SCOUTING BARCELONA'S B TEAM
Last weekend I went to scout my first basketball game since relocating to Spain. To be totally honest, I hope I am not met with the same set of challenges on my next trip across the largest country in Southern Europe. I attended the Barcelona vs CSKA Moscow game earlier in the week, but outside of New York Knicks draft and stash playmaker, Rokas Jokubaitis, there was not much to scout from an NBA draft perspective.
Barça’s Michael Caicedo is a potential NBA prospect, but he was a DNP-CD, and I didn’t arrive to the game early enough to watch individual workouts. Also, I’m not even sure Barça has NBA style intense pre game workouts for young players not in the 8 man rotation.
Even though Caicedo and Agustin Ubal have been promoted from the B team to the senior team, I was excited to check out some of the other prospects in Barcelona’s youth program. I’ve been tracking Gael Bonilla and James Nnaji for the past 18 months, so this was my first opportunity to see them play live.
I was looking forward to a good game as first place Barça faced off against 2nd place Girona who came into the match with a 6-1 record. Since I don’t know much about Spain’s EBA league, which is basically the 4th division, I had no idea what to expect from a competition standpoint.
I knew I wanted to see Gael Bonilla, a 6’8" versatile wing from Mexico, and James Nnaji who despite being only 17 years old has the body of an NFL linebacker. Nnaji looks like he's dedicated years of his life working in the weight room. The first thing you notice is this massive 6'10" hulking with wide shoulders and defined muscles bulging out of his arms. I've joking called Nnaji the EBA version of Memphis freshman Jalen Duren, as both are teenage physical specimens that do all their dirty work under the basket.
Unfortunately my path to Girona was far from pleasant. I thought I had figured out the Barcelona metro system in my short time here, but boy was I wrong.
I still don’t know where I messed up at, but I messed up. Big time. I was on a train that runs parallel to the train I was supposed to be on. Eventually the two trains were going to intersect, but the train I was on stopped every 5 minutes while the train I was supposed to take was more of a regional train that only stopped through smaller towns.
So I had a tough decision to make. Should I stay on the local train and eventually get to Girona but possibly miss the game? Or should I get off and take a taxi for the remaining 56 miles?
I chose to get off and try my luck with a taxi. I found myself walking along this coastal town looking for a taxi for around 5 minutes. Taxis are everywhere in Barcelona, but nowhere to be found at this particular moment. After realizing I was not going to find a taxi, I asked a young lady if she could help me find a taxi to take me to Girona. She mentioned there were not any taxi's in the area and I would need to call and schedule a ride. Thankfully she was nice enough to call a taxi service and give the driver my location.
15 minutes later I was in a taxi for a 1 hour ride. The problem is the game started in 47 minutes and I like to get there 30 minutes early to watch warmups.
I sat in the taxi and watched the numbers on the meter increase every 30 seconds until we finally got to Girona.
The price was 151 Euros which equals to around $178. For some odd reason I was not even upset.
I know I probably should’ve turned around and went back to my hotel, but Director of Scouting for Barcelona put me on the ticket list and the team manager from Girona gave me the green light to film and take pictures. I didn’t want to be a no show, even though I believe they would’ve understood my situation.
My taxi driver dropped me off in an alley that was a mixed with apartments above businesses. I was concerned I was in the wrong spot until I heard shoes squeaking, loud chanting and the crowd noise I’m used to hearing from basketball fans in Europe. It sounded like a competitive game or at least a rivalry game from where I was walking, so I knew the gym was close.
When I walked in the gym it was standing room only with at least 30% of the crowd on its feet. The gym was old and with a bright blue floor, similar to something you would see at a rec center in the states.
The game was pretty intense despite Girona being outmatched and outclassed. I don't know the size or the population of Girona, but I could tell the locals support their team.
Here are some scouting notes from the game
Gael Bonilla (2004) 6'8" Combo Forward
Bonilla was the standout with 16 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists game on 7-12 shooting, he also chipped in with 4 steals.
He was 2-7 from deep and I believe a consistent 3 point shot could make him a really intriguing prospect.
At 6’9” he can operate as a secondary ball handler or ball mover. He sees the floor and loves to attack middle and throw live dribble skip passes.
He has a good IQ and understands how to play within a system.
Can operate out of DHO’s and ball screens. Made a nice left handed floater in traffic.
I seem to like him more than others and will follow him closely this season to track his progress.
James Nnaji (2004) 6'10" Center
He’s still really raw offensively. He makes most of his impact around the glass and as an intimidating physical presence. He’s effective scoring off offensive rebounds and dump offs. However I do have some concerns about his hands.
He’s shooting a respectable 68.8% from foul the line which is a huge improvement as he only shot 30.9% on 55 attempts last season.
He’ll need to add more offense to his game, but I have to remind myself he’s only 17 and if he were in the states he’d be a high school junior.
Physically he's a grown man with a body that reminds me of Jalen Duren. He looks to finish everything around the rim with a dunk and could develop into a smaller version of Udoka Azubuike.
Rafael Villar (2004) 6'1" Point Guard
Crafty point guard that has the flash and flare that is common with Spanish playmakers. Lacks ideal foot speed and quickness so he uses his body and strong frame to get to his spots on the floor. Effective scorer off the dribble and efficient finisher around the basket. Plays tough and is a really good rebounder for a guard.
Statistically was solid with 11 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. But he struggled a little with handling the rock when pressured..
Seems to hunt for highlight reel passes and over penetrates from time to time. Will need to improve decision making and assist to turnover ratio
Teodor Simic (2004) 6'11" Center
6’11 Old school throwback center. Big physical presence at 6'11. Can make open shots and space the floor. Has soft shooting touch around the rim and is arguably the best shooter on the team. Through 8 games he's shooting 41.7% from deep.
Not a good vertical athlete or very mobile. Good feel as a passer/ ball mover.
Inaki Ordonez (2004) 6'8" Power Forward
6’8 forward that has upside as a shooter. Ultimate glue guy, knocked down 3-5 from deep and also grabbed 8 rebounds. Good understanding of how to space the floor and move off the ball.