Ante Zizic hasn’t yet signed with Boston but his transfer to the United States is considered a near-certainty at this point. Given the new CBA now assigns first round draft picks a cap charge of 120% of the rookie scale, there is no longer an incentive for teams to hold on signing these players until the last possible minute, so an announcement should be coming soon enough.
After starting last season with Cibona Zagreb in the Adriatic League, the 23rd pick in the 2016 Draft transferred to Darussafaka mid-year, which afforded him the opportunity to earn 811 minutes of EuroLeague and Turkish BSL experience under the tutelage of David Blatt.
The 20-year-old, who only turns 21 in January, not only held up well against the higher level of competition but even established himself as a reliable contributor on a team that made it to the EuroLeague quarterfinals and took a game out of Real Madrid in Spain, before eventually losing in four. According to OverBasket, Darussafaka was +7 with him on the floor and -22 with him on the bench.
Zizic got a steady diet of post touches with Cibona, logging a 25% usage-rate in his 655 minutes with the Croatian club last season – according to RealGM. Though he wasn’t the focal point of the offense with Darussafaka, which featured ball dominant guards Scottie Wilbekin and Brad Wanamaker running the show, he still got the ball down low a fair amount against lighter centers.
But the athletic seven-footer projects more as a catch-and-finish energy big in the NBA, at least for the immediate future. Zizic should have the strength in his 254-pound frame to set decent position at that level as well but hasn’t yet developed the sort of versatility in his post moves that suggests a team will search opportunities to dump the ball down to him frequently.
On the other end, he has potential to develop into an impact defender, possessing the sort of agility needed to guard pick-and-rolls two-on-two. That said, with more and more lead ball handlers rapidly developing pull-up three-pointers out of the pick-and-roll, there might not be a place for big men who can’t switch onto guards pretty soon and Zizic will be one of the behemoths forced to adapt, as he hasn’t yet developed dexterity in one-on-one defense out on an island.
Zizic is well coordinated for someone his size and leverages his athleticism to cover a lot of space. He has fluid footwork to extend pick-and-roll coverage way above the foul line and slide laterally or backwards to prevent the ball handler from taking it straight to the basket as he turns the corner.
Zizic has also impressed with his burst, proving himself able to keep pace with smaller players when they did challenge him to a race to the basket and stop-and-step up to contest mid-range jumpers reasonably well, doing so against the highest level of European basketball.
But the flashes of intelligent split-second decision making is what’s probably the most encouraging sign regarding his transition to the next level. He’s shown the ability to recognize the best use of his effort, at times letting go of low percentage shots someone his age is often seen selling out to try contesting hastily and prioritizing boxing out his man instead.
Zizic is a big hope Boston has for solving its defensive rebounding problems but it’s unclear if that will be the case. He is attentive to his boxout responsibilities and getting off the ground to rebound in traffic is not a chore for him but Zizic collected just 22.1% of opponents’ misses in his 437 EuroLeague minutes last season, which is not a particularly impressive mark for an athletic seven-footer with a nine-foot-three standing reach.
It’s fair to point out Darussafaka rebounded better with him in the lineup rather than on the bench, according to OverBasket, but maybe that says more about Furkan Aldemir and Marcus Slaughter.
Zizic is also yet to develop into a player who can make a tangible impact in help-defense. His block rate declined with the jump to the higher level of competition and his individual defensive ratings were higher than Darussafaka’s overall defensive ratings in both the EuroLeague and the Turkish BSL, meaning the team defended better without him on the floor.
Though his short area quickness and lateral movement draw attention, the perimeter still seems like a foreign habitat to him for the most part. Zizic can keep pace with smaller players on straight line drives but isn’t a very good option to switch onto these types out on an island regularly because he doesn’t bend his knees to get down on a stance, which makes him vulnerable to getting shook side-to-side.
Zizic also hasn’t shown an inclination for closing out to pick-and-pop big men at the three-point line and to shooters who can take pull-up three-pointers out of the pick-and-roll or sprint to the ball for shots off dribble hand-offs.
Given the fact he is a white European player, many will presume Zizic is a ‘skills’ big man but that is necessarily the case.
He’s a decent post scorer who relies on running and dribble-in hooks with either hand, going from one side of the block to the middle of the lane against overmatched defenders one-on-one, but hasn’t yet shown power moves, a turnaround jumper or shot fakes.
Zizic has flashed some passing facilitating offense from the elbows and the high post or out of the short roll but nothing substantial yet, assisting on just 7% of his teams’ scores when he was on the floor last season.
He took a catch-and-shoot long two now and again but nothing that is a true asset at this point of development because of his methodical release, though his decent mechanics and 73% foul shooting suggests there’s something to be worked on there.
Some glimpses of ball skills as he took it from the top of the key to the rim on a straight line drive also appeared here and there but those are probably only for emergency situations in the immediate future.
Where Zizic truly excels on offense is near the basket. He is a so-so screener who at times makes his screening area smaller rather than bigger but can dive down the lane fluidly, has soft hands to catch the ball on the move and sweet touch around the basket on non-dunk finishes.
His coordination shows in his ability to catch, dribble and go up to finish in balance and he’s even proven himself flexible enough for some reverses and up-and-unders to score around rim protectors.
It’s unclear to which extent Zizic can act as vertical threat playing above the rim a target for lobs in middle pick-and-roll, given he mostly preferred operating as a basket-level finisher in traffic. But he is certainly able to do so sneaking behind the defense and can go up strong off two feet in a crowd, so that should be there if his guards look to get him the ball there.
Aside from finishing dump-offs, Zizic also translated his athleticism into production in the offensive glass. He is a constant tip dunk threat and has a seven-foot-two wingspan to rebound outside his area, collecting 13.8% of his teams’ misses when he was on the floor last season.
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