Player Spotlight: Izan Almansa - Spain's double MVP
IZMIR (Turkey) - It's been an incredible summer for 17-year-old Izan Almansa. At the FIBA U17 Basketball World Cup, he helped Spain win the silver medal and was awarded the MVP trophy for his consistent performances in Malaga.
In Izmir, he put the cherry on top by leading Spain to the title at the FIBA U18 European Championship and winning his second MVP within a month.
Almansa has been considered a high-level prospect for years, and still he was able to exceed expectations this summer. Reason enough for FIBA contributor Marius Flachenecker to take a closer look at his game.
OFFENSE – AN ATHLETIC AND SKILLED INTERIOR PLAYER
Offensively, Almansa excels as a finisher around the basket, blending a rare combination of athleticism and touch. On one hand, he can dunk on folks and catch alley-oops, but he can also convert difficult finishes against contests, even with his off-hand. In an age group where missed layups are commonplace, the 17-year-old is remarkably reliable. This finishing versatility makes him a major threat as a roll man and opens up space for his ballhandlers, although he can still improve the timing and physicality of his screens.
Furthermore, Almansa is an opportunistic shot creator from the post or out of dribble handoffs. He shows some ability to create good interior position and displays soft touch for hook shots with either hand, though he's not physical enough to be dominant down low. He also shows very good passing skills in the post, and he's regularly dropped nice dimes to cutting teammates throughout the summer. Almansa even has the fluidity to attack slow-footed bigs from the perimeter from time to time, so his offensive skill set is broader than just finishing the passes of teammates.
Almansa does, however, lack range beyond the paint. As of now, he's not a jump shooting threat. He doesn't need to shoot threes to have a successful career, even at the NBA level, but he definitely needs to become a more reliable free throw shooter. Through both FIBA tournaments this summer, he shot 17-of-44 (38.6 percent) from the line, including a 0-of-7 output against France's U17. His mechanics are still inconsistent, and he will have to put in a lot of work to become respectable from the line.
One way of extending his range a little could be the "push shot", a floater-type shot for big men, usually performed somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 meters from the basket directly after catching a pass. This shot was effectively used by legends like Lior Eliyahu and Georgios Printezis, and Almansa certainly has the touch to become effective with it as well - in Izmir he's already shown flashes of converting that type of shot. This wouldn't turn him into a first offensive option at an elite level of professional basketball, but it would give him even more versatility and prevent opponents from leaving him open when he's more than 1.5 meters away from the basket.
Overall, Almansa is an efficient and smart offensive player, who makes the life of his guards significantly easier. The 17-year-old has genuine NBA potential and his game fits the modern pace-and-space approach of basketball very well, especially if he continues to improve his skillset.
DEFENSE – A NIMBLE RIM PROTECTOR
On defense, Almansa shines most protecting the rim, especially as a help defender. He shows solid awareness for defensive breakdowns, covers ground well and has the vertical jumping ability to consistently affect and block shots, even above rim-level. In 1v1-scenarios below the basket, he did well in most matchups, showing solid strength for his age and avoiding fouls well, only picking up 11 of them in 172 total minutes. Still, some matchups brought light to how he has to develop to be able to handle physical professional centers in the future. At 2.07m, Almansa is slightly undersized for the center position, so he'll have to maximize his strength to defend opposing fives, especially at the NBA level.
Defending the pick-and-roll is another key skill for modern big men. Spain had Almansa play different coverages, either dropping below the level of the screen and protecting the basket or playing the aggressive hedge coverage on the ball. Executing these coverages, especially hedge, requires a high degree of athleticism and understanding of the timing and angles of one's moves. Considering this, Almansa did a solid job obstructing the opposition's attack on a regular basis.
He still has plenty of room to improve the consistency of his reads as a pick-and-roll defender, but that's very normal for someone his age. His combination of nimble feet – though he's not quick enough to where he can consistently switch - and flashes of understanding what he has to do lend hope that'll become a reliable pick-and-roll defender at the professional level.
Almansa proved to be a solid defensive presence throughout the summer, excelling on the defensive glass as well. He's not a dominant presence defensively, but he does a good job protecting the rim and shows intriguing ability to cover the pick-and-roll in various ways. Like any 17-year-old, he has clear room for improvement in some areas, but he also has a clear path to becoming a really good defender in the pros.
Izan Almansa has turned heads this summer, alerting spectators to the fact that he's one of Europe's best big man prospects. With his combination of athleticism, skill and smarts, he has a shot at a long and prosperous career, even in the NBA. After the Gasol brothers' retirement from the national team, there's a new generation of promising Spanish big men emerging, which includes Almansa, Usman Garuba, Aday Mara and others. Judging by this summer's results, the future of Spanish basketball is bright, and Almansa has the chance to play a significant part in it.