Nikola Jovic - 6’10, 205 pounds, Serbia
FIBA U19 tournament stats: 18 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.7 blocks on 49% form the field and 36% from 3 on 4.7 attempts per game
For a while now Nikola Jovic was more of a curiosity than anything else. While that name has been etched into my cerebral cortex since I saw his name in various Jonathan Givony tweets and highlight videos on YouTube that didn’t last longer than four minutes. Those reasons were why I was excited about the beginning of the FIBA U19 tournament to get a more thorough look at a young Serbian standout with a name eerily familiar to that of the current NBA MVP.
As the days went on and Serbia ran through the competition in the group stage, the 17-year-old continued to jump off my computer screen by exhibiting skills that you don’t typically see from a player his size unless they’re at the NBA level.
On the defensive end, Jovic was marvelous as his long wingspan mixed with quick feet and coordination allowed him to defend guards and wings on the perimeter when they’re driving to the rim. Even against more crafty guards that can spin moves or change directions on a dime, our subject is still able to keep in front of the driver and be in a position to effect the shot. An example of that is seen in the clip below where he’s able to move his hips to adjust to Japanese guard Atsuya Ogawa’s spin move before guiding the guard further from the basket, which ultimately leads to the attempted layup being short.
The one issue that was noticeable from Jovic is how bigger players were able to score on him, whether that’s when they’re finishing through traffic or scoring in the low-post. While that may be due to the 18-year-old playing up a year in the U19 tournament, the fact that opposing forwards and bigs were able to score on him is a concern. However, Jovic is still a year away from being eligible for the 2022 NBA Draft so there’s still time for him to strengthen up so he’ll be able to handle more physical play at the NBA level.
On the other end of the floor, Jovic really showed his promise as a versatile forward that was a threat from all three levels over the course of the tournament. From the perimeter, Jovic stood out as a catch-and-shoot threat and did a great job of quickly getting in position after capturing the ball no matter where he is on the court. Outside of him being a knockdown catch-and-shoot threat, Jovic has showed flashes of being able to use a step-back to create separation, which he is able to do in the play below. The flashes of him being able to launch up a step-back and being able to nail it as a 17-year-old forward is exciting to behold.
Outside of his knack as a perimeter shooter, our subject showcased other skills during his run with Serbia. Averaging 20 assists and 13 turnovers in seven games, Jovic’s knack as a facilitator came with him being able to find cutters on the perimeter, working as a ball-handler in pick-and-rolls, and even some drive and dumps to off-ball cutters. Speaking of his work off-the-dribble, the 6’10 forward showcased a comfort as a right-handed driver as he has solid acceleration that allowed him to drive past bigs while utilizing the occasional crossover to lul his man to sleep. Those moves mixed together along with his ability to use his height, and leaping ability to finish adds another fun skill to his complete arsenal of moves.
One area of potential concern is that Jovic isn’t the tightest with his handle as guards or wings with quick hands were able to swipe the ball from him. A lot of that is due to how he has a high dribble, which isn’t surprising given his size.
Dyson Daniels - 6’6, 180 pounds, Australia
FIBA U19 tournament stats: 14 points, 4.6 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and 2.3 steals on 43% from the field and 30% from beyond the arc
For long-time readers of the site that are as interested in the G League as yours truly, Daniels was the most relevant player in the FIBA U19 tournament as he’s one of the handful of prospects that will be with the G League Ignite during the upcoming season. Although his efficiency wasn’t at the level that you’d want it to be, the wing showed traits on both ends of the floor that should make any fan excited and intrigued by what he’ll be able to do this fall.
During his run with Australia, Daniels established himself as a tremendous on-ball presence that’s a threat whenever he’s working with the ball in his hands. As a driver working with his left or right hand, he has a tight handle and change of speed moves that allowed him to get the better of his young foes. An example of that is seen below as he does a great job of lulling his defender to sleep with a stop before bursting towards the paint and finishing with a lefty layup.
Sticking on the topic of Dyson’s burst, and to give you another clip to drool over, here’s an incredible sequence that should make Brian Shaw giggle with glee. Bringing the ball up the court in transition, our subject pushes his defender to turn his body left with a short burst in that direction before using a behind-the-back pass to go right. Although the defender is able to quickly recover, Daniels is still able to shine as he draws contact and finishes with an acrobatic scoop.
Another area where his work off-the-dribble really helped him out was as a facilitator. As I’ll discuss in a more in-depth piece, Daniels is able to make magic as a facilitator when moving around with the rock in his hands as he’s able to see the court and find his teammates at the exact right opportunity. Those skills plus his ability to change speed and direction on a dime that were brought up in prior paragraphs makes him such a unique prospect.
One offensive trait that Daniels struggled at during the U19 tournament was as a perimeter threat. Honestly, this could be an ongoing growth area for the Aussie standout as his jumper is inconsistent to say the least. On most occasions, the 6’6 wing’s jumper is short due to having to dip low after receiving the pass before going up and releasing the ball right at eye level.
While that slower stroke is more common, the inconsistency comes from how there are instances where the process is quicker.
For example, he receives the ball low on this play, which hurries up the process and allows him to release the ball in a quicker and smoother fashion. Honestly, his efficiency might come from where he receives the ball as low passes allow him to be in rhythm while higher passes forces him to dip and perhaps lose focus from a player closing out. While that’s more a theory by yours truly at this point, it’s going to be something interesting to keep track of as Daniels makes his debut with the G League Ignite later this year.
Ibu Yamazaki - 6’7, 209 pounds, Japan
FIBA U19 stats: 14.6 points, 4 rebounds, 1.1 assists on 46% from the field and 44% from beyond the arc on 5.9 attempts per game
With an event featuring a plethora of standout prospects that will be in the mouths of hoop nerds all over the place from now until whenever they’re eligible to get selected in the NBA Draft, it’s fun to see unknown players be able to sneak through the cracks and are able to shine bright. The most notable example in the recently ended series would be Japanese prospect Ibu Yamazaki, who didn’t even have a RealGM profile until he participated in this event.
His days as a secret might be coming to an end after his performance in the tournament as the 18-year-old stood out as a catch-and-shoot threat that can make it rain from deep whether he’s standing above the break, corner, elbow, or working as a pick-and-pop threat. No matter the venue or location, his jumper is silky smooth as it’s clear that time has been put in towards every step of the proces. From the time he receives the ball, his hips and feet are ready for reception, which allows him to immediately throw up a shot once he captures the pass. That process was more successful than not as Yamazaki was a lights out shooter throughout the tournament.
While his knack as a catch-and-shoot threat was the main part of his overall game, the young prospect showed glimpses of being able to shine in other different ways. Working as a right-hander, Ibu looks comfortable with attacking closeouts and driving towards the paint. Currently, our subject isn’t the most explosive player in the world when it comes to scoring around the rim, which has had him rely on floaters.
Sticking with his work around the rim, Yamazaki showed a real nose for grabbing boards as he seemed to recognize where the ball was going to bounce off the rim before his competitors were able to react. That skill allowed him to capture 1.7 offensive rebounds in 26 minutes per game.
Those growth areas, his promise as a catch-and-shoot threat, size as a 6’7 wing, and his knack of staying on the hip of drivers while on defense are all reasons why he stood out during the FIBA U19 Tournament. Unlike the other players that I’ll be discussing over the course of the next few pieces, Ibu is currently not set to play for a major pro or college team during the upcoming season. However, that shouldn’t be the case as DIvision I teams should be at least making inquiries for the standout Japanese prospect. Along with all the traits that I touched on, the prospect born July 10th, 2003 is actually younger than standout 2022 recruits Shaedon Sharpe and Kijani Wright.
Jaden Ivey - 6’4, 190 pounds, USA
FIBA U19 statistics: 12.3 points, 3 rebounds, 2.1 assists, and 1.6 steals on 48% from the field and 29% from beyond the arc on 4 attempts in 16.3 minutes per game
Unlike most of the other teams in this competition, who have had a chance to play alongside each other in various international tournaments, the prospects that made up Team USA’s U19 team was a hodgepodge of players that consistent of prospects that played a year in college but didn’t declare for the NBA Draft or incoming college freshmen.
One of the players from that first category is guard Jaden Ivey, who entered Latvia after a freshman season with Purdue that featured him struggling with efficiency as a scorer. In 23 games with the Boilermakers, he averaged 11.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists on 40% from the field and 26% from 3 on 4.2 attempts per game.
That inefficiency along with him being a college sophomore on a team with a handful of potential lottery prospects that are just entering college pushed me to overlook Ivey when it comes to players to watch. However, I quickly learned that Jaden isn’t exactly the type of player that you can simply overlook when he’s on the court. Because the moment you first start to watch him, you can quickly recognize that everything about Jaden is quick.
From his acceleration in the half-court, burst in transition, to the decision making as a facilitator or cutter, it’s clear that he knows his purpose on the court in each possession. Could that harm a team on some days? Sure. But in the long-term, having a player with that ability to quickly process their surroundings is beneficial for a team as that quick decision making keeps the opposing team on their toes.
A phenomenal physical example of that is evident in the clip below where he uses a quick crossover to get around the defender before driving and dishing it off to a big. All of that in addition to him receiving the pass happened in a span of only three seconds. While this play happened in garbage time of a game against a weak South Korea team, his speed in both processing and committing the actions he did were extremely impressive.
That knack was also very much evident on the defensive end of the floor. There, the prospect shined through his knack as an off-ball threat. Whether it was getting into the passing lanes to intercept feeds or maneuvering around screens to stick with his man, Ivey’s expedient decision-making process allows him to quickly recognize his purpose on that particular possession. One example of this is seen in the clip below where the Purdue prospect quickly reacts to the Turkey prospect moving from to the left, stays over the screen, and makes a good enough closeout to effect the shot.