For Dzanan Musa, confidence is a key component of his game.
Yes, it’s a big part of his on-court persona. But it’s only one part of it.
The 19-year-old from Bosnia and Herzegovina is a natural scorer. He attacks the basket with a relentless pursuit of points. He is still a teenager, but he’s now becoming a household name for casual NBA fans. More and more, these fans are turning their attention to the 2018 NBA Draft, which will be held on June 21 in New York.
So who is this small forward?
Call him the latest big-time prospect from Bosnia and Herzegovina — the European nation that veteran NBA forward Mirza Teletovic also hails from.
Since 2015, Musa has played for Croatian pro team Cedevita Zagreb.
Now, he’s ready to accept a new challenge. He’s eager to prove he belongs in the NBA.
Video footage of the 206-cm, 90-kg Musa shows a player who has learned key shots with intense concentration. He’s learned how to effectively use both hands to score inside. On the wings, he finds holes in the defense and scores over shorter foes.
The best talent evaluators have paid attention, seeing him blossom into an NBA-caliber player.
Recently, Musa participated in private workouts for several NBA teams, starting with the Indiana Pacers.
“I know (the) rookie year is tough, not playing a lot,” Musa told the Indy Star. “I want to see how a team will react (to) me one year from now. That they see me as a project. A lot of rookies get thrown to the dust. I don’t want that to happen to me. I want to compete and show I can play at the highest level.”
Clearly, his patience will be tested in the months to come.
But Dzanan Musa, who just turned 19 in May, knows what he wants to do. He knows what he’s capable of doing, and he’s striving to reach that goal.
“I decided to declare for the NBA Draft because I think it’s a great opportunity to make my dreams come true, and I think I’m ready for it,” Musa said, according to published reports. “It was not a difficult decision, because I have my goal and the goal is to play in the NBA.”
To develop his all-around game, Musa wants to be instructed by the best mentors. Thus, that means moving across the Atlantic Ocean for work.
In one mock draft, updated on June 11, the Boston Celtics are penciled in to make Dzanan Musa the 27th pick in the first round. A day later, Sports Illustrated projected Musa will go 21st to the Utah Jazz. Bleacher Report predicted the lanky forward will go 18th to the San Antonio Spurs. Other prognosticators have suggested the Chicago Bulls will call his name at No. 22.
So how did Dzanan Musa wind up as one of the elite Euro prospects? It started in his hometown, Bihac (pop: about 50,000 in 2013), in northwestern Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he displayed a keen interest in the sport. He began playing for a youth team, KK Bosna XXL, at age 8. (He was child No. 2 for his parents, Rusmir and Saudina.)
Three years later, Musa took a big step toward adulthood when he moved to the larger cosmopolitan city of Sarajevo. It was there, some 300 km for his hometown, where he truly pursued his hoop dreams. As an 11-year-old, he went to a basketball academy in Sarajevo, the host city of the 1984 Winter Olympics before the war-torn reality that shattered the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. There, Musa was pushed to succeed in basketball.
For him, it was not an oasis of tranquility. Instead, it was his coming-of-age locale. In Sarajevo, he worked on his game. That was his primary task.
And then, his pro career started early. At age 15, he finalized a deal with Cedevita, joining the team in December 2014.
When he played for Cedevita in a EuroLeague game for the first time in October 2015, he became the ninth-youngest player to do so this century. It was a quiet debut, a four-point outing in just under 5 minutes. But he was with a club that presented a real opportunity for growth.
Dzanan Musa’s rise to stardom
For Dzanan Musa, acclaim came fast, particularly in the biggest competitions. Success became his trademark.
For Bosnia and Herzegovina, Musa averaged a tourney-best 23.0 points a game at the 2014 FIBA Under-16 European Championships in Latvia. A year later, in Lithuania, the Bosnian ballplayer exhibited his growing range of skills. He was No. 1 again in scoring (23.3 ppg) and also tops in assists (6.3). He pulled down 9.3 rebounds a game.
Facing Lithuania in the final, Musa delivered a 33-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist, three-steal, two-block effort. The result? Bosnia-Herzegovina won the U16 European Championship by edging the hosts 85-83.
Above all, Dzanan Musa achieved continental notoriety with that result. He received the tourney MVP award. In addition, he earned all-tournament team accolades.
In 2016, at the FIBA Under-17 World Cup, Musa was the leading scorer (34.0 ppg). This impressive output included a tournament-record 50-point game against Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) in Zaragoza, Spain.
Moreover, Musa has garnered attention for his feats with Cedevita. Most impressively, he helped the team capture three straight Croatian League crowns (2016, 2017, 2018), and three Croatian Cup titles in the same years.
He was the 2017-18 EuroCup Rising Star Trophy recipient for 2017-18. In European basketball’s second-tier continental competition, Musa contributed 10.5 points and 3.2 boards in the Croatian club’s 16 games.
Abundant talent is another key aspect of his game.
One YouTube video intro referred to Dzanan Musa as the “best NBA prospect that you’ve never heard of.”
What’s the main reason?
His ability to score points in a hurry from anywhere on the floor. He knocks down mid-range jumpers and pull-up 3-pointers, and slices through traffic for buckets in transition, finishing with layups and dunks.
Musa may best be utilized as a shooting guard in the NBA, even though he’s listed as a small forward.
One huge career highlight-reel game to date: a 35-point outburst on 10-of-12 shooting in 27 minutes along with five rebounds, three assists, three steals and an impressive PIR of 46 on Nov. 18, 2017, for Cedevita Zagreb against KK Mornar.
Dzanan Musa became only the sixth scorer in Adriatic League history to average more than 20 points per 40 minutes as a teenager. The others: Nikola Jokic, Goran Dragic, Dario Saric, Jusuf Nurkic and Ante Zizic.
In a FIBA World Cup qualifier in February 2018, Musa had 26 points against Russia on 10-for-18 shooting. He made 5 of 9 3-pointers in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 70-53 road defeat to Russia.
The Adriatic Basketball Association named Musa its Top Prospect for the 2017-18 campaign. He also earned a coveted spot on the All-ABA Team, too. He provided 12.6 points in 23 minutes in ABA matches. In Croatian League contests, he recorded averages of 13.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists in just under 23 minutes.
Because of his natural talent, Dzanan Musa is repeatedly mentioned as a first-round draft prospect.
It’s easy to notice his agility and fluid movement on the court. He also has a knack for earning trips to the free-throw line. Which is, of course, something that every coach wants from his players. He impressed talent evaluators at the 2017 Adidas Eurocamp in Treviso, nabbing Most Improved Player honors.
Here’s how nbadraft.net summed up Musa’s skills on offense:
“(He’s) probably the best player of his generation in Europe at creating contact and drawing fouls. Dzanan Musa is one of the best scorers of his generation in Europe if not the best. His ability to score is uncanny and he has already proved it’s his most translatable skill at the next level, along with his ability to play multiple positions…”
To recap: Dzanan Musa’s 206-cm frame is thin, especially when compared with the chiseled upper bodies of the NBA’s macho forwards.
For Musa, the grueling 82-game NBA regular season will be a test of mental stamina. A mental marathon. But more than that, it will be a physical test.
After all, Musa’s defensive performances have been called inconsistent and lacking focus at times.
Which brings up two important questions.
1. Can he handle the rough, repeated collisions with bigger, stronger opponents?
2. Can he play through nagging injuries and remain focused in practice and productive in games?
Time will tell.
In the meantime, everyone is saying he needs to bulk up.
At his first individual pre-draft workout with the Pacers, Musa acknowledged as much. He wants to increase his weight to about 97.5 kg, or 215 pounds.
“In Europe, we don’t have people around here who are these kinds of athletes,” Musa said, according to the Indy Star. “I have to develop myself into that kind of player to finish through contact.”
Yes, setting picks, fighting through screens, taking charges, and crashing to the floor for loose balls are a part of this physical battle.
In the final analysis, Dzanan Musa’s mental maturation and physical growth will go hand and hand as he chases his dream.