After some impressive Adidas Next Generations Tournament performances and a summer run that saw Serbia take the gold medal in the U18 European Championships, Nikola Topić has arrived at the senior level, launching his campaign to the 2024 NBA Draft. With Mega’s focus in developing talent, Topić has found a place where he can evolve and experiment without that big of a focus on winning games at all costs.

The best pick and roll handler in his class, Topić earned his minutes by being a relentless scorer off picks, reading the game and its defenses and open spaces in an uncommon way for someone his age. Of the 81 pick and roll possessions he was involved in, Mega came away with 1.33 points per possession. 37 of those points were assisted by Nikola, with 3 extra coming away on free-throws after a pass from him. Topić scored 60 points and got 8 extra ones from the free-throw line. These are utterly impressive numbers from the 6’6, 18-year old point guard.

Against hedge defenses that tried to create a first barrier and slow him down, what jumps out at first is the quick decision to take away that same attempt at slowing him down. By throwing a pass while the screen defender is still showing, Topić opens up a lot of space in the short roll for his teammate to explore or by creating enough separation from the pick that the defender has to choose between staying with his man or coming out to him, but leaving his primary assignment too far away. The last play is just great recognition on his part. First by creating doubt in the defenders’ minds with the hesitation and then by attacking the screen defender who’s trying to use his physicality and beating him at the rim with his agility.

He’s also pretty good at anticipating what the defense will do but still have them on their heels, before ignoring the screen and attacking the other way. In the first play the hedge comes too soon, so he goes the other way and attacks his man with the in-and-out, knowing there’s no rim protection. In the second one, the space in the back of the pick defenders is too open and too easy to figure out, so Topić attacks it and absorbs the contact for the finish, knowing it was coming.

His patience and IQ shine through when he’s up against a switch (haven’t seen many this season, for obvious reasons). He’s comfortable attacking a big man, because he knows he’ll beat him with his mix of dribble moves and decisive attacks, but he can still find an open teammate if the bigger advantage ends up being inside. He can also keep his dribble alive, with the physical tools necessary to keep a stronger guy on his hip long enough for the defense to send an extra man to stop him or, if they don’t, finish inside with speed.

Defenders in drop heighten his reads and give him more time to think about what to do. Commit to him and he’ll find the roller with a pocket pass. Continue to give him space and retreat and Topić will give you one of his signature moves – usually the in-and out, sometimes the hesitation, sweep through or some kind of combination to force you to act or get you off balance. Despite not being a knock-down shooter that can keep defenses honest with his outside prowess, his ability to get inside and create his own opportunity depending on what the defender gives him is pretty special.

Being a 28.1% 3-point shooter – and 33.3% as a pick and roll handler on low volume – will put you into a lot of situations where the on-ball defender will just go under a screen to easily defend you. Topić goes for a re-pick to see if the defender either ends up going over by the lack of space or to gain just a little bit of an advantage, where he can put his body in front of his man and suddenly create a 2-on-1 opportunity. If that isn’t available to him, he’ll use his IQ, body and athleticism. With great body control and a low center of gravity despite his size, he can turn corners and change directions quickly, finishing well with contact. He can still, as it happens on other occasions, find the open teammate once the main focus of the defense is on him.

Nikola Topić’s rise has been pretty interesting to follow, with his name climbing up draft boards early in the season. With 18.9 points and 7 assists per game to start off his loan at Mega, the 6’6 point guard prepares to join an already big list of players who went from Mega to the NBA. On a young team with a lot to learn, but also the necessary space to find and develop his game without too much pressure, Topić can continue his evolution and become a high pick come June.