By Rod Higgins
Alessandro Gentile could very well out to be one of the steals of the 2014 NBA Draft. The Italian swingman, son of former European star Stefano Gentile, is as NBA-ready as any of the international prospects that were selected this season (unless the Australian Institute of Sports faces stiffer competition than we thought) and he still has room to grow as a player. If that’s the case though, why did he have to wait until late in the second round to hear his name called?
Even since he dropped 35 and 40 points in back to back games at the 2009 International Junior Tournament in Rome, Gentile has been made his name as a scorer. The Milano small forward knows how to put his size to good use when he attacks the basket. Even though his first step is not particularly explosive, he is able to create separation and get his shot off by lowering his left shoulder in order to go through his man when he can’t get around him. His physical style also allows him to draw a bunch of shooting fouls and post up smaller opponents. This is how Gentile finished last Euroleague season as one of the top per minute scorers in his position.
Then again, it is highly unlikely that he will enjoy a similar physical advantage against NBA small forwards. This is where his skills with the ball will be tested. Gentile possesses a fairly reliable step back jumper – even when he goes behind his back – and knows how to keep his dribble alive under pressure. But he also tends to drive on a straight line, a habit which often forces him to overdribble and/or leave his feet without a clear idea of what he wants to do. If you want an explanation for his underwhelming shooting numbers and propensity for turnovers, these deficiencies, along with a sometimes questionable shot selection, are a good place to start.
On the other hand, Gentile’s relative inefficiency has also a lot to do with his role at Milano. Compared to the average Euroleague small forward, took on a great deal of creative responsibilities. Perhaps the role of an NBA weaksider would lead to improved shooting percentages and less turnovers. However, in order to adjust in this role, he would have to emerge as a more reliable three point threat. Gentile has good elevation on his jumper and keeps his elbow under the ball, but his release motion is not as fluid as it should be. Maybe his numbers would look better if he was involved in more catch and shoot situations. In any case, he will have to make enough open threes if he wants to make the most of his ability and instincts when it comes to attacking closeouts.
Life on the ball could be more complicated for Gentile. His assist numbers look promising and he was often featured as the primary ball handler in Milano’s pick and roll actions. But his tendency to be adventurous with his passing could prevent him from earning an NBA team’s trust in that role. Gentile does not always spot the roll man in time and goes with the skip pass without reading defensive rotations first. In other words, most of his assists come late in the shot clock or off broken plays, after he has drawn help defense in the paint, which provides him with a clear target. Despite flashes of impressive passing off the dribble, Gentile needs to work on executing the pick and roll in a way that encourages and rewards movement off the ball.
Regardless of those difficulties, the Italian’s offensive portfolio is adequately diversified in order to give him a chance at Euroleague stardom or an NBA contract. Defense is a different story. The good news is that Gentile’s size allows him to go over screens or switch on bigger screeners; the bad news is that his poor combination of focus and lateral quickness often leaves him exposed against a crossover dribble or a timely backdoor cut. To make matters worse, boxing out or sprinting back on defense do not always seem to be among his priorities. As far as his tangible skills are concerned, Gentile’s defense is the biggest question mark, especially in the NBA where his physicality will not bail him out as often as he probably expects.
That said, most analysts seem concerned about intangibles – how coachable is he? Will he turn out to be a good teammate? Game tape reveals certain instances of poor body language, but those are not easy questions to answer. Still, a bunch of smart people seem convinced that his drop in the draft had a lot to do with a bad reputation he has picked up. This could be a promising sign for a talent that keeps growing – after all his per minute productivity was on pace with that of celebrated first round pick Bogdan Bogdanovic. If the only thing that’s holding back Alessandro Gentile is his own mindset, then he will always have the chance to prove critics wrong by listening to the right people.
Editor’s Note: Statistical data for this post was researched at in-the-game.org.