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Projecting Balsa Koprivica’s NBA Game

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Koprivica is an athletic center whose game is still developing

NCAA Basketball: North Alabama at Florida State Glenn Beil-USA TODAY Sports

Despite being listed at 7-foot-1 and weighing in at 240 pounds, I am guessing Florida State center Balsa Koprivica was a surprise pick on draft night for many. He has an NBA body, but not many prognosticators believed he had an NBA game.

In taking a closer look at his game, in many ways he is the opposite of the player I last previewed in Luka Garza. He did not play many minutes, he only flashed potential, and it is apparent he is a great athlete for his size.

To give you some more background on the young man himself and how to pronounce his name (if you were not already encouraged by Isaiah Livers to do so) here is video the good people at Florida State put together about Koprivica’s journey to Tallahassee.

Before I move any further, though, let’s look at Koprivica’s per-game stats from this past season:

  • 9.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.3 steals, 1.4 blocks in 19.5 minutes
  • 59.6% from two-point field goal range, 1 of 1 from three-point distance, 68.9% from the free-throw line
  • 62.2% true shooting, 16.7% rebound percentage, 7.7% assist percentage, 15.4% turnover rate, 21.9% usage

What He Projects to Do Well

First and foremost, Koprivica is extremely fluid and smooth for being 7-foot-1 tall. He runs the floor in transition like a wing, he can chase down guards and erase their shots on defense, and he can get up and throw down alley-oop passes in the halfcourt or transition. His athleticism, though, shows up most in transition and as a switch defender on defense.

His best single-game is most likely against North Carolina in the ACC tournament where he had 17 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 4 blocks, and 2 turnovers. He was 7-for-11 (63.6%) on his field goals and 3-of-5 (60.0%) on his free throws.

Here you see him run the break like a point forward, throw down big dunks, and make sure the opposition knows to be wary whenever he is in the paint. To reiterate, in many ways Koprivica is the opposite of Luka Garza, and it starts with this fluidity and athleticism that Garza simply does not possess.

His flashes as a switch defender at his size were one the most exciting things about his game. I cannot say I ever saw a moment in his film where he was played off the court because he could not keep with the opposition athletically. When he slid his feet or when he took proper trailing technique, he made it almost impossible for the opposing team’s offense to get off any decent look at the rim.

He also flashed some awesome passing ability, even though he did not get a lot of opportunities to do so. In the video against North Carolina, he threw a nice one in transition, in the Georgia Tech game on December 15, 2020, he threw some straight-up dimes, and against Louisville on January 18, 2021, he had some great reads as well.

His passing is probably going to take the most time to develop in the NBA (as evidence by that turnover rate), but it definitely is something that should be encouraged as the flashes show him making reads very few big men see.

Aspects of His Game That Need Work

Being the opposite of Luka Garza has its negatives as well, as Garza possesses many technical basketball skills Koprivica has yet to display.

While he flashed ability as a switch defender, I keep it real in my film study and acknowledge this is not a skill he consistently displays. He needs more film study and technique work for it to be a true strength. He needs to consistently get in a defensive stance and slide his feet when operating as a switch defender. He flashed doing this at times, but more often than not he chose to either trail the ball handler and get a block from behind or he tried to turn his whole body then run in pursuit.

He also needs to set better screens. He had a habit of setting his feet much wider than his shoulders when setting the pick, and if you know basketball that is a “c’mon man” thing. Just pull up highlights of Koprivica and you will see very little of him finishing a play as the roll man. For being so big, he did not set very effective screens. One thing I noted was he did not hold the screen long. He set it for a moment and immediately was out of it running to whatever the next action was supposed to be.

This more than any other skill is what will determine his NBA future immediately, in my opinion. It is hard to find an NBA big man who doesn’t shoot threes or handle the ball that it is not required of them to be a great screener. And even then, guys like Bam Adebayo or Nikola Jokic are highly successful because they set awesome screens.

And, yes, Koprivica cannot shoot. I hesitate to put this in this section as I feel shooting as a skill is overrated—particularly for big men like Koprivica. Would expanding his game to the three-point line help? Of course it would—as it would for any NBA player. Is expanding his game to the three-point line necessary for Koprivica to be a successful NBA player or to reach his maximum potential? No.

A 7-footer who can rebound, run like a gazelle, be a switch defender, and erase a shot should focus on those more impactful mismatch aspects of his game, ESPECIALLY in year one. There are plenty of centers out there who mistakenly want to be a three-point shooter and waste tons of time trying to develop that instead of getting in the film room and understanding defensive concepts and how to disrupt offensive schemes. I would implore us as fans to encourage that development first for Koprivica.

NBA Comp and Projected Role

This is going to be an odd comp because I had a hard time trying to find one exact player that fit Koprivica’s skill and athleticism, but I see his comp as a mix between current Toronto Raptors big man Khem Birch and Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac. Koprivica has similar measurements to Zubac and can inhabit a similar role on defense, but I think he is more athletic and can project into a transition threat and passing threat like Birch.

Zubac is an important spot starter for the Clippers as he protects the rim first and foremost while also being able to hold up in switches. Birch is an athletic shot blocker, oop threat, and transition finisher who is also a very underrated passer. Both players are far ahead as pick-and-roll big men and, as I mentioned earlier, Koprivica is really going to have to work on that aspect of his game.

While both players might seem like big comps for the 57th pick in the draft, I picked both guys because it took longer for them to develop and become solid role players in the NBA. Zubac wasn’t able to show consistent defense and efficient offense until his third year, and Khem Birch was undrafted coming out of UNLV. Birch had to play in the G-League and then overseas for Uşak Sportif and Olympiacos before the Orlando Magic offered him a contract when he was 25 years old.

Koprivica is going to take similar development time if he is to reach the defensive abilities of Zubac or maximize his athleticism like Birch. For now, he is most likely going to see G-League minutes trying to do both things. IF (and this is a big if), he does see the floor in the regular season for the Pistons this upcoming season, I imagine it is as the fourth center filling in due to injuries.

He won’t be asked to space the floor, but he certainly can run it with guys like Saben Lee and Hamidou Diallo in the second unit. I imagine both Lee and Diallo would love to play with a 7-foot-1 dude who can keep pace with them and finish at the rim. He’ll also be tested as a defensive anchor at center in the second unit if he is called into action, and it remains to be seen if he can hang with NBA ball-handlers on switches.

Let us know what your thoughts are about Balsa Koprivica in the comments! Next time I will begin to examine the Undrafted Free Agents the Pistons brought in to see what skills they bring to the table and if any of them have the potential to be more than a summer league or training camp body.