Unicorn-like, Vrenz Bleijenbergh is one of the top NBA prospects in Europe. He has a rare combination of size, mobility, ball-handling skills, and playmaking ability. He currently plays for the Antwerp Giants in the EuroMillions League in Belgium. The 6-foot-11 Antwerp native is capable of playing at any spot on the floor, though his hometown club mainly uses him as wing with secondary ball-handling responsibilities. Another way to describe him would be a point forward, who can also be used as a stretch four.
Antwerp is currently battling in the Belgian playoffs. As the third seed, the Giants have advanced to the semifinals, and may be on a collision course with top-seeded Oostende, the winner of the league’s last nine titles. Bleijenbergh has been a major contributor for Antwerp this season, playing in 38 games, including 10 EuroCup contests, and averaging nearly 26 minutes per outing. He is currently producing 9.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and 1.8 combined steals and blocks per game. The 20-year-old has respectable shooting splits (.392/.359/.679) and a solid assist-turnover ratio of 1.38. In the EuroMillions League, Bleijenbergh won the Rising Star Award, and he currently ranks second on the team for assist percentage (23.7) and steal percentage (2.9), and ranks third with a defensive rating of 99.9.
Prior to this season, Bleijenbergh caught scouts’ attention with impressive stints with the Junior National Team, leading Belgian squads to Bronze Medals in the 2018 and the 2019 Euro Championships. He also was named to the All-Tournament Team at both events.
|Position:||Small Forward||Team/Class:||Antwerp (Belgium)|
|Shot Hand:||Right||Stats:||Click here|
It is not difficult to spot Bleijenbergh when he’s playing. He is always one of the taller players on the court, he frequently handles the ball, and he is not shy about shooting. In short, he has a very impressive combination of size, athleticism, and ball skills.
Bleijenbergh’s most impressive trait is his playmaking ability. He has excellent vision and beautiful touch and accuracy on his passes. He is extremely adept at completing long lob passes and threading the needle, making a number of difficult connections through small windows with pinpoint precision. Among big men, the 20-year-old is arguably the best passer in this draft class, but he has room for improvement. In terms of points and assists per possession this season, he ranks at the 51st percentile among international players. This modest ranking is mainly due to a high turnover rate of 20.8 percent (2.6 TOs per game).
Sometimes touted as a point guard, a position he often played as a youth, Bleijenbergh spends a fair amount of time working off the ball for Antwerp. He does a nice job in terms of off-ball movement, cutting hard off screens to break free for touches/shots. When he does have the ball, he is always a threat to facilitate for others via penetration. He has impressive speed on drives into the paint, including a solid first step. He is competent dribbling with either hand, but he favors finishing on the right side of the rim. He definitely has an advanced handle for a big man, including impressive crossover combinations, and he is more than capable of scoring in isolation. However, the ball is not exactly on a string — he occasionally struggles with control, and he can be hesitant to drive through traffic.
At this stage of his pro career, Bleijenbergh is much more of a shooter than a driver. Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of his half-court shots this season have been jumpers, and 97 percent of those have been 3-point attempts. He is making a career high 36 percent from deep this season, while displaying deep range. And though he makes some impressive step-backs, he has been more efficient off the catch (49th percentile for points per possession — PPP) than off the bounce (35th percentile) this season.
In our recent interview with Bleijenbergh (see below), he noted that he is still growing into his body and is not satisfied with his shooting percentages. I believe that his consistency could improve significantly with better mechanics and added strength. He currently shoots jumpers with a narrow base, and his motion includes dramatic rotation in his hips and lower body — he typically lands with his feet perpendicular to the rim, and sometimes his right foot actually crosses over his left.
The main concern is that Bleijenbergh is not an efficient scorer at this point in time, ranking at the 30th percentile for overall PPP. There are several reasons for his inefficiency, and all are likely fixable. Again, the young Belgian is still developing in terms of filling out his large frame, and the lack of bulk and muscle hinders his ability to score inside. Also, he is right-hand reliant when finishing around the rim. These two factors have contributed to Bleijenbergh making just 42.4 percent of his half-court shots around the basket, including runners, this season.
The other concerns are his turnovers and ability to score as a pick-and-roll handler. Executing the pick-and-roll has accounted for nearly 45 percent of his possessions this season (including passes), but as a scorer, he has struggled in those situations, ranking at the 17th percentile for PPP, with a turnover rate of 38.9 percent. His inability to consistently knockdown pull-ups and finish at the rim hinder him in this area, as does a lack of a tight handle, relative to traditional point guards. However, Bleijenbergh often compensates with his excellent passing skills, and when the results of passes are included, he ranks at the 49th percentile for PPP when executing the pick-and-roll this season.
With Antwerp, Bleijenbergh is constantly guarding players smaller than himself on the perimeter, and he is generally very effective. His defensive rating of 99.9 is among the top 20 in the Belgian league, and his PPP allowed of 0.821 ranks at the 74th percentile among international players. His combination of size and mobility is the key to his success. He can be undisciplined at times (a gambler), but his length and speed often allow him to recover nicely. Smaller guards/wings often get a step ahead of him on drives, but again, he often recovers for a contest or a block. In general, he consistently contests shots and finds ways to get his hands on a lot of balls, averaging 2.8 combined steals and blocks per 40 minutes.
Lacking elite quickness, Bleijenbergh is generally not an intense, in-your-face defender, and he typically takes a conservative approach when dealing with screens, often going under. Negotiating screens is likely the area where he can improve the most, and with increased strength and awareness, he will make positive strides. His defensive awareness in general needs to improve, as he not only fails to anticipate some screens, but he can also can be a step late when closing out or helping due to slow recognition. Defending the pick-and-roll is probably the one play type that has given him the most trouble this season, but some of those issues are due to poor team communication. Also, due to a lack of aggression and strength, he can be outmuscled/outhustled as a rebounder. Overall, however, there are no glaring issues with his effort and energy.
Bleijenbergh has an effervescent personality. People are drawn to his enthusiasm and energy. He is easy to talk to with, very accepting, and takes criticism in stride. The 20-year-old also clearly has a desire to win and succeed, and is willing to put in the work to achieve those goals. And as a player, he is truly unselfish, and has no trouble accepting various roles.
I asked Antwerp’s Sports Director Guy Muya to describe Bleijenbergh in a few words, and he said, “Vrenz is an incredible talent with unique skill sets for a player of his size. His court vision, his high basketball IQ, and ball handling abilities make him lethal in ball-screen situations. Vrenz can be a facilitator for any team at any level.”
The intangibles described in that quote are basketball IQ and vision, two things that cannot be taught, and two things that have separated Bleijenbergh from the pack since his youth.
- A highly versatile player on both ends of the court, capable of playing multiple positions
- Has a rare combination of size, mobility, ball-handling skills, and playmaking ability
- Excellent playmaking vision and passing skills; in the Belgian league, ranks 9th in assists per game (4.0) and 15th in assist percentage (23.7)
- Solid 3-point shooter with deep range; making a career-high 36 percent from deep this season
- Shows potential as isolation scorer, ranking at the 93rd percentile for PPP this season
- An underrated perimeter defender; ranks at the 74th percentile for PPP allowed and produces 2.8 combined steals and blocks per 40 minutes
- An unselfish player, who has a strong desire to succeed within the team concept
- Already established as a key contributor at a professional level
- Has yet to fill out his large frame, and a lack of bulk and strength affect his ability to score and defend in the paint
- Right-hand reliant for finishing and passing
- Inefficient scorer, especially as a pick-and-roll handler (17th percentile for PPP)
- Turnover prone, posting an overall turnover percentage of 20.8 percent this season
- Reluctant rim attacker, who averages just 2.1 free-throw attempts per game
Currently ranked at 53 on the Hoops Prospects Draft Board, Bleijenbergh has not received much love from other draft sites, being excluded from most draft boards and mock drafts. I expect that to change as we get closer to the actual NBA Draft. The talented Belgian has the attention of many NBA teams, and he has a number of private workouts already scheduled. Additionally, consider that he and Deni Avdija have comparable size and skill sets, and Bleijenbergh’s 2021 stats and Avdija’s 2020 stats are very similar. It needs to be noted that Avdija, the ninth overall pick of the 2020 NBA Draft, did produce his numbers against stiffer competition, but I still believe that Bleijenbergh is being vastly underrated.
It’s difficult to imagine Bleijenbergh not playing in the NBA in the future. His skill set for his size is not easily found, and his innate feel for the game as an offensive player is special, too. That said, it is unlikely that he will play on the ball in the NBA as much as he has in Europe. As it stands, he projects to be a big wing or a stretch four, who can shoot and facilitate. To flourish in that role, he will need to add muscle and shoot with more consistency, especially from deep.
The exciting piece to Bleijenbergh’s profile is that he has a great deal of upside. He’s still relatively young, and he could eventually develop into a point forward at the NBA level. For that to happen, he will need to tighten his handle, reduce his turnovers, and improve as both a finisher around the rim and a shooter off the bounce. All of that is conceivable, and if it happens, he could be an impactful NBA starter down the road.
Sources, Credits, and Acknowledgements: Stats used in our scouting reports come from Synergy Sports Technology, RealGM.com, and Sports-Reference.com. Other outside sources are noted with links to the source.