L’Hospitalet Recap: the guards

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Jovan Kljajic, 6-5 PG, Gran Canaria, 2001

Statistics:  15.2 ppg, 43.4% FG, 2.6 rpg, 2,8 apg

Jovan Kljajic, who has already made his ACB debut with Gran Canaria’s first team, was the best perimeter generator through these first two days of competition at L’Hospitalet. He scored 17 points in 20 minutes against Partizan in the first game, and followed that up with 28 points and some clutch plays against Barcelona in the second game. With excellent size for a point guard at 6’5, what really stands out when watching Kljajic is his aggressiveness and athleticism.

The Montenegrin puts constant pressure on the defense by attacking relentlessly in the fastbreak and in pick and roll. He has good ball handling skills and a terrific first step that allows him to get by his man easily, and his explosiveness and vertical leap allow him to finish at the rim once he gets there. He is also quite a strong guard, which allowed him to finish through contact here on occasion too.

Beyond that, Kjlajic has shown to also be a good shooter and passer. He has made 5 of his 10 outside shots in these first couple days, and has shown the ability to knock down shots if the defense decides to go under him on the pick and roll. Although the jumpshot isn’t his first option, he has shown to be competent enough for the defense to respect it.

Perhaps more importantly in terms of his transition to the pros, Kljajic is also a very smooth operator in the pick and roll. He has a good understanding of how to set up his defender, and the threat of his drive attracts help defenders. Kljajic then has the court vision and the passing ability to find the roll man in good position or the shooters on the weakside.

Overall, Kljajic has been perhaps the most dominant guard in this tournament. Not only has he performed well, but he has also done so against good European teams, and has looked every bit the excellent, pro-ready player he was billed as before Hospitalet.

Abramo Pene, 6-6 SG, Stellazzurra Roma, 2002

Statistics: 17.8 ppg, 51.4% FG, 10 rpg, 1 apg

Abramo Pene almost feels like a known commodity at this point, but he’s incredibly only a 2002 prospect and still has another year and a half as a junior-level player. Sporting the same intriguing physical profile, combining long arms, a decent frame, excellent quickness both north-to-south and east-to-west and good explosiveness, Pene put his physical gifts to good use in Hospitalet. He was a dominant rebounder —on par with the big guys during the tournament— and had a couple highlight-reel finishes at the rim.

More importantly, his comfort level offensively seemed much improved. Pene behaved as the leader of his really young Stellazzurra squad. He shot it with confidence from deep, and despite mixed results initially, ended up making them at a decent clip. He also looked comfortable attacking a defense in a straight line, and displayed good touch on floaters when the defense sat at the rim waiting for him. He is definitely still not a generator, as he did not show much in the ways of change of direction dribbles and did not generate much for his teammates; and he needs to continue working on his offensive polish in general as he is rather limited beyond shooting 3s and attacking closeouts, but his improvements are encouraging.

On defense, he still has the potential to be a good defender in the future, but his technique is still lacking. He regularly keeps his hands down and did not always get on a stance. At this level, his athleticism bailed him out and he was able to affect the game despite these deficiencies, but he will need to drastically improve his technique if he is to have a similar impact in the professional ranks

Aleix Haro, 6-2 PG, Divina Seguros Joventut, 2001

Statistics: 11.2 ppg, 26.2% FG, 3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 2.2 spg

Joventut’s unquestionable leader in Hospitalet, Aleix Haro’s strengths and weaknesses were on full display at Hospitalet. Fresh off his First Team All-Tournament performance at the Valencia ANGT, Haro started off aggressive, shooting off the dribble and displaying excellent instincts attacking the rim for layups and fouls. A clear 2 during most of his youth career up to now, Haro was Joventut’s main generator after having a very secondary role on last year’s squad, and La Penya played him a good chunk of time at the 1 to force him to gradually make the transition to being a full-time point guard. Although he still routinely misses open or semi-open teammates and is clearly far away from manipulating the defense the way elite point guards need to do, he is a solid pick and roll player who is very aggressive hunting his own shot but still showed the ability to find the roll-man on a few plays, showing some decent chemistry with Vinicius da Silva on a few lob passes.

On the other hand, Haro is physically somewhat limited at 6’2 with below average athleticism. Although he is shifty and crafty with the ball, he simply isn’t all that quick and definitely struggles finishing at the rim against big men given his lack of explosiveness. Although an aggressive shooter, he showed mixed results at Hospitalet. Perhaps more importantly, his shot has a low release point that will make it a lot tougher for him to generate good looks in the pros. On defense, Haro is average at this level. Joventut consistently hid him on the weakest opposing perimeter player, with teammates Joel Juárez or Arnau Jaime guarding the best wings or guards. This will only get worse at the next level as opponents become bigger and more athletic.

The combination of below average athleticism and a non-elite jumpshot with a low release point can be quite a killer for score first guards, but at least Aleix Haro has his work cut out for him. If he is able to work on his body to maximise his physical tools, tweak his jumpshot slightly and keep working on his passing ability to become a better generator, Haro could absolutely develop into a good professional player. He is in one of the best youth programmes in Europe and Joventut consistently gives their players excellent opportunities, so Haro will get his chances and it will be up to him to make them.

Dai Hao, 6-4 PG/SG, ALBA Berlin, 2002

Statistics: 5.5 ppg, 42.9% FG, 2.0 rpg, 3.5 apg

Former CBA product Dai Hao, now with ALBA Berlin, showed all his strengths and weaknesses at Hospitalet. On the one hand, he continues to display tantalising athleticism, with excellent speed, good explosiveness at the rim and top-notch deceleration. This latter aspect allowed him to easily create separation at Hospitalet, and these physical tools combined with his decent ball skills and jumpshot make him an intriguing prospect.

On the other hand, Dai Hao continues being painfully thin, which limits his upside both on defense and on offense. Perhaps more importantly, he still has a ways to go offensively, as he struggles with decision-making, picking the wrong time to attack or to pass the ball, and pounds the ball endlessly before attempting to generate a look — although it must be said that his ALBA team was not very talented and he played plenty of minutes as their only viable offensive engine, so that may make him look worse than he actually is. On defense, he is regularly quite lost, sometimes not positioning himself properly as the weakside defender and generally struggling off the ball.

Looking forward, despite his mixed performance at Hospitalet, Dai Hao has the physical tools to remain an intriguing prospect for the future. He is in a potentially good spot in ALBA, where coach Aíto routinely gives young players chances to earn their spot, but in order to do so he will need to continue working on his all-around game as he remains very far away from contributing professionally.

Lazar Stefanovic, 6-5 PG/SG, Partizan Belgrade, 2002

Statistics: 9.8 ppg, 46.7% FG, 4.3 rpg, 1.5 apg

Partizan guard Lazar Stefanovic is a classic Serbian guard: solid, sweet-shooting and skilled generating offense. He has adequate size for a PG at 6’X, and a decent although not great frame that should fill out in time. The main intrigue with him surrounds his shooting ability and his offensive skillset, as he was quite adept at generating offense both for himself and for his teammates and went on a couple notable scoring runs during the tournament. Although not the most athletic guard around, Stefanovic has enough shiftiness to get to the rim or create separation, and shows very good touch to make a variety of shots around the paint. Defensively, he was average at Hospitalet, but will need to get tougher and stronger in order to be able to compete professionally on this side of the court.

Looking forward, his situation in Partizan Belgrade is ideal, as Partizan should give him plenty of chances to see playing time in the professional ranks given their traditional role as a youth level powerhouse and the available minutes considering Partizan competes in a host of leagues both domestically and continentally. If he continues improving his all-around game, Stefanovic might eventually be in a position to take advantage of these opportunities.

Matteo Visintin, 6-1 PG, Stellazzurra Roma, 2004

Statistics: 11.0 ppg, 46.9% FG, 2.8 rpg, 1.3 apg

One of the youngest players in attendance, Matteo Visintin must be included in this breakdown given his excellent production at such a young age. Although he is quite undersized at 6-1, Visintin has a large frame and is already quite strong. This, combined with his aggressive mentality and his shot-making ability, gave him plenty of playing time and responsibility as one of Stellazzurra’s main generators. He has a good jumpshot and is able to creatively find gaps in the defense, especially from the midrange — not a mean feat when competing with players up to three years older than him.

Looking forward, Visintin is physically rather limited at his size. He will need to work on his athleticism, as the will dictate his ceiling as a player, and continue working on his game. He will especially need to continue practising his jumpshot — at his height, having an excellent jumpshot is essentially necessary to make it to the highest levels.

Mauro Abad, 6’0 PG, CB L’Hospitalet, 2001

Statistics: 11.5 ppg, 40% FG, 3.8 rpg, 4 apg

Local team CB Hospitalet had a couple upset wins over both Basket Zaragoza and Stellazzurra Roma before a heartbreaking crunch-time defeat against Joventut left them out of the semifinals. Former Barcelona product Mauro Abad was a big part of the reason for this. Although slightly undersized at 6’0, Abad is a very athletic point guard prospect, with excellent speed and some bounce to finish at the rim as well. He elevates very well for jumpshots and floaters and was able to consistently get to the rim here using his good first step. Abad is also a real point guard, comfortably running the team and generating plenty of offense from the pick and roll despite his team’s cramped spacing.

His weakness at this point is fairly evident: Abad is just not a good jump shooter, showing below average touch and with very inconsistent mechanics on his jumpshot. He routinely turned down open jumpers both in catch-and-shoot and in pick and roll situations, and it was a surprise to even see him pulling up from midrange. However, even with these limitations, Abad is a player with solid potential, and a big part of why CB Hospitalet is having such a good season in the Catalan youth scene.

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