Player Spotlight: Fedor Zugic - the young pearl of Montenegro
PODGORICA (Montenegro) – Montenegro are in the top four teams of the 2022 edition of the FIBA U20 European Championship and have to be considered as credible medal contenders, for at least two reasons.
The homecourt advantage is one reason, and the other is the play of 18-year-old Fedor Zugic who is the team's leader and currently ranks second in scoring in the whole tournament. The guard is considered one of the best prospects in the competition and has been on the radar of NBA teams for years. Good reasons for FIBA contributor Marius Flachenecker to take a closer look at Zugic's game.
OFFENSE – A SKILLED SCORING GUARD
Zugic has primarily stood out for his ability to get to the rim and finish with either hand. He has a quick first step and has been able to punish mismatches and got to the rim out of the off-screen plays his coaches design for him. The guard has attacked the basket ferociously, throwing down six dunks so far and drawing 29 free-throw attempts through his aggressive play style. At times, Zugic has forced the issue a bit too much as a driver, attempting extremely difficult finishes through contact, but his overall output (21 2 points per game on 51.2 percent shooting from the floor) has still been impressive.
Zugic's outside shot has been inconsistent, but he has a good track record as a shooter. A huge scoring output from three could still be on the cards on the final weekend. So far, Zugic has mostly searched for his jumper in late-clock-situations. With time running down, he effectively uses his quick dribble to get open and can then even hit difficult stepback threes. For a potential NBA future, his jumper is of great importance. Developing an elite NBA skill, which will secure him consistent playing time, is the most realistic way for Zugic to reach that level. While he's some development time away from becoming an elite outside threat, that is certainly within the realm of possibility.
At the highest level, Zugic will likely become a shooter who attacks the basket in advantage situations, for example against mismatches, closeouts, and off screens, but he also shows potential making the occasional play in pick-and-roll.
In addition to his aforementioned driving game, he's displayed some ability to punish help defenders and find open teammates with passes. Still, if this is going to be a consistent part of his game against high-level competition, there's work to do: at times, he could do a better job using screens to create advantages, for example by putting his defender on his back instead of solely relying on his quickness. Furthermore, he can increase the amount of reads he can make on his drives and improve his passing accuracy.
Nevertheless, the young Montenegro star is an impressively skilled offensive player. His shot creation, rim finishing and jump shooting are already very polished, and he has the chance to become one of Europe's better offensive players in the long run. At first, he can be a complementary player to Montenegro's star players Nikola Vucevic and Bojan Dubljevic, before he'll hopefully be ready to lead the national team in a handful of years.
DEFENSE – COASTING BUT CLUTCH
The defensive end is extremely important for Zugic's future projection as well. He won't ever be a lockdown defender, especially against shifty guards, but he's shown that he can be solid against high-level opposition. In Podgorica, however, he's mostly been conserving energy. On the ball, he often concedes driving lanes easily, and off the ball he likes to gamble for steals and has switched assignments a lot to avoid tiring out. This is understandable to a certain degree: the 18-year-old played 54 official games for ratiopharm Ulm this season and is now carrying a heavy offensive load and averaging 33.4 minutes a game for Montenegro. Exhaustion is inevitable.
Zugic may not be at his best defensively, but he's still been clutch and crucial in several of Montenegro's close wins. In the games against Germany and the Czech Republic, the guard created key stops in the last minute of the game by applying good ball pressure to opposing ball-handlers. When locked in, Zugic can consistently hold his own against many guards and wings in this tournament, and he's surely going to leave all he has on the court in the Semi-Finals, riding the energy of the fans in pursuit of Montenegro's first-ever medal at the FIBA U20 European Championship.
OUTLOOK - THE FUTURE OF MONTENEGRIN BASKETBALL
Fedor Zugic has played a strong tournament and led Montenegro to the Semi-Finals for the first time in their history in Division A The guard belongs to the best offensive players in European youth basketball and will likely become a staple in Montenegro's senior national team for the foreseeable future, leading a new generation of Montenegrin basketball that could also involve his talented U20 teammates Andrija Grbovic and Djordije Jovanovic. He should even make the final cut for the FIBA EuroBasket 2022 team, since he's already established himself as a rotation player for a top-level European club. Zugic will also be on NBA teams' lists for the 2023 Draft. While he still has ways to go to get to that level, there's certainly a chance he makes it into an NBA rotation long-term as a shooter, who can also do damage driving to the basket.