(Originally posted at Upside & Motor)
Aleksandar Vezenkov did what was expected of him in the European Championships U20 last month. He logged 704 minutes against grown men in 25 appearances for Aris in the Greek league last season, so he should have dominated his age group once he stepped down a level. But it was mighty impressive nonetheless. Vezenkov scored 174 points in 323 minutes, meaning he actually dropped a point every other minute. And that’s with him missing three quarters of his 53 three-point attempts, which is actually his best skill.
The six-foot-eight combo forward is a gunner who does most of his damage from beyond the arc. Over half of his shots were from three-point range in the Greek league and he hit them at a 38.4% clip while averaging over two makes per 36 minutes. Vezenkov has very good mechanics and a quick trigger off the catch. Like most left-handed shooters, he doesn’t angle his body straight towards the basket but rather on a 45-degree angle. Good elevation leads to a high release point that makes it hard for opponents to contest his shot effectively.
Vezenkov was played as a stretch four at Aris. He got a chance to run a pick-and-roll here and there but mostly screened for the pick-and-pop (poorly; doesn’t look to draw contact but rather focuses on slipping towards a shooting spot too quickly) and spaced the defense as a spot up threat. He is able to put the ball on the floor and attack closeouts, but possesses an average first step, isn’t quick even on straight line drives and still isn’t consistent dribbling the ball lower than hip level, which makes him susceptible to getting stripped in traffic; his 15.8% turnover rate is rather high in the context of his 18.1% usage rate.
Vezenkov was still a very effective player off the bounce, though, due to his pull-up shooting and finishing touch at rim level the times he was able to get to the basket, where he proved himself able to finish around length. Only two of his 204 attempts were blocked and he finished 63% of his two-point attempts. Most of them were of the jump-shot variety, which led to a low free throw rate (he averaged just 1.8 foul shots per 28 minutes) but Vezenkov was so prolific at them that he ranked in the top 20 among all players in offensive rating, according to RealGM.com.
He has proven himself a very willing passer, both making the extra pass out of dribble penetration and entering the ball to the post facing the defense from the perimeter. His 16.8% led the Greek league in assist rate among power forwards. Vezenkov did well from the post in the European Championships U20 but smaller opponents were able to front and successfully deny him the ball at the pro level. When he got the ball, Vezenkov flashed a turnaround, fadeaway that could become a money maker. Spending the vast majority of his time away from the lane at Aris, he was a non-factor on the offensive glass.
He’s a poor individual defender due to limited foot speed. Vezenkov can bend his knees and get on his stance but lacks lateral mobility to defend in isolation and offers very little resistance in space. He was a tougher defender on the post than on the perimeter, where he was unable to contain dribble penetration through contact despite his frame. Vezenkov was not an asset in rim protection (blocking just three shots in the Greek league and zero in the European Championships U20) or playing the passing lane to manufacture turnovers and struggled to closeout on shooters. He was, however, very active on the glass, controlling almost 20% of opponents’ misses when he was on the floor.
Ultimately, Vezenkov is probably more of a potential European star than an NBA player right now. Down the road, Vezenkov may be able to make the NBA as a spot-up shooting threat from the combo forward position in the way that Kostas Papanikolaou will hope to help the Rockets this season. Given that, right now Vezenkov profiles as a good second round prospect for someone to take a chance on.
Editor’s Note: 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.