For the past couple of weeks a lot of people are talking about Roko Ukic and his chances of playing in the NBA. I’ll introduce him to those of you who still don’t know this young Croatian player.
Ukic started playing in KK Split and was drafted #45 by the Toronto Raptors in 2005. He signed with TAU Vitoria (in the Spanish ACB league) two seasons ago, and last year he went to FC Barcelona where he’s playing in the ACB Finals right now. He’s a point guard who’s 6’5″, has long arms and could defend 2’s.
In a NBAdraft.net interview, Tim Shea (Director of International Scouting for the Charlotte Bobcats) said about Roko Ukic: “Perhaps he’s learned all he can learn from European style basketball.” I agree with him. I have a lot of doubts about Ukic developing as a better player in Europe because his style is far from what European coaches at the highest level are looking for in a PG. Think about guys like Papaloukas (CSKA) or Diamantidis (Panathinaikos) – they are great defensive players and they score when their teams need them to. They read the plays, and they do whatever their teams need.
Ukic, on the other hand, just can’t stop being the offensive focus when he’s on the court. He is more a one-on-one or two-on-two player than a five-on-five player. Nowadays, on the top Euroleague teams, that’s something nobody wants. It’s not that he hasn’t got the talent needed to play, to score, to be a go-to guy … it’s just that everybody is looking for another style of player.
And of course, the doubts about Ukic’s defensive skills are not helping. In my opinion he still doesn’t understand that he needs to play defence (I’m not saying great D, just average D) to be the starting point guard on teams like TAU, Barcelona, CSKA or Panathinaikos. I think this is because of his superiority on the offensive side of the court.
Let me tell you, Ukic can score or assist a teammate whenever he wants to. He’s extremely fast running while dribbling. He’s also got a good instinct for grabbing defensive rebounds, which makes him capable of going coast-to-coast to score or make “the pass.” He’s great running pick-and-roll situations, his first step is nice, and his dribbling skills are above average. He’ll need to improve his shooting in the NBA (although you’ll see nice shots in the video clip) as well as his defence, but I think he’ll only realize that when he starts facing NBA defences. Will Roko Ukic be able to improve that side of his game? I know that if he could, it would be in the NBA and not in Europe.
Raul Jimenez coaches in a Spanish professional league. Click here to read his blog.