By Berkay Terzi / email@example.com
The Turkish U18 National Team won the silver medal at the FIBA U18 European Championship held in Izmir last summer and one of the architects of this success was Berke Büyüktuncel, the young talent of TOFAS Bursa.
He averaged 12.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 2.1 steals and was selected to the tournament’s Best Five. Although an injury he suffered slowed his pace, he continues to work and he has the chance with Tofas to demonstrate his talent.
Born in 2004, the player had a notable emergence under the wing of Tofaş’s new coach Dimitrios Priftis before the injury. He won the admiration of everyone with his mature game despite his age, but Berke’s relationship with the blue-green jersey goes back much further than is known.
We leave it to him to help us learn his background better: “The biggest reason that pushed me to play basketball was the desire to succeed in this sport, which I have watched since I was a child. My bond with TOFAS goes back even further than 5 years ago when I started playing for this club. While my father used to work at TOFAS, my whole childhood was spent in TOFAS and club facilities. Every time I came to the facilities, I always saw basketball players and I wanted to be like them. So I’m very happy to be part of an institution and a club with which I have such an emotional connection.”
Although the young prospect is strongly attached to his club, he will surely say goodbye to this jersey one day because he is approaching the end of the tunnel step by step. The light at the end is nothing more than the glow of the NBA.
But there are different ways to go to the NBA for European youngsters. There are two different career examples in front of the young talent.
The first of these is Alperen Sengun… The Houston Rockets center, just like Berke Büyüktuncel, competed in the Basketball Champions League and the Basketball Super League and was selected in the first round of the NBA Draft. Adem Bona, a 19-year-old pivot, plays for UCLA, one of the college’s long-established teams, to achieve the same goal.
Berke Büyüktuncel stands closer to Alperen’s footsteps than to Bona at this point. The reason is simple as he said reveling that he said no to UCLA: “I don’t think there is only one right route to the NBA. Each player may choose a different route depending on their individual circumstances. I had offers from big NCAA programmes last summer and going to UCLA was one of my options as well. After the U18 Eurobasket last summer, my agent and I prepared a detailed development plan for this season with a clear vision of the environment I should be in. We took our time to assess the pros and cons of staying in Tofaş and going to NCAA in detail based on this plan. During this time, I also had the opportunity to get to know our new coach, Dimitris Priftis, and his basketball mentality and to understand the role he was likely to give me in the team. At the end, we thought staying in Tofas this season was the right thing to do. I think that playing with and against older and more experienced players in the Turkish Super League and Basketball Champions League is a great opportunity for my development. To be honest, I want to go to the NBA as ready as possible in order to have a sustainable career there...”
The following part of Berke Büyüktuncel’s statements is quite remarkable: “I want to be there permanently.”
Because it doesn’t matter which way you arrive at the NBA anymore. The important thing is timing and staying there. There are many European prospects who want to go to the NBA early and continue their development in America instead of proving themselves in Europe. Aleksej Pokusevski and Nikola Jovic are among the nearest examples of this.
This preference for young people has brought controversy in French basketball. “The NBA has a different view of Europe now. Now they are betting on potential more and more as they do with Americans. The kids are now getting picked higher in the draft when they haven’t really proven themselves which wasn’t the case before. For me, this is a mistake.” said veteran Evan Fournier, who thinks European teenagers should go to the NBA after proving themselves.
Berke Büyüktuncel has a different mindset on this subject than young talents like Pokusevski: “My preference is to go as prepared as possible rather than develop in the NBA. I’d rather be ready to improve myself here and take responsibility when I go to the NBA than go there and not play or take less time. I’m not in a hurry about the NBA Draft. My priority is to spend this season in the best way for both my team’s success and my own development. The draft process will take shape according to the course.”
But does the 2004-born forward really has a chance to go beyond the Atlantic Ocean? Let’s take a closer look at this.
First of all, it is worth mentioning that in the back rows of the first round, players who are rich in tools and promise different things can be valued. Why shouldn’t Berke Büyüktuncel be one of them?
For example, Jake LaRavia, who was selected from the 19th pick of the 2022 NBA Draft, has a similar profile to Berke Büyüktuncel. Of course, the fact that LaRavia played college basketball for three years is an advantage. However, let us remind you that Berke is three years younger.
There are two important things that are sought after in complementary players in today’s NBA: Defensive versatility and the ball-handling/closeout attack. Both are present in Berke’s arsenal.
Berke’s impact, especially on the defensive side can’t be overlooked. Aside from the exciting combination of body length and mobility, he is also extremely active in off-ball defense. There are very few players who are 18 years old and rarely fall out of the game on defense, I’m sure of that.
There are two mistakes that young players often make in basketball: The first is watching the ball in off-ball defense and missing their own man or falling out of the game. The second is that they jump on every shot fake and take their feet off the court. Berke Büyüktuncel’s defensive discipline sets him apart from his peers.
Of course, the first question that comes to mind for such defenders today is: Is he successful in switching defense? The answer is yes. Especially in European basketball, he will not have any problems in terms of switching.
Berke sometimes has a hard time staying up in the face of quick guards right now. But he has the potential to match up everyone from 1 to 5 which can’t be ignored. If you come across one of Berke’s games in the summer of 2021, you may notice that he has actually made progress in his perimeter defense.
The young player not only went over his athleticism, hip mobility, and lateral movement but also improved his footwork technique. While playing defense on his heels in last year’s games, today he seems to have improved his technique in the stance&slide position and put the weight on his toes. This allows Berke to better demonstrate his mobility.
When we bring the word to the defensive side of the court and his potential on the switch, the young talent expresses himself as follows: “I feel comfortable defensively. Even though I sometimes struggle with the guards’ defense, but I do my best. I think my defensive IQ and instincts are good. In this way, I can stay in front of quick guards most of the time. For me, defense always comes before offense. I don’t think I’ll be happy if I score 30 points after I can’t defend the attacking player.”
Berke really knows where to position himself and his instincts are very strong. If you watch the games in U18 carefully, it won’t take you much time to see that he is the main source of defensive communication. The young player, who plays the role of defensive leader in the U18 National Team, rarely makes mistakes in defensive rotations.
In the first two of the clips above, we see that Berke does not miss the second rotation (sink-and-fill) at the rim. The opponent’s attack on the rim pushes the main rim protector to go to the help defense. In this case, a second rotation/help is needed. Otherwise, the player left open by the rim protector will get an easy bucket chance. The task of preventing that possibility falls on Berke Buyuktuncel. The young player automatically finds his position and disrupts the offense.
In the third and final clip, Berke’s weakside help deters the attacking player at first, then leads him to turnover. While we’re on the subject, it is necessary to take a look at the positions where Berke Büyüktuncel brought help from the weak side and protected the rim.
The lack of elite athleticism may somewhat limit Berke’s weakside rim protector potential. However, he covers up his weaknesses with great timing and basketball IQ. There are a few positions where he makes mistakes in the weakside help, but the examples where he succeeds are in the majority.
Check the second position in the video above. This unusual help defense takes place in a game-saving position, and it’s not as easy as it seems. It requires defensive instinct and a quick read. Berke Büyüktuncel reacts very quickly to the mismatch and ends up in front of the opponent as soon as he turns his face. If he had been a second late, maybe the Turkish national team would have said goodbye to the tournament early.
Although Berke Büyüktuncel has a positive impact on the game on both sides of the court, his defensive effort is eye-catching. The young player, who brings energy to his team, reiterates once again that defense comes before offense: “I enjoy a well-made defense more than a well-played offense. Since I’m a player who plays with a high motor, well-made defense fires that motor.”
Here are a few positions Berke enjoys defending:
Berke Büyüktuncel is a basketball player who shines by doing small things on the court. This fact is true both on defense and offense. He can match multiple positions, and his position knowledge and defensive instincts are extremely strong. However, it is also necessary to take a look at the other works he has done.
He has a high motor. He is able to put pressure on the passing lanes and the ball-handler, thanks to his length. He passes through the screens, follows the off-ball players, and disrupts the offensive actions. Berke Büyüktuncel is a complete package and has significant defensive potential.
Up to this point, we’ve only talked about Berke’s defensive skills. However, when we look at the other part of the court, he does not lose his impact on the game. As I mentioned earlier, complementary players in the NBA now require ball-handling skills as much as defensive effectiveness.
These players are not expected to be primary ball handlers. They take on less responsibility in their teams. But when the ball comes to them, they are expected to at least be able to make quick decisions and play with the ball. When you don’t have role players like that, you can have problems like the Dallas Mavericks.
Therefore, Berke’s ball handling and the close-out offense can be valued. Born in 2004, the forward has not served as a primary or secondary ball-handler for the teams he has played for. He was more of a player waiting for the game to come to him. But when it was his turn, he made a difference thanks to his close-out offense and quick decision-making skills.
When Berke Büyüktuncel meets the ball behind the arc, he catches the close-out defender off balance with the jab step, leaves him behind, and can go to the rim. His steps are long, worked and decisive. His first-step quickness is good for his size but not elite.
Most young players start their careers in complementary roles, but in the following years, some of them excel. Berke’s P&R ball-handling and decision-making potential may set him apart.
Berke Buyuktuncel is 2.06 meters tall. However, sometimes he can operate Pick&Roll and see the second option after pick&roll. It’s exciting.
Berke Büyüktuncel hasn’t played much of a P&R ball-handler role so far. He has shown some glimpses, but for now, we have to make do with that. Even this is enough to excite us in terms of Berke’s all-around offensive potential.
In this clip, the screener/roller is the first option. The German defender tag the roller. Meanwhile, Kerem Konan, who moves from corner to wing (lift), shows up as the second option. Berke Büyüktuncel does not miss his teammate.
In the second position, the passing accuracy is not perfect. However, we can give credit to his court vision. Berke Buyuktuncel is currently able to do simple reads on pick-and-roll. His potential promises more than that.
It remains to be seen if we can see Berke as a P&R ball-handler in a few years. He says he’s already leaning into this aspect of basketball:“I’m trying to improve myself as both a ball-handler and a screener/roller in pick-and-roll. I believe I will run more P&Rs in the future. If I develop myself in this direction, the offensive role that the coach will draw on me will be shaped accordingly.”
Berke Büyüktuncel’s passing skills are actually much better than the assist figures show. He’s not just producing assists through simple passes. From the moment he receives the ball, he creates a threat as a passer, and his court vision is quite wide when he’s on the move.
Büyüktuncel, who completed the U18 European Championship with an average of 2.1 assists, made good dishes to his teammates. When he has a 2-on-1 advantage in the weakside corner, he tries to manipulate the defender with his eyes. This is Luka Doncic’s signature. (Second position in the clip below)
Berke Büyüktuncel’s size, versatility, maturity, and disciplined team play make him interesting. But no one is perfect. The young player is also aware of his flaws and is addressing them:
“I believe the most important part of the offense is shooting. I think that having a consistent shooting threat will allow me to use my ball-handling, driving, and passing qualities more efficiently. That’s why I work regularly to make my shot even better.”
The biggest question mark for him is his inconsistency in three-point shooting. This is important enough for Berke to open or close the door of the NBA.
Berke Büyüktuncel, who made 2.7 three-point attempts per game at the U18 European Championship, make 1.1 of them with 42.1 percent. This performance was not convincing enough about Berke’s shooting development, but it gave hope for the future. Some of the off-ball movement threes are worth watching:
Finally, we asked Berke Büyüktuncel if there was a basketball player whom he could say ‘I watch all the time:
“Of course there is. Especially Toni Kukoc, Nemanja Bjelica, Luka Doncic, and Sasha Vezenkov. I also watch Hakeem Olajuwon for footwork and post moves.”
Berke still has a long way to go. So it makes sense that he shouldn’t be in a hurry about the NBA Draft. Aside from his shooting consistency, he may need to get a little stronger if he wants to protect his defensive versatility in the NBA. He may need to strengthen his pull-up shots and his relationship with the ball, for his self-creation.
No doubt, there are pros and cons. But don’t forget that he is just 18 years old. His NBA potential is more than obvious.