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Adidas Next Generation Tournament Final 4: Players that stood out in Valencia

Adidas Next Generation Tournament Final 4: Players that stood out in Valencia

U18 Real Madrid survives!

It took an overall collective effort for Madrid to win the Adidas Next Generation Tournament Final 4 in Valencia. The guard-oriented team faced some adversity and won the tournament without Juan Nunez, who left after their second game, and a limited Matteo Spagnolo, who played with calf pain. But instead of searching for an excuse, Madrid found multiple answers and surprised FC Barcelona in the Final. Here are my takes on some of the best players:

Eli John N'Diaye: 6-foot-8 | U18 Real Madrid | Forward | Age: 16

MVP Eli John N’Diaye played his best basketball, and at the right time!  We certainly remember his performance in Istanbul a few months ago, where he averaged 13.3 points and 8.6 rebounds on 55.6% from the field and came up with 28 points and 11 rebounds during the March final vs Stellazzurra.

N'Diaye topped his previous performance by not only showcasing his ability to find scoring opportunities within the offense, but it looks like he is also acquiring the individual skills required to create his offense. He averaged 19.0 points, 13.3 rebounds on 45.2% shooting during the tournament.  His touch near the rim, his relentless effort on the glass and his three-point shooting were too much for his direct defender.  

N'Diaye came up with a rock-solid 30 points and 15 rebounds in 38 minutes in a close win vs. U18 ASVEL, reiterated his performance vs, U18 Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade with 18 points and 16 rebounds in 34 minutes. And finally, he overcame the physicality of FC Barcelona (James Nnaji and Teodor Simic), with another solid performance with 17 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals.

Without a doubt, N'Diaye was the best player at the tournament, and even if it seems that he doesn’t look like a super-high ceiling player due to his height and set of skills as a power forward, N'Diaye certainly looks like a player that has a lot more to offer if he continues to work on expanding his offense and continues controlling the boards as he has been doing.

Henri Veesaar: 6-foot-10 | U18 Real Madrid | Center | Age: 17

It was a solid performance overall for Veesaar! He hasn’t gained weight, but he tried to be physical, and I loved the fact that he finished with dunks every time he could. His three-ball is becoming a real threat, and he knows where and when he can pull the trigger. As a finisher, he does a good job, but I’d like to see him work and create his own shot here and there, as he becomes prone to guards needing to create for him.

As usual, Veesaar used his height and length near the rim to rebound, and protect the paint. What I like the most about him was his fire throughout the tournament; he continuously brought a level of energy every time he stepped on the court. He averaged a productive 12.0 points and 7.0 rebounds on 63% from the field, including 40% from beyond the arc during the tournament in 26 minutes per game.

Sediq Garuba: 6-foot-4 | U18 Real Madrid | Wing | Age: 17

The unsung hero! It takes more than stats to be able to portray what he brought to his team. Physically capable to defend four positions on the court, as well as help and recover, Garuba brought his A+ defensive game with him.  He's still got hours to spend in the gym as an offensive player (1-for-5 from deep), but his defense kept Madrid in the game when the offense wasn’t clicking.  

Garuba did a great job of cutting and driving the lanes, contesting jumpers and stopping fastbreaks by utilizing his athleticism. His hustles earned him playing time (32 minutes per game), and he was capable of finishing around the rim when it counted the most.  If he can develop a steady perimeter shot in the corner, he’ll have some solid tools as a pro.

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Baba Miller: 6-foot-9 | U18 Real Madrid | Forward | Age: 17

I was hoping for him to get more done when Nunez left, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. He only played five minutes during the Final and averaged 13 minutes in the tournament. Baba was the biggest question mark at the tournament, and I still don’t have an answer.  I’ve seen him in a limited role of shooting threes and slashing from the opposite side where he can either catch a lob and get a quick dunk.

But as a 6-foot-9, athletic, skilled forward, I want to see him get more of an opportunity, as he averaged 2.5 pts and 1.8 rebounds during the tournament. He is still on top of my 2004 board, though, and it will be interesting to follow him when the moment comes for him to get more playing time.

Kostadinov Konstantin: 6-foot-8 | U18 Real Madrid | Forward | Age: 18

Konstantin's best performance came at the right time, as he had his best game during the Final with 18 points and 12 rebounds. He looks better, being able to play with more responsibility. The advantage of having Nunez is that it allows Kostadinov to finish with a high percentage shot. And by the way, this is probably how his career will go -- threes and dunks.  

But there is still room for improvement, and getting outside of his comfort zone made him look better. Konstantin was a bit stiff with the ball, and still lacks the shiftiness that all players should have if they find themselves isolated at the end of the shot clock. But the more he was aggressive offensively, the more his teammates were able to take advantage of an a slower-reacting opposing defense. He finished the tournament with solid stats: 14.3 points and 8.0 rebounds per game.

Killian Malwaya: 6-foot-4 | U18 ASVEL | Wing | Age: 15

Malwaya looked aggressive and showcased his athleticism. While most of his damage was done near the basket by either driving, slashing, or rebounding the ball, I’m glad he took the open threes! He didn’t make much out of it (1-for-7 from distance), but he will need to become comfortable with these shots if he wants to get close to his potential.

Malwaya's defensive presence and efforts were outstanding, too, and he had some great sequences on the ball. As one of the youngest players on the court, I look forward to watching him next year with more offensive responsibilities. He averaged 11.7 points and 5.3 rebounds in 25 minutes during the tournament.

Zaccharie Risacher: 6-foot-8 | U18 ASVEL | Forward | Age: 16

Risacher continues to impress me with his all-around effort, and his ability to stay close to the action. He is a true modern forward who can stretch the floor with confidence. He averaged 12.0 points and 4.0 rebrounds during the tournament. He did an excellent job behind the three-point line, shooting 4-for-6 in his two games.

What's more impressive with Risacher is his ability to get into the game "ready." His IQ allows him to put forth a high level of productivity and impact the game on both sides of the court. He is already a good positional defender, and he has a good feel for the game, allowing him to defend all positions on the court. I’m still hoping that he will develop some kind of go-to move to create for his teammates.

James Nnaji: 6-foot-10 | U18 FC Barcelona | Center | Age: 16

Nnaji is improving! We know about his freakish athleticism and his strength, but he is adding a touch around the rim that allows him to finish without dunking everything. I’ve kept a close eye on him, and was happy to witness his progression offensively. He still doesn’t look to score outside the paint, and at this moment, he wouldn’t win a free-throw competition against Shaq. But if he can develop a short hook shot and learn to pivot on both shoulders, it will do the trick at a high level.

It’s rare to see a one-dimensional player with such an interesting ceiling. He did a great job rebounding everything on both sides of the court, and his ability to cover ground defensively and get off his feet was remarkable. If you think about it, Nnaji is the reason why bigs love to stretch the floor, because sometimes it’s just too physical down there for them to handle. He averaged 14.3 points, 9.3 rebounds and 4.3 blocks in the tournament. Nnaji's next levels of development are improving his free throws and continuing to better his touch around the rim.

Paulius Murauskas: 6-foot-8 | U18 Zalgiris Kaunas | Forward | Age: 17

Coming off a minor knee injury, there were some questions if Murauskas was going to be ready for ANGT. He played for a limited time, and couldn’t find his rhythm.  As one of the top players in the 2004 generation, it was not easy for him to assume the offensive load needed for Zalgiris to win games, and they lost all three contests. He started well by scoring 7 points in the first quarter vs U18 Real Madrid, but finished with 9 points and 5 rebounds in 20 minutes.  

All through the tournament, he looked out of sync with the rest of his team, and with his lack of conditioning, he wasn’t able to create or make his shots. I could see the disappointment on his face, and as the losses piled up, he started to isolate himself from the rest of the group. Murauskas gave his best efforts against ASVEL, and even if he could have done more, you can see that once he’s locked in it’s pretty difficult to stop him (27 points and 6 rebounds in that game).

I’ll be watching his development closely, and how he is going to bounce back from Valencia. With a player of that level, you might wonder what his transition will be within the next two years, as he needs to step into a program where he can play relevant minutes while facing adequate competition. Murauskas averaged 16.3 points and 4.7 rebounds in 24 minutes, making 4 of 15 shots from three.

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