pick and roll defender.
- RAMON VILA (C, SPAIN, 11-SEP-1997, ARIZONA STATE): Rugged, oldschool below-the rim workhorse who will have a spot somewhere in the ACB when he returns. Gets the big man floater to drop; has servicable mid range touch.
- NIKOLA RAKOCEVIC (C, SERBIA, 31-Dec-1997, USC): Mobile & long, but lacked focus, committed fouls, struggled finishing. Floor runner & lob finisher, but doesn’t absorb contact.
- JAUME SOROLLA (C, SPAIN, 18-FEB-1997, VALPARAISO): Impressive physique but extremely limited as a basketball player at this point.
- ERIC VILA (PF, SPAIN, 15-May-1998, TEXAS A&M): Hasn’t dramatically improved physically in the U.S. and struggled to find his rhythm in Crete.
- OTHERS: Roberts Blumbergs (Grand Canyon), Craig Lecesne (Pepperdine), Tobias Sjöberg (Marist)
Darel Poirier (PF/C, France, 27-Jun-1997, CHOLET)
Bouncy. Leaper who had a bunch of high-flying moments. Moves feet, contests shots on defense. Big reason why France defended so well. Slams home lob feeds. Catch & score. Needs to be assisted; not a dribbler. Has mid range touch. One of the high-upside players here.
David Okeke (PF, Italy, 15-Sep-1998, Torino)
Came right over from the U19s and was Italy’s most productive player. Played mostly four. Versatility as a screener: Rolled on 60% of his ball screens, finished well on both the roll and the pop. Has a one/two dribble game on short slashes but far from a perimeter player right now. Likely a four in the long run. Active, good touch around the basket, gets the job done.
Jurij Macura (PF, Slovenia, 23-DeC-1999)
Youngest player in the tournament. Very intriguing, versatile four. Had a bunch of smooth slashes and finishes. Has a finesse game but is far from soft. Gets hustle points: finished 2nd in the tournament in putback PPG (3.0) and 4th amongst bigs in transition PPG. Finished 6th in BLK%. Popped on two thirds of his ball screens. Shot 30% from beyond the arc.
Nikola Tanaskovic (PF, Serbia, 21-Oct-1997, Partizan)
Fluid energy big who led all fours & fives in transition PPG (4.0). Had a couple of high-flying dunks through traffic. Lacks outside touch and therefore doesn’t have a real position, but is the type of aggressive tweener who gets the job done no matter what.
MARTYNAS ECHODAS (PF/C, LITHUANIA, 7-JUL-1997, SIAULIAI)
Played four, went to work in the post. Lived at the foul line, 2nd in FTA. 3rd in PPG in Crete. Still limited range, but has — as he showed in the pros last season — a place as an aggressive inside 4.5.
Milos Popovic (PF/C, Montenegro, 17-Feb-1998, Tivat)
2nd in scoring. Undersized blue-collar guy who plays his heart out. Ball screen versatility. Popped on 70% of his ball screens, drilled jumpers, attacked close outs. Was much more successful on the pop than the roll. Team lacked shot creation; 4.0 short shot clock possessions per game for Popovic, not his game. Finished 3rd in TRB%.
Berkan Durmaz (PF, Turkey, 20-Feb-1997)
Starting four for Turkey, and one of the guys who did go out there to compete. Active, aggressive, tied for 2nd spot in Crete in BLK%.
DANIEL KOPERBERG (C, ISRAEL, 8-DEC-1997, MACCABI HAIFA)
The recipient of many of Tamir Blatt’s passes. Led the tournament in roll man PPG (5.9, excluding pick and pop). Big, mobile body, has been known as the most promising Israeli big man prospect in years. Decent feel as screener, below-average footwork/off-hand.
LEON KRATZER (C, GERMANY, 4-FEB-1997, WÜRZBURG/LOAN)
Serious competitor; goes to battle. Looked much improved as a finisher. Big body in interior defense, alters shots, has presence. Free throw shooting (35.3% in Crete) remains the achilles heel.
Netanel Artzi (PF, Israel, 21-Mar-1997, Maccabi Haifa)
Strong, rugged undersized big who did a little bit of everything and was one of Israel’s star role players. Ran the floor, finished 3rd amongst bigs in transition PPG. Shot 43.5% from beyond the three point arc.