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19 February, 2024
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Next Big Thing: Why is Nikola Topic one of the top guards in the NBA Draft?
08/04/2024
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Next Big Thing: What makes Nikola Topic one of the top guards in the NBA Draft?

MUNICH (Germany) - Over the last 12 months, Nikola Topic has put himself on the map of world basketball.

Whether it was leading Serbia to the FIBA U18 EuroBasket title, tying the all-time scoring record at ANGT or quickly becoming one of the top players in the Adriatic League, the Serbian guard has consistently performed at a high level at every step of the way.

His path to stardom, however, started well before 2023.

"HE HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BE AN NBA ALL-STAR." - Corey Tulaba

 

"I have known that kid since he was two years old. He would carry a ball all day long all over his house," remembers Slobodan Sarenac, a basketball commentator for Serbian TV who has watched countless basketball standouts from the Balkans over the past three decades including Nikola's father Milenko, who won multiple titles representing Yugoslavia - including the 1997 FIBA EuroBasket and the 1998 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

Nikola's basketball path would eventually lead him to the junior ranks of Crvena Zvezda, one of the basketball powerhouses in Serbia, where he stood out from a very early age.

"He has been in Crvena Zvezda since he was 15, when he came from Novi Sad," said the club's sports director Milan Dozet said in a recent interview with Stefan Lazarevic for the Serbian newspaper Telegraf. "He has shown that he's a great talent and has carried his team in every age category."

After auspicious performances through multiple youth tournaments across Europe, Topic would make his senior team debut at just 16 years old, playing in three games for Red Star in both the Adriatic League and the Euroleague. However, this would be just a preview of Topic's domination over the European youth basketball scene that would soon follow.


I
n April of 2023, Topic tied the all-time scoring record at ANGT with a 49-point outing against Next Generation Belgrade. More impressive than his numbers was the way in which he did it, as Topic dished 12 assists in the same game, finding open teammates and consistently making the right play.

This game was a perfect encapsulation of how Topic approaches the game of basketball, maintaining an unselfish mindset even in the moments where he's able to take over games with his scoring ability. "Basketball is a game of decisions," Topic explained in a recent interview with ESPN's Jonathan Givony. "It's a mental game. The player that makes a faster decision, that person will win."

"THEY GAVE ME FREEDOM, BELIEVED IN ME. WITHOUT THEM IT WOULD NOT BE POSSIBLE."- Topic on his time at Mega


Ultimately, his relentlessness to attack the rim off-the-dribble and his passing vision are two skills that work in unison. "He can already make every passing read in the book. His playmaking ability is so devastating because he is so lethal around the hoop as a scorer," explains
Corey Tulaba, scout for the NBA Draft website No Ceilings. "When he gets into the paint, the defense has to collapse and is now at his mercy as a decision maker."

Impressive as it was, his ANGT performance for Red Star was merely a proof of concept of what was to come the following summer, where Topic led Serbia to a FIBA U18 EuroBasket title on home soil.


Topic earned MVP honors after averaging 15.3 points, 5.1 assists and 2.0 steals per game, but the impact of this tournament in his career goes beyond the accolades.

"The European Championship in Nis was extremely important for his development," Sarenac believes. "I watched him dominate against his generation, bringing Serbia huge joy and success. All of that helped him become a more mature player and a great leader and then get to senior basketball with confidence."

Crvena Zvezda would sign Topic to a four-year deal shortly after his U18 EuroBasket performance and loaned him out to another team in Belgrade: NBA prospect factory Mega Basket. "It was a joint conversation with Topic, his father and his agent," Dozet claimed. "We came to the conclusion that it is better for him to get playing time."

"What is good for us and for him is that he very quickly showed that he has reached the level of the Adriatic League," added Dozet, "and according to his statistics this season he has surpassed it."


Topic came storming out of the gates in the 2023-24 Adriatic League season, quickly asserting himself as one of the best players in the league - averaging 18.6 points and a league-leading 6.9 assists per game while shooting 52% from the field. After just 13 games, Topic would get the call back to Red Star.

Topic is thankful for his time at Mega. "It helped me a lot," he said in a recent interview for the serbian website Meridian Sport. "They gave me freedom, believed in me. Without them this would not be possible." However, his place in the world is with Crvena Zvezda. "My dream for many years has been to play for Red Star," Topic told ESPN. "I grew up a fan of this club. It will mean everything for me to play in front of 20,000 Red Star fans."

"I WATCHED HIM DOMINATE AGAINST HIS GENERATION, BRINGING SERBIA HUGE JOY AND SUCCESS."- Slobodan Sarenac, commentator for Serbian TV


Sadly, in just his third game wearing the red and white, Topic suffered a knee injury that has kept him on the sidelines since early January, making him miss the first qualifying window for FIBA EuroBasket 2025, where he would've likely been an important part of the team. Nonetheless, this setback won't stop many from being buoyant about Topic's future with the Serbian National Team.

"He's a great passer, he has great vision," Sarenac believes. "For years now Serbia didn't have such a point guard, and finally, he showed up."

Dozet, who has seen the rise of Topic from junior-level stand out to top-level prospect, feels similarly. "I think that he is really the pearl not only of Red Star but of Serbian basketball and for me someone who should lead the national team in the coming years."

The next step might be the NBA, as Topic is projected by multiple outlets as one of the top point guards and a potential top-five selection in the upcoming NBA Draft. The fit with the team that selects him will certainly be important as it is with every prospect, but Sarenac is cautious. "I believe that he will need a year or two to adjust. I just wish he ends up on a team where he'll have a ball in his hands, with an opportunity to create and score."

Tulaba, however, sees a bright future for the Serbian sensation. "I think the game has shifted towards players like Topic, who possess the combination of plus positional size and skill. He has the potential to be an NBA All-Star," he says before concluding that 'Topic is the kind of player that plays on winning teams in the NBA.'

When you consider his history of leadership and winning at every level of competition he's played in his career, it shouldn't be a surprise if Topic does just that in the near future, both for the Serbian national team and for any team that selects him in the upcoming NBA Draft.

FIBA