Ante Tomic is the best center in Europe at the moment.
The traits of an offensive juggernaut were evident when he debuted as a pro in 2004; soft touch finishing around the basket, capability to play above the rim when set up despite his height (which usually suggests a heavier player who struggles to get off the ground) and high IQ to explore his high vantage point for passing to the perimeter on the move or even though doubled- or tripled-teamed. But over time, Tomic has developed into a better screener and a more patient post scorer.
Playing with Marcelinho Huertas and Juan Carlos Navarro these past couple of seasons, Tomic evolved into a very efficient diver to the basket after setting the high pick, which was not the case when he used to play for Real Madrid. He still isn’t the unstoppable force his backup Joey Dorsey is but mixing in those aggressive rolls to the front of the rim have made him more effective when he short rolls and look to hit an open shooter in the perimeter or transform that pick-and-roll into a quick postup within eight feet of the basket. Despite not being particularly tough finishing through contact (just 48 of his 438 points in the Spanish league came off dunks), Tomic is a near certainty around the basket, finishing his 139 attempts in 594 Euroleague minutes at a 74.8% clip.
In the low post, Tomic never really gained the strength to become a scorer who looks to back people down. He always had the footwork and the standing reach to shoot over the top of the opponent’s extended arms but has become more patient working his defender and baiting him into setting up the contest too quickly, creating angles for soft layups or enough space for hooks. He is capable of going left and does it enough so that the opponent can’t overplay his right shoulder but Tomic is more often looking to finish with his right hand, even when turning left. He is a capable jump-shooter but his 40.8% shooting on 71 two-point jump-shots in Euroleague play are mostly due to his efficiency on quick turnaround baby hooks or up-and-under throw-ins, especially because Barcelona is coached to pretty much never even look at the basket from the mid-range area.
Tomic isn’t a natural beast on the offensive glass (that’s how we describe Dorsey) but is a factor helping Barcelona extend possessions, ranking in the top 15 in offensive rebounding rate in both the Euroleague and the Spanish league, with the team grabbing 13% of its misses with Tomic on the floor. Despite his length, Tomic doesn’t rebound outside of his area much but because of his height and leaping ability, he is capable of getting the ball at a higher point than the average opponent. Though he isn’t explosive transforming those opportunities into furious dunks (once again, Dorsey is the standard for this), Tomic scored on putbacks at the seventh highest rate among Europe’s elite.
Tomic is also an incredibly gifted passer, posting the highest assist rate in the Spanish league among centers and second highest in the Euroleague. Because he is so tall, Tomic has a very high vantage point and can see over the top of the defense when he is facing it. He also has great instincts hitting baseline cutters out of the post or shooters spotting up in the perimeter on short rolls and the touch to deliver these passes putting the recipient in scoring position.
The weak link in his offensive game remains his free-throw shooting. He hit just 58% of his 120 attempts in the Spanish league and a more acceptable 68.4% of his 76 attempts in the Euroleague. His shooting motion looks natural and the follow through is consistent but the ball simply does not go in as much as it should. Tomic averaged 2.7 turnovers per 40 minutes in both competitions, which is rather high but on par for the course. Tomic isn’t mechanical with his post moves but does like going through a progression and although natural with his motions, he isn’t particularly quick, which makes him susceptible to getting the ball striped by perimeter players who crash in to help. He is also a risk takes with his passes.
Standing at seven-foot-two and possessing fluid mobility despite his height, Tomic was always suited to become a very impactful defender if he ever became tougher and started playing harder, which has been the case since he transferred from Real Madrid to Barcelona in the 2012 offseason. Barça allowed 102 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor in the Euroleague (the average offense scores at a rate of 107 points per 100 possessions) and just 96.4 in the Spanish league, the third best defensive rating among all players.
Barcelona has its centers showing soft and recovering on the high pick-and-roll, a scheme Tomic is perfect for because of his quick moving feet, which are uncommon for someone his height. Tomic can effectively contest pull-up perimeter attempts by guards who don’t have quick triggers with his length and contain dribble penetration with his mobility as most dribble drivers in the European game do not possess the speed to simply blow by him or the athletic ability to go right at his chest. Tomic does not block as many shots as you assume someone his height should in part because he rarely gives the opponent enough space to get a good look when they are attacking him off the bounce.
Tomic’s physical profile suggests a player bulkier opponents dominate in the post. This is not necessarily the case. He has a weak base and a lean frame without much upper body strength. Quick power moves can be effective against him but if the opponent holds the ball and tries to go through a mechanical progression, Tomic has proven capable of holding his ground and forcing a tough look.
An embarrassing defensive rebounder at Real Madrid, Tomic has crashed the defensive glass a lot harder at Barcelona. He remains only slightly above average among Europe’s elite, grabbing just 21.3% of available rebounds on the defensive glass, but dominated in domestic competition, upping that rate to 27.5%. Tomic compensates not having a high motor with discipline boxing out the opponent. Though he is not a widebody, opponents don’t easily manage to go around him.
Rafael Uehara is the managing editor of ‘Basketball Scouting’. More of his work can be found here or at Upside & Motor, where he is a regular contributor. He can be followed on twitter as @rafael_uehara.