The Arizona Wildcats signed one of the best international prospects in the 2020 recruiting cycle in Azuolas Tubelis.
The 6-foot-9 Lithuania forward has national team experience and averaged 16.5 points per game for Perlas Vilinius in the NKL, Lithuania’s second-best professional league, this season, shooting 50 percent from the field and grabbing 6.2 boards per game, despite competing against grown men.
Many expect Tubelis to start for the Wildcats this season, so we wanted to know more about him and what he brings to the table.
Here’s a Q&A with Ignacio Rissotto, who wrote an in-depth scouting report on Tubelis for The Stepien that is definitely worth a read.
Ryan Kelapire: What are Tubelis’ strengths as a player?
Ignacio Rissotto: He possesses the requisite physical tools for a power forward and a small-ball center at the NCAA level. Standing at 6’9” tall with a 6’11” wingspan and a strong 243 pound frame which allows him to play through contact on both ends of the floor. He shows impressive north/south mobility for his size, which allows him to create advantages in the open court as a transition target.
His calling card right now is his defense, an area where he shows the physical profile, IQ/instincts and motor to be a plus at. While his optimal defensive role at the NCAA is clearly as a forward defender who is also able to protect the rim on a secondary level, he could also be tasked with covering bigger wings on the perimeter or stepping in as a center if the team needs him to.
Offensively, he is still developing, but he shows intriguing flashes for his size as an on-ball creator both for himself—initiating drives against bigger, slower defenders on the perimeter—and for others, taking advantage of his gravity as a driver and finding open teammates on the move.
RK: What are his weaknesses/areas he needs to improve?
IR: The shooting is where you want to see serious improvement from Tubelis. Even though he has shown some slight development through the years, he’s not nearly as consistent to be considered as a perimeter threat at this point. He shot 19.3% from beyond the arc in the 2019-20 season on a low volume of attempts and only 13.3% of his field goal attempts were from 3-point range.
Beyond that, he needs to polish some parts of his offensive game, such as tightening his handle to not get tangled up when driving through traffic and improving as a right-hand finisher.
RK: What kind of production should Arizona fans expect from day one?
IR: They can expect someone who will affect the game on the defensive end of the floor, as he’s versatile enough to defend multiple frontcourt positions. Offensively, you get a transition target; with his size, his speed on the open court and his ability to elevate with a head full of steam, Tubelis is the type of player you want on the floor when you’re trying to push the pace and run the opposing team off the floor.
RK: What do you think will be his biggest challenge transitioning to the college level?
IR: The big question is just how much is he going to be able to do offensively with the ball in his hands. Given his ability to handle the ball for his size, he should be able to exploit mismatches and initiate drives when matched up against slower bigs on the perimeter. And once he’s able to create an advantage and make the defense collapse, he should be able to make the right play given his IQ and his offensive instincts as a passer.
However, for those lanes to open up, opposing teams will need to respect his shot. Otherwise opponents are just going to commit to defend the drive, close the lanes and dare him to take jump shots.
RK: What do you think his upside is? Is there an NBA player he reminds you of?
IR: It all comes down to how much he continues to develop on offense. If he becomes at least passable as a shooter, I think he has a role in the NBA similar to what Amir Johnson was for Toronto and Boston a few years ago; someone who plays a limited role on offense, mostly finishing plays on the interior, attacking closeouts as a driver and shooting spot-ups. But he could add considerable value as a defender given his positional versatility, motor and defensive instincts/IQ.