The Italian guard spent the 2021-22 season in Italy on loan from Real Madrid.
Our 2022 NBA Draft scouting report series continues with a look at Matteo Spagnolo, a 19-year-old Italian guard.
The game of basketball is one of the four major sports in the United States, along with the NFL, baseball and hockey. Below those comes football, or soccer as it’s ridiculously known as (and that includes where I’m from — Ireland — for quite a number of people too).
What people call it and why is a different debate for another time, football is a very different kettle of fish to the other major US sports on a multitude of levels.
A key difference that is absent from the NBA certainly is the concept of player loans.
Players who can’t get the consistent game time at their club can be sent out on loan to another club where the minutes they’re seeking are available and the player can continue their development while the parent club still has a contract with the loaned player.
This is not the only circumstance a player can be loaned to another club but it’s one of the more common occurrences, especially in the Premier League where clubs loan their younger players/less used players to the second/third division of English football.
This concept is somewhat adopted in the NBA but exclusively applies to young players, mostly draft picks, who are assigned to a team’s G League affiliate because some teams teams just don’t have the regular minutes for them. In the case of the Atlanta Hawks, we saw this often with draft selections Jalen Johnson and Sharife Cooper where the consistent minutes just weren’t there for them.
If a player is justly seeking more minutes with an NBA team, their only real option is to demand a trade as the NBA has no loan system amongst its teams and NBA players at their peaks are unlikely to move to Europe for more game time. But the trade-off for that is once said player is traded, they’re no longer contracted to that team.
Cam Reddish wanted a larger role and requested a trade from the Hawks to make that happen, a trade the Hawks eventually granted but obviously they lose the ‘rights’ to Reddish.
In Europe, where there are multiple leagues, each housing elite teams, there’s so much room to negotiate a development path for young players who can’t break through on the top European teams as opposed to the NBA and loans are a little more frequent.
And that brings us to today’s prospect: 19-year-old Italian guard Matteo Spagnolo.
Spagnolo signed his first professional contract with Real Madrid, a three year deal, and was sent out on loan to Vanoli Cremona in the Italian league where, for the first time in his professional career, he played consistent minutes for a professional team with no path to minutes available at European powerhouse Madrid.
Turning just 19 in January, Spagnolo averaged 12.2 points per game on 44% shooting from the field on 9.7 attempts, 44% from three on 2.7 attempts, 86% from the free throw line on 2.8 attempts, 3.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 2.6 turnovers and 2.2 personal fouls in 27 minutes per game in 25 games played, starting 23 of them…per RealGM.
With all that said, let’s dive into the footage and see what’s what with Spagnolo (who wears number 9).
What pops out the most looking at Spagnolo’s numbers would be his efficiency: 44% from the field, 44% from three and 86% from the line.
I would say the best of Spagnolo’s work offensively comes off of the dribble coming off of screens, so we’ll start there.
Here, Spagnolo uses the screen and drives inside, finishing at the rim with his left-hand:
Next, Spagnolo uses the screen and quickly escapes the defense with a good first step and a strong take to the rim, where he finishes on the opposite side of the rim as he eludes the oncoming defender:
After initially having his dribbled halted, Spagnolo gives-and-gets the ball back and as he receives it, his teammate handing off the ball obstructs the defender and Spagnolo is able to get downhill on the switch and shows a strong turn of pace to get to the rim for the right-hand finish:
A bit of a different play here as Spagnolo comes off the screen and his attempted pass ends up back in his hands but he makes the most of the situation and rises into the jumper:
Again, Spagnolo comes off of the screen into another jumpshot (albeit with a slightly uneasy landing):
Moving more away from exclusively pick-and-roll and looking at more of Spagnolo off the dribble and here, off of the hand-off, Spagnolo gets into the paint and hits the floater:
In the corner with the clock winding down, Spagnolo hits a tough, contested fadeaway jumper:
On a switch, Spagnolo attacks the mismatch with the dribble, gets inside and hits the jumpshot, plus the foul:
In transition, Spagnolo takes the ball coast-to-coast and, somehow, manages to finish after adjusting to the defensive challenge:
With Spagnolo drawing shooting nearly three free throws a game, let’s look at some instances of him drawing some fouls.
Here, Spagnolo draws a very ‘NBA-like’ foul as he goes up when he feels the contact on the arm and draws a shooting foul and free throws:
On another drive, Spagnolo gets into the heart of the defense and draws another shooting foul as he cuts through the traffic:
On a switch, Spagnolo attempts to break the big down off of the dribble and draws the foul on the shot attempt:
After a made free throw, Spagnolo takes the ball from his own half to the rim, drawing a foul at the rim:
I wish I had a lot to show with Spagnolo’s perimeter shooting but he only hit one three-pointer in the footage I watched of him, coming at the end of a game scenario:
There are a few issues offensively, however.
I’d describe Spagnolo as a bit of a streaky offensive player. He can make some very tough shots but as much as these can be hit, they can also be missed. He can have extremely inefficient games at times and nights where he hits the majority of his shots, highlighting a lack of overall consistency (which is to be expected).
We’ve seen a number of contested shots that Spagnolo has made but these can just as easily be missed because they’re ultimately tough shots.
A few of these are towards the end of the clock but are similar to the type of shots Spagnolo sometimes attempts:
This next play is actually a made floater from Spagnolo but he wastes essentially all the clock and takes a tough, contested shot…but makes it on this occasion:
Spagnolo is efficient more times than he isn’t but both extremes can happen; there’s a streaky side to him where shots are going and some games where the same shots just don’t fall.
There are some instances Spagnolo doesn’t get a shot up at all and he turns the ball over on offense on occasion, such as having the ball taken away from him here on the help on the drive, leading to a basket on the other end:
On the probe, Spagnolo loses the ball:
Here I think is an example of Spagnolo lacking some awareness offensively as to where defenders are as well as a hint of getting a little too fancy and his turnover on the spin leads to a basket at the end of the half:
Spagnolo averaged 2.6 assists per game, operating as a secondary playmaker.
I wouldn’t call Spagnolo elite in terms of vision and his ability to pass but there’s enough here to get by as a secondary playmaker in this role. I don’t think Spagnolo is great in any one area but let’s take a look at some playmaking highlights.
Coming off the screen, Spagnolo finds his teammate on the perimeter for the assist on a made three:
Essentially running the exact same play, again, Spagnolo finds his teammate for another three-point attempt:
In transition, Spagnolo uses the drag screen and pops a perfect pass to his teammate on the roll, but sadly the dunk is missed:
Coming off the screen, Spagnolo spots and makes the pass to the weakside corner, eventually leading to a basket:
I will say that’s probably Spagnolo’s better aspect in terms of playmaking: his awareness of what’s happening around him, even if the top-end ability to execute the pass is lacking. Quite a number of plays where he draws a second defender and is then able to find the cutter despite being faced with a body or two.
Here, Spagnolo makes the pass to the baseline cutter following the pick-and-roll when you would think the ball would go to the roller:
Rejecting the screen, Spagnolo drives past his man, draws the second defender and when the cut is made behind that defender Spagnolo finds him for the basket, plus the foul:
Again, Spagnolo draws the second defender, the cut is made and he delivers the pass for the assist on the cut:
From what I saw, there are flashes of creativity, such as this spin before the attempted pass is deflected out of bounds:
And flashes of the spectacular as he finds his teammate for the half-court alley-oop:
Spagnolo averaged 2.6 turnovers per game and totalled more turnovers (66) than assists (65) but I think more of these turnovers came not in passing but more so Spagnolo spilling the ball trying to score/attack himself rather than misplacing passes consistently. I think Spagnolo has work to do when it comes to finding more potential in his playmaking and I think, to be fair, the turnover story isn’t really reflective of this growth needed in playmaking.
This was a bit of a harder place to judge Spagnolo because any time I watched him his team found a way to ensure he wasn’t really attacked. The tendency to hide him somewhat was concerning but let’s look at a few clips defensively.
It felt like Spagnolo lacked elite length, extending fully on this contest but doing little to really reach to contest:
That angle/the fadeaway is probably a little deceptive to that notion though; this contest looks much better (though did not prevent the three-pointer):
Spagnolo, at times, struggles to keep players in front of him.
Here, Spagnolo is left for dead on this drive and is fortunate the shot is missed:
On the drive again, Spagnolo is spun by and the help defender has to help at the rim to prevent the basket:
On this possession, Spagnolo is undone on this sequence inside and leading to a quality shot inside:
Spagnolo commits 2.6 fouls per game and fouls like this on drives aren’t uncommon:
Moving on, I have concerns for Spagnolo’s pick-and-roll defense because it felt like on many occasions he was involved in it, it seemed to lead to a basket/good shot opportunity. I realize that that isn’t exclusively Spagnolo’s problem but it happens frequently enough that it’s a concern.
Plays similar to this where Spagnolo gets stuck on screens (which can be another problem for Spagnolo) and forces the big to step up/go with the drive and opens up opportunities behind:
The help defense on this play obviously blows but one screen is all it takes to take Spagnolo out and it all goes array from there:
For all those negatives (and I don’t think Spagnolo is deplorable on defense by any means, this is just what he seems to struggle with right now), there are some positive flashes from Spagnolo on defense.
Spagnolo is capable of staying in front of his man on drives, as he does on this possession:
Here, Spagnolo knocks the ball away from the ball-handler and comes up with the steal before drawing the foul (and free throws):
Spagnolo, on occasion, picks up full court and he displays some good hustle as he picks up and then dives to the floor in an attempt to gain possession:
One of the better defensive plays from Spagnolo comes on this possession as he somehow manages to deflect the pass and collect the ball on a simple 2-on-1 breakaway and then finds his teammate for the halfcourt alley-oop:
I would say Spagnolo’s defense is best typified by this possession where he manages to deflect the pass to the corner with his outstretched arm to collect the steal but then immediately turns the ball over, leading to a basket:
It highlights the defensive flashes from Spagnolo but mistakes and lack of concentration offset those somewhat.
Despite some playmaking and defensive concerns, I think there’s a solid prospect here in Spagnolo.
For his first full professional season in one of Europe’s strong leagues, I think he showed a lot of positives, including flashes of a three-level scorer who can comes off screens/get downhill and finish at the rim, can get to the foul line and stretch the floor (though, it’s possible that on a larger number than 68 attempted three-pointers that his three-point percentage could regress quite a bit).
Spagnolo is a streaky scorer at times and I didn’t enjoy some of the contested shots (makes or misses) but as a baseline there’s a lot to like offensively. He may not have elite burst or athleticism and the latter would be more of an issue since he primarily seems suited for a two than a one at 6’5 and he doesn’t have an elite playmaking ability right now to switch to an NBA one. I think he could definitely become a one in Europe but in the NBA he is a two, which is fine because he can score in a few different ways: drives, jumpers, free throws.
In terms of his playmaking, I’d like to see more from Spagnolo and I think if he is surrounded by a better team (Vanoli Cremona finished bottom of the Serie A with a 8-22 record) I think his assist numbers would be a little higher. You could make the same argument that his scoring numbers wouldn’t be as strong, and that is a fair case right now but I don’t see any reason why Spagnolo can’t average similar statistics on better teams as he improves with age — he just turned 19 in January.
Defensively, I don’t think he was placed in a system to really succeed but I also don’t think Spagnolo is a good defender. There is potential here and he shows some good tendencies to anticipate and step into passing lanes but as a one-on-one defender I’m not sold quite yet.
In these evaluations I can get muddled between where the player is at in the present moment and what they can/can’t do right now versus what they could become down the road but I definitely think Spagnolo is worth a punt on in the second round right now. I certainly wouldn’t spend a pick in the 30’s on him, and the consensus among mocks places Spagnolo in the 50’s.
Sam Vecenie of The Athletic places Spagnolo just one position above his fellow Italian Gabriele Procida at 54th overall, while ESPN rank Spagnolo seven places below Procida on their ‘Best Available’ list at 59th overall, with Mike Schmitz having quite a lot to say about Spagnolo (I’ll interject at a few intervals here during this long excerpt because, again, I add these excerpts after I’ve watched/written everything else, so I want to comment on anything Schmitz notes that I have not already, since he is much better at this than I am obviously).
January 26, 2022: (Top 100) — Few international prospects have improved their respective draft stock more than 19-year-old Italian Matteo Spagnolo (No. 43), who is in the midst of a breakout season with Cremona in the Italian first division and is in the running for the best European lead guard in this class. On loan from Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid, Spagnolo is one of only five teenagers in all of high-level Europe playing at least 25 minutes per game, leading that group in scoring (12.0 PPG) and 3-point percentage (48.6%). We evaluated Spagnolo during a home game against Sassari and conducted an hour-long film session with him after, getting a better feel for how he sees the game and his approach, which coaches and evaluators have long raved about.
Encouraging reporting from Schmitz about Spagnolo’s approach to the game and how he is improving at seeing the game, something I think he needs to put in more time from a playmaking point of view as well as obviously improving as a scorer.
In his first real professional season, Spagnolo has dazzled with his off-the-dribble shooting, creativity in pick-and-roll and flashes of ball screen brilliance. More comfortable with his patented crossover, mid-range pull-up than long-range 3s coming into this season, Spagnolo is starting to knock down step-back triples with more regularity, even pulling from NBA range with teams darting under screens. Calm and even keel on the floor, he’s able to use his 6-5, 198-pound frame to keep his defender on his hip before making an off-the-dribble pass to an open teammate or re-accelerating to the rim into a finesse finish. Although more wired to score than facilitate, he snakes ball screens like a veteran, crediting hours studying guards such as Luka Doncic, Milos Teodosic and Trae Young, while picking up little things from practicing with Facundo Campazzo during his time in Madrid. Like many of the aforementioned guards, he’s not afraid to try and fit passes into tight windows or take big shots down the stretch of important games, which have been key traits for successful international guards before him.
‘More wired to score than facilitate’ affirms the belief that he is more of a two than a one, as well as acknowledging his ability to score and his need to improve as a passer. Interesting company that he studies, including former Madrid players Doncic and Campazzo, as well as Teodosic (who I hope he studies to improve ability to pass and see the game as well as finding a way to score without an elite bursy) and of course Hawks guard Trae Young.
Something that is probably underrated with Young is just how he’s able to read the defenses and how to pick apart that defense with his ability to score or his ability to beat that defense with the pass — something Spagnolo could certainly benefit in understanding more as he continues to gain experience.
The ‘re-accelerating’ wasn’t something I picked up myself from what I saw of Spagnolo. It would be essential of Spagnolo to possess the ability to ‘shift gears’ especially if he’s lacking top-end burst (which Schmitz will allude to here in a moment) and be able to lull the defense in this manner.
Anyways, let’s carry on.
Italy isn’t known as the most athletic league, however, and Spagnolo’s finishing struggles (46% at the rim) and lack of blow-by speed figure to be even more pronounced as the level of competition rises. Cremona is also toward the bottom of the Italian League standings, fighting to avoid relegation to the second division, so his production does come with a caveat. Spagnolo has a long way to go on the defensive end of the floor, as he doesn’t always play with the necessary energy and discipline to overcome his average foot speed and limited overall range, both on and off the ball.
Lack of blow-by speed is obviously another aspect that differentiates him from Trae Young and why studying Teodosic from more than one perspective is extremely beneficial for Spagnolo’s growth.
Schmitz also mentions the caveat with Spagnolo’s production on a bad team which is fair and correct to highlight: Spagnolo wouldn’t enjoy this level of production on a better team but I also think it’s a positive that Spagnolo did what he did no matter if the team was relegated. That’s an invaluable experience, as is the experience of the relegation of a team that he was the third leading scorer on. He may not be with the team again but he will certainly feel a sense of dissatisfaction from such an experience. There are fewer gut-wrenching experiences in sports than being relegated.
Schmitz seems a lot lower than I am on Spagnolo’s defense, citing energy, discipline (which we very briefly looked at with a foul take on a drive) and average foot speed, which I honestly think looks worse than it is just because I think he’s caught flat-footed at times. I think Spagnolo has a lot to improve on defensively but I thought there were flashes at least.
>But, like we saw with Lithuanian guard Rokas Jokubaitis last draft (No. 34 to the New York Knicks), there’s clear draft-and-stash value in an international guard with positional size, shooting touch, creativity, feel and confidence. With Spagnolo under contract with Real Madrid for two additional seasons, whoever drafts him wouldn’t have to use a roster spot on the Brindisi native until he’s almost 22 years old, giving him the time and in-game reps to continue improving as a defender, finisher, and spot-up shooter (he’s made only three catch-and-shoot jumpers all season). Should Spagnolo make a run at the NBA as a 21-year-old, there’s a better chance he’d be able to have an Austin Reaves type of impact as a rookie.
Spagnolo — an Italian national team mainstay — has firmly planted himself on the NBA radar this season, and will remain a player team executives study closely as he continues to produce in Italy. — Mike Schmitz
The spot-up shooting is problem and something I had no idea Spagnolo struggled on as much as he did. Just three catch-and-shoot threes at the time of Schmitz writing this is wild but also encouraging that Spagnolo shot 44% from three mostly off of the dribble.
I’m glad Schmitz mentioned Rokas Jokubaitis (who we covered last year here) because he joined Barcelona last summer and played meaningful minutes for them this season, and I wonder if Madrid will do similarly with Spagnolo, who they obviously signed to a new deal last year. Will they use him sparingly in their rotation, have him practice and be around with the team even if he doesn’t get a lot of game-time, or send him out on loan again?
I’d agree with the allusion from Schmitz that there would be no benefit for Spagnolo to come to the US this year if drafted and he would make a far better impact as an older rookie with top-flight experience.
In this 50’s range where he’s projected to be selected, I think it’s a perfect spot for a team like the Celtics, Warriors etc. to select Spagnolo and just wait things out. If things don’t turn out as you expect, you’ve lost nothing really. If they do, congratulations.
I think it’s worth the punt — I’d honestly take quite a bit of encouragement from Matteo Spagnolo’s first professional season. Take the punt, see where it goes.
A solid draft-and-stash option, it will be interesting to see where Spagnolo lands in this year’s draft and where he will play his basketball next season.