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 |
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 |
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:
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.
Baba Miller: 6-foot-9 | U18 Real Madrid | Forward | Age:
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:
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 |
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
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
James Nnaji: 6-foot-10 | U18 FC Barcelona | Center |
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