After releasing point guard Shabazz Napier, Crvena Zvezda Belgrade’s head coach, Ioannis Sfairopoulos, explained that the team needs help in that position, but the Serbian powerhouse doesn’t need to sign players that are questionable or represent a risk. Instead of trying their luck in the market, Zvezda turned to one of the best talents in Europe.
The 18-year-old Nikola Topić is projected to be one of the top picks in next year’s NBA draft. He joined Zvezda’s youth system in June 2020, following the path of his famous father. Milenko Topić won the World and European Championship in the late 1990s representing Yugoslavia, played a couple of seasons for Zvezda, and was a member of their coaching staff a few years ago.
Milenko Topić’s highlights:
While Topić senior was a power forward, his 198 cm tall son is a point guard. Nikola Topić has thoroughly dominated the European youth scene with massive performances on club and international levels.
An unstoppable force
Last season, he averaged a whopping 28.4 points, 6.9 assists, and 5.3 rebounds in the EuroLeague’s Adidas Next Generation Tournament (ANGT), contested between the best basketball clubs in Europe in the Under-18 age category.
While the tournament was won by Real Madrid, Topić was the standout individual performer. In a qualifying game against Next Generation Team Belgrade, Zvezda’s talent poured in 49 points, tying the tournament’s all-time single-game scoring record. Topić also shone in the finals as he scored 39 against Real in the first game.
Topić’s 49-point game:
What makes Topić’s ANGT performances even more impressive was his efficiency. His average Performance Index Rating of 36 was great, just like his shooting percentages – the Serbian made 64.9% of his two-point shots, connected on 45.2% from downtown, and missed just five free throws out of 62, making 91.9% of the shots when he got to the line. And he got to the line a lot, as he drew 7.7 fouls per night.
Topić’s great form continued in the summer with Serbia’s U18 side. They won the European Championship held on home soil, and Zvezda’s jewel was named the most valuable player. He averaged 15.9 points, 5.1 assists, and 3.7 rebounds during the tournament.
Topić at the U18 Championship:
Loaned and recalled
During his young career, Topić has earned plenty of minutes in men’s basketball too. As his opportunities with Zvezda have so far been scarce, the club decided to send him out on loan to gain valuable experience and game time, not to stifle his development.
Last season, Topić was sent to OKK Beograd where he played 12 games in the Serbian championship after being sent there in January 2023. Initially, Zvezda wanted to loan him out to FMP Meridian for ABA League matches and keep him in their EuroLeague roster, but the move was blocked by the ABA League as they don’t allow a player to play for two clubs at the same time, even if they participate in different competitions.
Before the current season, Topić joined ABA League’s Mega MIS. For any great talent, this Serbian club is the place to be as they focus on developing young players among men’s competition. The team is owned by Europe’s most famous and influential player agent, Miško Ražnatović, and Mega has plenty of current stars who have gone through their ranks, like NBA MVP Nikola Jokić and two-time EuroLeague champion Vasilije Micić.
This season, Topić showed plenty of promise in the ABA League with averages of 18.6 points and 6.9 assists over 13 games while playing 34 minutes per night. Of course, it hasn’t all been plain sailing, as Topić struggled with three-point shooting and a high turnover rate. But for an 18-year-old guard who’s playing a lot, the latter is to be expected.
Topić’s highlights at Mega:
What kind of a player is he?
While mostly playing as a point guard, Topić is effective in either guard spot. The Serbian is a fantastic passer with a very high basketball IQ for someone his age. It’s actually incredible to see an 18-year-old player making so many advanced reads, either to attack the basket on his own or find an open teammate.
Topić is also highly effective at beating his man when he puts the ball on the floor, thanks to his quick first step and ball-handling, which opens up the court for him and for his teammates. With great size for his position and a strong frame, Topić is a good finisher around the rim with both hands, and he also possesses a smooth jumper.
Defensively, Topić is able to leverage his size and strength against opposing guards, staying in front and being physical against opposing drivers. Furthermore, Topić is a great defensive rebounder for the guard position and affects the game as a help defender.
Overall, Topić is just an excellent and extremely versatile prospect who will surely blossom into a great player, whether he chooses to go to the NBA or hone his craft in the EuroLeague.
Not a EuroLeague rookie
Topić isn’t a newcomer to the EuroLeague. He made his debut on 1 April 2022, when Zvezda lost 57 to 82 against Bayern Munich, becoming one of the youngest players to ever play in the EuroLeague at 16 years and 253 days of age. The youngest player ever to step onto a EuroLeague court was the Montenegrin point guard Fedor Žugić back in 2019, when he was just 15 years and 157 days young.
The Serbian also played two games last season without making an impact. Topić hasn’t yet recorded a single point in the EuroLeague, but he does have two rebounds and a lone assist.
This time around, things should be different, but one shouldn’t expect Topić to play nearly as much in the EuroLeague as he did with Mega in the ABA League. The level of basketball is just that much higher, and he has rejoined Zvezda in the middle of the season.
But should Topić perform well in training, he might get decent minutes soon. Looking at Zvezda’s depth chart at the point guard position, he’s behind EuroLeague legend Miloš Teodosić and the Brazilian Yago dos Santos. Additionally, Nemanja Nedović and Adam Hanga can also play as facilitators.
Hence, there’s plenty of work to do for Topić to get into the rotation, but he is already a really good player who Zvezda has high hopes for, even if he chooses to leave for the NBA after this season, which is, of course, very likely.
If we take a deeper look into Zvezda’s rotation, the 36-year-old Teodosić is playing great basketball and is a lock for 20 to 25 minutes per game. Nedović is primarily a shooting guard, and Hanga is versatile enough to play multiple positions.
Topić’s main battle must be against dos Santos. The EuroLeague rookie hasn’t popped off yet and has been very inconsistent, which shows in his minutes – he might play 20 minutes in one game and 7 in the next.
Also, dos Santos has struggled with shooting the ball and turning the ball over. Defensively, opponents look to take advantage of his small size – he’s 175 cm tall.
Hopefully, Topić will get a chance to showcase his talent in the EuroLeague. After all, the Serbian is the most promising talent in the league after Luka Dončić and Victor Wembanyama, who are now plying their trade in the world’s strongest league – the NBA.