Recently when NBA fans have taken peeks at the happenstances of the ABA Liga JTD (known as the Adriatic League by the cool kids), the glances 100% concentrate on every basketball bohemian’s beloved battalion of Belgrade-based ballers, Mega Leks. The 2015-16 season served as a banner year for the club with Mega Leks alumnus Nikola Jokic’s outstanding NBA rookie season serving for great word-of-mouth advertising. If followers of NBA draft prospects still felt skeptical of the club’s quality youth development, last year’s emergence of not one nor two but three tantalizing Mega Leks prospects in Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot, Ivica Zubac, and Rade Zagorac quelled most if not all concerns.
Mega Leks stands out not just for having jerseys the same color as Barney the Dinosaur, they’ve had plenty of recent success. Mega Leks and its head coach Dejan Milojevic willingly rode their younger players to become Adriatic League runner-ups last season and encouraged them with a somewhat swashbuckling freedom to embrace more on-court responsibilities. Such an organizational approach bucks the stereotype of international basketball teams implementing strict discipline and hierarchies of seniority.
Yes, Mega Leks have rightfully earned the growing endearment to many NBA scouts and draft followers. That affection will also likely continue to do so since the Mega Leks prodigy pipeline seems far from clogging up with the likes of Kostja Mushidi, Alpha Kaba, Ognjen Jaramaz, and a plethora of teenage Central Europeans yet to introduce themselves. But Mega Leks might not have a talent quite like Ante Zizic. At least for this season.
When the Boston Celtics selected Cibona Zagreb representative Ante Zizic with the 23rd overall pick of the 2016 NBA Draft, most assumed the selection came with no higher hopes than the Celtics eventually getting a competent, hustling big to give 15 to 20 minutes a game too. After all, in the 2015-16 Adriatic League season, Cibona Zagreb put Zizic to that role of the 20 minutes per game energy big. Zizic proved quite proficient in that role, leading the league in rebounding, but an NBA player will find it difficult to thrive solely on effort for very long.
Thanks partially to a spike in minutes, Zizic has averaged 24.3 points per game on 75% True Shooting Percentage in the quartet of games to begin ‘16-’17, this after 23 points served as Zizic’s ’15-’16 season high. The major difference between ’15-’16 Zizic and ’16-’17 Zizic lies in just how much more physically overwhelming Zizic is to his Adriatic peers.
Zizic visibly is stronger, quicker, and longer than every opposing defender with the misfortune of detouring him from the paint. Zizic now has the strength to fully take advantage of his bruising style at the rim and power his way into a dunk or foul nearly every touch in the paint he has.
Alongside that improvement against contact, Zizic has also gone 25 for 30 from the free throw line thus far and flashed a pretty smooth set shot from 17 feet out or so. The jump in minutes and offensive usage hasn’t even forced more turnovers from him, although Zizic still isn’t very skilled as a passer. Zizic has looked liked a NBA player playing locals at Rucker Park.
The highlight performance of Zizic’s torrid stretch came against MZT Skopje in arguably the greatest one-man domination in the 16 seasons of Adriatic League history. Zizic pounded home 37 points on 19 field goal attempts and inhaled 20 rebounds with unsettling ease. Zizic didn’t have to rely on a hot shooting night from midrange or lucky bounces at the rim to bolster his game. Time and time again, Zizic came charging down the lane, whether be via screen-and-roll, dribble-drive, or transition, and plowed through MZT Skopje’s interior vanguard like a pep rally banner.
Zizic’s scoring pace would be the first 20 points per game season in the Adriatic League since ’07-’08 if it persists. It would be a feat not even Ante’s brother Andrija, a former Adriatic scoring champion, had achieved. All while Ante still won’t turn 20 years of age until January 2017. Of course, one shouldn’t expect regular 37 point, 20 rebound performances once Zizic finally migrates stateside for the NBA. But who knows? Zizic is already proving initial expectations can easily be overpowered.