By Artau Pascual

Less than a week ago, the Serbian NT became the U18 European Champion in Nis, Serbia. Playing as the local team, Serbia won all of their games in the tournament in a convincing way and demonstrated why their 2005-born basketball players generation is expected to be special. Despite Lazar Gacic being out, the Serbian NT put on display a deep rotation and played good basketball.

If there’s a player who stood out the most in the National Team, this one was Nikola Topic. The 6’5 PG was crowned MVP of the tournament and demonstrated once again his status as one of the most talented guards in the European 2005 generation. He led his team on the offensive end of the court and provided the type of leadership and difference-making skills you can expect of a potential star in these categories. 

The Crvena Zvezda player found a way to take advantage of his strength in every matchup. He was the starting point of Serbia’s halfcourt offense and put his teammates in a good spot to thrive in their roles. His ability to put rim pressure was the main factor for Serbia’s success.

An offensive game built around slashing tools

A key factor when it comes to determining the ceiling of a Guard is how often he’s able to get paint touches and what happens when he does so. That’s the main reason why Nikola Topic is that he’s already turning this skill into real production. We could say it’s already the floor of his game; the thing he can provide already. With strength as his main attribute, Topic’s mix of size and power is translating really well to every level he plays at.

In the U18, Topic thrived playing middle pick&roll. He was at his best in the first seconds of possession, when the defensive scheme of the opponent team wasn’t set and there was a clear advantage in the first seconds of the shotclock. Topic is great attacking in straight lines: he’s able to get past his defender if the opponent stays in front of him or switches, he needs very few dribbles to get to the paint, and he’s great at protecting the ball when he goes right. And, since he was the most athletic Guard in the event, that’s what he did most of the time. Also, despite being a player who’s at his best when he beats his defender using power and strength, lately he’s done noticeable strides in key techniques such as snaking or freezing the opponent in pick&roll, as we saw in Nis. Poise and deceleration are difference-making attributes for a Guard, and Topic, who still has a huge margin for improvement at reading the game when he uses these skills, has implemented them in his game at an early age.

Topic is not only a great driver but also an excellent finisher. It’s not common to see a player putting both things together in these stages, but in the end that’s what his game is about. Topic’s finishing package is functional and simple, two adjectives that suit up perfectly for his game. He plays mostly off one foot and, while he’s not shifty or specially coordinated to change directions once he’s hanging in the air, he feels comfortable handling and initiating contact. His go-to-move for finishing in the paint is an easy-looking, effective right-handed extension layup that can come from a high release point or from under the shoulder of the defender, which allows him to find good finishing angles. It will turn into an even more valuable attribute once he establishes himself in high-level leagues. 

Being a good driver and a good finisher unleashes his passing dimension. Topic isn't a player who constantly makes advanced reads from a standstill and won’t turn into a passing magician, but he understands the attention he draws as a scorer and turns it into an advantage for his team. He’s especially good at driving and dishing either to the shooter or the roller thanks to how quickly he identifies where the help comes from. It’s a matter of time he gets to the next level as a passer. This will happen once he polishes even more the way he gets to the mid-range spots thanks to freezing or snaking the pick&roll, and he builds more chemistry with efficient shooters and rollers. That’s a thing he’ll have the change to add to his game in an organic way if he’s able to translate his current tools to the upcoming levels, which should happen without big issues.

There are two key areas where Nikola Topic could improve still. If he does so, he’ll raise his ceiling even more. These areas are the self-creation of mid and long-range shots and his lefty game. The first one is pretty easy: he needs to feel more comfortable at generating his own looks to develop as a multiple-level scorer. He has to add to his game some fluidity after the pullback dribble -does really good use of it to go downhill, but lacks the ability to turn it into space creation for the shot. He’ll also probably need to reshape a little his shooting mechanics because most of his pull-ups go too strong. These are fixable things, and he has the athletic attributes to afford improvements in the short/mid-term. More of the same for the second issue: if there’s a thing he struggled with, this was going left. He wasn’t as fluid as going right when playing pick&roll with his left hand, and this turned into running out of dribbles in bad angles or bumping against the help and turning the ball over. That’s a fixable thing because he has already shown he’ll be able to slow down the pace and his handles are translatable to the next level, but it’s something we’ll have to keep an eye on in the upcoming events.

2005-born Guard Nikola Topic signed a professional contract some weeks before the U18 European Championship tipped off, and in this event, he demonstrated why he’s ready to contribute and what he can provide. Topic has the body-building to be a dominating Guard, and the most important thing is he already understands what type of player he is. The leader of the Serbian U18 NT is ready to shine.