Leandro Bolmaro and Aleksej Pokusevski headline a tier of intriguing international prospects. While most eyes will be on Deni Avdija, this duo should not be overlooked. So let’s dive into Bolmaro and Pokusevski to find out what they each can bring. 

LEANDRO BOLMARO

Leandro Bolmaro is one more name in a list of recent Argentine prospects. There are signs of play-making potential that have drawn comparisons to Manu Ginobili. But while he is far from there today, his resume is quite impressive. Bolmaro’s rise into the first round discussion was cemented at FC Barcelona. The numbers are not flashy, but his competitiveness earned him valuable playing time.

With Argentina, Bolmaro flashed his potential in the U-19 FIBA World Cup, where he led the South American giants in scoring. At 20 years old he has shown a unique blend of modern NBA skills. But Bolmaro will have to overcome limited athleticism to carve a role at the next level.

STRENGTHS

  • Savvy ball handler. Uses a series of fakes to create space. Tight handle.
  • Above-average first step. Attacks close-outs decisively. Leverages his initial burst to come off screens.
  • High release point. Difficult shot to contest at 6’7″. Smooth. Soft-touch around the basket. Great feel to flash into open spaces.
  • High defensive IQ in space. Connected to switches. Uses length to clog passing lanes. Always active and engaged.
  • Plays with tremendous energy. Earned high leverage minutes on a team loaded with experience. A ‘team-first’ teammate.

WEAKNESSES

  • Low-end vertical athlete. Lacks burst to finish at the rim. Low ceiling as a three-level scorer.
  • Must speed up shooting mechanics. A small hitch allows defenders to recover and contest.
  • Positional versatility will be limited in the NBA. Stiff hips. Cannot match with explosive ball-handlers at the point of attack. Must bulk up to handle NBA strength.
  • Raw shot creator. Must expand his court vision and decision making. Attacks to score often.
  • Limited sample size as a shooter. Inconsistent. Scored in the 40th percentile in jump shots in the half-court (per Synergy).

FILM HIGHLIGHT

OFFENSIVE VERSATILITY

Positional versatility is what immediately draws you to Leandro Bolmaro. At FC Barcelona, he often flashed between point guard and wing. On the ball, Bolmaro has an advanced feel for creating space. A simple head fake is often enough to get the defender leaning the wrong way.

Take a look at Bolmaro putting that to use here.

At 6’7″ Bolmaro provides an interesting ball-handling advantage. Teams can utilize him in the pick and roll, where he has the creativity and handle to attack slower forwards. Bolmaro relies on a soft floater to create scoring, but his lack of vertical burst will limit his finish at the basket. Part of his growth is to expand his passing vision to turn these contested looks into other forms of shot creation. But Bolmaro should benefit from better NBA spacing, where he will be met with less traffic at the rim.

Another component of Bolmaro’s offensive contribution comes off the ball. Projecting his role on the wing is fun. One way is to conceptualize how Indiana utilizes Doug McDermott in dribble handoff concepts. While Bolmaro has ways to go as a shooter, he leverages a decent first step to separate from his defender.

Watch how this plays out against Real Madrid.

Part of Bolmaro’s growth will include incorporating this type of motion in spot-up opportunities coming off screens. Both Bolmaro and McDermott stand at 6’7″, but the Argentine playmaker must fill out his body and speed up his shooting mechanics. Doing so is Bolmaro’s clear path to getting NBA minutes.

DEFENSIVE SHORTCOMINGS

Bolmaro’s athletic limitations are the main point of concern moving forward. Barcelona often used him as a point of attack defender. While it looked competent in film, he will have to rely on supreme fundamentals to survive.

Watch here how a bad defensive angle puts Bolmaro in a compromising position.

Without the wiggle to move laterally, Bolmaro will be a target on defense. But he also has an advanced understanding of defensive rotations. It will take fine coaching points and team-oriented concepts to harness his defensive value. 

FIT AND FINAL VERDICT

Teams will place a high priority on Leandro Bolmaro’s competitive spirit. But it is hard to envision him having an immediate impact in the NBA. Patience and player development is the name of the game when it comes to the Barcelona playmaker.

The fit with the Heat is an interesting one from the cultural element. Miami is well known for their intense practice environment. Bolmaro will benefit from a structure that has recently elevated limited athletes such as Duncan Robinson. While pick number 20 is a bit high, Bolmaro gives Miami another project or a trade chip as they round out a championship-caliber roster.

ALEKSEJ POKUSEVSKI

Aleksej Pokusevski is not your typical ball-handler. At 7’0″ the Serbian national is an anomaly. His unique blend of skill and athleticism is rarely seen on the court. At age 17, Pokusevski became Olympiacos’ youngest player to debut in the Euroleague. But while his European stint has been brief, he left a big mark for Team Serbia. Last year’s U-18 European Championship was Pokusevski’s moment, highlighted by a 16 point and 7 block game against Lithuania. There is a lot to like about his game.

Pokusevski’s screams potential, especially in a league that prioritizes multiple ball handlers. Harnessing this potential into an NBA game is the challenge. Now at 18, Pokusevski has a long journey to develop his body. Nevertheless, the tools are there for one of the draft’s highest upside prospects.

STRENGTHS

  • Crafty ball handler. Maneuvers out of pressure with a series of misdirection dribbles.
  • Decisive shooter. A quick trigger off the catch. Confident. Attacks off the bounce with little hesitation.
  • Sound shooting mechanics. Balanced. An immediate shooting outlet on the wing (and as a trailer).
  • Advanced passing vision. Great open court feel. Attacks the lane with a plan. Identifies shooters with ease.
  • Length is a major disruptor on defense. Active as a weakside rim protector. Makes shooters uncomfortable in the perimeter.

WEAKNESSES

  • Poor defensive positioning. Over-commits as a help defender. Lacks awareness in the pick and roll.
  • Does not manage physicality well. Must bulk up to handle power at the next level.
  • Plays fast and out of control. Commits a high number of avoidable turnovers.
  • Questionable shot selection. Settles for contested looks (and wild floaters). 
  • Below the rim athlete. Limited scoring ability at the rim. 

FILM HIGHLIGHT

CONFIDENCE AND FEEL

Aleksej Pokusevski plays with an eccentric flair. Confidence is never an issue, and he is more than willing to let it fly. It is easy to see how this confidence translates to the court. Pokusevski has no filter when it comes to pulling up with a defender nearby. But it is off the catch where he thrives.

Follow his assertiveness here against Germany’s U-18 team.

Pokusevski’s shooting range projects well on the professional scene. Teams will demand more off-ball playmaking from the international star. Providing a shooting element as a trailer is one way for Pokusevski to find his niche. 

It is within the confines of a fastbreak where you see him thrive. Pokusevski is an advanced thinker and leverages his basketball IQ well in the open court.

Watch how he navigates Germany’s defense with a complete understanding of how to spot shooters.

Pokusevski can command a fast-break with the awareness of a seasoned vet. That is quite impressive, especially for an 18-year-old with limited professional experience. Teams should be salivating at what is next. This type of vision projects well in the half-court, where he will be asked to navigate screens and identify various scoring alternatives. 

SLOPPY DEFENSIVE FUNDAMENTALS 

Pokusevski is aware of his disruptive wingspan. But it often manifests in poor fundamentals. This shows up in most help situations. Pokusevski rarely moves his feet and relies on the wingspan to dictate the outcome.

Ball handlers who attack head down are susceptible to offensive fouls. But Pokusevski refuses to shuffle over and entice contact. Sloppy defensive possessions like these will not be tolerated. It is a part of his game that must come around as Pokusevski develops an NBA body.

FIT AND FINAL VERDICT

Aleksej Pokusevski is the type of talent that can pay significant dividends. With the impending roster shakeup in Houston, the Rockets now sit at pick 16 with plenty of time. Pokusevski provides the ideal developmental pick as Houston transitions from the post-Harden era. This gives the franchise a starting point and a player to groom over a new timeline. It remains to be seen if Houston will take the long view approach. But in a conference loaded with contenders, it would be wise for the new staff to pivot into player development. Doing so would give the team a window to strike post the LeBron James era. 

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