Young player of the year candidates - A closer look
MIES, Switzerland (Basketball Champions League) - After helping Banvit reach the Final of last year’s Basketball Champions League – as a teenager – Furkan Korkmaz was the consensus winner of the inaugural Best Young Player Award. A feat made more impressive, when you evaluate a list of names including Frank Ntilikina, Alpha Kaba and Vlatko Cancar, who were all drafted on the back of their seasons last year, yet didn’t manage to put together a season to compete with the young Turk.
With over half the regular-season journey gone, having flown by our car windows in a blur of buzzer beaters, soul-reaping dunks and triple overtimes, now seems a good moment to catch our breath and take a closer look at some of the potential candidates, that could claim the most votes in this year’s election.
Before we do so, it’s worth considering the criteria that allows a player to be considered. First off we are looking for young players. A term which is often fairly ambiguous in itself. The clarification for the award is players that are a maximum 21 years old, 1996 born and younger. The likes of 1995 born American rookie Malcolm Hill from Telekom Baskets Bonn and Besiktas’ 22 Year old Kenan Sipahi are very unfortunate to miss out. Whilst not a strict criteria, players that qualify as ‘Home-Grown’ (registered with the National Federation of the club they currently play for, at least 3 seasons between the age of 12 and 20) also carry extra value, especially if they have recently represented for their National Team.
Evaluating young players is already a tricky business, but it’s made even trickier, by the fact that very few young players see a regularly high volume of playing time. Whilst scanning through potential candidates, a player that has won the trust of their coach and a starting role, instantly needs to be looked at a little closer. That’s not to say that players making the most of limited court time should be overlooked. Injuries and player transfers, can quickly open-up expanded roles and if a young player is producing efficiently on 10 -15mins, there is a very good chance they could start putting up big numbers if given the opportunity. For that reason, we have chosen our candidates based on what they are doing Per Game and also, what their Per 40 Mins output would be.
The Gold Medalist - Berk Ugurlu
1996, 1.92m (6’3”) PG
28 MPG, 50%FG, 8.1PPG
Home Grown - Yes
Pinar Karsiyaka need to be commended for the faith they are showing in young, talented, Home Grown, Turkish players. Berk Ugurlu is playing the biggest role of all of the jewels in the Karsiyaka crown and also plays the most minutes of any of our candidates. Having won European gold medals on the U16 and U18 NT, the young PG also has a resume that includes x2 Turkish Cup’s, x3 Turkish League’s, a Euroleague title and the Turkish BSL Skills Challenge. Coming into this season needing to find a situation where he’d get enough minutes to express himself, Ugurlu has found exactly that at Pinar Karsiyaka. Ugurlu is lots of fun in transition and has a range of start-stop, change of direction moves that make him very hard to handle in the open court. Smooth and creative in the PNR, Ugurlu lays the table for his team mates and can finish with either hand if he manages to get downhill. An improvement on 21% from 3, would do his chances of winning this award no harm. The addition of Bryon Allen will possibly boost his assist numbers but the ability to space the floor or not, could certainly impact his minutes from here out.
The Favourite - Arnoldas Kulboka
SikeliArchivi Capo D’Orlando
1998, 2.08M (6’10”) – Still growing SF/PF
27.8MPG, 37% From 3, 8.4PPG, 5.6 RPG (8 Per 40)
Home Grown - No
Kulboka would win this award at a canter if we decided it based on the first half of the season and despite being the youngest man on our list, Kulboka is possibly the most likely of this collective to hear his name called in next years’ NBA Draft. Kulboka has nights when everything that leaves his hands, is twine-bound and a release that is cleaner than a bar of soap. Also the best rebounder in this 7-man list (Per Game or Per 40), Kulboka’s role and minutes are unlikely to change in Sicily. The green light, will have the switch, permanently taped down, from here on out. As with all young players, consistency is a challenge here. Too many off nights and a losing finish to the season for Capo D’Orlando are the biggest threats to Kulboka claiming Korkmaz’s title this year.
The Breakout Star - Tamir Blatt
1997, 1.92M (6’3”) PG
27.4MPG, 5.7 APG (8.3 Per 40)
Home Grown – Yes
Tamir Blatt is having a breakout season. Possibly the biggest threat to Kulboka, the Israeli PG is a Baller! Blatt starts for Holon and is already vital when it comes to lining up the pins, for his teammates to knock down. The Pick and Roll is without question the most important action in any offense and Blatt is already a master. Changes of pace and angle to create separation and penetration, vision, passing and the ability to hit the 3-ball off the dribble, it’s all there. 28% from 3 is much lower than his % in the Israeli Winners League and will most likely go up. Performances against Monaco – when his team wasn’t performing – and the outstanding showings for the senior NT during the World Cup Windows, suggest that Blatt is able to go up a few levels yet. The defensive end certainly needs work but don’t be shocked if we see a few more games like his 12 Point, 13 Assist outing and Blatt pushing Arnoldas Kulboka all the way.
The Veteran - Tolga Gecim
1996, 2.06M (6’9”) SF/PF
23.5 MPG 3.9 APG (5.3 Per 40)
Home Grown - Yes
A PG stuck in a Forwards body. Gecim was in the running for this award last year and plays like he has been around for years. IQ, length and shooting out of the corners are what Gecim brings to the table. Also a Gold Medalist with Turkey U18 at the Europeans, Banvit love Gecim and his minutes and role will be steady. His assist numbers are excellent for a Forward but the contributions across the board, will need to go up, if Gecim is to make a serious play at the Basketballl Champions League’s best Young Player award.
The All Rounder - Antonios Koniaris
1997, 1.92M (6’3”) PG/SG
19.3 MPG, 4.6 PPG (9.6 Per 40), 3.9 APG (8 Per 40)
Home Grown - Yes
Koniaris won the 2017 Young Player of the Year in the Greek League and is the most versatile candidate in this list. Koniaris does everything on the offensive end. Catch and Shoot, Passing, finishing in the lane, pull up jumpers, play-making or shooting in the Pick and Roll (Don’t go under the screen), it’s all there in the arsenal. Somehow all the ability you could ask for, hasn't transitioned into jump-off-the-page numbers yet and the reason is hard to put your finger on. PAOK are starting to find form in all competitions. 3rd in Greece and starting to win regularly in the Baskteball Champions League. Up next is Arnoldas Kulboka with Capo D’Orlando and a chance to send out a message.
The Sleeper Pick – Roko Badzim
1997 – 1.97M (6’6”) SG
18.5 MPG, 40% from 3, 7.2 PPG (15.6 Per 40)
Home Grown - No
The excellently named Roko Badzim, is the classic example of a young player on limited minutes, primed and ready to produce more. 15.6 Points per 40mins suggests the Croatian is ready and 40% from 3, makes him the most consistent shooter on this list. 3.8 Assists per 40 highlights an ability to make plays for his teammates too. Badzim is yet another graduate of the Sibenik Basketball School that gave us Drazen petrovic, Dario Saric and Miro Bilan. Talent, skill and playing hard are what you can expect when you watch Badzim. Circumstances are huge though and for Badzim to make a serious run at this, his minutes will need to increase in a big way. We know we’d like to see him play more…But will he?
The Big Man – Egemen Guven
1996 – 2.11M (6’11”) PF/C
15.1MPG, 17.6 PTS Per 40, 7.6 REB Per 40
Home Grown - Yes
Last but far from least is Egemen Guven. Also a runner in this race last year, tantalising is the word that comes to mind, when trying to describe the Karsiyaka big man. Long, fluid, mobile and able to finish around the rim, with either hand, in a variety of ways. Guven can alter and block shots, has great hands, a high IQ. 17.6 Pts Per 40 minutes is the best on this list for points per minute on-court. The second half of this season, is nothing short of massive for Guven. Still a potential Draft and stash talent, Guven needs momentum badly. If that extra motivation can draw some breakout performances, Karsiyaka are more than capable of making a deep run in this year’s Baskteball Champions League. If those stars align, Guven could yet be a major player in the race to be named the Basketball Champions League's best player.
Honourable mentions – Mario Ihring, Jean-Marc Pansa, Vassilis Charalampopoulos, Edin Atic, Ludde Hakanson, Dimitrios Flionis and Alp Karahan.
A final look at the table above shows each players accumulated stats, for each round played. Arnoldas Kulboka has the momentum in almost every category. Points, Rebounds and 3-Points made, all belong the Lithuanian, with Tamir Blatt owning the Assists category and the charity stripe. There is a long way to go yet though and plenty of games, offer plentiful opportunities for any of the 7 listed here - or for that matter the names in our Honourable Mentions list - to make a late run.
Who is the best player on this list?
Who is going to win Best Young Player?
Let us know what you think, we'd love to hear from you.