10 Newcomers to Watch: VTB League

Next league under my magnifying glass is the VTB League that starts on Thursday, 23rd Sept with the match between Unics Kazan and Lokomotiv Kuban.

I will repeat the rules which players are eligible for the report:

  • 1st rule: the players will be playing for the first time in this competition
  • 2nd rule: only non-domestic players were eligible for the list
  • 3rd rule: the player must be 27 years old or younger — so only players born in 1994 or after that were eligible for the list

The players on the list are not necessarily the best but just the most interesting to me and I expect that they will not have any problems translating to their new team and league. Also the players are not in any particular order.

DJ Funderburk (PF/C | 208 cm | ’97) ~ Avtodor Saratov

DJ Funderburk is a rookie coming from NC State where he averaged some decent numbers. He also had some good games in the NBA Summer League where he played for the Utah Jazz. This will be his first pro season so a completely new level for him but I think he has the potential for a solid career in Europe. DJ follows the game really well and offers himself under the rim where he is showing some soft touch. He is able to stretch the floor too, his shooting mechanics look solid and has the potential to be a stretch big in the future. He will need to improve his defensive game and become a better rim protector but otherwise he is showing some qualities that could translate to the European game and he could have a nice career in Europe.

Jaylen Barford (SG | 191 cm | ’96) ~ BC Astana

Jaylen Barford already has some experience from Europe since he played the last two seasons in Italy for Pesaro, Virtus Roma and Cremona. Also spent last season in Egypt and now it is expected that he will be amongst the leaders in Astana. Jaylen is a physically strong guard that uses his body well when he is going to the rim. Not the best shooter from distance and there is room to improve in this aspect. He should also improve his shot selection since some shots look too wild in my opinion. He will probably have a big role in Astana and we will see how he will perform against the best guards in the league.

Brynton Lemar (G | 191 cm | ’95) ~ Enisey Krasnoyarsk

Brynton Lemar has proven himself as a good player in many leagues in Europe. Now he will try together with Casper Ware to lead Enisey from the guard spots. Brynton is a great scorer — be it at the rim or from distance. With his quickness and great ball handling skills, he can break the defense and get to the rim or create separation for a shot. He is not really a player that would create a lot for others but is more scoring oriented. In a fast paced system that Enisey will try to play in this season, Brynton could be a great piece and I expect that he will have a good season in VTB.

JeQuan Lewis (PG | 185 cm | ’94) ~ Kalev/Cramo

Kalev needed to replace Marcus Keene who was the top scorer of the VTB League last season and they did a good job with getting JeQuan Lewis. He played amazingly in the qualifiers for the Basketball Champions League and helped the team qualify for the regular season of the competition. A quick point guard that can create separation easily. Great scorer but also has a great eye and feel for his team mates and can dish a lot of assists. He loves to have the ball in his hands and initiate the offense and he is doing a great job leading the team on the floor. VTB league is the highest level he has played so far so it will be interesting to follow if he will be able to make a difference on this level too.

Silas Melson (G | 193 cm | ’96) ~ Kalev/Cramo

Silas Melson is another interesting signing for Kalev Cramo. He had a great season in Belgium for Limburg last season and also showed good performances in the BCL Qualifiers. Very good shooter, especially in spot up and catch and shoot situations. Also a good penetrator and finisher at the rim and his offensive game is definitely intriguing and should translate to this level too. I’m personally a big fan of his game and I think he will get some buzz this season and he could finish in some Eurocup team in the end.

Darius Thompson (G | 193 cm | ’95) ~ Lokomotiv Kuban

I made a report on Darius Thompson a few months ago and as I said in the report, Darius brings the complete offensive package from scoring to playmaking. Also a versatile defender that can cover most players on the backcourt. Lokomotiv Kuban has a lot of talent in their team and they will definitely be a team to watch and it will be interesting to follow Darius in his role in the team.

Marius Grigonis (SG | 198 cm | ’94) ~ CSKA Moscow

Marius Grigonis is the only foreign newcomer in the CSKA team this off-season. He is a proven name in the European basketball space and definitely deserves a chance to play in a top team. He is really smooth in offense, a great scorer that can draw a lot of fouls and is almost unmissable from the free throw. His offensive role will be smaller than in Žalgiris but he is a team player and I’m sure he will accept his role and do his best to make the team win some games.

Mario Hezonja (SG/SF | 203 cm | ’95) ~ Unics Kazan

Unics Kazan made a lot of interesting moves this off-season and the signing of Mario Hezonja is one of them. We all know his offensive qualities and that he can shoot the lights out on any given night but Unics has a few great players and it will be interesting to see how they will play together as a team. Mario is an athletic swingman, capable of some highlight plays at any moment. Such an unpredictable player in a positive sense and a player that needs to be followed by any top team.

Tonye Jekiri (C | 213 cm | ’94) ~ Unics Kazan

Tonye Jekiri is another player bringing some Euroleague experience to Unics. The Nigerian big man played the last two seasons in Euroleague for Asvel and Baskonia and he is ready to bring his qualities to the other side of Europe. A strong big that operates mostly in the paint. Great rebounder and defender and he will definitely have more defensive than offensive responsibilities. He will be surrounded by so many great scorers and that will give him more space in the paint and he could take advantage of that. He is coming into his best basketball years and I think he could be the player that Unics needs on their big man spots.

Jarrell Brantley (F | 201 cm | ’96) ~ Unics Kazan

I set some strict rules and not too many players were eligible for this report so I’m finishing the list with the third player from Unics and their last signing — Jarrell Brantley. He was playing for the Utah Jazz the last two seasons but didn’t get too many opportunities in the NBA and decided to come to Europe and join Unics. He is really strong and physical and he could be a dominant defender on this level. Solid spot up shooter but not a consistent shooting threat. He is a “hidden athlete” and his moves look slow but then he can surprise you with some athletic highlight play. I think he won’t have many problems with the European style of play and that he can contribute right away from the beginning.

Twitter: @turkmarkoo