Lithuanian forward Matas Jogela entering NBA draft

Lithuanian small forward Matas Jogela has submitted paperwork to make himself eligible for the 2018 NBA draft, his agent, Marius Rutkauskas, told ESPN.

“I have three more years to get a chance in the NBA draft,” Jogela told ESPN. “I feel like it is about time to get my name out there. It wasn’t really a hard decision. I have a chance to still take my name out this year and next.”

Jogela, a 19-year-old, 6-foot-8 small forward, is in the midst of a productive season in Lithuania, averaging 11.7 points and 5.2 rebounds in 20 minutes per game for Zalgiris 2 in the country’s second division, the NKL. He missed most of the 2016-2017 season with a foot injury but has become a leading player for the feeder team of Euroleague powerhouse Zalgiris, helping the club advance to the semifinals of the playoffs, which will be conducted this weekend. He scored 24 points on 13 shots in 22 minutes (including 15 in the fourth quarter) in the team’s semifinal-clinching victory last week. He has been practicing with the main Zalgiris squad for much of this season, as well as playing for the second team.

“I am just happy I am finally healthy and playing at 100 percent,” Jogela said. “My breakout season should have been earlier. There is still a long way to go, but it brought my confidence back. I have put in a lot of extra work this past year, and I think it is paying off for me. Also, it helped that my body is getting stronger, as well as being fully healthy.”

Jogela is a late bloomer who wasn’t identified early as a top prospect in his age group in Europe like many of his peers in this draft class, making just one appearance in a national team uniform in 2016 at the U18 European Championship, in which he played only seven minutes per game. He managed to emerge as one of the most productive teenagers playing professional basketball on this side of the ocean recently after hitting a growth spurt that took him from 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-8 in shoes over the past two years.

He sees most of his minutes playing on the perimeter and is tasked with a significant amount of ballhandling responsibilities, showing impressive ability to create shots for himself and others in pick-and-roll situations or on the defensive glass, using either hand and long, fluid footwork. He’s also a capable, albeit streaky, outside shooter, both with his feet set and off the dribble. To reach his full potential, Jogela will have to significantly improve his defense, strengthen his frame and quicken the speed of his release. His lack of experience in higher levels will be questioned as the draft approaches, which is why he might end up being more of a 2019 or even 2020 draft candidate.

“All I want to achieve right now is to see if the NBA is realistic for me,” Jogela said. “Everything I do well out here -- being aggressive in offense, shooting, getting offensive rebounds and just bringing energy. I think my athleticism helps me a lot.”

Jogela is the No. 8 player in ESPN's 1998 international class rankings.