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10 Things: FIBA U17 World Cup
FIBA as an evaluation setting.
Mileage has varied on the ability to take meaningful insight from FIBA youth events that include the USA. Without any sense of chauvinism, I think it’s fair to say that America often romps through youth events with overwhelming talent, pressing & being the only country that has a roster full of toolsy wings. Looking back on the last FIBA U17 WC in 2018, where the US brought a future NBA talent laden roster (Mobley, Okoro, Scottie, Suggs, etc) & waltzed to a gold by an average margin of victory of 53.7 points (the closest game was a 32 pt win vs Serbia). There were real valid takeaways when using the US players/playstyle as a measuring stick (the performance of Alperen Sengun, Oumar Ballo &Killian Hayes) but it’s hard to glean any real valuable scouting detail from the play of the Americans in 40,50,60+ point blowouts. Another interesting thing about that 2018 group was its age composition - it was an older roster, with every player but 1 being born in 2001 (the lone 2002 was Jalen Green), especially when compared to the 2022 group. The time-honored easiest team building strategy to bring success at these age-capped events is to bring the oldest players possible (those with birthdays as close to the cutoff) - and America’s decision to bring a much younger roster altered the dynamic of the tournament & the dynamic of the tournament’s scouting context.
Bringing rising HS sophomores Koa Peat (C/O 2025, 2007 gen), Cooper Flagg (C/O 2025, 2006 gen) is a step in an entirely new direction, but looking over the roster, there were 5 other players who were not yet 17 years old when the tournament began:
Boogie Fland (C/O 2024, 2006 gen)
Asa Newell (C/O 2024, 2005 gen)
David Castillo (C/O 2024, 2005 gen)
Dennis Evans (C/O 2023, 2005 gen)
Ron Holland (C/O 2023, 2005 gen)
This new direction towards younger players brings about a different scouting dimension, weighing the playing-up-for-age successes and projected development of the prospects younger than their HS classmates against the straight up production of those prospects older for their class. This mix of a younger, less experienced, less overwhelming American team & a stacked international talent made this WC as unique a scouting experience. I think that I learned more about the Americans here than I had in any prior iteration of a USAJNT - the challenges of DJ Wagner finishing when playing in lineups without spacing, seeing Koa Peat figure out how to attack space as a forward in the knockout stages, Cooper Flagg (2nd in C-RAM, if you are a Flagg 4 MVP truther) as events creation whirlwind, Ron Holland’s progression as an OTD creator in the halfcourt, Boogie Fland contributing with shotmaking and glue-guys to make lineups click. There was more to observe, more tinkering & adjustments needed & I think when we look back, the notes that we have taken on WC U17 are going to be more valuable than expected from other competitions.
The Outsized Impact of the Big Bigs
The 7ft (or taller) troika of Spain’s Aday Mara, Australia’s Rocco Zikarsky & France’s Alexandre Sarr each finished in the top 10 performers by C-RAM in this u17 WC. It’s not exactly new for bigs to be leading performers in youth competitions, but what I found fascinating is despite being huge - each of these international pivots made different sorts of impacts in different styles in their ~20 minutes per game.
Sarr, a 7’ 2005 gen who plays his ball for OTE in the winter, is the most mobile of the 3 - averaging 12 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.3 assists in 18 mins per game, shooting 63.6/44.4/83.3 69.7 TS%, 16.3 3pr 21.8 FTr. Sarr plays as a sort of jumbo wing that’s able to function in standard big man duties, like as a PNR lob threat as needed. Offensively, showed more aggression even with varied usage, holding a higher usage than with OTE (24 u% vs 16 u%) & posting the highest 3PE of any player 6’9 or taller in the event. Where Sarr was most impressive was when used his big (+4.25) WS & wild movement skills to offer a totally different dimension as a havoc creating defender in big space.
Spain’s 7’3 Aday Mara (2005 gen) averaged 12.6 points, 5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, in 19 minutes per game, scoring at a hyper-efficient 70.1 TS% (81 PSP) alongside .9 steals & 1.9 blocks (87 DSI). The block numbers are a bit misleading for Aday- he is a gifted defensive technician, taking ideal angles in his coverage to pair with great timing for high pointing the ball, but he is such a force of deterrence around the rim that many potential blocks end up as kickouts. Offensively, Mara is the best pure play finisher of the 3 - a huge target in PNR with a #9’s sense for angles and dives to make himself available for finishes. He keeps the ball high on the catch whenever possible and tries to dunk most everything, and while not super explosive, he self-organizes well and gets off the ground quickly. When acting as the high man in Spain’s beloved hi-low offensive actions, he made incisive decisions & was willing to take jumpers out to about 15 feet. The form is a laborious 2 motion shot, but there is enough touch present to believe that further development is on the way.
U17 World Cup served as a coming out party for the 7’1 lefty, Rocco Zikarsky of Australia (C/O 2025, 2006 gen). In 20 minutes per game, Zikarsky put up an impressive stat line of 13.6 points, 9.3 rebounds, .3 assists & 3.1 blocks with a TS% of 65.7. It’s a wide ranging big time impact (9.3 C-RAM) from the relative newcomer to high level basketball, having only recently committed to the game over swimming. The newness can be seen in Zikarsky’s movements, as he is still learning how to make the most of his frame and does not run as fluidly as the other giants. However, he has proven to read the floor well on both ends already and has greatly improved his lateral athleticism, especially reacting on defense, across the few events I’ve seen from him this summer. What stood out to me is how effectively he attacked the rim (46.6 FTr) especially out of horns actions, where he could rip and go, trying to use his length to punch it home (always with the left). Zikarsky productivity is notable, he averaged the most blocks per game in the tourney at 3.1 & one of 4 players to average more than 2 blocks and 2 offensive rebounds per game (Poland’s Szymon Nowicki, America’s Cooper Flagg & Mali’s Ladji Coulibaly being the other 3). The just turned 16 year old Australian big man will continue his development next season at NBA Global Academy.
The Stat-line Stuffing of Szymon Nowicki
Szymon Nowicki (2005 gen) of Poland graded out as the best overall performer by C-RAM (13.1) & it’s not hard to understand how happened when glancing at his statline - averaging 14.4 points, 9.4 rebounds (2.9 offensive), 2.6 assists, 3.6 steals, 2.6 blocks, 1.9 fouls in 32 minutes per game, while shooting 41.8/41.9/70.6 51.3 TS%, 34 3pr, 18.6 FTr on 21 usage%. It’s a packed statline, one that generally seems to happen when a role player on a dominant team has their stats extrapolated onto per36, but no, Nowicki’s impact came in big minutes (32 MPG, 2nd in MPG behind on;y Japan’s Yuto Kawashima). Nowicki was known as a crafty scorer with a mix of feints and ability to use tempos - but what took him to the next level was his shooting development. After shooting 27.6% from 3 last year at the u16 European Challengers, Nowicki has rebounded to shoot 40.4% from 3 between ANGT and the 2022 u17 WC. I believe that this improvement will hold, in large part due to the considerable shooting touch that Szymon showcases in his midrange game, consistently knocking down pullups and high arching floaters over help defenders. Look for his creation skills to be heightened as the shooting continues, Nowicki reads advantage from closeouts well and has the finishing craft (especially if we consider 12 foot floaters as finishing craft) to take advantage at multiple usage volumes. At 6’7, Nowicki isn’t the toolsiest defender, but he showcased nice quick twitch activity- using his high feel to pin multiple shots after long defensive rotations.
The Motor of Malick Diallo
6’10 F/C Malick Diallo (C/O 2024, 2005 gen) used his ceaseless energy to carry his international momentum forward, Diallo followed his dominating showing in last year’s u16 African Championships with a great u17 World Cup. Diallo’s game is developing in a bunch of intriguing directions at once - a productive rebounder on both ends (), a burgeoning big space creator on grab and goes & as an offensive fulcrum in the halfcourt. The rise in turnovers (3.7 per game) is a worthy tradeoff for the ambitious growth in usage & usage style - at 6’10 Diallo is now comfortable facing up out of action or PNPs, showcasing a variety of jabs/rips & then using huge strides to craft finishing angles or taking OTD pull-up attempts. The jumper has yet to turn the corner in terms of results, but the progression of attempts (16.4 3Pr at U17) and simplified mechanics adjustments from earlier in the summer lead me to believe that it’s only a matter of time. When asked to do true big man things, Diallo is a force - rim running as hard as anyone in the tournament, averaging 17 rebounds per 36 & looking right at home protecting the rim vs the volume and quality of USA’s usually overwhelming downhill threats. That bodes well for Wasatch, where Diallo will be displaying his coordination & coverage versatility next season.
The Usage of Jan Vide.
The international community has long been hip to the talent of 6’5 Jan Vide (2005 gen), playing internationally with Slovenia & professionally with Real Madrid. Vide’s appeal is a strong framed creator who can use his positional size, handle, elite body control to hold huge usage. His WC usage: 40 - that’s right four zero, forty usage. Using the Cerebro database, Vide, is a bona fide World cup live-rep legend, with the largest usage for any player in the competition going back to at least 2010. The closest historical U17 WC usages to the Jan Vide experience: Dzanan Musa’s 38 usage in 2016 & Siriman Kanoute’s 36 usage in 2018. The broad numbers weren’t pretty: 29/27/69 TS 37.1 - but this is both an outlier poor shooting performance & a function of playing as offensive alpha and omega, in the upper firmament of possible usage. There are considerations of how much Vide relied on his trusty floater vs trying to get to the line (32.2 FTr), or what level of shooter he is from 3 currently, but I would strongly resist taking too much of this single event to heart as 40+ usage warps ideas like efficiency since there are simply such an absurd volume of possessions to bear. The further development of finishing craft, paired with a more flattering context, will solve for some of Vide’s concerns - namely overpenetration in the halfcourt and relying on high level shotmaking for efficiency.
The Development of Vytautas Zygas
When I saw 6’5 Lithuanian wing Vytautas Zygas (2005 gen) at u16 Euro Challengers, I thought he blended into the background. Now the jumper looked good, but wasn’t falling for him then (2-10 in u16), but he wasn’t as aggressive with the ball in his hands (0 fts in 96 minutes) & that lack of usage (14%) made his interesting mix of ballskills less threatening for defenses. In u17, totally different Zygas, he held a larger usage (22%), the jumper was very much falling (54.2 3%, 2nd in 3PE) & he got to the free throw line a little bit better (3 fts in 158 minutes). Okay, so maybe the free throws are a bit of a work in progress. The lefty has bloomed into an interesting connecting wing piece who shoots the cover off the ball, can be run off all sorts of actions & processes well with ball in hand versus a rotating defense when run off the line. His tweener size and slow release gave him a bit of trouble when playing USA & Spain from a 3pt volume perspective, but the range is deep enough that can be mitigated with shot variety vs HM/NBA sized defender.
Izan Almansa’s Finishing
The MVP of FIBA U17 World Cup was Spain’s 6’10 forward, Izan Almansa (2005 gen) - a fun 4/5 prospect that really opened eyes this summer at U17 (and also won MVP of Euro u18. He is on a bit of a heater) with his ability to produce. Almansa was one of two (Mali’s Malick Diallo, who we touched on earlier) players at U17 to average a double double - putting up a prolific 11.9 rebounds per game, despite playing next to the 7’3 big man Aday Mara for long stretches. The Mara-Almansa synergy in the hi-low really caught my eye & was a driver of Spain’s success - when Mara was in the low block, Almansa seemed to always find seams in the backside of the defense and, subsequently, two points around the rim. His finishing style is very technical, able to use his great sense of angles to find a window, as he has tools (+3 WS) & is a solid vertical athlete, but not is not excellent at either. Almansa has seen positive returns on OTE’s physical development program, getting off his feet quickly and being very coordinated/stable leaping off any footwork combo, but he is best in the lateral plane. The touch that Almansa showcases on sweeping extension finishes, is still developing in his perimeter shooting mechanics - he took zero 3s in U17 and shot 29% from the line (In 22 OTE games last year, Almansa shot 28.5 from 3 & 65.7 from the FT line). These are clear further pathways of development to pile onto the great deal of interesting stuff that Almansa can do well right now: being switchable, coverage agnostic, kill the offensive glass, make quick reads out the short roll, finish with either hand. The Spainard finished 3rd overall in C-RAM for U17 WC, returning to OTE with his new accolades and some well deserved draft hype.
The Strength of Filip Jovic
6’8 Serbian Forward Filip Jovic (2005 gen) was only able to play 80 minutes before having to bow out of the competition with an injury, but he made a hell of an impression in the games he played. Jovic (I don’t believe he is related to Miami’s Nikola Jovic, but I am not certain) is powerfully built, able to use his low center of gravity ro clear out space when defended by less physical wings - resulting in blow bys, in a lot of drawn fouls and quite a few posters. At u17 (& especially in the 20/9/4 & 4 steals performance in a win vs Canada), POA defenders bounced off Jovic when he drove, a strength advantage that continually titled defenses & allowed Serbia a lot of lineup possibilities. It’s interesting how the physical tools allow for Jovic to effectively play as a small ball 5, the combination of explosive leaping & good box out technique does a lot, but will his perimeter skills allow for full maximization as he progresses in his career? I do not have a read on the shooting- Jovic shot 40% on 5 total 3s, with segmentation in the form & hesitancy/refusal on some open looks as teams tried to pack the paint. The datapoint with more opportunity, the FT%, was again a worry, going 8/15 (42.8 FTr). Jovic always gets to the line, however the utility of that skill varies between events - in the 18 games in the Cerebro platform, Jovic is shooting 50% on 74 FTA.
Ian Jackson’s Shooting Progression
Jackson (C/O 2024, 2005 gen) measured smaller than expected this summer (6’4.5 with shoes) - and new information has altered his positional outlook from a true 3 into more of a 2 or a small 3. I don’t think that being 6’4 has a huge change in outlook for Jackson, who uses his cutting and slashing abilities to play much bigger than just 6’4, but it has crystalized the next development steps in his game. A player who can toggle on or off-ball with real downhill athleticism & the ability to create advantages needs to shoot to be fully realized; & in Spain, Jackson really showcased his ability to shoot the ball. It’s not just the percentages (which were fantastic: in 7 games, 45 3p%, 30.3 3pr), it was the repeatability of his form. The base was more stabilized, both in the catch and on the landing, there was a cleaner energy transfer and the motion was simpler & smoother out of his hand. In particular, the 4-5 from 3 against Mali helped shift the tide of the game, as well as unlocking the 3 guard lineups that USA would frequent from that point forward. Adding these 7 to the 24 other games in the Cerebro platform, Jackson is up to 34.7% from 3 (118a), a huge development in his shooting, especially considering that includes the 1/14 from 3 outing that Jackson had at U16 FIBA last season.
The Flashes of Christian Nitu
Canada’s most interesting long term player may well be 6’10 forward Christian Nitu (C/O 2024, 2005 gen) - a spindly reserve who has flashes of extremely interesting movement skills, space creation & shot making. Right now, Nitu is a developmental player & will need the extra reps at Fort Erie (lately of Leonard Miller) to make the flashes more consistent, as he only played 12 minutes a game at the U17 WC. The word unique comes up over and over again when watching Nitu’s game, as there are only but so many players his size who are comfortable shooting 3s, iso-ing out of Iverson actions, blocking shots in drop & sliding with smaller players. This is a prospect who could develop in a bunch of interesting ways all across the usage spectrum, and I wouldn’t rule out as a creator, although he didn’t shoot well in Spain (46.4 TS%), the tape shows that confidently took the right 3s and has been a volume scorer in UAA 16s. I really liked how he uses his high hips and big strides on both ends to cover ground & I think the motor is going to continue to carry him forward over the next year.