In 2016-2017 Jerry Stackhouse, coached the Raptors 905 (G League affiliate of the Toronto Raptors) to the NBDL championship and was named the 2017 NBDL Coach of the Year. The 2016-2017 team featured names like Bruno Caboclo, Fred Van leet, and Pascal Siakam. Following his time coaching in the D-League (now G League) was a short stint as an assistant for the Memphis Grizzlies where Stackhouse believed he could eventually take over the reigns of an NBA team. Like Patrick Ewing, Stackhouse made the best decision he could and decided to take over the reigns of a college team when Vanderbilt came calling following the dismissal of Bryce Drew.
The first season of the Jerry Stackhouse era hasn’t necessarily gone as he would’ve liked. The 2018-2019 Vanderbilt class, the last of Drew’s, saw a historically good class for the Commodores as it brought in Darius Garland, Simi Shittu, and Aaron Nesmith. Garland as we know got injured early into his Vandy career and still was a top selection in the NBA Draft and Shittu decided to go play professionally, but Aaron Nesmith would remain for the 2019-2020 season. Nesmith was a revelation for Coach Stackhouse leading the SEC in scoring until a foot injury unfortunately ended his season early. Guard Saben Lee has carried the offensive load and effectively too. Vanderbilt has been scrapping their way along this year. The record doesn’t do them justice as these players really come to play for Stackhouse and it shows.
I got to see Vanderbilt play live against Ole Miss this past weekend and despite the lopsided outcome there was something or should I say someone who caught my eye for Vanderbilt. Freshman forward Oton Jankovic was the one who caught my eye as he saw 14 minutes of action. His statistics this year aren’t pretty, but if you watch this guy play you can see the appeal immediately in his skill set.
Jankovic committed to Vanderbilt after a senior season at Montverde Academy and is a native of Croatia. He even has experience with the Croatian junior national team having competed in the FIBA U-18 European Championships. Jankovic joined a recruiting class with Scotty Pippen Jr. and other forward Dylan Disu.
Jankovic stands at 6-10 weighing 210 pounds. and plays a combo forward spot. Watching him play you can immediately see the athleticism he brings to the table. For a forward he is quick on his feet and can excel in open space. He has a solid handle that allows him to take bigger forwards and centers off the dribble from the perimeter. I wouldn’t say he is an exceptional passer, but there have been some flashes of good vision off the dribble. Jankovic excels at getting to and finishing above the rim with some explosiveness. In the Ole Miss game Jankovic displayed some of his skill by attacking a closeout from Khadim Sy and finishing a tough bucket over Devontae Shuler.
Vanderbilt also used him at the top of their zone press when trying to get back in the game and that displayed some of the lateral quickness he possesses.
Where Coach Stackhouse and Oton Jankovic could look to improve is with his body and his jump shot. His jumper form reminds me of current Gonzaga big man Filip Petrusev as it is a little rigid, but you can see that there is room to grow. He hasn’t had a lot in game opportunity to take many FTs or 3PTAs so it’s tough to get a good read on how his progression has been. The jump shot will be huge for him as he needs more of a reason to impact the game offensively.
He has a nice frame that he could develop just a little more. He could really use some strength to bang around on the blocks and compete more with Disu and Ejike Obinna for minutes (Not to mention the addition next year of Rice transfer Quentin Millora-Brown). Adding more to his post repertoire would need to occur too as he often only uses a hook or a turn around jumper.
Overall, the Freshman season has been disappointing for Jankovic and the Commodores, but Oton Jankovic is a project. The athletic skill set and potential that he possesses for a man of his size is hard to deny. If he puts in the work in the offseason to train and get better, it could be interesting to see the kind of player he could become making him someone to keep an eye on.