A Guide to Spanish Basketball for NBA Fans: Week 19 Preview

Happy scouting.

Herbalife Gran Canaria (10-8) at Rio Natura Monbus Obradoiro (8-10)

Tip-off: Saturday, Jan. 31 at 20:00 CET (2 p.m. ET)

Last Meeting: Gran Canaria won 72-57

Why NBA Fans Should Care: Walter Tavares (Gran Canaria, Atlanta Hawks), Oriol Paulí (Gran Canaria)

Not only are the Atlanta Hawks demolishing the rest of the NBA, but their draft-and-stash prospect Walter Tavares is developing nicely in Spain.

Tavares, 22, leads the ACB in blocked shots per game (1.8), rebounds per game (7.61) and is playing big minutes on a solid team.

Of course, he still has weaknesses you’d expect from a young big man. He’s in the top 10 in fouls per game (3.2) and shoots just 66.7 percent on free throws.

He also makes the kind of offensive mistakes that drive coaches crazy, like this play last week against Real Madrid.

Gran Canaria gets the matchup they want, with a point guard switching onto Tavares after the pick-and-roll. He bullies his way in front of the rim, and Eulis Báez throws a perfect entry pass, lobbing the ball so Tavares catches it over his head.

If he keeps the ball high, Tavares (who is 7’2″) gets an easy dunk and maybe draws a foul. Instead, he brings it down to his waist before rising again, and 6’2″ Jaycee Carroll blocks his shot.

Fortunately for Gran Canaria and the Hawks, Tavares has proven to be a quick learner and he should work out these kinks before he heads to the NBA. He signed a three-year extension with Gran Canaria in June.

The other intriguing prospect in this game is Oriol Paulí. The 6’7″ Spaniard is only the No. 35 prospect in the DraftExpress International ’94 rankings. However, the lengthy small forward has played well in an increased role over the last few weeks.

Paulí has spent most of this season on the bench, but in his last three games he’s averaging 8.3 points and shooting 61 percent from the field.

Last week, the 20-year-old held his own in 11 minutes against Real Madrid. In Week 17, he showed his athleticism with two nice dunks against Estudiantes.

Paulí has struggled with his three-point shot in ACB play (28.5 percent), but he’s been much better in the club’s 13 EuroCup games (43.7 percent).

If he continues to produce in increased minutes, Paulí should garner more attention from NBA teams.

He signed a four-year contract with Gran Canaria in August, giving him plenty of time to improve his outside shot before a potential move to the U.S.

MoraBanc Andorra (5-13) at Bilbao Basket (13-5)

Tip-off: Sunday, Feb. 1 at 12:00 CET (6 a.m. ET)

Last Meeting: Bilbao won 76-75

Why NBA Fans Should Care: Marko Todorovic (Bilbao, Houston Rockets), Dejan Todorovic (Bilbao)

Marko Todorovic is a monster.

Like Tavares, he is 22, playing real minutes on a good team and producing at a very high rate for a young center. Unlike Tavares, his game is polished.

Lacking elite athleticism, Todorovic outplays opponents with his positioning, balance, motor and basketball IQ.

Last week against explosive 20-year-old center Moussa Diagne, one fourth-quarter possession highlighted the young players’ effective but contrasting styles.

Todorovic starts the play at the top of the key with Diagne attached to him. When Alex Mumbrú catches the ball on the baseline, Diagne stalks him. He sinks into the key as Mumbrú backs down his defender, and when Mumbrú spins baseline for the shot, Diagne pounces. He flies in and swats the shot high off the glass, a great defensive play from a potentially great defensive player.

But Todorovic, who is as smart as Diagne is long and athletic, trails him as he goes for the block. Thanks to his perfect positioning, Todorovic grabs the rebound and finishes the easy putback, a crucial bucket late in a tight game.

Plays like this are why Todorovic has been the best center in Spain this season.

He is 2nd in the league in offensive rebounds per game (3rd in total boards), 6th in field goal percentage, 5th in blocked shots per game, and he shoots 75.4 percent from the free throw line. He has four double-doubles this season, and he was one rebound away from a double-double in three other games.

For his efforts, Todorovic has been awarded ACB Player of the Week three times, including last week against Diagne and Fuenlabrada. No other player has won the award more than once this season.

Also in this game is Bilbao’s 6’5″ shooting guard Dejan Todorovic.

Dejan, 20, is No. 11 in the DraftExpress International ’94 rankings. This season, he is averaging 4.7 points and shooting 46.9 percent from the field in just over 17 minutes a game.

He’s not a good outside shooter yet (4-of-16 on threes), but he has given us one of the best highlights of the year. In Week 15 against Barcelona, Dejan scored two of his season-high 10 points by dunking all over poor Maciej Lampe.

Iberostar Tenerife (8-10) at CAI Zaragoza (10-8)

Tip-off: Sunday, Feb. 1 at 12:15 CET (6:15 a.m. ET)

Last Meeting: Zaragoza won 67-66

Why NBA Fans Should Care: They shouldn’t.

Nothing against these two clubs — both are decent, potentially playoff-bound teams. They just don’t have anything to offer in the way of NBA prospects.

barbrady

Valencia Basket (11-7) at Baloncesto Sevilla (3-15)

Tip-off: Sunday, Feb. 1 at 12:30 CET (6:30 a.m. ET)

Last Meeting: Valencia won 96-73

Why NBA Fans Should Care: Kristaps Porzingis (Sevilla), Willy Hernangomez (Sevilla), Guillem Vives (Valencia), Bojan Dubljevic (Valencia, Minnesota Timberwolves)

I wrote about Vives and Dubljevic last week, so I’ll focus on the Sevilla guys today.

Porzingis, who will likely be a 2015 lottery pick, is a long and surprisingly mobile 7-footer.

He fits nicely into the role of an NBA stretch-4, but he’s much more than a typical floor-spacing big man. He can get to the rim off the dribble, he has a promising post-up game, and he dunks all over people from time to time.

He’s not an outstanding rebounder (30th in the ACB at 4.7 per game), but his length allows him to pull down some crazy offensive boards when he does crash the glass. Here is he is snatching a rebound and dunking over Tavares.

Defensively, Porzingis has the ability to become an elite rim protector. His length allows him to recover if he is beat off the dribble or muscled out of position, and he’s more than willing to rotate and contest shots as a help defender.

Only four ACB players have more blocks this season than Porzingis.

Right now, his main weaknesses are his lack of strength and his tendency to disappear offensively. His strength is going to be a problem for awhile, but he appears to be improving his offensive aggression.

When I saw Porzingis against Manresa in Week 14, he finished with just four points on five shots. It was his fifth game this season with five or less points, and his fifth game with six or less field goal attempts. For a player with his offensive skills, that lack of production is unacceptable.

However, Porzingis has been launching shots since then.

In his last four ACB games, Porzingis has taken nine, 11, 14 and 10 shots. The results: He’s averaged 15.2 points on 56.8 percent shooting.

As good as Porzingis is, he may not even be the best young player in the Sevilla frontcourt.

Willy Hernangomez, 20, is essentially a more athletic Marko Todorovic.

He’s a polished post-up player with great footwork and balance. He’s comfortable finishing with either hand and through contact. He’s a capable outside shooter, a monster on the offensive glass (5th in the ACB with 2.6 OREBs per game) and only three ACB centers have drawn more fouls than him this season.

In December, he became the youngest player in league history to post at least 29 points and 13 rebounds in a game, which he did against Barcelona’s star-studded frontcourt.

For the season, he’s averaging 10.6 points and 5.9 rebounds in 21.6 minutes per game.

Hernangomez is properly ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the international class of ’94 by DraftExpress.

He’s a projected second-round pick right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him rise into the mid-to-late first round.

La Bruixa d’Or Manresa (5-13) at FC Barcelona (12-6)

Tip-off: Sunday, Feb. 1 at 12:30 CET (6:30 a.m. ET)

Last Meeting: Barcelona won 88-69

Why NBA Fans Should Care: Marius Grigonis (Manresa), Marc Garcia (Manresa), Mario Hezonja (Barcelona), Alex Abrines (Barcelona, Oklahoma City Thunder), Tibor Pleiss (Barcelona, Oklahoma City Thunder), Tomas Satoransky (Barcelona, Washington Wizards), DeShaun Thomas (Barcelona, San Antonio Spurs), Ante Tomic (Barcelona, Utah Jazz)

I gushed about Grigonis last week, and he went on to post nine points (2-of-3 on threes), five rebounds, and a plus-minus of plus-17 in 23 minutes.

This week, I’ll limit my Grigonis love to this video, which I’m going to post over and over again in these breakdowns because it’s ridiculous.

I was sitting right under the basket in Sevilla when he launched that three. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

I also wrote about 18-year-old Marc Garcia last week, focusing on his poor shooting numbers and lack of playing time. There’s not much else to report this week, as he didn’t see the floor against Obradoiro.

Garcia came up through the Barcelona youth system, so hopefully he gets some action on Sunday.

As for Barcelona, I’ll write more in-depth about each of these guys in the coming weeks. For now, here are the basics.

I said earlier that Marko Todorovic has been the best center in Spain this season, but Ante Tomic could definitely snatch his crown back by the end of the year — especially if he plays like he did in the Euroleague on Friday.

Spurs’ 2013 draft pick DeShaun Thomas is playing very well. He has scored in double figures in the last five ACB games and he’s shooting 59 percent from the field in Euroleague play (41-of-68 on 2s, 11-of-20 on 3s).

Alex Abrines is still a human flamethrower in ACB games, shooting an insane 55.7 percent on threes. However, he hasn’t been nearly as good in the Euroleague, hitting a still-respectable 37.5 percent (18-of-48). I hope he goes to OKC soon so we can watch him feast on open looks from Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant kickouts.

I haven’t been paying enough attention to Tomas Satoranksy this year, but he’s putting up some crazy shooting numbers in the ACB: 64.7 percent on 2s (33-of-51), 50 percent on 3s (9-of-18), 91.3 percent on FTs (21-of-23).

I’m really disappointed that Tibor Pleiss moved from Laboral Kutxa to Barcelona over the summer. He went from playing 20-plus minutes per game last season to 13.8 this season as he backs up Tomic. He’s producing when he does get in, but dammit, that’s so much less playing time.

As for Mario Hezonja, this week is a good opportunity for him to see the floor. He’s often buried on the bench against good teams (nine minutes against Málaga, seven against Laboral Kutxa), but I could see Xavi Pascual giving him at least 20 against Manresa.

If he does, let’s hope for more plays like these. He’s probably the only guy in the ACB that could take one dribble from half-court and throw down a windmill dunk.

There’s no reason this team should be 12-6. They are absolutely loaded.

Montakit Fuenlabrada (4-14) at UCAM Murcia (8-10)

Tip-off: Sunday, Feb. 1 at 12:30 CET (6:30 a.m. ET)

Last Meeting: Murcia won 71-66

Why NBA Fans Should Care: Moussa Diagne (Fuenlabrada), Raul Neto (Murcia, Utah Jazz), Rolands Smits (Fuenlabrada)

I love Moussa Diagne, and next week I’ll have a thorough breakdown of his game. Until then, here’s a video of him dunking on Andres Nocioni to hold you over.

Honestly, I knew almost nothing about Rolands Smits before I saw him last Sunday in Fuenlabrada.

Before Week 18, he had played in just seven of Fuenla’s games this season for a total of about 32 minutes. Then on Sunday, he was suddenly in the starting lineup and checking Alex Mumbrú, the ACB’s fifth-leading scorer.

I did some frantic Smits research during dead balls and realized I shouldn’t have been so clueless about him.

The 19-year-old Latvian put up some great numbers last summer in the U20 European Championships (16 points and 7.2 rebounds per game). He did it on a not-so-great team against not-so-great competition, but those numbers deserve respect.

On the court against Bilbao, Smits immediately looked like he was going to hurt someone, and it didn’t take long for him to do so. He’s big (6’9″), athletic, hyper, and he doesn’t exactly have control of his body.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise when — in the span of five seconds — he elbowed Raül López in the solar plexus, air-balled a layup over the rim, got his own rebound, and dunked on Mumbrú.

López stayed on the ground for a couple minutes.

Smits played almost 14 minutes against Bilbao, finishing with four points, two rebounds, and one failed alley-oop dunk attempt on a fast break. After the game, DraftExpress moved him up to No. 19 in their International ’95 rankings.

If he keeps getting minutes under new Fuenla coach Hugo López, Smits should continue to rise in the second half of the season.

On the other side of this matchup is 22-year-old Brazilian point guard Raul Neto.

I talked about Neto’s playing style last week, saying he is “Jason Williams-esque in his ability to toe the line between creativity and recklessness.” A few hours later, he was all over both sides of that line.

Against Valencia, we got plenty of the good Neto. He had 10 points on 100 percent shooting in the first quarter, and delivered three highlight-reel plays: A coast-to-coast dunk, a buzzer-beating three from one dribble over half-court, and a gorgeous bounce pass to Augusto Lima.

We also got plenty of the bad Neto, as he finished with seven turnovers and just three assists. Hopefully he’s a little more disciplined with the ball this week.

Gipuzkoa Basket (6-12) at Real Madrid (14-4)

Tip-off: Sunday, Feb. 1 at 13:00 CET (7 a.m ET)

Last Meeting: Real won 90-76

Why NBA Fans Should Care: Sergio Llull (Real, Houston Rockets), Dani Díez (Gipuzkoa)

Ok, this post is already more than 2,500 words, so things are about to get real brief. I’ll focus more on some of these guys in the following weeks.

Sergio Llull is one of the five best players in Spain, and he could definitely be a role player on an NBA playoff team like the Rockets. Houston GM Daryl Morey said last summer that the team had stayed in contact with Llull, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

Unfortunately, Llull, 27, is under contract with Real Madrid until 2018.

Dani Díez, a 21-year-old who is actually on loan in Gupuzkoa from Real, is in the mix for the ACB Young Player of the Year award.

Díez is third in the ACB with 7.5 rebounds per game, which is incredible given that he’s a 6’7″ small forward. He’s also scoring 10.5 points in a little more than 30 minutes per game.

He is No. 99 on the DraftExpress Top 100 Prospects list.

FIATC Joventut (14-4) at Movistar Estudiantes (7-11)

Tip-off: Sunday, Feb. 1 at 18:30 CET (12:30 ET)

Last Meeting: Joventut won 65-60

Why NBA Fans Should Care: Alberto Abalde (Joventut), Alex Suárez (Joventut), Jaime Fernández (Estudiantes)

I’ll be at this game Sunday night, so by Monday evening I’ll post a detailed breakdown of how these guys performed.

Laboral Kutxa Baskonia (9-9) at Unicaja Málaga (15-3)

Tip-off: Sunday, Feb. 1 at 19:30 (1:30 p.m. ET)

Last Meeting: Málaga won 88-79

Why NBA Fans Should Care: Colton Iverson (Baskonia, Boston Celtics), Davis Bertans (Baskonia, San Antonio Spurs), Ilimane Diop (Baskonia), Mindaugas Kuzminskas (Málaga), Maodo Nguirane (Málaga)

In last week’s preview, I wrote about Kuzminskas and the sparingly used Nguirane. Kuzminskas went on to score 10 points (2-of-4 on 2s, 2-of-3 on 3s) and Nguirane didn’t play in what was a surprisingly close game against Andorra.

On the Baskonia side, Colton Iverson and Davis Bertans are playing well lately.

Iverson, a 7’0″ center, was named Player of the Week in Week 17 after posting 14 points and 15 rebounds against Obradoiro.

Meanwhile, Bertans caught fire last week, hitting all five of his threes on his way to 19 points in a win over Barcelona. He’s shooting 43.1 percent from deep this season.

Ilimane Diop, No. 11 in the DraftExpress International ’95 rankings, is averaging just six minutes per game. But even if he doesn’t see more playing time, the 6’11” center will stay on scouts’ radars simply because of his length.

Austin Green runs LosCrossovers.com from Madrid, Spain with the occasional help of his friends and colleagues.

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