Jovic is projected to be a first round selection, but will Atlanta prove to be his destination?
Our 2022 NBA Draft scouting report series rolls on with a look at Nikola Jovic, a 19-year-old forward out of Serbia.
Every year there are all sorts of international prospects from around the world that enter their names into the NBA Draft. From leagues in France, Italy, Spain, occasionally Germany and Australia. However, I feel like no international draft class is ever truly complete without an entrant from the ever-colourful Mega Mozzart (formerly known as Mega Bemax, Mega Soccerbet, Mega Leks and so on).
Regardless of what name they operate under, their colourful jerseys always make an impression…as do their prospects, usually.
Today’s prospect, 19-year-old Serbian forward Nikola Jovic, donned the pink jerseys of Mega Mozzart of the Adriatic League last season and certainly did make an impression, averaging 11.7 points per game on 42.8% shooting from the field on 9.4 field goal attempts, 35.6% from three on 4.7 attempts, 75% from the line on 2.6 attempts, four rebounds, 3.3 assists, 0.56 steals, 0.4 blocks, 2.7 turnovers and 2.4 personal fouls in 27.8 minutes per game in 25 games played in the Adriatic League, per RealGM.
Some solid numbers there from Jovic in a competitive league, but let’s go through the footage and see what’s what from Jovic (wearing number 5, but you’ll have a tough time spotting that on these jerseys) and why he’s projected to be a first round pick.
What is immediately clear watching Jovic is that he’s very mobile for his size of 6 foot 10 inches and he’s able to utilize that mobility. I found Jovic to exploit this better in the full-court/transition than in the half-court but let’s look at both.
After the pick-and-roll, Jovic makes use of the space he’s presented on the wing, driving inside, finishing at the rim with the dunk, plus the foul:
Here, Jovic pulls down the rebound, switches hands briefly at mid-court, changes gears at the three-point line, shrugs off the defense and scores at the rim:
Following a turnover off of a poke from behind, Jovic streaks ahead of the play in transition, showcasing his pace, receives the ball and finishes with the dunk:
Here, Jovic helps create the turnover as he knocks the pass away, uses his speed to catch on the long pass from his teammate and finishes at the rim despite contact for the ‘and-1’:
On this play, Jovic runs onto the pass and steams into the paint from mid-court, finishing with his left-hand at the rim as he gathers to avoid the defense:
Transition opportunities off of stops/turnovers are easy for Jovic:
Jovic is able to utilize his mobility to draw free throws as he drives inside to the rim, drawing the foul and free throws:
Here, Jovic starts this play with the drive and showcases some of his offensive versatility as he switches into post-play, drawing the foul and free throws:
Speaking of, Jovic can operate in the post at times and work himself into some scoring opportunities or draw fouls.
From inbounding the ball, Jovic hops back inbounds to enter the post position, backing his man down before hitting the fadeaway jumper:
Jovic played on the wing more often than not and his size at his position gives him a height advantage, which he exploits here to carve space before hitting the jump-hook:
This mismatch can also be used to draw fouls:
Aside from Jovic’s mobility on the move, the next best aspect of his game is three-point shooting 35.6% from three in the Adriatic League, with exactly half of his total number of shots in the ABA coming from downtown. These come in a few different forms.
To start, Jovic receives the ball above the break and hits the catch-and-shoot three:
Here, Jovic relocates from one side of the court to the other and hits another catch-and-shoot three, high high release at his size helping him clear the contest:
Jovic is able to extend his range and hit deeper three-pointers too, showcasing that he can hit threes from NBA range:
Jovic hit this remarkable three with just seconds remaining, down four, and draws the foul that could tie the game and send it to overtime:
Sadly, Jovic missed the free throw and the game was over just like that, but a big shot from Jovic nevertheless.
There are some kinks Jovic will need to iron out offensively.
Jovic committed quite a number of turnovers and these limited his offensive game somewhat.
There are turnovers such as these, where he’s called for the travel as he begins to set off on his drive:
There are turnovers where Jovic tries a bit too hard to drive and he ends up either picked off by the defense, or driving into spaces that either close or just aren’t there.
Here, Jovic tries to dribble in an iso situation but ends up having his dribble prodded away, committing the turnover, and committing the foul to prevent a further break:
As Jovic tries to take off for his favored transition game, again, he’s picked off and can count himself fortunate that it didn’t lead to a basket:
Jovic struggled driving in the half-court at times, the zone defense makes it easy for other defenders to reach in/dig and cause problems:
On this drive Jovic was just out of his depth and ran into traffic, a predictable outcome once he put his head down:
As a three-point shooter, I think Jovic is better suited to catch-and-shoot scenarios than he is off of the dribble, where things can get a little messier than in spot-ups.
Here, Jovic comes off the screen and airballs the contested three-pointer:
On this possession Jovic is unable to break through the perimeter defense and misses the step-back three:
Jovic this time works himself into a good opening with the step-back this time but cannot connect:
Some of it is just Jovic settling a bit when he can’t break through the defense, which is a little tougher for him in the half-court with the defense set up:
Jovic averaged 3.3 assists in the ABA and displayed a high level of IQ to spot plays and ability to hit the passes to find those spots.
I enjoyed Jovic’s ability to draw the defense and hit the open man.
Here, Jovic probes into three defenders and loops a pass into the paint who hits the hook:
You can see how Jovic’s size helps him pass over defenses.
Next, Jovic comes off the screen sees the second defender on the wing and fires the ball out to his teammate on the perimeter, who hits the jumper:
Again coming off the screen, Jovic sees another body and chucks a one-handed pass to the weak-side, where his teammate drives and attempts a shot inside:
A little more of a basic pick-and-roll action but you can get a sense of Jovic running it, leading to an attempt inside:
On the slipped screen, Jovic draws the second defender and seems trapped at the baseline but delivers a nice bounce-pass to his teammate for the assist:
A more successful connection on this play as Jovic finds his teammate for the alley-oop:
We’ve looked at Jovic in transition and it shouldn’t be any surprise that his playmaking extends into the open court as well.
To start, Jovic is in place to intercept the attempted pass to the corner and sets off in transition, looping a pass over the defense to find his streaking teammate for the layup:
Off of a block, Jovic collects the loose ball, paces to mid-court before shifting gears somewhat before delivering a solid bounce-pass to his teammate for the dunk at the rim:
Off of a miss, Jovic initially doesn’t take control of the ball in transition and when he’s passed the ball he quickly delivers a touch-pass to his teammate for a three-point attempt:
Off of a miss, Jovic takes the rebound down and leads a perfectly weighted looping pass to his onrushing teammate for the assist in transition:
In transition off the ball this time, Jovic fills the lane and when the pass is made to him, he immediately floats the ball to his teammate in the paint to complete the fastbreak:
After a contest at the rim, Jovic leads the charge in transition before delivering another assist on the break:
Put it simply, I think Jovic is at his best in transition with the ball in his hands but he displays some high IQ plays in general, and here’s another as he makes a lovely read and bounce-pass after the cut:
Jovic played in a zone for the most part and on the wing of that zone, so he wasn’t tested as much as you’d like to see as a one-on-one defender but we’ll look at some defensive clips anyways and try piece something together.
Here, Jovic switches to prevent the corner being turned, forcing the pass, and when the drive is made Jovic contests the shot at the rim and blocks the shot:
Again, Jovic sticks with the drive and stretches out his arm at the rim, forcing the pass away from the rim:
Picking his man up the floor on this possession, Jovic sticks with the drive and forces the pass to the perimeter:
Again, as the offensive player attempts to get downhill, Jovic sticks with it and contests the shot at the rim, helping to force a miss:
Jovic is able to cover ground well and slide in help situations to affect shots.
This is a good example of Jovic covering ground as he briefly darts towards the rim before closing out the three-point attempt, his seven foot wingspan coming in handy:
On the drive, Jovic reads the play well and steps up to help and contest the mid-range jumper:
On this play, Jovic slides over after the pick-and-roll to protect the rim with the contest:
Even though Jovic isn’t able to prevent the basket on this possession, he shows some decent flashes of defensive instincts as he rotates to try and contest the shot at the rim:
Jovic does a solid job of challenging shots at the rim, as he does here:
His length not only helps him contest shots on closeouts but it also deters shots close to/near the rim:
Jovic can be a bit undisciplined defensively, averaging nearly 2.5 fouls a game and just making mistakes here and there.
Here, Jovic falls behind the play on the pick-and-roll, committing the foul at the rim leading to free throws:
Next, the offensive player gets the step on Jovic, who commits the foul on the drive-by:
This time Jovic commits the foul at the beginning of the drive as he goes around the screen:
Here, Jovic does well to stick with the drive but commits the foul at the end of the play, leading to free throws:
Nikola Jovic is an interesting longer term prospect.
Offensively, I think there’s potential to tap into, but that’s not to say there aren’t things that Jovic already does well.
Jovic operates best, I think, in transition and in the open-court where he can utilize his pace to run the floor and his playmaking abilities to find others, or behind the three-point line in the half-court. He runs the floor well with his speed and can put pressure on the rim, and while I wouldn’t call Jovic an explosive athlete it helps that he is comfortable using either hand at the rim.
I’m a little concerned about his transition game as a ball-handler translating to the NBA because I just don’t see Jovic getting a lot of those same opportunities where he’s leading the break with the ball. The fact that he can helps — it always helps when you can pull down the rebound and just go, and be capable of making a play for either yourself or others.
I think Jovic will end up running the floor more in support and will help fill a lane — whether it’s down the middle of the paint or on one of the wings — but I don’t think he’s getting these opportunities immediately in the NBA to lead the break, certainly not as consistently as he has done up to this point. But it helps that he has experience in that capacity and excelled at it.
I wasn’t huge on Jovic’s half-court offense in terms of penetration but I think his slashing ability would translate better in the NBA than in Europe where a lot more zone defense is played compared to the NBA, and I think Jovic — at 6 foot 10 inches — would have better fortunes taking four’s or mismatches off of the dribble in the half-court than he did in the ABA.
Speaking of, I’m trying to think what position Jovic will be best suited to in the NBA, and it’s going to have to be an agile four or a small-ball five. He played on the wing a lot in the Adriatic League but I don’t see that working in the NBA, and I’m concerned how he’d fare physically on the defensive end against NBA fours, and NBA small-ball fours too. He didn’t seem to feature in a lot of pick-and-roll offense as a receiver, which is a bit of a problem if he’s playing the four and would probably be better suited to lineups that specialize in shooting; four-out lineups.
As a three-point shooter Jovic has shown good range and consistency in the ABA and can hit jumpshots from inside the arc too — always a bonus in today’s NBA. Throw in some post play and Jovic showcases a versatile offensive skill-set in terms of his scoring: a solid outside game, some inside scoring and good transition offense.
For now, I think Jovic is better suited as a catch-and-shoot three-point shooter than off of the dribble right now.
Then you add his ability to spot and make a pass.
Jovic won’t command the same defensive attention as he did in the ABA — where he was able to find his teammates in more open spaces — but he can still spot and make those passes, run some pick-and-roll, and just make some high IQ basketball plays. It doesn’t need to be utilized a ton in the NBA but the fact Jovic can make some plays and spot those opportunities only adds to his offensive versatility.
As a defender, I think there’s some solid instincts in terms of rotation/help defense and while a lot less zone is played in the NBA, it’s handy that Jovic has the experience of making those rotations to help at the rim and flashes of those defensive instincts. I’d like to see Jovic in a few more passing lanes to generate a few more steals, as well as block a few more shots near the rim, blocking just 0.4 shots per game and obtaining 0.56 steals.
I think Jovic can move his feet well defensively and does decently well at contesting shots at the rim and on the perimeter, but I think needs to improve his vertical challenges and his overall defensive consistency, committing less fouls for starters.
Having just turned 19, time is on Jovic’s side to continue to improve and even if he doesn’t come to the NBA immediately, there should optimism for Jovic’s NBA future, though the intel out there suggests that Jovic will come over immediately.
Jovic is mocked in the first round by many outlets, so let’s take a look at what those outlets and their draft experts say about Jovic. Since I haven’t seen these before I paste them in, I’ll chime in on the things they saw that I did not, or haven’t mentioned up to this point.
Sam Vecenie of The Athletic mocks Jovic at 25th overall to the San Antonio Spurs with this to say about the Serbian:
Jović is a skilled big man out of Serbia who averaged almost 12 points per game this year as a teenager in the Adriatic League while shooting 36 percent from 3 and averaging 3.4 assists. His value lies in his skill and feel for the game. Jović sees the floor well as a point forward and has workable mechanics to the point that it’s easy to buy him becoming an impact player on the offensive end in a specific role. There are questions about his defense, but he’s big and smart enough that teams have some faith that they can make it work with him as he continues to be coached. He’s not a crazy athlete, but the Spurs have been successful taking players like him in the past.
I agree with essentially everything Vecenie has said here, and I think he’s spot-on when talking becoming an impact player on the offensive end ‘in a specific role.’ What that role will be and the dynamics surrounding the team that employs that role might determine how much of an impact he could have in the NBA. The Spurs would be a quality fit.
ESPN rank Jovic 24th on their overall best available players, and Mike Schmitz had a lot more to say about Jovic back in January:
January 26, 2022: (Mock Draft) — Although this international class doesn’t have an elite passer (Josh Giddey) or a low-post savant (Alperen Sengun), there are still several prospects bound to develop into productive NBA players. None of them intrigue me quite like Serbian forward Nikola Jovic (No. 22 in Givony’s latest mock), who has as good a chance as any to be the first international prospect to hear his name called on draft night. Due to COVID-19 cancellations in the Adriatic League, we weren’t able to see Jovic play in a game like originally planned for Mega Mozzart in Serbia. But we did see him practice with the team and conducted a 30-minute film session with the 18-year-old after diving deep into his game tape, continuing to build our scouting file on him that began in 2019.
Of all the international prospects in this draft, Jovic has the most seamless NBA fit as a modern forward who can shoot, handle and pass. Every bit of 6-10 with an improved 215-pound frame and a 7-0 wingspan, Jovic’s measurements are similar to forwards ranging from Michael Porter Jr. to Kevin Knox to Sam Dekker to Darius Bazley. With the size to function as a four once his body matures, the late-blooming Jovic looks the part of a legitimate NBA floor-spacer with the shooting stroke to back it up, as he’s now up to 40% from the international line through 14 games, often earning comparisons to Nemanja Bjelica (drafted No. 35 in 2010) in the process.
The key, as Schmitz mentions here, is that right now Jovic’s body isn’t as suited to function as a four but when he reaches that stage he will certainly be a player to watch because he possesses a lot of other skills as we’ve looked at, just missing some physical tools such as strength at his position in the NBA and high-end athleticism.
But what makes Jovic a bit more intriguing than your typical catch-and-shoot forward is the potential he shows off the dribble, regularly bringing the ball up the floor for Mega Mozzart, displaying sharp pick-and-roll vision going to his right while also knocking down several deep hesitation pull-up 3s with bigs switched onto him. His high center of gravity with the ball and finishing struggles in traffic (46% at the rim) limit him as a primary shot creator. And teams have also found quite a bit of success just defending him with small guards and daring him to punish that mismatch on the low block, which he hasn’t done with much success. But because Jovic can make hesitation and step-back 3s, find his teammates on the move when willing and occasionally drop in Dirk-like fallaways from inside the arc, it’s not out of the question that, in time, he can eventually evolve into a Danilo Gallinari-style second or third creator who can function as a big wing or a mismatch four.
Schmitz was able to catch this better than I was but we looked at clips where Jovic would find his teammates on the left-side of the court after drawing multiple bodies going to his right. Jovic can make some of those hesitation and step-back threes but the looks I saw him off of the dribble didn’t inspire the most confidence personally but, hey, that’s just what I saw.
Schmitz mentions that Jovic struggled a bit at the rim, I found his makes and misses to be as common as each other but 46% at the rim (at the time) is less than ideal for some who tries to get to the rim as often as Jovic does. I’d wager that that percentage is primarily down to his struggles in the half-court offense, which I think will be alleviated somewhat when he plays against less zone.
The Danilo Gallinari comparison is interesting, given that Hawks fans have been able to watch him up close these past two seasons. I certainly don’t think it’s inconceivable that Jovic could score inside and out like Gallinari although Jovic is a lot more agile than Gallinari. Gallo has a more ‘old-man’ drive-game to him these days but is able to get to the free throw line very well at times. If Jovic can get to the point where he can hit his threes off of the dribble as well as Gallinari I think he’ll be doing very well indeed.
To earn those reps, Jovic will have to improve drastically on defense, as he’s a bit too upright to consistently stay with perimeter players yet not quite physical enough to bang with true bigs on the interior. Evolving his off-ball defense and stabilizing his often-fluctuating motor will really help him win the margins, as he’s likely never going to quite have the range or flexibility to be a 1-on-1 stopper. He has shown signs of growth lately, bodying up forwards like Rodions Kurucs on penetration and using his positional length to change shots in the paint. After a slow start to the season, Jovic has turned into a valuable player for Mega, scoring 14 points and dishing out 4 assists in just 22 minutes in a huge upset win over Partizan, showcasing character and fight in the road win with a much younger, undermanned team. Although he was off for a month due to COVID and an ankle injury, Jovic has now reached double figures scoring in each of his last six games. He’s made at least two 3s in eight consecutive contests, shooting 18-for-42 from 3 (43%) during that stretch.
Again, Jovic will have to improve physically on the defensive end but can stop some shots inside using his length and solid speed to stick with some drives and help force passes, which I don’t think Schmitz is giving him enough credit for but this was written back in January for what it’s worth.
Displaying outright horrible body language at times during the U19 World Championships last summer and not always managing his emotions in the best way in other events, the 18-year-old Jovic is starting to show more signs of maturity both in his game and demeanor, which will play a big role in the type of NBA player he can become.
“I want to be consistent through the second half of the season,” Jovic said of his goals for the season, and five years down the line. “The thing I’m trying to accomplish is go to the NBA … stretch-4 with a lot of dribbling. I don’t know, we’ll see, I hope All-Star.” — Mike Schmitz
The body language is an interesting note from Schmitz. I didn’t see it to be a big issue on the court this season, but what I did notice was Jovic looking for the ball an awful lot, more than perhaps he ought to have in certain spots.
We’ll have a look at one more outlook from The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, who ranks Jovic 24th on his big board but mocks him at 20th to the Spurs:
Late bloomer who grew up playing guard, and it shows in his game as a talented playmaker with size who’s still learning how to thrive near the rim.
At his best with the ball in his hands in the open court or in the pick-and-roll. He’s capable of getting into his shot from any area of the floor. He doesn’t force it, though. Jovic has good shot selection and has the vision as a passer to make his teammates better.
I wouldn’t necessarily agree with the ‘doesn’t force it’ take; I think there are instances where he definitely forces his own offense, but not so in his playmaking.
Shot creation in the open floor is his best skill. He is able to change his pace and use hesitations while taking long strides toward the basket. He has a good handle and smooth footwork, which allows him to keep his dribble alive while deciding whether to score or facilitate.
With the ability to run the pick-and-roll and set solid screens at 6-foot-10, he could create major matchup advantages. Against a switch, he has the size advantage down low if he develops a post game. Against a blitz, he can pass as the ball handler or make plays for himself off the bounce. Against drop coverage, he has displayed the ability to shoot off the dribble if given space. Like many young players, he needs to improve his efficiency, but the building blocks are there.
Intelligent off-ball player on offense who has great instincts for cutting into the paint. Plus he has good hands.
Theoretically a versatile defender if he’s able to improve his sloppy fundamentals and get quicker laterally. Right now, he is at his best defending in help situations at the rim. Even if he’s not a shot blocker, his pure size still makes him more of a deterrent than smaller players in the same position.
He’s an inefficient offensive player right now, including from three-point range. He struggles finishing near the rim. He lacks bounce in the paint, and though he has size he doesn’t always know how to use it. He’s not particularly physical, and he has no post game to speak of.
Subpar defensive player who suffers through stretches of low intensity. He’s a bit sluggish, which limits him as a switch defender. And he lacks beef on his body, so battling against NBA centers is a no-go.
I would disagree with the inefficiency from behind the arc. There’s a reason I have used Jovic’s ABA stats and not his season stats, and context has been missed here.
There were four games out of the 29 Jovic played this season that were not in the ABA: two games in the Serbian RK Cup and two games Adriatic Junior League. In those two games in the cup, Jovic shot 15% on 6.5 attempts, and in the Junior League, Jovic shot 13% on 7.5 attempts. These drag down his season percentage from three to 31% from the 35% he shot in 25 of his 29 total games played. I don’t think Jovic’s season stats reflect his season, as odd as that sounds.
I think the ‘sluggishness’ from Jovic is more so that he reacts late sometimes to drives and less so being able to keep up, but it’s worth bearing in mind he did play against a number of wings where he was and he won’t be playing wing in the NBA.
So, in closing…
Nikola Jovic is likely to be on the board when the Atlanta Hawks make their selection at 16 but probably isn’t what they need right now. A longer term backup point guard would certainly rank higher than their need for another forward in the first round, which makes Jovic an unlikely candidate for them as things stand right now.
With trade rumours ramping up in the build-up to the draft — and John Collins’ name mentioned here and there as a possible trade candidate — we’ll see if the Hawks will even be selecting with the 16th overall pick next week…