By Artau Pascual

The Joventut Badalona games have been one of the must-watch events for scouts lately. The Catalan team, well-known for their youth categories success and their willingness to give chances to most of their promising prospects, has struggled because of some injuries and absences. Obviously, like every team with winning hopes, the management keeps an eye on the transfer market, but meanwhile, they’ve found a few solutions at home. Long-term players like 2006-born Iker Garmendia or Michael Ruzic have occasionally been part of their rotation, as well as 2004-born Jordi Rodríguez. Other guys who already had more experience at the elite level like 2003-born Miguel Malik Allen or 2002-born Yannick Kraag have benefited from a role increase. But, if there’s a guy who has stood out in his recent outings, that’s the 2005-born Portuguese 6’10 Big Ruben Prey.

Just as happens in life, It’s nearly impossible to predict how a human being will react in a tough situation. Prey’s talent has always been there: his size, passing skill and nose for rebounds have been standouts of every tournament he’s been part of during his youth development. The main concerns with him were related to some key areas such as toughness and all those attributes related to adjusting his physicality to the level of the league, but presently he’s been able to do so.

What does Ruben Prey provide on the offensive end?

Joventut has run their offense through a creative big man with post-up passing skills like Ante Tomic during the last three seasons. This season, while keeping Tomic, they sought for another high-level big in the transfer market like Chinanu Onuaku, who also needed a fair amount of usage to operate. With Tomic injured and Onuaku’s buyout, Prey has stepped up in a key role on this end of the court, even more if we consider the absence of a conventional PG that has turned Joventut into a heavy-ISO team. Prey isn’t the type of player who adjusts the game to his own pace like Tomic, and he’s not either a presence like Onuaku. However, he’s found some ways to display his passing ability into a valuable asset for his team already.

The main area where he unleashes his creativity is in short-roll situations. At this point, Ruben has already demonstrated he feels comfortable building off advantages when the opponents hedge the ball-handler, and he has also left some positive flashes against drop defenses. Prey is a quick reader with optimal footwork on straight lines in this situation, and he doesn’t bring the ball down on the drive, so he benefits from these attributes to hit open teammates. He’s smart and sharp enough to find open teammates in the corner reading where the help comes from, and he’s able to make his decisions at different ranges. We have even seen him making some nice connections with cutting threats or teammates set at the dunker spot, which reinforces his joyful passing perception. To reach the next level in this offensive area, Prey will need to keep developing his screening ability: he’s better at touch screens or slipping than at doing the full move because he lacks the consistency to set good screens for his teammates, so he mainly relies on his speed and ability to turn hips. If he develops into a stronger screener, Prey will clear more space for the ball-handling threat and will earn better angles for himself. It will also be key to figure out his ceiling if he’ll be able to develop some mid-range counters such as a jumper or a floater.

When it comes to scoring, Prey is also showing what he can and what he can’t do at this point. While shooting is still a work in progress -we saw some slight improvements in terms of volume and prowess last June in the Adidas Eurocamp, where he played mostly PF, that have not translated yet to the pro levels-, what stands out the most of his repertoire is his willingness. He’s not strong enough to play through contact in the paint, but he has a natural gift for grabbing offensive boards, and is smart enough to read what he has to do after securing the second chance. The other area where he’s been immediately able to make an impact is in transitions and fastbreaks. Due to all those previously mentioned injuries and the nature of the players on the roster this Joventut team is not a high-tempo team. However, Prey is often the first guy to fill the lanes and gets to easy spots because of how well he leaks out. That’s a unique skill for a 6’11 player. 

Prey’s disruptive presence on defense

It’s odd to evaluate Prey’s defensive presence. Not only because he’s wholly different from Tomic and Onuaku, but also because the big position has a key impact in a collective scheme and that’s his first experience in professional basketball. Ruben Prey has been known all over the years in the youth categories events for his ability to block shots and make things happen on defense. He’s always been a tremendous shot-blocker in non-contact situations due to his length and mobility, and he has an undeniable feel to be at the right spot to collect the steal. This mix of size and opportunity made it up for his athletic development every so often. Liga Endesa is different.

Joventut has built kind of a comfort zone for Prey on defense. He’s been playing alongside two physical forwards for many minutes -Yannick Kraag and DeShaun Thomas- and the defensive scheme has been an aggressive show and recover. Prey’s response has been reliable: he’s been able to put the ball-handler in trouble and many possessions have turned into turnovers and deflections thanks to his size and presence. He’s also good at backpedaling and has done a solid job at recovering his position. We’ve even seen him dealing with peel switches. Prey has some common physical and tactical flaws, which are normal for a player in his circumstances, but he’s found a way to overcome them and make an impact.

In other schemes, such as drop, he’s struggled a little more. His positioning uses to be good, but he struggles to play through contact. In the few situations he’s had to switch, he’s been able to force late-clock jumpers, but he has obviously struggled against crafty ball-handlers. He needs to keep working on his core strength and lateral quickness to turn into a solid defender in multiple coverages. In his last game against Breogan we saw how an athletic big like 2001-born Mouhamet Diouf found ways to produce against him due to his current building, as well as some other players went against him in the post -Sajus, Rudan-.

There are no glaring red flags in Prey’s defensive development. All the above-mentioned things, as well as his defensive rebounding assertiveness, should keep improving as he accumulates minutes in the Spanish first division. As said in the first lines of the article, his answer has been as mature and competitive as you could have imagined in the best scenario. Joventut has found in him a player who’s been able to make it up for many problems and who has earned some credit to stay in the rotation, in a fair role, once most of the guys are back. Prey is already eligible for the upcoming Draft and, surely, some of his strengths are intriguing for the NBA.