As the countdown towards the opening tip-off of the 2017 NBA season continues, some of the NBA’s promising young stars (and a few talents for the future) have been testing their mettle at EuroBasket.
The tournament has produced a few surprises as traditional superpowers such as Greece and Croatia have disappointed, while Slovenia, the tournament victors, have emerged.
As the NBA develops a healthier contingent of European players year after year, we’ll get to see more of these young stars test their skills on basketball’s biggest stage.
Here are three European players to look out for in the coming NBA seasons.
Lauri Markkanen, 20, Finland and Chicago Bulls
The consensus has certainly been that the Chicago Bulls got the wrong end of the Jimmy Butler trade. However, with the pick they got from Minnesota the Bulls selected Markkanen – a sweet-shooting centre with a tantalizing array of skills.
Markkanen was crucial to Finland’s run to the last 16 as they beat Poland, France, Greece and Iceland in the group before bowing out to a strong Italy team in the round of 16. Markkanen led the team averaging 19.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game whilst showcasing a dazzling variety of scoring skills. His signature performance came against Poland when he scored a game-high 27 points in the double overtime victory, including a clutch fade-away jumper to send the contest into a second overtime.
The seven-foot centre displayed a swiss army knife collection of scoring skills throughout the tournament. Markkanen can splash threes – 47.8% from deep – with a sweet shooting stroke reminiscent of Kristaps Porzingis and has slick enough ball-handling skills to beat his defender off the dribble and drive to the basket.
Markkanen will have to develop physically to become more of a presence inside the paint but the sheer variety of his skills suggest that Chicago have a serious prospect on their hands.
Luka Doncic, 18, Slovenia and Real Madrid
At just 18 years of age, Luka Doncic is arguably the brightest young star in European basketball. He has yet to be drafted by an NBA team but is projected to be a top pick in the 2018 draft with some NBA executives even suggesting he may even go number one overall.
Slovenia were undoubtedly the surprise package of the tournament. Led by Miami Heat guard Goran Dragic and Anthony Randolph, Slovenia charged into the final by steamrolling favorites Spain 92-72 in the semi-final, before topping Serbia in the tournament decider.
Despite Dragic and Randolph’s brilliance, all the hype has surrounded Doncic. The 6’ 7” shooting guard has impressed with his shooting touch, incredible court vision and maturity during Slovenia’s run to EuroBasket glory.
During the 20-point demolition of Spain, Doncic flirted with a triple-double, falling just two assists short as he clinically dissected Spain’s defense, which included NBA stars such as Marc and Pau Gasol, Ricky Rubio and the Hernangomez brothers. Doncic has averaged 15.1 points and 8.3 rebounds throughout the tournament whilst shooting 54% from the field. He exploded onto the international stage with a 27-point eruption against Latvia when he relentlessly attacked Porzingis and more than held his own against the Latvian star.
What entices NBA executives most about Doncic is the fact that he is incredibly well physically developed for an 18-year-old, which goes along with his supreme basketball skills. Unlike many Europeans who have gone before him, there is a feeling that Doncic could make a real impact in the NBA from day one.
Davis Bertans, 24, Latvia and San Antonio Spurs
Whilst Porzingis is clearly the face of Latvian basketball, Davis Bertans has quietly been developing into a solid NBA player with the San Antonio Spurs. He showcased that potential at EuroBasket, averaging 14 points per game and hitting 45% from beyond the arc.
Bertans produced his best performance against Great Britain, scoring 22 points and hitting and incredible seven out of eight from downtown. His ability to catch fire from beyond the arc will certainly have caught Spurs coach Gregg Popovich’s attention as he considers how best to deploy the Latvian moving forward.
The shift in the NBA towards big men who can stretch the floor will certainly suit Bertans who is more comfortable on the perimeter than banging under the basket with the big guys. However, he will still need to improve his rebounding if he is to make the next step in the big league.
Popovich and the Spurs have a proven record of bringing through young international talent and Bertans has flashed exciting potential throughout the early stages of his career. He will need to adapt to the more physical nature of NBA basketball, but in Popovich he has perhaps the best mentor out there.
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