Jonathan Givony went on an 11-day trip through seven countries to evaluate most of the top NBA draft prospects in Europe. On the final day of the trip, he visited Zagreb, Croatia, to watch projected first-round pick Timothe Luwawu.
Luwawu, 20, is part of a wave of French players who left their home country for Serbia in search of playing time, development and exposure. He grew up in Antibes in southern France and spent many years in the youth system of the local club there, earning his first pro minutes in late 2012 at age 17. The club bounced back and forth between the second (Pro B) and first (Pro A) divisions, and after helping the club earn a promotion back to Pro A last June, he elected to terminate his contract and join Mega Leks in Belgrade, Serbia.
Mega Leks is a unique club in Europe because almost its entire rotation is built around players under age 22. Every player (as well as the coaching staff) is also represented by the same agency, Beobasket, which essentially built the club from the ground up as a means of developing young talent. The results have come quickly, as the club had three players drafted in 2014, including Denver Nuggets rookie Nikola Jokic, and is in the midst of a spectacular season with a 16-7 record, one game out of second place in the Adriatic League, which is shocking considering the club’s budget and lack of experience.
Averaging 76 possessions per game, Mega Leks plays at one of the fastest paces of any team in high-level European basketball according to the DraftExpress database.
Luwawu has benefited tremendously from this wide-open style of play and is one of the biggest breakout performers in European basketball. He went from averaging seven points per game in France’s second division to 15.5 points (second best in the league), five rebounds, three assists and two steals while shooting 39 percent on 3-pointers in the Adriatic League.
In his own words
“We all improve each other together. Everyone is on the same page. By ourselves, we made the hierarchy. By myself I am taking leadership.”
Luwawu has pretty much everything you look for in a two-way, role-playing NBA wing. He has strong physical attributes for a shooting guard or small forward, standing (in his words) 6-foot-7 without shoes with a 6-11 wingspan and he weighs 205 pounds with excellent athletic ability. He is very smooth and fluid, and can play above the rim with ease, sometimes in highlight-reel fashion.
Luwawu has made huge strides as an outside shooter, upping his 3-point percentage this season while tripling his attempts. He’s been extremely reliable shooting the ball with his feet set this season (43 percent in catch-and-shoot situations, according to Synergy Sports Tech), and has also shown some flashes of being capable of coming off screens. He’s also developing his ability to pull up off the dribble, something he has the freedom to experiment with at Mega Leks.
Luwawu is also a very good passer, demonstrating strong court vision and the ability to distribute with either hand in drive-and-dish situations. He can operate at different speeds, has a powerful first step, takes long strides as a driver, and has strong potential in the pick-and-roll and attacking closeouts.
Perhaps Luwawu’s most NBA-ready attribute is his defense. He showed the ability to stay in front of point guards, shooting guards and small forwards in the game we attended, thanks to his quick feet, long arms and ability to get over screens. Mega Leks likes to utilize him at the top of its full-court press, and Luwawu has caused quite a bit of havoc with his very quick hands.
In his own words
“I improved everywhere this season, passing, shooting, going to the basket with contact, without contact, defense also. I improved everywhere, and I think everybody sees it.”
AREAS OF IMPROVEMENT
Luwawu is still working on his ball-handling ability. He’s struggled at times utilizing advanced moves and being forced to react to changing defenses on the fly. He’s very reliant on his jump shot and is not finishing around the basket at a great rate this season, at least relative to his physical tools. He’s shooting a fairly underwhelming 43 percent from 2-point range, partially due to his inconsistency as an off-the-dribble shooter.
His feel for the game is still catching up to his natural ability, and he suffers from mental lapses at times and can be somewhat turnover-prone. His awareness at both ends of the floor leaves something to be desired as well, although part of this can be attributed to his lack of experience at the highest levels of pro basketball.
While he’s been shooting the ball well this season and shows fluid and consistent mechanics that should lend to strong results, this hasn’t always been the case throughout his career. Luwawu is just 138 of 419 (33 percent) from beyond the arc in all competitions we have data from historically, so there are some question marks about whether he can keep shooting well.
In his own words
“What I need to improve is not committing turnovers, my pull-up shooting after dribbling. I can improve everything.”
Luwawu entered the draft last year, but didn’t get much love from NBA scouts, was very lightly scouted in Pro B and eventually withdrew. His season ran extremely long, up until mid-June, and he was unable to attend the adidas EuroCamp to showcase himself, so that didn’t help matters. Luwawu actually had a plane ticket in hand to fly to Treviso, Italy, to conduct a private workout in front of NBA scouts on an off day from the Pro B playoffs. But he was forced to cancel it because his ID had expired and he was not let through airport security.
That was likely a blessing because his excellent season in the Adriatic League seems to have catapulted his stock well into the first round, to the point that he will likely be getting looks from teams drafting in the lottery.
In his own words
“Of course, my goal first is to go to the NBA. I want to be the best French player there. And why not become an All-Star in the NBA?”
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