Assessing Rolands Smits and Ilimane Diop

May 26, 2017

By Alan Lu

This time around, I wanted to take the time to evaluate both Fuenlabrada’s 6-9 forward, Rolands Smits from Latvia, Laboral Kutxa Baskonia’s center Ilimane Diop from Senegal.  There was one game where they played against each other in a Spanish ACB league match on January 8th, as that can be viewed on YouTube via Mickey Mickeal, as Baskonia ended up winning 77-69.

Then, to get a better gauge on both Smits and Diop’s skills, I also incorporated an extra game each to get a better feel for their strengths and weaknesses. For Smits, I decided to watch a Eurocup match where his team squared off against Lokomotiv Kuban on January 25th, as that can be seen on YouTube via Loko Basket Replay.  For Diop, I decided to also watch a January 3rd match against Real Madrid that can also viewed on YouTube via Mickey Mickeal.  After all of this footage that I have seen on the two potential second round prospects, here are my thoughts on how they fared in these games, as well as how they may rate as prospects for the NBA.

Rolands Smits is an athletic, 6-9 combination forward that plays for Fuenlabrada.  He is a skilled offensive player that can score in a variety of ways, as his ability to shoot and score the basketball could be intriguing to NBA teams.  Smits is a good shooter that can knock down numerous jumpers to space the floor for his team.  He excels at making pull-up threes from beyond the arc, as he can even use a step back move to create separation for himself.

Plus, he also is an adequate scorer off the dribble.  Though Smits lacks a great first step to the hoop, he can score on patient moves to the rim, as he managed to do so once by making a graceful bank shot to score on a runner.  Plus, he also is an adequate low post scorer, as he has good footwork and shooting touch to score on the block, though his repertoire down low may be fairly basic.

Also, he can garner scores on hustle plays.  Smits made a fantastic score on the break once early in the game against Lokomotiv Kuban, as raced up the floor to catch a tough lob pass to throw down a really nifty, reverse alley-oop dunk in transition.  Smits has a very good motor as he will run the floor hard.  But sometimes he may rush his shots around the hoop, as he can miss on put back attempts every once in a while, but Smits also displayed below average playmaking skills.  For the positives, he is an unselfish player that will keep the basketball moving.  However, he also was quite turnover prone, as he would tend to throw inaccurate passes.  Also, he committed a clear out foul after trying to score in the post another time.

He also showed average at best rebounding skills.  He was inconsistent at hauling in rebounds when he was on the court, but he did show a good motor in getting to one offensive rebound against Laboral Kutxa.  In both games, he showed that he can haul in his fair share of boards on both ends of the floor if loose balls are in his area.

However, he will also need to improve his defense.  For the positives, Smits showed that he can jump errant passes to get steals and deflections for his team, and he will also dive on the ground for loose balls.  Plus, he also will hustle back on defense to help prevent the opposition from getting easy fast break scores, but he may struggle to defend opponents out on the perimeter.  Smits especially had trouble guarding shooters, as he does not possess elite lateral quickness, and he can display poor footwork when defending them.  Sometimes, he will give up too much space to his man, other times, he may make an unnecessary rotation or get beat on a move to allow his opponents to score on jumpers.  In addition, he also may struggle to defend in one on one situations, as he may struggle to move his feet at times, which can cause him to commit touch fouls.

In general, Rolands Smits may be a borderline second round candidate for the upcoming draft.  He is a good shooter that can put the ball in the hoop, and he has above average physical tools, as a combination of these things could allow him to be a stretch big in the NBA or a tall shooting specialist at small forward.  But Smits will need to improve in the other areas of the game, as he may not provide much help elsewhere.  If he does end up in the NBA, he could perhaps end up being an effective role player for a team coming off the bench if things pan out for him.

Ilimane Diop is a 6-11 center from Senegal that plays for Laboral Kutxa Baskonia, and he is an athletic big man that could perhaps project into being a defensive specialist for a team in the NBA.  Diop primarily excels at scoring on hustle plays.  He is an active finisher around the basket, as he can score off of offensive rebounds, rolls to the rim, broken plays, and he also will run the floor hard to get himself fast break scoring chances.  He can score on strong put backs, and he will also roll hard to the hoop after setting screens for his teammates.  Plus, he can throw down an emphatic dunk, but sometimes he may rush his shots around the basket, which lead to misses.

In addition to this, he also may be a fairly good low post scorer.  Diop relies on a jump hook to garner scores on the block, as it is fairly simple, yet effective for him.  He does not have a diverse set of moves in his arsenal, but he possesses good footwork, strength, and shooting touch to score consistently on the block.

However, he may not possess much of a face-up game.  He does not look to take many jumpers, and when he did, he missed a mid-range shot badly once on a pick and pop play.  But Diop can use a pump fake to take his man off the dribble, which he used once to set up a scoring chance for himself down low.

Also, he may possess adequate playmaking skills for a big man.  Diop is a willing passer can find teammates from the post, and he will also set hard, physical screens for his team, but sometimes, he can be prone to committing offensive fouls off the ball, as he did so once on a roll to the rim, and he also may tend to get away with setting moving screens on offense, which could end up being called offensive fouls at the NBA level.

However, Diop may possess an average at best ability to rebound the basketball.  He can haul in boards when loose balls are in his area, as he can jump to collect them on both ends of the floor.  Other times, he may tip balls to teammates to help them collect rebounds, and he will also box out his man on occasion.  However, sometimes he may not be in position to get boards.  Other times, he may bobble or be unable to corral them, as he may not always display great hands.

He also showed off fairly average defensive skills.  Diop showed an adequate ability to block shots, as he possesses good length, quickness, and timing to swat shots when he is inside the paint.  Plus, he also has quick hands, as he can jump an errant pass to collect an occasional steal.  On the other hand, he will need to improve his position defense.  He may be at his best when he is defending the post, as he will not give up much ground, and he will contest and alter shots to force misses, but Diop may struggle to move his feet at times, as he can tend to be foul prone.  Also, he may have trouble consistently defending drives, and he really struggles to defend on pick and rolls, as he may be too late in making rotations, or too aggressive in doing so, leading him to commit fouls.

In general, Ilimane Diop may be a borderline second round candidate for the upcoming draft.  He is an athletic center that can score on hustle plays, has a decent low post game, and he is also an active help defender.  Plus, he is a tough, physical player that will set hard screens for his teammates.  However, he may be quite unskilled offensively, and he can tend to commit too many fouls on the defensive end.  Right now, he may likely go undrafted, but if he does make his way to the NBA, he could end up being a backup center in this league.

Other Notes:

I also was able to see Real Madrid’s 6-7 point forward Luka Doncic play once again, this time against Ilimane Diop’s team, Laboral Kutxa.  Doncic is a smart, skilled offensive player that can contribute in a variety of ways, and he could be a potential top 5 pick in 2018.  Doncic is a very good shooter that can really space the floor for his team.  He can make open threes off the catch as he possesses solid range, and he also has a quick release that can easily enable him to get his shot off.

Plus, he also is a good low post scorer, as he drew a double team, and managed to draw a foul on the opposition anyways, as he ended up drawing and making both free throws to help his team.  Also, Doncic may be an adequate scorer off the dribble.  He is a patient player that can maneuver his way to the hoop, and he can use an assortment of pump fakes to create separation between him and his man, and he can utilize that to finish plays around the basket.  However, he may not possess a great first step to the hoop, and sometimes he may struggle to finish plays in traffic.

He also will look to score on hustle plays.  He can draw fouls on his opponents as he has fairly good speed in bringing the ball up the floor.  But sometimes, he can miss shots wildly around the basket.

But he struggled more as a playmaker, as he was unusually turnover prone against Laboral Kutxa.  While Doncic is an unselfish player that can make plays with the ball in his hands, he will sometimes look to do too much when he is on the floor.  He may force difficult passes into traffic, other times he may try to weave them into tight windows.  He even tried to do a difficult jump pass, but his ill-advised pass was picked off and led to a fast break dunk the other way.  Doncic also does not possess elite athletic gifts, as he tried dribbling up the court fast on the break once, only for an opponent to catch up and steal the ball away from him from behind that time.

He also did not rebound the basketball well in this game, either.  Doncic did show a solid ability to collect offensive rebounds, and on one play, he leapt up and grabbed a tough offensive board in traffic.  But Doncic was often unable to do so other times, and he would usually struggle to get to balls that were a little bit out of his area.

Doncic did showcase good defensive skills when he was on the floor.  He showed a solid ability to pick off passes to collect steals, and he also can deflect balls to make it tough for his opponents to pass the basketball.  Plus, he also showed a good ability to defend in the post as well as out on the perimeter, as he will tend to be in position and contest shots to force misses.

In all, this was perhaps not the best Luka Doncic game overall, but he did show a solid ability to shoot and score the basketball.  In my assessment, he may not likely have superstar potential, but he is a young player that is excelling in some of the toughest basketball leagues from around the world, and things could change or evolve over time.  It is quite early to determine how good of a player he can be, as he is not eligible to enter the NBA draft until 2018.  That said, based on what I have seen, he could end up being a solid complementary player at the next level if he continues to play well over time.

Fuenlabrada’s 6-3 point guard Ludde Hakanson from Sweden has been earning significant playing time for his team, and he is a skilled offensive player that could be a second round prospect for the NBA in 2018.

He is a good shooter that can knock down many threes to space the floor for his team.  He has a lot of range on his shot, and he can do so off the catch, dribble, as well as when he is dribbling off of screens.  Hakanson plays with a lot of poise, but sometimes, he can be quite streaky with his jump shot.  He does not look to score in the paint often, but he is a smart, savvy player, as he can score on a quick cut to the basket.

Hakanson is also a good playmaker.  He is a very unselfish player that does not make many mistakes with the ball in his hands, and he can make an assortment of passes to set up scores for his teammates.  He can make fancy passes look easy, as he can throw a no-look interior pass to a big man, or a long outlet pass on the break to collect assists.  Hakanson will keep the ball moving as he will not turn the ball over often.  He may tend to make safe passes quite often, and sometimes he can even be too passive on offense.

He did not collect many boards when he was on the floor, but he will crash the glass to get an occasional defensive rebound, as he can secure balls to come away with them when they are within his grasp.  However, he may need to improve his defense.  For the positives, Hakanson is fairly aggressive on defense, and he will look to get stops for his team.  He can surprisingly hold his own in the post, as he did so when defending a bigger player once to force a miss.  He also does a decent job of defending drives, as he can stay with his man to force misses and turnovers.

However, Hakanson does not possess elite physical tools, as he can struggle to defend quicker opponents off the dribble, and he also can have trouble fighting through screens, which can lead him to allow scores on jumpers or to commit an occasional foul.  Also, he may have lapses at times, as he can lose track of his man on cuts to the hoop to allow scores.

Overall, Ludde Hakanson has been a productive role player for his team in the Spanish ACB League, and he is a smart, offensive minded point guard that can help Fuenlabrada in a variety of ways.  But exactly how well his game may translate to the NBA may be unclear.  On one hand, his ability to shoot and make plays with the ball in his hands could enable him to provide solid minutes at the point, as Hakanson plays with a lot of poise, and he is a steady playmaker that can run a team.  However, he may also possess average physical tools, as this could hurt his ability to rebound, defend, or create his own shot at the next level.

Currently, he may likely project to be a second round prospect in 2018.  As of right now, Hakanson’s smarts, skills, and intangibles could be enough to overcome his athletic limitations as a basketball player, as he could perhaps end up being a reliable backup point guard in the NBA if things end up breaking his way.

In conclusion, those are my thoughts on Rolands Smits, Ilimane Diop, Luka Doncic, and Ludde Hakanson.  Throughout the 2017-18 season, I may end up writing more on Doncic and Hakanson, as Doncic will likely end up being one of the most talked about prospects for the 2018 NBA Draft.  Thank you for reading.

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