• 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

  • Kawhi Leonard
    SF, Los Angeles Clippers

    Kawhi Leonard checked in for Thursday's preseason finale against the Mavs and put up 13 points, three rebounds, four steals and two 3-pointers in 22 minutes.

    Leonard took full advantage of some sloppy play from Luka Doncic to help make up for his poor 5-of-19 shooting performance. Kawhi's inching up closer to the middle points of the first round in fantasy drafts, and where you select him depends entirely on your tolerance for potential nights off.

  • Landry Shamet
    SG, Los Angeles Clippers

    Despite 37 minutes in Thursday's preseason game, Landry Shamet finished with five points, two rebounds, two assists, two steals, a 3-pointer and a 2-of-10 shooting line.

    The Clippers look prepared to give Shamet major minutes this season on the wing and at point guard, but his preseason play has been lackluster. We're going to chalk this up to a weirdly-timed slump and continue drafting Shamet in the later rounds of all drafts.

  • Patrick Beverley
    PG, Los Angeles Clippers

    Patrick Beverley (calf) and Lou Williams (rest) sat out of Thursday's preseason game with the Mavs.

    No need for the Clippers, who figure to do lots of load managing, to force either of their vets through a meaningless game. Beverley's calf injury is suspected to be minor but we'll keep an eye on it as the season approaches.

  • Justin Jackson
    SF, Dallas Mavericks

    Justin Jackson notched 18 points off the bench in Thursday's 102-87 win over the Clippers, adding six rebounds and three triples to round out his game.

    Jackson ends his preseason on a strong note and it looks like he'll hold a solid rotation role for Dallas, and may even start if the forward core suffers injuries. That said, he's always been a weak fantasy play and would need immense volume to change anyone's mind.

  • Moses Brown
    C, Portland Trail Blazers

    The Blazers have converted Moses Brown's training camp deal into a two-way contract.

    It's a nice climb for Brown, who went undrafted out of UCLA. Portland's center depth could be tested if Hassan Whiteside misses time because of his sprained ankle but we'd be surprised if Brown saw much action at the NBA level this year.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Dorian Finney-Smith
    SF, Dallas Mavericks

    Neither Dorian Finney-Smith (hip flexor) nor Seth Curry (right knee contusion) played in Thursday's preseason finale.

    There's no reason for the Mavs to push either player through this, though we'll keep an eye out for updates before the real games begin. Both figure to be important reserves and should be able to deliver top-250 value in fantasy, if that means anything to you.

  • Kristaps Porzingis
    PF-C, Dallas Mavericks

    Kristaps Porzingis needed only 23 minutes to produce 18 points, 13 rebounds, a block and a 3-pointer in Thursday's preseason win over the Clippers.

    Luka Doncic, not to be outdone, added 13 points, 13 rebounds, three assists and four 3-pointers of his own, though nine turnovers were pretty ugly. It wasn't always pretty but it's obvious that this young dynamic duo will threaten early-round value for as long as they're on the court. How much they're on the court, Porzingis is particular, is the question.

  • Delon Wright
    PG, Dallas Mavericks

    Delon Wright put a fitting end to a quiet preseason on Thursday, scoring six points with three rebounds, two assists and two 3-pointers in 22 minutes of action.

    Wright was looking like a major breakout candidate but a poor preseason looks to have took some wind out of his sails. We still believe in his ability to rack up defensive stats out of a guard spot and his solid middle-round upside, so Wright's still worth a look sometime after pick No. 80.

  • Jalen Brunson
    PG, Dallas Mavericks

    Jalen Brunson (sore left hamstring) posted six points, five rebounds, seven assists and a steal in 15 minutes on Thursday night.

    Brunson started next to Delon Wright, which is something to remember in case the Mavs deal with injuries that force them to reshuffle the starting five during the year. He's only a deep-league option but did have some stints of relevance last season, so he's not someone to completely write off if injuries strike.

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
    PF, Milwaukee Bucks

    Giannis Antetokounmpo blitzed the Wolves in Thursday's preseason win, racking up 26 points, 14 rebounds, two steals, three blocks and a 3-pointer in 27 minutes of work.

    It's safe to say Giannis is ready for the regular season and is locked in as a top-5 pick in all formats. He went 9-of-15 from the field and a solid 7-of-9 from the line, and if that kept up all season fantasy players would be overjoyed. There's not much else to take from this one. Khris Middleton also had a good game with 18 points and seven assists.