NBA Prospect Watch: Serbian teenager Nikola Jovic finds his groove
After a slow start to the season, Nikola Jovic shows why NBA scouts are on him. The 18-year-old Serbian has shown goalscoring and playmaking skills that few 6-foot-10 players possess.
And he thinks he’s still growing. Luckily for Jovic, he played a lot as a point guard as a youngster as he was never the greatest.
That experience has proved useful for the versatile Jovic who is in his first full professional season for Mega, a Belgrade club which also includes 17-year-old prospects Malcolm Cazalon and Nikola Durisic, who won’t be eligible until 2023.
“Sometimes I just play and feel everything I do, see the whole pitch,” Jovic told The Associated Press. “Sometimes the field is too small. I see everything.
Jovic became a serious prospect with a standout performance last summer at the FIBA U19 Basketball World Cup, where he was named to the tournament’s All-Star Team. Gonzaga star Chet Holmgren was the United States Champion Team MVP. Serbia lost the bronze medal match 101-92 to a Canadian team led by Bennedict Mathurin, Caleb Houstan and Zach Edey.
Then came the early-season adjustment with Mega in the super-physical ABA League. His shooting was down and turnovers were up.
“I just needed to get some rhythm and now I feel really comfortable and playing well,” said Jovic, who mainly plays as a small forward. “I try to do everything on the pitch because I think I can be good at everything. I feel like I can shoot from anywhere.
Jovic had 16 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists in a 104-75 win over Slovenia’s Cedevita in late November and scored 25 points a few weeks later against Croatian side Spilled. He’s 37.7% of 3-point range.
“His versatility is his greatest asset as the combination of size, ball handling, passing and shooting allow him to be a connector who can adapt to any system,” said Rafael Barlowe , analyst and podcaster who runs NBA Draft Junkies.
With a slim frame, Jovic works daily to gain strength. He replied “I hope so” when asked if he would declare for this year’s draft.
HEIGHT: 6ft 10in, 210 lbs.
STATS: 11.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.6 turnovers.
STRENGTHS: Shooting, passing, vision of the court. Although he lacks an explosive first step, Jovic can drive, make contact and finish. The World Cup performances cemented Jovic “as the top international prospect in this draft class,” Barlowe said.
WEAKNESSES: Below average athleticism. Jovic “lacks vertical pop and explosiveness and may struggle to create his own shot against NBA defenders,” Barlowe said. “He also tends to be a ball stopper who forces hard shots.” Jovic said he is working on improving his one-on-one defense, especially against smaller players.
DRAFT PROJECTION: First round in most fictional drafts.
G MALCOLM CAZALON:
The 6ft 6in Frenchman was averaging 10.2 points per game and shooting 39.5% from behind the arc in 10 games for Mega before a left foot injury. He hopes to return in a few weeks. He worked with several NBA teams before dropping his name from the 2021 draft.
“I was ready but I’m going to be more ready this year,” Cazalon, 20, told the AP. “I’m not thinking about the repechage at the moment, I’m thinking about coming back, playing well and being fit for training.”
The athletic Cazalon is good in transition and has become a more consistent shooter. Barlowe said Cazalon “could be a steal late in the draft. In the best-case scenario, he fulfills a role as an athletic transition finisher and ball mover who can knock open shots down…He does a lot of things well. but may not have an elite skill set he can hang his hat on.
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