Luka Samanic is the second-ranked European prospect born in 2000 and currently considered the 14th-ranked prospect in the 2019 draft class but has dealt with a lot of ebbs and flows over the last year.
The 18-year-old led Croatia to a first-place finish in the 2017 U18 FIBA European Championship Division B, earning MVP honors along the way, but the season with Barcelona didn’t go as well.
He not only didn’t get any opportunities with the Catalan powerhouse in the Spanish ACB, let alone the Euroleague, but went on to average just 12.7 minutes per game in his 22 appearances with the second team in the Spanish LEB Gold.
In his limited 280-minute sample against that level of competition, the six-foot-10 stretch big averaged 21.2 points per 40 minutes but on just 43.2% effective shooting, while compiling a 9.2 PER.
Needing a little bit of a pick-me-up midway through that run, he was put on the junior squad that participated in the Cuitat De L’Hospitalet regional portion of the Adidas Next Generation Tournament and killed it against his age group.
Samanic averaged 34.2 points per 40 minutes on just 42.1% effective shooting but while logging 35% usage and compiling a 31.8 PER in 108 minutes, earning MVP honors and leading Barcelona to three wins in four games – falling just short of qualifying to the Final Four that is played during Euroleague Final Four weekend.
Displeased with his lack of opportunities with the first team, the Zagreb native surprised many earlier this summer by not re-signing with Barcelona and transferring to Union Olimpija instead – where one assumes he was promised a real chance of earning minutes in the Adriatic League, the FIBA Basketball Champions League and the Slovenian SKL.
His fortunes haven’t completely turned just yet, though. Samanic finished a reasonably strong appearance at the 2018 U18 FIBA European Championships Division A this weekend, where he averaged 25.6 points per 40 minutes on 57% effective shooting and compiled a 28.7 PER but couldn’t lift Croatia any higher than a 11th-place finish, as the team was minus-19 in his 159 minutes.
Samanic did most of his work with his back to the basket, as Croatia played an offense designed to get three-pointers out of posting up its big men, drawing double teams and then swinging the ball around the perimeter. He struggled to get particularly impressive looks for himself but did very well creating for others – assisting on 18.7% of Croatia’s scores when he was on the floor.
His two-point percentage stayed close to 50% thanks to a few finishes near the basket and catch-and-shoot long-twos but other than passing, Samanic was at his most effective as a three-point shooter when he got a few shots out of spacing out to the three-point line and on pick-and-pops. He was also an effective presence in the offensive glass.
On the other end, Samanic was asked to defend pick-and-rolls in a multitude of ways and showed a lot of versatility in terms of being able to execute the many coverages, as he is quite mobile and nimble for someone his height. Samanic also showed to be an effective rim protector when well positioned.
He has a slight 210-pound frame in the context of his height and struggles to get a deep seal in the low post, often getting pushed further close to the three-point arc.
Samanic hasn’t yet developed any power moves and has a hard time knocking his defender back in order to create space for basic turnaround hooks. He is great at feeling double teams and has very good court vision, though. Besides igniting passing sequences on quick touch passes, Samanic also launched some impressive passes across the court to the opposite end.
He has a decent head-fake to try getting his defender out of position and pretty good touch on his right-handed hook when he does manage to get a shot off but his best work making a move out of a post touch was via turning it into a face-up isolation or pivot-moving into a quick baseline drive.
He is well coordinated for someone his height, has light feet pivoting into putting the ball on the floor and has a rip-through move into burst to get an advantage in his first step.
Even in these instances, the best outcome was often him finding teammates against a collapsing defense on shovel passes over the top to the other big at the dunker spot or drop-offs to perimeter players on diagonal cuts and hammer passes across his body from under the rim to the corner.
Samanic also has a third dimension to his passing, as he proved himself able to catch the ball on the move, cut his roll short and kickout to a spot-up shooter in a pinch – assisting on 18.7% of Croatia’s scores when he was on the floor.
He is not an explosive leaper off two feet without some space to load up but showed great touch on non-dunk finishes – on righty finger-roll finishes off a jump-stop and righty scoop finishes dealing with a rim protector parked between him and the basket.
Samanic is rumored to have only a six-foot-10 wingspan and isn’t a particularly high leaper but played with a decent motor looking to create second chance opportunities in the offensive glass – collecting 12% of Croatia’s misses when he was on the floor. He is not a powerful leaper off two feet in a crowd but has a quick second jump to make an impact on tip-ins and fight for 50-50 balls.
After nailing just 28.2% of his 71 three-point shots with Barcelona last season, Samanic shot the ball very well this summer.
He gets little elevation off the ground but dips for rhythm, rises up in great balance, has fluid mechanics, fully elevates himself for a high release and regularly gets a high arc on his shot.
Samanic offered gravity as a weak-side floor-spacer on spot-ups and drifting around the wing but also proved he is able to hit quick bombs out of the pick-and-pop and as the back-screener in Spain pick-and-rolls – nailing nine of his 19 three-point shots in the tournament, at a pace of 4.7 such attempts per 40 minutes.
He is a so-so screener who looks to draw contact but whose thin frame isn’t all that challenging for tenacious on-ball defenders to slide around. Nonetheless, Samanic showed he can adjust his feet quickly and pull the trigger comfortably enough prior to or over contests more often than not.
As was, he demanded hard closeouts and was able to put the ball on the floor a lot on straight line drives. Samanic has long strides to get all the way to the basket against a scrambling defense, can mix in a spin move to weave his way through traffic and is an explosive leaper off one foot going up off momentum.
Samanic was asked to defend pick-and-rolls in a variety of ways and proved he is at least capable of executing each of the many different coverages.
He is nimble enough to show-and-recover – blitzing at the three-point line against a pull-up threat and backpedalling to hustle back to the roll man quickly enough for the weak-side rotations not to get terribly exposed.
Samanic can hedge and influence ball-handlers way high in the perimeter as well – forcing dribble drives to go sideways and then hustling back to even the matchups behind him quickly.
He is also an option to pick up smaller players on switches – bending his knees to get down in a stance and showing he has several slides in him to stay in front of shifty players out in space, at least against the level of competition he faced in Latvia.
And last but not least, Samanic is also effective in drop back defense – keeping pace with ball-handlers getting downhill on straight line drives, using his eight-foot-10 standing reach to contest pull-ups effectively and even flashing quick leaping ability off two feet to block close-range attempts defending on the ball.
Samanic logged some of his time at center and did well as a help defender for the most part. He has developed decent recognition skills and awareness coming off the weak-side or stepping up to the front of the basket as the last line of defense, putting himself in position to challenge a lot of shots.
Some opponents managed to score through him, as his lack of above average length and bulk hurt him in a few instances. But he was also fairly effective impacting shots via verticality and still managed to pick up more than a few blocks – averaging 2.7 blocks per 40 minutes in the event.
Samanic is attentive enough to his responsibilities putting a body on an opponent close by but isn’t very physical with his boxouts. Nonetheless, he was able to rely on his quickness chasing the ball off the rim quicker than this level of competition – collecting 25.3% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor.
After a disappointing season with Barcelona, Samanic wasn’t necessarily dominant at the 2018 U18 FIBA European Championships, at least not in a way that elevated the level of his team.
He showed more than enough to remain one of the most interesting prospects of the 2019 draft class, though.
Samanic projects as a good shooter, who could offer floor spacing at the point of attack, can put the ball on the floor to drive against closeouts and has shown to be a versatile passer – capable of creating for others on the move and as a hub to facilitate offense.
In a time where teams like to create three-pointers off movement while posting up to give time for these actions to work themselves out or having perimeter players get a head-start by darting around big man on handoffs, Samanic figures to be an excellent fit for what the NBA is looking for in its big men right now.
That’s also the case because he’s shown to be capable of guarding the pick-and-roll in a multitude of ways, most importantly by being able to bother ball-handlers way out in the perimeter – which is quickly becoming a must in a league where pull-up threats are multiplying by the day.
That said, his frame needs to develop for him to belong from a physical-standpoint, especially considering that most of the potential he offers as a difference maker relies on his ability to eventually play center full-time.
 DOB: 1/9/2000
EDITOR’S NOTE: Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at RealGM, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara