Before the 2019 NBA Draft arrives, Peachtree Hoops will break down more than 70 available prospects with an eye toward what the Atlanta Hawks may look to do in late June.
This edition focuses on Croatian big man Luka Samanic.
The 2019 Draft is filled with many hopefuls from international waters — and we’ve looked at plenty already in the build up to the draft — but whether or not they’ll actually be drafted is debatable. In fact, there’s a reasonable bet to say they won’t be.
However, now we move into more sure territory when it comes to draft likeliness, beginning with 19 year old Croatian forward Luka Samanic.
Unlike many of the other international prospects, Samanic did indeed participate at the recent NBA Draft Combine, so we can actually list some official measurements on the young Croatian (via NBA.com).
Samanic stands at 6’11 tall, weighing 227 pounds and with a wingspan of 6’10.5, which is a little underwhelming — you’d like to see that wingspan closer to seven feet — but that don’t let that deter Samanic for you as a prospect.
After all, John Collins’ length was pretty underwhelming compared to the likes of Bam Adebayo and Jarrett Allen heading into the 2017 draft, and he’s turned out fine so far.
But length aside, Samanic enjoyed a very productive combine and the general takeaway from the combine is that Samanic’s stock is on the rise.
From Kyle Boone of CBS Sports, whose first pointed takeaway focused on Samanic:
1. Keep an eye on Luka Samanic
International players will be few and far between in the first round. But it may have expanded by one after Thursday following a complete showing from Croatian sensation Luka Samanic.
Samanic balled out in the scrimmage portion of Thursday’s combine, scoring 13 points in a stellar outing in fewer than 20 minutes played. The 6-foot-9 1/2 forward tested well, too, with a shuttle run, max vertical leap and three-quarter court sprint that all rated inside the top five of draft-eligible players at his position.
Samanic showed off a pure, smooth shooting stroke that netted him a 5-for-7 outing in his scrimmage. And better yet, Samanic showed the type of agility and versatility that NBA scouts were thrilled to see. Samanic is the No. 37 prospect on the CBS Sports Big Board, but may be a big riser upon the imminent update next week.
Samanic entered the season as a projected late lottery talent on our Big Board, but after an up-and-down year playing professionally in Slovenia, his stock dipped to the point where teams needed to see more of him at the combine. His decision to play paid off, as he showcased the offensive versatility and fluid athleticism that made him such an intriguing prospect at the 2018 Basketball Without Borders camp in Los Angeles. It was quickly evident that he was the best player on the floor in the first game, with a clean shooting stroke, a strong feel for the game, and impressive, functional ball-handling skills at his size (he measured at 6’9.5” barefoot, and weighed in at 227 pounds). He totaled 13 points and seven rebounds, and moves extremely well for a guy that tall.
The most pivotal thing I noted with Samanic today was his impressive physical development: he’s naturally thin, but has filled out nicely in his upper body and shoulders and added a noticeable degree of strength. He’s still just 19 years old, and the progression of his build component helps a good deal with his projection at the NBA level. If he can be adequate defensively, Samanic could be a versatile floor spacer and short-roll playmaker at forward with his current skill set. Scouts in attendance mostly agreed that he might be in good position to shut it down on Day 2, and he may have done enough to solidify himself as a first-round talent.
So, it would appear that Samanic’s fortunes would seem to be on the up, already building on a strong season with Petrol Olimpija in Slovenia where he averaged 7.9 points per game on 48% shooting from the field on 5.7 attempts, 33% from three on 1.6 attempts, 72% from the free throw line on 2.5 attempts, 4.7 rebounds and 1.1 offensive rebounds in 50 games played and 23 games started, per RealGM.
And now, he’s ready to take it to the NBA.
“The NBA has been my dream since I was a little kid,” said Samanic in an interview with HoopsHype in April, not long after he declared for the NBA Draft. “I was in Barcelona and then I was here in Slovenia this season. I worked a lot for this and I’m ready. I’m trying to focus on my game but with social media and its impact, I had to think about my next move. I’ve been working on my body and my shot and everything else that will need to translate to the NBA as a modern big guy. And off the court, I’m just trying to stay healthy and enjoy this process.”
That interview is a really good read and it doesn’t take long to realise that Samanic is a very interesting person. One of the things that stood out was his multi-sport background, which he says played a huge role into turning him into the basketball player he is today.
“If I started counting for you, it would be 10 sports I’ve played at a competitive level,” said Samanic. “Handball, tennis, football, I also did break dance when I was younger. Anything you can imagine, whatever my friends were playing I was joining. Football helped me with my running and my speed. I was just the tallest and the quickest, it helped me a lot with what I am now.”
His pace for his size is something Samanic takes pride in, listing it as one of his strongest aspects.
“I think I can run and move well and with time, I can get stronger,” said Samanic when asked what he felt most proud about and what areas he sees as his successes. “I already am doing a lot in the gym to work on my physicality. I’m most satisfied with my athleticism. I want to be the best version of myself that I can be. I don’t want to play under my skill set.”
I guess this is a decent segue-way into Samanic’s athleticism, and the such (and keep an eye out, he wears the number 9).
For someone who is 6’11 and close to 230 pounds, he does move well up and down the court. Oh, is it worth pointing out again that Samanic is 19 years old? And it’s not the ‘just about to turn 20’ 19 years old — he turns 20 next January. And he’s already 6’11, basically 230 and he moves well up and down the floor.
And he can get up and throw down too.
Here, Samanic combines the two as he’s the beneficiary in transition, keep an eye on him at the top of the picture getting down the court well before receiving the pass and dunking home:
Off of a miss, Samanic is gone, darting down the court where he is found near the rim for the dunk:
Samanic is confident in his ability to move well and one of the things he likes to do offensively is beat the defense with his speed, but not only that, once Samanic gets to the rim he’s able to finish well.
Here, Samanic — on the move — receives the ball from the three-point line and takes it strongly to the rim and finishes with the dunk:
Another thing Samanic likes to do is spin, more so in the post but here he spins out of the pick-and-roll and, again, takes it strongly to the rim and finishing with the dunk:
He doesn’t always finish with a dunk, but Samanic does enjoy driving, using his superior footwork to get into good positions, such as this possession here where he attacks off of the dribble, right-to-left and spin to win at the rim:
From an out-of-bounds play, Samanic drives baseline, isn’t fazed by the body contact, manages to carve a bit of space with his own body and draws the foul and free throws:
From the wing, Samanic drives inside and uses his long strides when he gets to the paint and somehow flips this shot home:
Here’s a great clip, as Samanic takes his man off of the dribble, right-to-left, gets to the rim, baits his defender off of his feet and scores the bucket plus the foul after drawing contact:
Samanic usually does well in these situations but does mess up from time to time, driving here before falling over, leading to a turnover:
Not from the perimeter, per se, but Samanic tries to take the ball into the space near the rim but is thwarted and blocked:
But what Samanic seemed to have the most success with on offense was his post-play, often scoring on post possessions.
Here, Samanic works in the post, backs down and hits a nice turnaround hook off of glass:
Samanic loves to use spin moves and the post is no exception as he scores in the post on this possession:
A bit of a travel at the end but shhh...
Again, Samanic works himself in the post, spins and hooks home:
You get the idea: spin, score (beautiful step here by the way):
To go with an inside game as well and an outside-to-inside game with his ability to drive, Samanic can also space the floor and hit three-pointers. He didn’t take a ton of these per game but shot 33% nevertheless.
Generally speaking, Samanic seemed to hang out on the perimeter more so than camp in the paint and this had some issues at times because he sometimes ends up in traffic or a little too close to his teammates — something like this is easily curable so while it’s nothing to really worry about it’s worth noting.
But generally speaking, this wasn’t a massive issue, and being able to knock down threes certainly helped open his game.
Here’s a look at the shot, as he steps into this three off of the catch:
This three-pointer was a little deeper, showcasing the confidence to pull-up on the catch despite the distance:
Of the bit more open variety, Samanic knocks down the corner three:
You get the idea — not a bad stroke, all in all.
Let’s move (very briefly) to passing/playmaking. Samanic averaged 0.8 of an assist, so there’s just not a lot to talk about in this spot but did show some nice passing hints every now and then.
Here, he shovels this pass to his teammate for the assist near the rim after he cuts off-ball into the lane:
Not much but passing highlights from Samanic are few and far between — that’s not to say he can’t pass but he just doesn’t get the ball in that way. He’s a 6’11 forward after all.
Here was a great clip though, again he makes the cut, receives the ball and makes a great pass to the open man under the rim:
Let’s move on to defense, an area of the court where Samanic does seem to pride himself.
“If you want to play at the top level, you have to be as good or great at as many things as possible,” said Samanic. “I want to guard the best player on the team, it’s my mission before the game. I think I can switch onto any player on the court. I am pretty fast with good lateral movement. I’m not like most 6-foot-11 guys. I can move pretty good.”
In that same interview (linked above), Samanic also went on to say that he like to think himself “...as a defender who can guard anyone and I can block shots...”
I found this, in the footage I at least saw of Samanic, to line up to a degree — not 100% but I can see where his confidence exudes from. And you can clearly tell that Samanic has confidence in himself in all areas of the court but defense especially it seems.
He does have shades of shot-blocking potential but only averaged 0.3 blocks over his 50 games played this season in all competitions.
Here, Samanic does a great hob hustling back and completes the play by blocking the shot:
Samanic is able to use his combination of length, size and lateral speed to stick with drives and block shots on occasion.
Here, he sticks with the drive off of the dribble before blocking the shot:
On this possession, he sticks with the drive and snuffs out a very weak shot with ease:
His defense off of the dribble, and recovery on this next possession was good to contest the shot and help force a miss at the rim:
Although, he could not recover from this possession after being bodied out of the way, leading to an opposing bucket:
When it came to defense in the post, Samanic seemed to be a bit of a mixed bag at times.
Here, he stands well in the post, forces the pass and the subsequent turnover:
Here, Samanic initially holds his ground well but can’t sustain it and is eventually scored upon:
To be fair, the defense here isn’t bad — the offensive player had to lift that shot high off of glass and in.
As a help defender, you’d like to see Samanic a bit more active, a bit more alert but he’s just not there yet.
Even on this possession when he is alert to the very obvious threat, it’s a half-hearted attempt that leads to a foul and free throws:
Let’s land this one.
Luka Samanic is a fascinating prospect. He has good physical tools and I wouldn’t be too upset with his lack of length given his size, I don’t think that ultimately matters too much. He’s nimble on his feet, moves well on both ends and is decently strong despite his slender appearing frame.
Offensively, Samanic can do damage inside and outside with his ability to drive inside and beat defenders off of the dribble, his ability to make things happen in the post — both of these helped by his many spin moves — and his ability to hit from outside. His offense certainly has a lot of room to grow and I think you’d have to be optimistic about that.
His passing ability isn’t totally relevant but he can make a few when he needs to, he just needs to be willing.
Defensively, he has good tools but has still to grow in this regard, more so than his offense, and it’s more so some defensive principles, help situations etc. His on-ball defense is decent enough but at the next level in the NBA, you’d fear that he’d be bruised inside and overpowered more so than being beaten off of the dribble with speed.
With Samanic not turning 20 until January 2020, there’s significant upside to be had with the young Croatian — the question is ‘who is going to spend a first round pick on him?’ because if a team wants to get ahead of the curve, that’s what it’s going to take.
If you’re the Hawks, you’d be left in a sweat hoping he falls to No. 35 and the draft combine has basically meant that this probably won’t be happening now. The issue now is the Hawks’ first round picks are on the high side with 8 and 10, which is of course, too high to spend on Samanic. That could change with a trade, of course — whether they trade down from 8/10 or package 35/40/44 to move up — but if the Hawks wants to lock up Samanic in the late first round, they may have to work the phones...