• Another successful season here at Hoop Ball is in the books and I’d like to once again thank YOU, all the readers and followers, for the continuous support and the words of encouragement you have been proving us in the last couple years, helping us become a bigger and better fantasy community.

    Ante Zizic, a forgotten part of the Cavs trade with the Celtics back in the summer of 2017 is going to be our focus in this week’s International Spotlight.

    The 22-year-old big man is short of a late bloomer as he played his first professional game just before turning 16 years old. A legit seven-footer with impressive measurements, (a 7’3″ wingspan and a 9’3″ standing reach), he played for David Blatt and Darussafaka Dogus in the EuroLeague where he averaged 9.0 points and 6.7 rebounds and was named the 2015-16 Adriatic Basketball Association’s top prospect, averaging 12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. As I examined before, the ABA is a league where many current and former NBA stars like Ivica Zubac, Dario Saric, Nikola Pekovic, Nikola Jokic and Jusuf Nurkic played in before making the successful transition to the NBA.

    A Historically Bad Defense

    While the continued development and improvement the team has seen from youngsters like Sexton, Osman and Zizic has been encouraging, the 2018-19 Cavs will go down as the worst defense in NBA history (since 1973-74 when defensive metrics were established). Basketball-Reference shows that the Cavs have the worst defensive rating in NBA history followed by the 2018-19 Suns. And in case you think we are simply throwing shade to Cleveland, it’s quite embarrassing how five of the worst 15 defenses of all-time are actually from the 2018-2019 season (Cavs, Suns, Hawks, Wizards and Knicks).

    Assistant coach Mike Longabardi has been in charge of the Cavs defense since 2016 and the team has actually performed great at times, being ranked 4th overall in 2015-16, while the Cavs struggled mighty with injuries this year and forced them to deploy lineups with guys constantly playing out of position.

    Zizic has seen his playing time rapidly increase in his sophomore year from 6.7 to 18.3 minutes, starting in 25 games throughout the season. Advanced stats, which I like to use on players with limited playing time and experience overall, don’t tell a good story about the Croatian big. Both his Offensive (-1.7 compared to -1.3 last year) and Defensive  (-1.4 compared to -1.2 last year) Box Plus/Minus was slightly worse in his second season, leaving Zizic with an overall Box Plus/Minus of -3.1 on the season, meaning that he makes his team 3.1 points worse than the league average per 100 possessions when he is on the floor. There are possessions where Zizic has to defend powerful old school centers like Andre Drummond and he fails miserably. Look at this play where he is being bullied deep into the post and ends up surrendering the goal-foul on a brutal defensive possession.

    On the other hand, when looking at his on-off numbers, advanced stats show Zizic as a positive – with him on the floor the Cavs allow a very bad 112.8 points per 100 possessions but without him the opposing team’s offensive rating goes up to an absurd 120.4 points per 100 possessions. The Cavs, therefore, are 9.3 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court which a very good sign considering the number of minutes he has played throughout the season. Zizic was able to hold Marc Gasol to just two points on 1-of-6 shooting back in March but watching the game closely you can tell that all his shots were simply unfortunate misses rather than a direct result of the defense.

    Historically Bad Shot-Blockers, Too

    The Cavs also ranked dead last in shots blocked with just 2.4 per game, with the Pistons following at a far more respectable of 4.0 per game. What’s even worse though is how that average is the lowest in the history of NBA, with blocks being registered only at the start of the 1973-74 season.

    Zizic is clearly part of that equation as he has already struggled to protect the rim while getting adjusted to NBA game speed and pace. He is not a particularly explosive jumper nor much of an athlete and he will need to drastically improve his lateral quickness in order to keep up with the level of athleticism in the NBA. Zizic is listed as 6’11” but he simply doesn’t block shots, averaging a mere 0.4 in both his seasons so far and he often tends to over-jump and fall for the pump fake by attacking guards. Look at him failing to properly read the drive and commit the unnecessary foul against Klay Thompson who simply finds himself in no man’s land but gets bailed out.

    Zizic is slow-footed for an NBA player, he doesn’t have a mobile body and has trouble defending the pick-and-roll. He doesn’t let guards simply blow past him but he’s also not quick enough to cover for mistakes by his teammates, and especially rookie guard Collin Sexton. Kemba Walker abused the Cavs’ pick-and-roll defense in all their matchups this year, constantly attacking Zizic and Sexton and exploiting their slow reads on many possessions.

    The good part with most seven-footers is that even if they don’t possess any length or bounce, they can still protect the rim and Zizic is able to at least provide occasional help defense. Here is a rare possession where the big man finds himself at the right place in the paint and uses his size to protect the rim with a clean block against Nemanja Bjelica.

    Elite Rebounder

    Zizic is a relentless rebounder on both ends of the floor and has shown tremendous progress in this part of his game this season. He has the physical tools to dominate in the paint and constantly attacks the glass with his big body but what’s really impressive is that he understands positioning and will chip in on the offensive end with easy tip-ins and put-back dunks. Playing at the highest level in EuroLeague with Darussafaka, he was first in offensive rebounds (3.2 per game), sixth in total rebounds (6.8 per game) and 10th in field goal percentage (61 percent) in just 22 minutes of action and it’s good to see these skills translate nicely at the highest level as well.

    He generally does a great job boxing out and using his large frame to block opponents from getting to the ball. His rebounding numbers have been impressive this season and there is plenty of room for improvement as the kid boxes out not only for himself, but for others as well. Look at him putting a body on Serge Ibaka who is lurking around the paint for the second chance opportunity. Kevin Love had a disappointing season, playing in just 22 games, but he still managed to average 10.9 rebounds per game mainly due to the ability of Larry Nance and Ante Zizic to effectively box out their opponents.

    Still, the Croatian big struggles against quicker centers who are able to outmaneuver him on the post. Here’s John Collins capitalizing on that opportunity for an easy offensive rebound.

    Non-Stop Motor, Energy and Hustle

    One thing you have to give to Zizic is how he won’t stop grinding and coming after you. Former Cavs coach David Blatt tells a great story about going to practice with a young Ante Zizic who had to hold his ground against 6’10” 250 pound Sofoklis Schortsanitis, a former Clippers draft pick also known as “Baby Shaq”. Zizic got beat big time but he didn’t quit and stood there taking the hits all the way until the practice was over. This is the kind of energy and intensity that he brings to the table and why many scouts fell in love with him. You can always teach the fundamentals but you cannot teach the kind of mental toughness and resilience Zizic has consistently shown.

    Strong Low-Post Game

    One area where Zizic, throughout his short career, has shown that he can be a dominant force is the low post. The Croatian big is clearly not the most polished offensive player but he has established himself as a consistent interior offensive presence, as he is decisive enough, understands mismatches and knows what he wants to do as soon as he gets the ball deep into the paint.

    He has the range and will hit the mid-range shot but he is still shy with it and will only attempt it when he is wide-open. His go-to move after receiving the ball around the rim is to move closer to the basket and unleash a smooth up-and-under that is very difficult to defend, even for the best rim protectors. Here is him practicing some solid footwork against a clueless Hassan Whiteside.

    Zizic has shown a good touch as a rolling scorer, being able to finish with both hands and absorbing contact, further validating his case as an efficient low-post scorer. He shoots very well from the free throw line for a big man his size while he has been able to increase his attempts to 2.2 per game this year. Zizic was paired with Jordan Clarkson to begin the season but it has been nice to see him develop solid chemistry with rookie point guard Collin Sexton as the season progressed.

    He is still simply a traditional center that is more effective in the paint but don’t be surprised if he’s able to develop a consistent 3-point shot in a few years since his stroke is exceptionally fluid.

    Versatility to Define His Ceiling

    The Cavs quickly turned their season into a rebuilding year with a focus on the development of rookie Collin Sexton and second-year forward Cedi Osman, as the coaching staff put the ball in their hands and enabled both players to make tremendous strides in their games. The team had to lean on Zizic as well and the coaching staff has really been happy with where the young big is in his development. With the team quickly shifting to a rebuilding approach thanks to all sorts of injuries, Zizic had to play considerable minutes, which is a great step forward after he struggled during the 2017 Summer League with the Celtics and looked like he might not have the athleticism to hang in the NBA.

    That being said, his game is somewhat limited due to his lack of versatility and speed and it remains to be seen whether he can somehow fit the mold of a modern center in a pick-and-roll heavy NBA, where teams need centers who can catch and finish quickly with either hand.

    General manager Koby Altman has done a tremendous job acquiring future assets via trades of veteran pieces and Zizic projects as a good bench scoring presence for the near future but his fantasy game will remain limited as long as he doesn’t accumulate defensive stats and remains a one-dimensional big.

    Thank you for reading this article and please make sure you check us back again next week and throughout the offseason as more player breakdowns are coming up. Stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.

    Stats are courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of April 12th.

Fantasy News

  • Julius Randle
    PF, New York Knicks

    Part of the Knicks' off-season thinking is to shape the roster around RJ Barrett, and it unclear where Julius Randle will fit in those plans.

    Barrett and Randle have similar offensive styles, as they typically have an advantage relying upon their strength to attack the basket, but neither has a component deep ball at this stage in their careers. As Barrett is the younger option it makes sense that the Knicks want to sign shooters to give him more space to operate with. Randle's lousy percentages and turnovers has made for a disappointing season with the Knicks thus far, and Barrett will also need to make some strides in the shooting department to become a 12-team asset. Randle is under contract for next season is owed at least $4,000,000 in 2021-22.

    Source: https://www.sny.tv/knicks/news/heres-who-knicks-could-target-as-leon-roses-front-office-reshapes-roster/313481746

  • Jayson Tatum
    SF, Boston Celtics

    On Friday, the Celtics' announced that their practice facilities would reopen on June 1.

    That leaves us with four NBA teams without access to their facilities. Things are beginning to accelerate throughout the league as teams ramp up activities in hopes of resuming competition in Orlando on July 31. So far so good, but the NBA still has many hurdles to overcome on the path to resuming the season.

    Source: Celtics PR on Twitter

  • RJ Barrett
    SF, New York Knicks

    The Knicks reopened their practice facility for voluntary workouts on Friday.

    Another step in the right direction for the NBA's return to action at the end of July. It's still unclear if the Knicks will even be involved in whatever plan is agreed upon, but it is good to learn that the players can now access their facilities in New York. Only five team facilities have not opened up in some capacity at this point.

    Source: Knicks PR on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    On a call with the Board of Governors on Friday, Adam Silver and the league office confirmed July 31 as a target date for the resumption of the NBA season, according to a report from Shams Charania.

    We have to imagine that this is just one of the possible options on the table, as the league still has much to figure out. Charania adds that the league has four scenarios for the return: 16 teams move directly to the playoffs, 20 teams engage in group/stage play, 22 teams have games to determine seeding with a play-in tournament, and all 30 teams reconvene for a 72-game season with a play-in tournament. It's seemed unlikely that we'll have a full 30-team return given the stated priorities for player safety. There are still tons of logistical hurdles to clear but the NBA is getting its ducks in a row for a potential return.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Andre Iguodala
    SF, Miami Heat

    Andre Iguodala returned to South Florida after living in California since the NBA season was suspended.

    Iguodala returning to the market where his team is could mean that he believes team workouts will begin soon. However, there is no official timetable on when team workouts will begin and Jimmy Butler has yet to return to Miami.

    Source: Ira Winderman on Twitter

  • Zach LaVine
    SG, Chicago Bulls

    K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune reported that the Bulls were cleared by the Governor of Illinois and are in talks with city officials to open practice facilities on Friday for voluntary workouts that would follow the NBA guidelines.

    The NBA's guidelines currently state that a maximum of four players are allowed in the facility at any given time and there can only be one player per hoop. The Bulls are currently eight games behind the Orlando Magic for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls may not play again this season given how far behind they are in the standings and the recent reports of proposals to not continue the regular season.

    Source: K.C. Johnson on Twitter

  • Luka Doncic
    PG-SF, Dallas Mavericks

    Marc Stein of the New York Times has reported that the Mavs plan to open their practice facility on Thursday.

    This news would make the Mavs the 23rd team to have their facilities open for "voluntary and socially distanced player workouts". Continue to monitor the wire as we should learn more about the potential of the league resuming in early June.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Kawhi Leonard
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    On Tuesday afternoon, AmicoHoops reported (via Twitter) that an unidentified NBA GM told them the league has seriously discussed resuming the current NBA season on Wednesday, July 22.

    Nothing has been officially announced, by any means, and this is the first we've heard of specific target date(s) from anyone. It's looking like the continuation of the season will occur in Orlando at Walt Disney World at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, which has accommodations for at least some of what the NBA has planned for a resuming activity. As we have relayed numerous times recently, the next week or two seem to be a likely window for some decisions from Adam Silver and Co. at the NBA league office to start to come down. Stay tuned, hoops fans.

    Source: AmicoHoops on Twitter

  • Damian Lillard
    PG, Portland Trail Blazers

    Damian Lillard announced on Tuesday evening that, in the event of a continuation of the NBA season, he would not be participating if the Blazers are scheduled to play 'meaningless games' with no shot at making the playoffs.

    "If we come back and they're just like, 'We're adding a few games to finish the regular season,' and they're throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don't have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I'm going to be with my team because I'm a part of the team. But I'm not going to be participating," Lillard told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday morning. It's hard to blame him, as it is quite easy to see the potential situation from his point of view. There have been countless scenarios tossed around by the league office during the pandemic period, but nothing is set in stone so far. Lillard, for his part, is only interested in returning to action if there exists a legitimate shot for his Blazers to reach the NBA Finals. Fair enough.

    Source: Yahoo! Sports

  • Joel Embiid
    C, Philadelphia Sixers

    The Sixers, who have their practice facility located in nearby Camden, NJ, will allow voluntary player workouts at the facility beginning on Wednesday, raising the number of NBA teams who have been able to do so to 22.

    The Celtics, Knicks, Bulls, Pistons, Wizards, Mavericks, Spurs and Warriors are the final teams remaining who are unable to return to their practice facilities. The NBA seems to be inching ever so close to, at the very least, announcing a plan for a continuation of the current season. This next week or two should be very eventful on that front.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter