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06-05-2004, 12:30 AM
Friday, June 4, 2004
Petro fueling draft stock

By Chad Ford
ESPN Insider

# Chad Ford's mock draft: Standard version | Slideshow version

TREVISO, Italy -- The Reebok Big Man camp officially ended on Tuesday. Pavel Podkolzine is heading to the United States, meaning all of the talk of 7-foot-5 big men doing cross overs can finally stop.

On Thursday it was on to the Reebok Eurocamp, where 50 of the best young players in Europe, regardless of size, began duking it out. Ironically, the buzz of the camp centered on three guys who all stood 7-feet or taller.

France's Johan Petro, Serbia's Mile Ilic and Lithuania's Martynas Andriuskevicus were the star attractions. All three players are in the draft and all have first-round potential. A couple of other draft-eligible players like Roko Leni Ukic and Croatia's Marko Tomas were also the center of much attention.

Here's a break down of who scouts were watching on Friday.

Martynas Andriuskevicius, PF/C, Lithuania
We gave you the skinny (literally) on Andruskevicius on Wednesday. He continued to show the same gave savvy, ball handling and shooting on the perimeter. However, on the 5-on-5 games in the camp, Andriuskevicius was forced to play inside and his lack of strength in the post continued to make him ineffective. He was guarded by Petro in the first game and struggled to get real position anywhere near the basket.

Petro was physical with Martynas and clearly it bothered him. In the second game on Friday morning, Andruskevicius was matched up against Ilic. Ilic is a much weaker defender than Petro, but Andriuskevicius still struggled. Only when he got out on the perimeter did he show flashes of what he's capable of doing. Everyone liked his effort in both games, but, as we said on Wednesday, he's probably several years away from being strong enough to make it the league.

My guess is that he'll pull out of the draft. The one team that would have to give him serious consideration is the Suns. But Suns head coach Mike D'Antoni insisted to me on Thursday that the team didn't give him a promise. That should be enough to push him back to Lithuania for another year.

Johan Petro, C, France
On Thursday the buzz centered on Petro. Petro worked out privately for the Jazz on Tuesday and then did a private head-to-head workout with Podkolzine in front of the Nuggets on Wednesday. After the workouts both teams came out with positive reviews of Petro.

On Thursday everyone else got to see why. Petro (who measured 7-1, 258 with a 7-2 wingspan in Treviso) looked the part. He's tall, long and muscular with big hands and a decent base. He's a good athlete who can run the floor, elevate and he's not afraid to get physical. Physically, his body resembles a young Jermaine O'Neal. But he doesn't quite have the athleticism that O'Neal has.

Most importantly, he plays like a center on offense in drills and practice. Though Petro owns a fairly consistent jumper from 12 feet in, he likes to hang around the paint, lowers his shoulders into guys and was pretty aggressive attacking the rim. He dunks well off both two feet, blocks shots, rebounds and can be a solid defender when he wants to be.

With so few athletic centers in the draft with that type of body, the buzz was understandable. With that said, Petro still has a long way to go. Petro is a good, but not super athlete. He isn't very bouncy and is a little thicker than the elite athletes in the league. His vertical jump measures just 24 inches. He also still lacks great basketball instincts. Like Pavel, he often hesitates before going into his moves. He's not as raw as previous scouting reports have claimed, but overall he's still far from polished.

In Thursday's second five-on-five session, he was matched up against Andriuskevicius. Defensively he was pretty good and caused Martynas some problems. Offensively he really struggled. His reads were off, he had some embarrassing turnovers and he missed several layups because he miss-timed his jump. He played very hard, but was not aggressive at all on the boards or with his shot blocking.

On Friday morning it was a similar story. He showed a little ball handling, made some nice passes and had a few good moves in the paint, but for the most part he didn't make his presence felt.

A team that drafts him is going to want to probably keep him in Europe at least one more year, maybe two, to give him more game experience and playing time. Unless he was drafted by a really bad team, he probably doesn't play anyway.

I could see a team like the Hawks at No. 17, the Nuggets at No. 20, the Jazz at No. 21 or Blazers at No. 23 giving him a strong look. His agent claims that a pick in that range would probably be enough to keep him in the draft.

To me he's another Pavel -- an interesting prospect with great upside because of his body and athleticism. But he's still a long, long way away from being an impact player in the league.

Mile Ilic, C, Serbia
Ilic is one of the oldest prospects here in the camp and it showed. His maturity level, feel for the game and basketball instincts are more developed than most of the big men we've seen. Like most European centers, he has a very nice shooting touch, can handle the ball a little bit and is very effective working the pick and pop. He's a decent athlete for his size and runs the floor pretty well. He got some real playing time in Serbia this year, which helps.

Mile Ilic has some polish, but looks like he's never seen the inside of a weight room.

However, in the five-on-five games on Thursday, Ilic was pretty disappointing. He didn't get involved offensively or defensively in either game. He wasn't rebounding, shot blocking or doing things in the post. He had a couple of shots from the elbow that went in, but for the most part the performance was bland at best.

On Friday he played better against a weaker opponent, Andriuskevicius, but still largely faded into the background. His feet aren't great, his lateral movement is just OK, and the few times he did make some nice moves around the basket he didn't finish. The good news is that he was a lot more aggressive on Friday. He attacked the rim offensively and was more active on the boards defensively -- but in reality there are 15 to 20 prospects here who just look better.

The two biggest issues for Ilic are his strength and his position. Ilic looks like he's never seen the inside of a weight room. He has zero muscle definition and is pretty thin. His frame is OK, but he's never going to be the type of big guy who will lower a shoulder on his defender. Because of that he spends a lot of time on the perimeter. Although he doesn't shy away from post contact, it isn't his strength.

A team that drafts him will want him to be a better rebounder and shot blocker. I just don't see how he's done enough to make it into the first round here. I know several NBA teams are fond of Ilic, but given the plethora of bigs in the draft, I think he'll get lost in the shuffle. I won't be shocked if he decides to pull out of the draft.

Roko Leni Ukic, PG, Croatia
Ukic made a splash at the Hoops Summit with his stellar defense on Sebastian Telfair. However, he was equally poor offensively, which probably ended up hurting his stock more than it should've.

In Trevisio, Ukic (6-foot-5, 183 pounds) seemed to have regained his offensive groove. He attacked the defense relentlessly and either dished off the pass to a teammate for a wide open jumper or attacked the rim. He's not known as much of a 3-point shooter, but Ukic was nailing shots from the perimeter all day Thursday.

He's got great size for a point guard, has excellent court vision and really excels when he's in the open court. However, he too struggled in 5-on-5 play on Thursday. Ukic is very quick and likes to push the ball, but at times he played out of control and sent passes flying out of bounds. He just had way too many turnovers. When his coach put in another point guard and moved Ukic to the two, he became less aggressive and passed up some wide open looks. While his shooting is as good as I've seen it, it's pretty clear he's still uncomfortable from deep range.

On Friday Ukic was better. He had several cross over moves that broke the ankles of his defenders, and got to the rim more effectively. He's the most polished point guard in the camp and has a great feel for what's going on the game.

Scouts still think Ukic is an intriguing prospect because of his quickness, experience, aggressiveness and length at the position, but his erratic play probably means that he didn't really help his stock. The NBA scouts who I talked to all liked him a lot and felt that he had a shot at going in the late first round. However, chances are he too pulls out of the draft and tries again next year when he's more firmly planted on NBA scouts' radar. Ultimately I think Ukic will play in the league. I'm just not sure it will be this year.

Erazem Lorbek, PF, Slovenia
You may remember Lorbek from the one year he spent at Michigan State. Lorbek and his family were unhappy there and he decided to bolt school and sign a lucrative contract with Skipper Bologna in Italy.

Former Michigan State player Erazem Lorbek was one of the standouts in 5-on-5 drills.

Skipper is one of the top teams in Europe, and Lorbek received only moderate playing time there. Still, he's much more experienced than most of the prospects here and it really showed in the 5-on-5 part of the camp. He's looked like the best player here for the first few days of camp.

Lorbek was aggressive on both ends of the floor on both Thursday and Friday. He ended his game with 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds, both camp highs on Thursday. Lorbek doesn't have great athleticism or height for his position (power forward in the pros), but he has a much more refined court sense than almost anyone here.

Lorbek attacked the basket, put the ball on the floor and hit a number of jumpers, including a pair of international 3s. He's in the draft right now, but chances are he'll pull out again this year. His agent is looking for a first-round guarantee. While Lorbek certainly proved his maturity here, I doubt he propelled himself all the way into the first round.

Still, down the road scouts are going to have to consider him. He measured 6-foot-11 in camp, had a 7-foot-1 inch wingspan and a decent 30-inch vertical. If he were a better athlete with quicker feet, he'd be a top prospect. Still, I think he could be an Austin Croshere-type player in the league someday.

Drago Pasalic, PF, Croatia
Pasalic is another prospect who's gotten little attention so far in the draft. He plays on the same team in Croatia with Roko Ukic and has established himself as a solid player in the Croatian league.

Pasalic stands at 6-foot-11, 236 pounds, but does almost all of his damage from the perimeter. He's got a very solid 3-point shot and also does really well in the mid-range game. Think a poor man's Austin Croshere.

Pasalic showed those skills in the 5-on-5s on Thursday. He ran the floor pretty well, hit a number of jumpers from all over the floor and generally played well. However, at his size, he's got to be more active in the paint to make it in the NBA. Pasalic, for the most part, stayed away from post play and never really crashed the boards. He's got the potential to be a very nice player in Europe, but he doesn't look like a great fit in the NBA.

Pavel Mroz, C, Poland
He wasn't that impressive in the big man camp, but has turned things up a notch at the Eurocamp. He stands at a legit 7-foot-1, weighs 240 pounds and is fairly mobile. If he stays in the draft, someone could take a chance on him in the second round.

Marko Tomas, SG, Croatia
Tomas is an explosive point guard prospect from Croatia who many NBA scouts were excited to see in Trevisio. In the early workouts he showed off a much-improved jumper and his trademark aggressiveness. However, he injured his ankle early in 5-on-5 play and won't be able to play the rest of camp. That will probably hurt his draft stock. Most of the NBA folks I talked to felt they hadn't seen enough of him to make a full assessment.

The future

This year's draft prospects weren't the only players on display. A number of top draft prospects for the 2005 and 2006 NBA Draft were on display in Trevisio this week. Here's a look at who scouts were paying attention to.

Nemanja Aleksandrov, SF, Serbia
The 17-year-old, 7-foot forward has been projected all year as a contender for the No. 1 pick in 2005. Aleksandrov's coming-out party happened at the Reebok Eurocamp last year in Trevisio where he dominated.

Serbia's Nemanja Aleksandrov has a shot at being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft.

He's since put on impressive performances at several camps, but struggled quite a bit at a Euroleague junior tournament in Israel. He played to mixed reviews in Treviso on Thursday and Friday.

He's obviously one of the most skilled big men you'll ever find at his age. He has a very good 3-point shot, good athleticism (though just a 24-inch vertical), a great handle and great feet in the paint. During the 5-on-5 tournament he put several moves on in the paint that were reminiscent of Kevin Garnett. He's quick and a real matchup problem on offense.

The issue with Aleksandrov is his effort. He often coasts in games, doesn't always defend and will disappear for large chunks of the game. He seems to be able to turn it on and off at will, but that's a scary attribute (reminiscent of Dwight Howard actually) in a top pick like this. His talent makes him a serious candidate for No. 1 next year. But after watching him again in Treviso on Thursday and Friday, I still believe that his heart is a big question mark.

Vasily Zavoruev, SG, Russia
Many scouts believe that Zavoruev is the best young prospect in Russia. He's 17-year-old, stands at 6-foot-6 and may be the best pure shooter in the camp. He runs the floor, handles the ball, and isn't afraid to take the ball inside. He was the best player on the floor in both of his 5-on-5 games on Thursday and impressed again on Friday. He still needs to get stronger, but from the looks of his frame he has plenty of room to grow. In two years, he could be a top draft prospect.

Vladimir Veremeenko, F, Belarus
Veremeenko has been on NBA scouts' radar screens for the past two years. He's definitely more polished than most of the players here, but there was a pretty big split among scouts about his future in the league. Some thought he was a tweener who wasn't big enough to play the four and not quick enough or skilled enough on the perimeter to play the three. He measured 6-foot-11 in shoes at the camp, which quieted some of the critics. I thought he played pretty well over the past week, but I can't say that I'm blown away either.

Mirza Teletovic, PF, Bosnia
He's already picked up the label as the Ron Artest of Europe. The 6-foot-9, 248-pound bruiser is the son of a boxer and looks the part. He's the most aggressive player in the camp and attacks relentlessly on both offense and defense. He rebounds, blocks shots and on offense he finds ways to worm his way into the basket.

In shooting drills he's also showed a decent touch. Though he's just 18, he leads the Bosnia professional league in scoring. He's an impressive player, but I'm not sure exactly how his game will translate in the pros. He's probably a small forward in the NBA, but he needs to get a better handle and move his feet quicker to make it there.

Alexsander Ugrinoski, PG, Croatia
At 16, he's considered the top prospect in Croatia. He already starts for his junior national team and it showed here. He's got great size, at 6-foot-4, for a point guard and an unusual feel for the game for someone that size. He's played well in both of his games and will be a legit NBA prospect in the next couple of years.

Saer Sena, C, Senegal
This 7-footer from Senegal is very raw. But he owns an amazing 7-foot-7 wing span (the only guy in the NBA with a longer one is Jamaal Magliore), is bouncy and showed some aggressiveness in the first few games. He only began playing basketball two years ago, so he's obviously a project, but he got everyone's attention here.

Oleksiy Percherov and Yevhen Sachava, PF's, Ukraine
These pair of Ukrainian power forwards were among the most impressive in the camp. Percherov is skinny but very skilled on the perimeter. Sachava is a good athlete who did a great job attacking the basket. They're both 7-footers with long arms and nice vertical. Their aggressiveness really stood out. They, along with Roman Gumenyuk (whom we wrote about on Wednesday) should all be prospects in the next few years.

Danilo Gallinari, G, Italy
Gallinari is the hope of Italy. At the age of 15, he was the youngest player in the camp. His dad was a former player in Italy and his skills for a 15-year-old were amazing. He already stands at 6-foot-8, 190 and has the handle to play the point. He's also a dead eye from long range. The NBA coaches here all raved about him. It's awfully early to project a prospect like this, but he looked eerily reminiscent of a young Toni Kukoc.