• International Spotlight: Ante Zizic, deep dive into the unknown

    The Cavs have struggled this season and injuries to Tristan Thompson and Iman Shumpert have recently forced coach Ty Lue to turn to his rookies for some much needed contribution. Ante Zizic is one of them and even though he has looked completely lost on the court the sample size is too small to call him a bust. The good news is we already have an idea about his NBA outlook based on his career overseas and his presence at Summer League.

    Zizic is sort of a late bloomer as he played his first professional game just before turning 16 years old. He is a legit seven-footer with impressive measurements, a 7’3″ wingspan and a 9’3″ standing reach. Drafted by the Celtics with the No. 23 pick in the 2016 NBA draft he has played for David Blatt and Darussafaka Dogus in the EuroLeague where he averaged 9.0 points and 6.7 rebounds. Blatt fell in love with his demeanor and work ethic and was very impressed by his physical skills and non-stop motor. Zizic is a smart kid and made the decision to join coach Blatt primarily because his team plays with a fast tempo similar to what most NBA teams do.

    He was named the 2015-16 Adriatic Basketball Association’s top prospect, averaging 12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game. 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 before making the transition to the NBA.

    “I chose Darussafaka because Dave Blatt was the coach there,” Zizic said. “He was in the NBA, of course. He knows NBA basketball.”

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    Sustainable Value: What Zizic knows to do and what he will most likely be able to do at the NBA level

    Rebounding

    Zizic is a relentless rebounder on both ends of the floor. He possesses the physical tools to dominate in the paint and constantly attacks the glass. He has a big yet not so mobile body but 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.

    He generally does a great job boxing out but he will struggle against quicker centers who will be 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 that he won’t stop grinding and coming after you. David Blatt tells a great story about going to practice with a young Zizic who had to hold his ground against 6’10” 250 pound Sofoklis Schortsanitis, a former LA 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. That’s the kind of energy and intensity that he brings to the table and why many scouts fell in love with him. You can teach the fundamentals but you cannot teach the kind of mental toughness and resilience Zizic has consistently shown in his brief career.

    Skills to be determined whether he can sustain at the NBA level

    Shot blocking and defensive ability

    Zizic has already struggled defensively and he’ll likely struggle in his entire rookie season as he’s getting adjusted to NBA game speed and pace. He is neither 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. Since he is a slow and immobile body he has always been better at defending space rather than PnR situations.

    However, Zizic understands the game and most of the time just switching and not letting guards just blow by him will be more than enough. Here is an example of great PnR defense although his opponent is also a rookie, the Magic’s second round pick Wesley Iwundu.

    The good thing with most seven footers is that even if they don’t possess any length or bounce they can still protect the rim and Zizic will have no problem doing that while occasionally providing help defense. The Cavaliers rank 28th in the league in points allowed per game with 114.2 and 30th in points allowed per 100 possessions with 113.0. Individually, all but one Cavalier has a defensive rating lower than 100. It’s Ante Zizic at 94.4 in just 20 minutes of action in total.

    Offensive game

    The Croatian big guy is not the most polished offensive player but he sure is a decisive one. He understands mismatches and knows what he wants to do as soon as he gets the ball. He will punish opponents once he establishes position deep in the low post.

    Unfortunately, his go ahead move is totally predictable and the lack of quickness will hurt him at the NBA level. The footwork is there but the ball-handling skills are mediocre at best.

    After a rough Summer League there was speculation that Boston was willing to let Zizic go and one of the main reasons was his limited shooting range that didn’t fit Brad Steven’s mold of positionless basketball. He is a traditional center that is more effective in the paint but don’t be surprised if he’s able to develop a consistent three point shot in a couple of years. He already possesses a solid mid range shot and his stroke is exceptionally fluid. It’s just that he doesn’t have the green light to do so playing for a Cavs team that has plenty of scoring options.

    The Baggage

    Limited versatility on both sides of the floor

    Even though Zizic has an impressive physical presence, his game is somewhat limited due to his lack of versatility and speed. Plus, he is not the most explosive leaper (his pre-draft no-step vertical measured at just 26 inches). He can only play the center position at the NBA level and even though he is not afraid of contact he struggles against bigger and more athletic bigs. You shouldn’t be expecting him to be a gravitational lob catcher like DeAndre Jordan and he is nothing close to a playmaker.

    Based on what I saw in Summer League I would think that he needs to add some upper body strength to be able to be more effective as a rim protector.

    The biggest hurdle right now is certainly his inability to catch up to NBA game speed. He can run the floor well for a big but at times he is clumsy and will lose his balance and concentration committing unnecessary fouls.

    If he’s on the floor with great offensive talent he will be able to crush the boards, collect offensive rebounds and get put-backs and that’s exactly what his coaches will ask him to do. He is not ready to contribute yet though so only owners in deep leagues should take notice and stash him in hopes of becoming a rotation player in the next few years.

    I believe in Zizic as he is a very confident kid that wanted to come to the NBA and play against the best basketball players in the world. Examining the tape is never enough for scouts to get a complete idea for someone’s game. Talking to him you can tell he has the work ethic and the motor to make the move to NBA happen but he has a long way to go until he can establish himself as a reliable big man. The main question is whether he fits the mold of a modern guy; he is just 20 years old and things change rapidly but right now everyone is emulating the Warriors’ style of play which doesn’t include a traditional center. In the pick-and-roll heavy NBA, teams need centers who can catch and finish quickly with either hand, so it will be crucial to consistently deliver these skills if he wants to be more than a garbage time big.

Fantasy News

  • Derrick Rose
    PG, Detroit Pistons

    The Pistons announced that they plan to reopen team facilities on Thursday, allowing voluntary individual workouts while following all the social-distancing guidelines.

    Although the Pistons' season is likely over as they are not one of the 22 teams that will continue to play if the Board of Governors vote to ratify the plan on Thursday, this will allow players to stay in shape for the 2020-21 season which is expected to start in December.

    Source: James Edwards III

  • Zion Williamson
    PF, New Orleans Pelicans

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the Pelicans, Blazers, Suns, Kings, Spurs and Wizards will be the six non-playoff teams resuming action when the NBA restarts.

    This makes complete sense, as they're the only non-playoff teams that can sniff the postseason. Woj backs up an earlier Shams Charania report about a potential play-in tournament for the final playoff spot in each Conference as well. If the ninth seed trails the eighth seed by more than four games when the league's truncated regular season wraps up, the eighth seed makes the playoffs. If the deficit is under four games, however, the two teams will compete in a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for the ninth.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Adrian Wojnarowski is reporting that the NBA will have an eight-game regular season for the purposes of playoff seeding upon its return while Shams Charania reports that there will be a play-in tournament for the eighth seed.

    This applies to the NBA coming back with 22 teams, as the league's bottom eight are well out of playoff contention and bringing them to Orlando would only negatively affect the league's pursuit for player safety. As for the play-in tournament, Charania describes it as such: "If the ninth seed is more than four games behind the eighth seed, the eighth seed earns the playoff spot; if the ninth seed is four or fewer games behind, then the eighth and ninth seed will enter a play-in tournament that is double-elimination for the eighth seed and single-elimination for ninth." Expect another announcement about the league's format in the coming days.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Corey Brewer
    SF, Sacramento Kings

    Corey Brewer, a veteran of eight different NBA teams, is still hoping to sign another contract before he calls it a career.

    Brewer, 34, seems to think he has enough in the tank for one final stint in the NBA. “We had some talks with a few teams, but nothing really happened. My agent is still working on it, so we’ll see,” Brewer said. “I feel like I can still help a team and I feel like I have a few good years left. But you never know, man." Brewer has not suited up for an NBA team this season and, with a waning jump shot and increased age, his chances of securing another pact in the NBA are pretty unlikely.

    Source: HoopsHype

  • DeMarcus Cousins
    C, Los Angeles Lakers

    Kings broadcaster Grant Napear stepped down from his position with the Kings on Tuesday after he said 'All Lives Matter..Every Single One!' when asked about his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement during a Twitter interaction with former Kings center DeMarcus Cousins.

    This is the first domino to fall in American professional sports in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, even if it's a relatively insignificant one. Napear said of himself and the interaction, "I’m not as educated on BLM as I thought I was. I had no idea that when I said 'All Lives Matter' that it was counter to what BLM was trying to get across," he said. "I’m in pain. I’m 60 years old and I still have a lot to learn." The Kings will evidently have to find a new play-by-play man for their radio broadcasts to accompany Doug Christie when games resume.

    Source: TMZ

  • John Wall
    PG, Washington Wizards

    John Wall, who has long been rumored to have absolutely zero chance of returning to the court even if the current season is resumed, said in a conference call last week that he feels "110 percent."

    Wall and the Wizards both maintain that he will not return to action this season, regardless of the outcome of the vote on Thursday by the NBA Board of Governors. This is good news, obviously, for the team as they set their sights on next season. As of late, trade rumors have been swirling around the franchise's two top assets: Wall and All Star guard Bradley Beal. Moving forward, there is a high possibility that the Wizards will decide between the two, as Beal's contract will expire after next season. Which player will the Wizards keep? Who will they trade, or will they trade them both? They are hoping to have some time to evaluate how the pair plays in tandem early next season, as Wall has missed significant time with a torn left Achilles he suffered during the 2018-19 season. But it may be too late to negotiate an extension with Beal at that point, so they will have to play their cards with extreme care.

    Source: The Athletic

  • Bradley Beal
    SG, Washington Wizards

    Wes Unseld, a Hall of Famer and Washington Bullets legend, passed away on Tuesday due to complications with pneumonia and other illnesses. He was 74 years old.

    An outstanding rebounder, Unseld is also one of only two players to ever be awarded Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in the same season in 1968-69. He guided the Bullets to the NBA Finals four times, winning once in 1978, a series where Unseld took home MVP honors. Hornets' GM and former teammate Mitch Kupchak said of Unseld, “As a teammate, he was tough, dependable and competitive to no end.” Unseld was a fearless competitor and highly respected across the league during his 13 seasons with the Bullets franchise. Former Knicks center and fellow Hall of Famer Willis Reed recently recalled their battles against one another, "He was most consciously a rebounder — he could shoot, but he didn’t emphasize that part of his game — and felt that if he did his job right, by getting the defensive rebound and making the quick outlet pass, they would score quickly.” Unseld was undoubtedly a pioneer for the game of basketball and means a great deal to the city of Washington D.C.

    Source: Rick Bonnell on Twitter

  • LeBron James
    SF, Los Angeles Lakers

    ESPN's Adrian Wojanrowski is reporting that Adam Silver and the NBA Board of Governors, who are planning to vote Thursday on how to continue the season, would like the NBA Finals to conclude no later than October 12.

    With July 31 being the widely-reported restart date and the league tentatively planning to start 𝘯𝘦𝘹𝘵 season by Christmas Day of this year, it would make sense to crown a league champion as early as possible. The meeting with the NBA Board of Governors on Thursday will (finally) bring some clarity to the rest of the NBA season, as they will hold a vote to decide how to proceed. NBA fans have been waiting since the middle of March for some resolutions. This week will provide them.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Stephen Curry
    PG, Golden State Warriors

    The Warriors opened their practice facility on Monday, per Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

    Slater adds that five players showed up for voluntary workouts. It's the first time that Golden State's gym has been open in over two months, and there are only three teams who have yet to get players back into team facilities. While it must be nice for the players to get back to some kind of business, the Warriors are not expected to be playing any more games this season given their league-worst record and the likelihood that the NBA trims the fat rather than ask every team to play out the season.

    Source: Anthony Slater on Twitter

  • Kz Okpala
    F, Miami Heat

    Kz Okpala's offensive game has come a long way since January according to Heat Vice President and Assistant GM, Adam Simon.

    Okpala is already viewed as an NBA-ready defender, and once his offensive game is up to speed the Heat will have a hard time not getting him into the rotation. He spent 20 games in the G League and five with the Heat before the suspension slowed down his progression in 2020. Okpala got off to a slow start due to injuries, and a trade on draft day took away his chance to play in summer league. While this season is unlikely to amount to anything, Okpala is someone to watch in deeper leagues next year.

    Source: Miami Herald