NBA Prospect Watch: Rodions Kurucs, Barcelona

The potential 1st-round pick is showing his skills in Spain's 2nd Division

Photo via FCBarcelona.com

Austin Green is an independent journalist and scout covering EuroLeague and NBA prospects in Europe. If you’d like to support LosCrossovers.com and see more articles like this, feel free to donate.

While most of the basketball world focused on lottery picks battling in the NCAA tournament, Rodions Kurucs made a quiet but promising EuroLeague debut on Friday.

He played just 3:20, missed a smooth (perhaps nervous) catch-and-shoot 3, and made a couple defensive mistakes. It was a pretty typical debut for a 19-year-old on Europe’s big stage.

Kurucs also showed the offensive aggression, quick first step, and length that have helped him remain a fixture on 2017 mock drafts.

Late in the 3rd quarter, he got the ball near the top of the key and blew past 23-year-old Nemanja Dangubic.

This is something Kurucs has been able to do at will in youth tournaments and the Spanish LEB Gold (2nd division). It was encouraging to see it on a bigger stage, against older and much better competition.

With Barcelona out of EuroLeague playoff contention, hopefully coach Georgios Bartzokas will give the young Latvian more opportunities in the final two games of the season.

Until then, let’s take a look at Kurucs’ season in the LEB Gold. I pulled clips from a few recent games to illustrate why he’s currently No. 20 in the DraftExpress mock draft.

Basic Stats: 21 MPG, 9.5 PPG, 57.3% 2FG (43/75), 32.5% 3FG (27/83), 78.5% FTs (33/42), 2.6 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.7 TOs, 0.9 BPG, 0.8 SPG in 21 games played

Driving Ability

Kurucs’ main weapon right now is his ability to beat people off the dribble.

Defenders have to respect his outside shooting, which sets him up to attack closeouts on the perimeter. And in typical isolation situations, defenders at the LEB Gold level have basically no chance to stay in front of him.

He has a quick first step, takes long strides and is good at using his body to create space. He has long arms, great height for a wing (listed at 6’8, possibly 6’9) and the athleticism to finish at the rim.

He is also good at finding teammates when the help defense rotates. He needs to work on his handle, but you can see his potential as a secondary creator.

Shooting

Kurucs’ 3-point percentage (32.5%) is a little disappointing, but he has pretty good form and it’s a small sample size (27/83).

In comparison, this year Kansas’ Josh Jackson made 34/90 threes (37.7%), Duke’s Jayson Tatum made 40/117 (34.1%) and Jonathan Isaac made 31/89 (34.8%). The FIBA 3-point line is also farther away than the NCAA line.

With some more practice, Kurucs should develop into a good NBA 3-point shooter.

Curiously, according to Synergy, he is 11-of-22 in guarded catch-and-shoot situations and 2-of-16 in unguarded situations. I’m thinking this stat is somewhat skewed by end-of-quarter heaves, but I’m not positive.

He also tried this move in a game, which is just awesome.

Per Synergy, Kurucs is shooting a solid 12-of-34 on jump shots off the dribble, although he clanked almost all of the ones I saw while researching for this piece.

Passing

Kurucs has always put up big scoring numbers in youth tournaments. We know he can get buckets. What’s been really encouraging lately is his development as a passer.

In the games I watched, I saw him find teammates out of post-ups, hit the roll man as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, and throw crisp passes into the paint from the 3-point line.

Defense

Kurucs’ defense is a mixed bag. First, the good stuff.

With his length and athleticism, he can be a pesky defender who guards multiple positions. He often has active hands to disrupt passing lanes and challenge otherwise open shots. When he moves his feet quickly, he can be a nightmare to deal with.

However, he tends to get lost at times. He ball-watches a little too much, which causes him to lose track of his man (and he plays with a lot of other young players, so maybe some of the bad rotations and miscommunication aren’t totally his fault)

I also saw teams take advantage of him when he was defending smaller, quicker players. Sometimes he was able to stay with them off the dribble and properly navigate a gauntlet of screens. Sometimes he wasn’t.

But I think the key thing to recognize here is that even when players are scoring on him, Kurucs’ is showing a clear effort. I think his defensive mistakes are more a product of youth rather than inability or disinterest.

Rebounding

Kurucs isn’t a prolific rebounder at this point, but he has shown the ability to grab some tough boards.

With his length and athleticism, I think he’ll be a good rebounding wing when he adds some muscle.

Hesitation

In one of the games I watched, Kurucs missed a few 3-pointers in a row. As you’ll see in the first two clips below, this caused him to hesitate on open shots. He forces a bad pass in the first clip and eventually decides to pull-up in the second.

I like that he’s looking to find teammates under the rim, but he should be pulling the trigger when he’s that open.

He also forced another pass in the same game that resulted in a turnover. In the last clip, he doesn’t turn the ball over, but it does show that he needs to work on dribbling with his left hand.

Injuries

Unfortunately, I can’t write a Kurucs piece at this point without mentioning his two knee injuries.

He missed six months of the 2015-16 season, but was able to return in April and dominated the Adidas Next Generation Tournament in Berlin.

Then in September of 2016, he sprained his meniscus, forcing him to miss another two months of action. He has looked good since, and it’s possible he won’t have any more knee problems, but teams will definitely need to investigate this.

Barcelona’s 1st-team has also had an insane run of injuries over the last two seasons. I don’t know if there’s something wrong with their training staff or their court or if it’s just bad luck, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

Conclusion

I love Kurucs, especially if his knees will cooperate going forward.

I think he’s a lottery talent, but in this class loaded with elite NCAA players, he’ll likely drop. If a team drafts him in the 14-30 range and leaves him overseas for a year, I think he’ll be a steal.

As my friend Sam Meyerkopf said on our NCAA tournament preview podcast, wings are like gold in the modern NBA. And Kurucs has the physical tools, skills and mentality of a very good 2-way wing.

With some more experience and hopefully better health, I expect Kurucs to develop into a high-quality NBA role player.

Austin Green is an independent journalist and scout covering EuroLeague and NBA prospects in Europe. If you’d like to support LosCrossovers.com and see more articles like this, feel free to donate.

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2 Comments on NBA Prospect Watch: Rodions Kurucs, Barcelona

  1. Best review on Rodions Kurucs I’ve seen yet! Thanks for doing that. I liked that his FT% seemed to range from 75% to 79% thus that 3% is more likely to come to fruition. Josh Jackson is already over 20. His high school FT% has never been over 58%. Turnovers a bit higher than his assists. Jackson was close, but still a little more.

    http://basketball.realgm.com/player/Rodions-Kurucs/Summary/77633

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