In advance of the 2018 NBA Draft, Peachtree Hoops will be breaking down prospects, both from the college ranks and internationally, with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks will be evaluating in the coming days. More than 50 prospects will be profiled in this space and, in the end, the goal is to inform Hawks fans prior to June 21, when the Hawks are scheduled to make four selections with the first 34 picks.
Today’s breakdown centers on Latvian forward Rodions Kurucs.
It has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for 20 year-old Latvian forward Rodions Kurucs.
Having caught the attention of NBA teams a few years ago at the FIBA U16 European Championship in 2014, Kurucs has since been rated and regarded as one of Europe’s best young/rising prospects.
It hasn’t been plain sailing since then, however...
In 2016, Kurucs underwent surgery to repair his meniscus, an injury he suffered while working out. Despite that, he managed to play 25 games for FC Barcelona Lassa, but 24 of those came with the B-Team in the LEB Gold (which is Spain’s 2nd division, behind the ACB).
After averaging 9.4 points on the season in the LEB Gold, Kurucs declared for the 2017 NBA Draft as an early-entry candidate, but did so against the wishes of Barcelona, according to ESPN. When it became clear that Kurucs’ buyout would cost any potential team that would draft Kurucs — and would want to have him available immediately — around 4 million euros (nearly $5 million), Kurucs was forced to withdraw from the 2017 NBA Draft.
According to ESPN, Kurucs has been ‘embroiled in conflict’ with Barcelona since Kurucs has also refused to sign a contract extension with Barcelona, highlighting Kurucs’ future desire to play in the NBA.
Moving into to the 2017-18 season, it hasn’t been the season that Kurucs had been hoping for.
Kurucs has spent pretty much all of the season with the B-Team, only making a handful appearances for the senior team, playing limited minutes in those few appearances. Even with the B-Team Kurucs has seen a limited role — 16 appearances so far and just four starts, averaging 10.7 points per game on 44 percent shooting from the field, 33 percent from behind the arc, 76 percent from the line, 2.5 rebounds per game, 1.5 assists, 1.5 steals per game and almost 2 turnovers a game in just 20 minutes a game.
More concerning than that, per that same ESPN report, was that Kurucs only trains with the senior team (not the B-Team) and his ‘score first’ mentality causes ‘strife’ among his coaches and fellow players.
From ESPN’s Mike Schmitz, who was in Spain in April to learn more about Kurucs and his situation:
“He’s in a tough situation when he takes the floor in LEB Gold, as he often tries to do too much, anxious to prove himself. Kurucs is starting to get more consistent playing time with Barcelona II, though, seeing action in five of the last six games and averaging 23.4 points per 40 minutes on 63.6 percent from 2 and 35.3 percent from 3. Even so, the fact that Kurucs only practices with the first team and comes down with a score-first mentality has caused internal strife among his coaches and teammates.”
There are many who rank Kurucs as the third-best European prospect heading into this draft, behind only Dzanan Musa and Luka Doncic — he has a strong reputation.
Kurucs is ranked 41st in both ESPN’s and Sports Illustrated’s top 100 prospects ahead of the draft — he is a player that quite a number of people have heard when the international scene comes up in conversation and he has been on radars for a while now.
Having watched footage of Kurucs (as much as I could find, not the easiest thing to find out there), I’m genuinely wondering how and why he’s as highly rated as he is heading into the draft — he was a prospect I had a hard time formulating an opinion on...
So, because of that, we’re doing things a little differently today when it comes to breaking down Kurucs’ game — I’m not splitting this into the usual three sections, just going to explain/show things as we go along.
So, here goes... I’ll try my best to explain myself as I go along but believe me when I say this was a challenge for me...
In preparation for those scouting reports, I tried to watch as much footage as possible to get a good feel for their respective games and tendencies (as I have done with Kurucs). The thing with Bonga and Okobo was that it did not take long to see what their best strengths are — their distinguishable traits, their selling points to NBA teams so to speak. You knew what they were and what they brought when they were on the floor — each definitely brought something intriguing/useful to the floor for their team.
With Kurucs, after watching him, I didn’t get any true sense of a distinguishable trait that he possesses. There are some things he does well (and we’ll cover those) but there isn’t anything that really stands out, not anything that, if someone were to ask me, I could say ‘Yes! He does this really well...’
Usually, draft prospects — if they have nothing else — have something they can hang their hat on, even if the rest of their game might be lacking, there’s that one thing they can do well.
Kurucs, for me, doesn’t have that. There are a few things he can do well but he’s a master of none, so to speak. In short, having watched him, I have no idea what Kurucs is supposed to be right now. He doesn’t seem to have an identity on the floor in terms of his game — I just don’t see what others see that has him rated as highly as he is.
For me, Kurucs’ thing, his selling point is that he’s young (just turned 20 years-old in February), has some skills to work with and has some good physical tools/physical potential and that alone has potential disaster written all over it, hoping that someone with good physical attributes turns, has some skill and is young turns into a good player.
I think it’s the physical upside (with the inkling of on-court potential) that teams will be really intrigued when it comes to Kurucs.
He has good size for his position (listed at 6’9, though some report him to be 6’10), is long (though his wingspan isn’t officially listed anywhere, I’d be shocked if it wasn’t 7+ feet) and he can move fairly well on his feet.
Penetration off of the dribble is something that Kurucs can do decently well, taking advantage of his size and speed.
(Note: I could tell you that Kurucs wears number 24, but with how Barcelona apply their number colors [who the hell puts a darker blue number on a blue jersey??], it wouldn’t mean much to know the number because you won’t be able to read it. Thankfully, the home jersey has yellow writing on burgundy and blue...)
Here, Kurucs drives from the three-point line, uses his quickness to get by the defense and his length to extend but can’t hit the layup, drawing free throws instead:
On this possession, Kurucs again drives from the three-point line and manages to squeeze between the two defenders before drawing the foul and free throws:
On a switch, Kurucs takes the opposing big off of the dribble and gets all the to the rim but can’t complete the play, drawing free throws:
Kurucs’ handle is OK, and that’s all I would describe it as — it’s fine. Could be (much) better, could be (a bit) worse.
But here, Kurucs lulls the defense on a switch with his dribble/cross and eventually gets to the rim but can’t finish the play:
The ball just doesn’t seem 100% secure in the hands of Kurucs...
You can already see that Kurucs’ ability to finish at the rim off of the drive, despite boasting significantly better physical attributes than a good chunk of his opponents, leaves a little something to be desired. Part of the reason for that is he’s a stick, weighing 190 pounds according to DraftExpress (with Barcelona cheekily trying to list him at 220 pounds/100 kilograms...).
(And this is part of my problem with Kurucs: even one the few things he does do well [getting to the rim] isn’t that spectacular because he can’t finish the play as often as he should.)
Using his speed and his ability to get to the rim, Kurucs is also capable of doing some damage in transition, should the opportunity present itself.
After blocking a shot, Kurucs heads the other way in semi-transition as the defense sets up. Kurucs drives inside past the defense, draws the help and finds the trailer for the dunk:
At the end of the third quarter off of a miss, Kurucs sets off, draws the defense near the rim and sets up the basket for his teammate underneath:
At times, Kurucs’ decision making could be better once he gets himself in a good position with his penetration.
Here, Kurucs get by the defense with the drive and instead of looking to score with his left-hand, he tries to lift a pass to his teammate on the other side of the rim and ends up turning the ball over:
But his penetration is something that can create some openings for his teammates, as Kurucs shows here as he draws the defense with the drive before finding a teammate in the corner, but the shot set up for him is not taken:
Kurucs can be a bit careless with the ball/a bit loose with his dribble at times, part of the reason why he averages nearly two turnovers per game.
Here, Kurucs holds onto the ball for far too long, rejects the help from his point guard and the ball is eventually prodded loose from the far from secure-looking dribble:
In transition, Kurucs throws a wild pass behind his teammate, almost resulting in a turnover:
Here, Kurucs make a cut/curl from the three-point line to the opposite wing. He receives the ball and makes a pass that so easily telegraphed, resulting in a turnover:
That’s a turnover every day of the week, and I think this is all highlighting Kurucs’ average basketball IQ/feel for the game. There wasn’t really anything that I saw that indicated to me that Kurucs possessed a high-basketball IQ/feel for the game... You can talk me into ‘slightly above average’ at best...
So, I briefly mentioned that one of Kurucs’ strengths is getting to the rim, and his physical tools allow him to do that (even if he has a tough time finishing at times). Another area where Kurucs’ physical tools come in handy is in the post — one, if not, the best asset of his offensive game.
This possession, you can just see how Kurucs’ size gives him an advantage in that he can literally just shooter over a defender though Kurucs misses on this occasion on the spin-and-fade, wanting a foul call:
Here, Kurucs backs down on the baseline, gets very physical/aggressive with the back-down (lucky not to be called for an offensive foul in some regards), creates the space, turns and rises over the defense to hit the J:
On the other block this time, Kurucs operates in the post, again extending that forearm (no call) before spinning toward the paint and hitting the jumper:
Kurucs does possess good footwork, which obviously helps him greatly when operating in the post, his good feet putting him in a good position to score at the rim from the post:
Again, nifty footwork from Kurucs puts him in a great position but, again, that finesse to finish at the rim (as we’ve seen already) is lacking and he can’t hit from point-blank range:
This play amalgamates two of Kurucs’ strongest abilities on the offensive end into one: working from the post position and then getting to the rim for the score plus the foul:
Again, some excellent footwork displayed by Kurucs.
It’s probably his best strength as an offensive player, but he doesn’t always go to it all the time and he’s not strong enough to back down players who are a bit more muscular.
In terms of an outside shot, meh. In the games I watched, Kurucs only hit a few three-pointers. For the season with Barcelona B, he shot 33% from behind the arc, making one per game.
He’s up and down in catch-and-shoot scenarios (where a good chunk of his threes came from, from what I saw), but I did like the rotation of his shot:
Overall, Kurucs is decent when it comes to shooting: a little shaky from outside at times but his mid-range jumper is generally good.
Defensively, Kurucs has some very interesting potential — his size and length give him a decent starting point.
Here, Kurucs’ length helps him contest a shot in a manner that wouldn’t be possible if he didn’t boast the size and length that he does:
His length allows him to contest shots from afar, should he be out of position somewhat defensively:
His size and length can also deter passes being made:
Though, he does need to keep those arms/hands raised all the time if he’s squared off by another player, otherwise offensive players will just zing it through over the top, as they did here, leading to a basket:
But when his arms and hands are ready, he’s able to get a hand on the passes that are made.
Here, Kurucs prods the pass with his length it kickstarts a counterattack that leads in a score for Barcelona:
Kurucs’ length can also be disruptive in other situations too.
As the offensive player makes his way up the floor, he’s pressured by Kurucs in his own half and knocks the ball out of bounds:
We saw part of this clip earlier, but Kurucs’ dribbling ‘clinic’ gets him in trouble and he turns the ball over, only to get back on defense and use his length to make amends for the mistake he just made:
We saw Kurucs come up with a steal that led to points for his team, and he’s is capable of turning defense into his own offense, as he reaches in and grabs this steal, leading to a dunk:
(You can sort of tell from that dunk that Kurucs might not be the most athletic/above the rim player out there (I certainly did not see Kurucs show any massive levels of athleticism in terms of explosiveness in the footage I saw of him...)
It shouldn’t be a surprise you, then, that Kurucs averages a 1.5 steals per game. His length is disruptive as you can see, but sometimes he settles/gambles for the reach and this can lead to scoring opportunities for the opposing team:
In one-on-one situations, Kurucs can hold his own. We saw how nifty his footwork was on the offensive end, and he’s able to use these good feet to good effect defensively: he moves well.
In a great sequence, Kurucs moves his feet well, sticks with the offensive player, blocks the shot and then breaks in transition before breaking down the defense and setting up his teammate for a dunk:
We did see part of this play already but this added defensive aspect of it makes it that much better...
On the wing this time, Kurucs moves his feet well and prevents the penetration, but a miscommunication elsewhere on defense leads to a pass to a player near the rim and a foul is committed:
Again, more good one-on-one defense as Kurucs prevents the blow-by before contesting the shot well, forcing the miss:
Nothing massive, but Kurucs shows good defensive activity on this possession, really putting pressure on the ball-handler:
Generally speaking, Kurucs does try on defense, exemplified by this example where he hustles back after a Barcelona turnover to make life very difficult for the offensive player, who was sure of a certain two points but the presence of Kurucs seems to put him off and he misses the contested dunk:
Kurucs also has shot-blocking potential, and he comes up with a few in help defense situations.
Following a pick-and-roll that leads to a pass to the roll-man right down the pipe, Kurucs shades over and blocks the shot at the rim:
Not 100% sure if this is a block, but it’s a shot that Kurucs arrives as the help defender and disrupts, leading to a miss and an offensive opportunity for Kurucs going the other way but he is also denied by the help defense (his layup being swatted all the way to Latvia):
All of this defensive stuff sounds fantastic and it is solid, don’t get me wrong, but there are problems...
Kurucs is very foul prone, averaging 3.3 fouls per game in just 20 minutes of action a game. These range from your common foul on drives/contesting shots:
To silly reach-in fouls:
Gosh, that one was bad...so needless...
Kurucs is guilty at times on biting on fakes, either leading to fouls and/or scoring opportunities.
As Kurucs recovers to his man in the corner, he bites on the fake and commits the foul:
Same game, Kurucs bites on the fake at the rim and it nearly ends up in a score for the opposition:
Kurucs’ lack of weight is also a problem. He can just be shifted out of the way somewhat, as he is on this possession:
His length helps make up for being bodied as he’s able to contest that shot well by staying vertical.
After doing the good defensive work initially, when the shoulder drops from the offensive player, Kurucs is out of the equation and needs a teammate to bail him out with a block:
This can also be a problem when trying to navigate screen, as Kurucs just dies on this screen, unable to get around/through it, leading to an open three-pointer:
In general, Kurucs’ defense is probably the best part of his overall game right but, in the context of a game and watching full games of Kurucs (how they flow etc.), I do not believe it’s his defining feature or the aspect of the game he can hang his hat on right now. It’s more so the area of his game that is strongest right now, and even then it has problems.
I’m going to attempt to close, and this is difficult, Kurucs is just a tricky customer that I just haven’t been sure what to think of throughout this entire process.
So, here goes...
Rodions Kurucs is a young forward and has good physical tools to work with (such as his size and length) but will have to add some weight for the betterment of all aspects of his game.
His offensive game is not especially refined. His handle is average at best, his jump-shooting is average and his ability to get to the rim is dampened by the lack of finesse at the rim and a lack of strength to finish through contact. That said, he possesses nimble feet and his post-game is pretty good. In general, he has some skills that are little ahead of others but there’s not one offensive skill Kurucs possesses that I would call elite, or even close to that. There isn’t a ton of variance to his offensive game. But there is certainly potential there to carve out a decently well-rounded offensive game in the future, but it’ll need a lot of work to reach that point.
Kurucs’ feel for the game is average, and he doesn’t look to find teammates all that often (again, from what I saw). The pick-and-roll (in terms of both scoring and creation, whenever that happens) is not something he seems to operate in all that often (from what I saw), and that’s a problem heading into the NBA where, obviously, a ton of pick-and-roll is played.
Defensively, there’s some real potential there thanks to his good feet/lateral movement which help him stay in front of his man and his length which helps contest shots and block shots in help situations. However, he’s prone to a couple of fundamental mistakes per game, he’s foul prone and his lack of strength/weight is a problem.
In short, Rodions Kurucs is a project, not a player for today but for tomorrow and there’s a ton of work needed. Honestly, I hope the team that drafts him has a good G League program, because I’d honestly consider just send to the G League for the entire season.
Kurucs comes into the draft with quite the reputation but after seeing him in action over multiple games, I just don’t see it — I don’t see what the fuss is here. I don’t know what or who he is as a basketball player, his identity, what his possible ceiling is in the NBA and I don’t know what he brings to a team short or long-term.
It’s clear that his career — due to injuries and this whole messy situation with Barcelona extending back to last year seemingly having an affect on him — hasn’t been what people had expected it to be at this point. I get that, but his reputation proceeds him...
The other thing you have to remember was that Kurucs did what he did this season in the second division in Spain — that is not a massively competitive league and the competition in terms of players isn't anything to behold... And Kurucs didn't really excel in that environment. That's worrying. The German Bundesliga that Isaac Bonga features in is a lot more competitive than that, as is the Pro A in France where Elie Okobo shone.
That being said, there is certainly enough here to be intrigued with the idea of selecting him later in the second round. I would certainly not select him in the first round...
I certainly do not understand why some sites out there have Kurucs ahead of Elie Okobo. Heck (as of May 10th), Basketball Insiders rate Kurucs as the 19th (!!!) top prospect of the ENTIRE draft and ahead (ahead???) of Dzanan Musa (20th) — that is sheer lunacy. Absolutely insane in my view.
The Atlanta Hawks own No. 19, No. 30 and No. 34 overall selections in the 2018 draft and I would not select Kurucs with any of those picks if I were in the Hawks’ position. If he was available in the (even possibly high) 40’s and I were a team looking to maybe take a gamble, I’d consider Kurucs but I just don’t see the NBA upside for Kurucs where he’s part of a regular rotation — I just don’t know what he’s going to be/what he’s going to give a team long-term.
Will the Hawks look to select Rodions Kurucs with one of their four draft picks?
Time will tell.