Top NBA prospects in the ACB 2007-2008

Here are 10 guys age 24 and under who have been or will be drafted by an NBA, but will play in the ACB this coming season.

Next up I’ll profile some ACB veterans who have either played in the NBA before and have a chance at making Anthony Parker-like returns or guys who have never made the jump to the NBA but have the talent to make a Jorge Garbajosa, Arvydas Sabonis, or Toni Kukoc like impact in the league.

Finally, I’ll look at some of the raw young talent around the ACB. Guys who look like the could develop into solid NBA-caliber players, but have been flying under the radar. 

1. Ricky Rubio – PG – DKV Joventut – 16 years old

Still only 16 years old, Rubio is one of the best PG prospects in the entire world. The 6-3 Spaniard is a wizard with the ball in his hands: his ball-handling and passing skills (28.58 ast-rate) are strong for any age, let alone 16. He can anticipate plays like Kidd or Magic. Ricky’s got good speed but only average lateral quickness, kind of like Stephon Marbury. He’ll log big minutes on a Euroleague team this season, so if and when he hits the NBA he should have a lot of experience playing against top competition. To date, however, he’s been a bit passive against high level competition, often playing off the ball and deferring to less talented teammates.

Ricky’s not a natural lights-out shooter, but his shot isn’t half bad for a 16 year old playing in one of the best professional league’s in the world: 53.08 TS%, 28.07 3 pt%. Shooting consistency and, like most young players, TOs (15.8 TO-rate) are two areas where Ricky can easily improve his game over the next couple of years.

2. Victor Claver – F – Pamesa Valencia – 19 years old

I really watched Claver, a long, agile 6-9 Spanish forward, develop before my eyes in Valencia’s opening round playoff series against Real Madrid last spring. As a team Valencia really gave the eventual champs a run for their money, and Claver played a big role making plays on both sides of the ball. When the series opened, Claver looked a bit overwhelmed and hesitant. The 19 year old’s confidence seemed to grow with every passing possession, and halfway through the series he was blocking shots, grabbing rebounds in traffic, and knocking down 3s. The fact that his play improved in the playoffs may give us a hint about Claver’s makeup.

Defensively, Claver looks like an undeveloped Andrei Kirilenko. His long arms make him a menace both on and off the ball, but, of course, it would be wishful thinking to say Claver, or anyone else, will be the TO causing machine AK is. If nothing else, Claver should develop into at least an above average defender. With his wingspan he’s also a strong rebounder.

Offensively, Claver has range out to the 3 pt line, but was inconsistent (28.57% 3 pt shooting last season) from downtown in the 19 games he played with Valencia’s A team last season. Consistency also haunted him at the free throw line last season (42.86 FT%). His quickness and agility allow him to drive by defenders, drawing him some comparisons to Antawn Jamison. His passing and playmaking ability look above average for a forward, although he has a lot of room to develop them (10.58 ast-rate). Like any 19 year old coming off his rookie season, he’s got to cut down on the TOs (16.63 TO-rate).

Claver takes the second spot ahead of Rudy, Splitter, and Gasol because he has the potential to be a real playmaker and very good player on both sides of the ball. He has a real shot at being a lottery pick in the next couple of years. At this point, however, he hasn’t proven much against top level competition and must work hard to turn his potential into reality.

3. Rudy Fernandez – SG – DKV Joventut – 22 years old

When you watch Rudy you can’t help but be impressed with his ability to distribute the ball, knock down a jumper, and get to the basket. He’s the total package at the 2. Rudy should be the best SG in Spain this season, and certainly has the game to be a rotation player in the NBA right now. He’s a natural scorer, and was very efficient as the leading scorer on one of the ACB’s top 4 teams last season: 63.09 TS% and 1.26 PSA. He’s also a good playmaker for an off-guard: 16.24 ast-rate. Like his teammate Ricky Rubio, Rudy needs to concentrate on cutting his TOs this season: 13.33 TO-rate which was actually relatively resonable on DKV.

A lack of strength is the most common knock against Rudy, but I think it might be a bit exaggerated. He’s long and wiry, so I doubt he’ll ever add much weight. However, as players like Tayshaun Prince have proven, skinny guys can be strong too. Of course, like a lot of young players he could use to hit the weight room before entering the NBA. Adding some strength will be especially important if Rudy hopes to be a threat to get to the basket, rather than strictly a perimeter shooter, in the NBA. He gets to the basket regularly in the ACB, but the NBA is a much more physical game.

On defense Rudy may never be Ron Artest, but he’s got long arms and good lateral quickness. He can be a solid team defender, and could definitely develop into a good man defender in the NBA if he works at it.

4. Tiago Splitter – C – TAU Cerámica -22 years old

With his size and fluidity Tiago was billed as a future top 10 pick from an early age. When he was finally drafted last summer, it wasn’t until #28. Along with the fact that 2007 was so deep in bigmen, Tiago’s draft stock was hurt by his passive play. Defense is the 6-11 Brazilian’s calling card, yet he often fails to step up to deter penetrators in help situations. This may help Splitter stay out of foul trouble (although he still fouls at a higher rate than you’d like: 6.44 per 40), but is clearly unacceptable if he’s going to be a top interior defender. Offensively, Tiago may have more reason to hesitate, as neither his post moves nor his jumper are overly impressive. However, he doesn’t appear inept offensively, and at some point he’s going to have to start asserting himself during games if he wants to develop into a strong scoring option.

Some of Splitter’s hesitation seems to stem from his dedication to the team concept. He rarely forces a shot, preferring to play intelligently within the offense. That should make him a great fit in San Antonio. Particularly impressive is Tiago’s ability to get himself open for a high percentage shot by cutting to the basket, often after setting a pick on the perimeter.

Splitter should work on improving his passing ability (5.86 ast-rate last season) and cutting down on his TOs (14.18 TO-rate), especially if he’s not going to assert himself as a scorer.

5. Marc Gasol – C – Akasvayu Girona – 22 years old

Marc has great size (7-0 270) and tremendous skill, his lack of athleticism is the reason he didn’t recieve as warm a reception to the NBA as his brother Pau (selected #3 by the Grizzlies in 2001). There seems to be a good precedent for Gasol to follow, with other skilled Euro-centers like Vlade Divac, Arvydas Sabonis, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas having excelled in the NBA either with little quickness or once their quickness had left them. The younger Gasol’s scoring skills are top notch. He’s very efficient in the post, and also has range out the 3 pt. line.

Divac and Sabonis were able to continue to be difference makers in the NBA long after their quickness had disapated because of their tremendous passing skills and efficient shooting. At this point, Gasol looks like he could be a similar player: he’s already an above average passer (11.03 ast-rate), and is a very efficient scoring threat (62.44 eFG% for 19.07 pts/40min), and an above average though not spectacular passer (11.03 ast-rate).

Gasol’s size gives him an advantage on the boards that will be diminished in the NBA, but he should still be a solid rebounder in his area. His lack of athleticism will likely keep him from grabbing rebounds in traffic and becoming an elite rebounder.

6. Fran Vázquez – C – FC Barcelona – 24 years old

Vázquez was the 11th player selected in the 2005 draft, but he losses points because it’s not clear whether he wants to play in the NBA. He’s one of the best interior defenders in the ACB, a fact attested to by his 2 blocks per game-or 4 per 40min-last season. Clearly the 6-10 24 year old has the potential to be a real difference maker on the inside in the NBA. He’s a bit light at only 230 pounds, but he’s long, tough, and strong.

The rest of Fran’s game is still raw. As you’d expect of a player with his size and athleticism he’s a solid rebounder (8.5 per 40 min on the ACB’s slowest paced team last season). He puts points on the board efficiently in Bacrelona’s strong offense (58.70 TS% for 15.19 pts/40min), but lacks a real post game. He does have a nice shooting touch out to 10-15 feet which he can use effectively on the pick-and-roll or when left open. If he ever makes the trip to Orlando, his shooting touch will help keep defenses honest and open up the middle for Dwight Howard.

7. Axel Hervelle – PF – Real Madrid – 24 years old

The 6-9 Belgian plays a solid all-around game, and was 3rd in minutes played for ACB champions Real Madrid last season. Hervelle is above average in just about every area: he’s a pretty tough interior defender despite a lack of bulk, he rebounds pretty well (9.44 reb/40min),  he’s a good passer at the 4 (12.45 ast-rate), he’s an efficient shooter inside the arc (56.21% on 2P), and his athleticism is solid although he certainly doesn’t jump out of the gym. One knock against him is that he doesn’t have one exceptional skill. He’s not really a difference maker in any one facet of the game, a trait that is valued in role players.

His ceiling, so to speak, is relatively low. At the moment he would be nothing more than a role player in the NBA, possibly making an impact in the right situation with his grit and unselfishness. Hervelle needs to gain strength if he’s going to be worth putting on the court for his defense at the NBA level, especially because he isn’t much of a shot-blocking threat (0.95 blk/40min). An improved perimeter shot would make him more of a scoring threat offensively (31.82% 3P). At this point he has almost no chance of making Denver’s crowded frontcourt, and the Nuggets seem wise to hold his draft rights and hope his game develops a bit more playing for one of Europe’s top clubs. Down the road, he has a chance to make an NBA team’s forntcourt rotation and provide solid, consistent all-around play off the bench.

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