The most important in-season event on the European basketball calendar will be conducted this weekend in Berlin, Germany, and for the fourth straight year, DraftExpress will be represented. CSKA Moscow, Barcelona, Panathinaikos and Olympiacos will battle it out for the prestigious title of being considered the best team in Europe. Olympiacos vs. Panathinaikos should be particularly intriguing considering that it might be the most heated rivalry in all of European basketball, and both teams will be supported by a huge contingent of absolute fanatics.
Alongside them, eight of the top junior teams will compete in the Euroleague Basketball Nike International Junior Tournament, featuring teams such as FMP Zeleznik, Lietuvos Rytas, Unicaja Malaga and Montepaschi Siena heres a nice preview). Considering the location, and the fact that there are plenty of intriguing NBA prospects to take in both at the senior and junior level, wed expect a large contingency of NBA scouts and executives present in Berlin.
In this preview, we take a look at some of the most interesting players that NBA teams will be following in the first gameCSKA Moscow against Regal Barcelonaas well as the NBA draft prospects on hand.
SEMIFINALS, May 1
6:00 PM CET (Noon EST) Regal Barcelona vs. CSKA Moscow
9:00 PM CET (3 PM EST) Olympiacos vs. Panathinaikos
3RD PLACE, May 3
5:00 CET (Noon EST) Loser SF1 - Loser SF2
FINAL, May 3
8:00 CET (3 PM EST) Winner SF1 - WinnerSF2
US TV Coverage: NBA TV, ESPN 360, Euroleague TV
International TV Coverage: Link
THE NBA DRAFT PROSPECTS
Milos Teodosic, 6-5, Point Guard, 1987- The only draft prospect who is likely to see the floor in Berlin, unless a huge blowout occurs in the semis or some disappointed coach decides not to risk an injury in the meaningless 3rd/4th place game. Teodosic hasnt made a huge deal of progress from his rookie Euroleague season last year, not seeing a ton of playing time (14.6 minutes per game) to really develop at this level, and shooting the ball incredibly poorly (28% for 2, 32% for 3) in the Euroleague when he did see the floor.
As we could more accurately gauge in the Greek league, where he played more and fared better, Teodosic is a big point guard who can really shoot the ballan overwhelming amount of his offense in fact comes from beyond the arc. He has nice court vision, strong fundamentals and a good feel for the game, but is limited by his below average physical tools. Hes a poor athlete who struggles to create for himself and others off the dribble, as his first step is mediocre, he rarely gets to the free throw line, and hes very turnover prone relative to the amount of possessions he uses.
Although hes improved his defense this past year under coach Giannakis, Teodosics poor lateral quickness make it difficult to envision him ever being able to defend NBA point guards. While his future looks bright in Europe, Teodosics style of play does not look likely to translate to the NBA. He is automatically eligible for this years draft, and has a long term contract with Olympiacos anyway.
Alexey Shved, 6-5, Point Guard, 1988- Shved might be the most naturally talented player on any of the rosters here in Berlin, but hes seen just 8 total minutes of playing time in the Euroleague this season, and those will likely be his final numbers when its all said and done. Shved has seen some sparse playing time in the Russian league on occasion, as well as a large number of DNP-CDs.
Giorgi Shermadini, 7-0, Center, 1989- Shermadini will get a nice experience taking in the sights and sounds of the Euroleague Final Four, but he wont be getting any run on the court unless something drastic happens. He made the right move leaving his native country of Georgia for the much higher level of competition he faces in Greece, but well have to wait until the Reebok EuroCamp in Treviso this June to see what kind of progress hes made.
CSKA Moscows NBA Prospects
Ramunas Siskauskas- There isnt much more to be said about Siskauskas beyond what weve already written on many occasions. Siskauskas is an NBA player who likely wont ever get a chance to show NBA fans what they missed out on over the last few years. Hes one of the best defenders in Europe, despite not appearing to be all that athletic on first glance, and contributes heavily as both a passer and terrific perimeter shooter. Hes struggled at times offensively this season relative to years past, especially with his jump-shot, and there may be some question marks emerging regarding whether hes lost a step as he slowly advances in age. Regardless, there isnt a player in Europe that most coaches would rather have on the floor in a setting like this, and it wouldnt be surprising at all to see him step up when CSKA needs him most.
Erazem Lorbek- Lorbeks rights are held by the Indiana Pacers still, but they havent shown all that much interest in bringing him over from what we can gather. Lorbek has had an incredibly productive season under Ettore Messina, and has established himself as one of the best big men in European basketball over the last few years. While clearly lacking great athleticism, Lorbek is capable of generating offense both with his back to the basket and facing the rim, as he has great size, a high skill level, and excellent touch. Hes not a great rebounder, but he is slowly becoming a better defender. In the right situation, he could be a decent rotation player in the NBA, and hes definitely young enough to still make that happen.
Terence Morris- Morris had a small window last summer in which he may have been able to cash in on an All-Euroleague season with Maccabi Tel Aviv and secure an NBA deal, but he wisely decided to cash in on a lucrative long-term contract with CSKA right before the global recession set in. Morris has become more perimeter oriented this season, but has responded by knocking down 50% of his 3-pointers. Hes been up and down throughout the yearas his limitations as a post-player and tough guy have become very obvious, and Messina has been especially tough on him, but hes still an extremely valuable asset to have thanks to his athleticism, length and intangibles.
Matjaz Smodis- Smodis again struggled to stay healthy this season, and that really showed on the court at timeshis efficiency and rebounding both fell off a cliff, and he wasnt nearly as effective as he was in the past. Still, when healthy, Smodis is arguably the toughest player to defend in all of European basketball, as he is incredibly strong with his back to the basket, but can also make shots at an outstanding clip from behind the arc. CSKA seems to be saving him primarily for the Euroleague, so we cant rule out another vintage Smodis performance here in Berlin.
Zoran Planinic- Planinic spent a couple of seasons in the NBA already, and although hes an outstanding player for European basketball, its tough to see him returning any time soon. Planinic is exactly the type of big, steady, half-court oriented point guard Ettore Messina loves running his offense, particularly creating on the pick and roll, but his limitations as a perimeter shooter and as a defender make him far more suited to compete on this side of the ocean. Messina has helped Planinic become much more disciplined and efficient taking care of the ball, but hes been up and down throughout the season from what we can tell.
Khryapas return to Europe has been a godsend for CSKA this seasonhes stepped up on a number of occasions and played extremely well when he was needed most. Khryapas athleticism, length and versatility make him a perfect face-up power forward for European basketballhe contributes with timely shots, rebounds, steals, assists, blocks, and anything else Coach Messina asks of him. Hes extremely efficient besides being somewhat turnover prone, and his matchup with Ersan Ilyasova in the semi-finals against Barcelona could be pivotal. Hes making a ridiculous amount of money right now and appears unlikely to return to the NBA anytime soon, which makes sense considering how much better suited he appears to be for Europe.
Sasha Kaun- Former NCAA champion and Clevelands late 2nd round draft pick has played very sparsely in the Euroleague this seasonwhich isnt much of a surprise, and has seen most of his minutes in the Russian league where hes a valuable asset thanks to his passport and the local rules. Kaun is primarily a finisher and rebounder like he was in college, and still has a ways to go before he can contribute at this level.
Ettore Messina- Likely the top free agent on CSKA Moscow as far as the NBA is concerned, there will be plenty of NBA eyes fixated on the bench in this Final Four as decision makers attempt to evaluate whether Ettore Messina can make the extremely difficult transition from Europe to the NBA. Pay attention to how organized and disciplined CSKA is on the defensive end of the floorthis is where Messinas touch can most heavily be felt. Offensively, they will attempt to control the tempo of the game and only take high percentage shots. Messina has had weeks to prepare for the challenge of shutting down Barcelona's high-powered offense--and he'll likely have a number of tricks up his sleeve.
Regal Barcelonas NBA Prospects
Juan Carlos Navarro- Navarro didnt take long to reestablish himself as one of the premier scorers in European basketballhe is the unquestioned go-to guy of Barcelona and will play a pivotal role in whether they advance to the finals. CSKA will likely target him with aggressive traps and pressure defense to limit any open looks from the perimeter and try and get the ball out of his hands, and how well Navarro manages to stay under control will go a long ways in deciding this game. He gets to the line a lot, is a phenomenal shooter, and can reel off 10-12 points in the blink of an eye if he really gets going. While we all know how good of a pure scorer Navarro is, its his matchup on the other end of the floor, likely Trajan Langdon that will go a long ways in deciding this game.
Ersan Ilyasova We chronicled in some depth a few months back how well Ilyasova has been playing this year with Barcelona, and that has been especially true in the Euroleague, where hes had some monster outings. Ilyasova is one of the few legitimate/realistic targets NBA teams will be looking at this weekendhes a restricted free agent and property of the Milwaukee Bucks, and likely to get some huge offers on this side of the ocean, but an intriguing enough offer sheet from an NBA could lure him back to the States from what were told. Ilyasova has his limitations, but athletic 6-9 guys with length and upside who can space the floor and rebound at a great rate dont grow on trees.
David Andersen- Andersen had the misfortune of being drafted by the Atlanta Hawks, and thus has never gotten a chance to show NBA fans what hes capable of. We still believe that with his size, mobility and excellent skill-level, he could be a legit rotation player if they ever chose to bring him over, and from what we understand, he has both the out-clause in his contract and the interest in playing in the League to make it happen. In the meantime, Anderson will have his hands full guarding both the 4 and 5 spots of Barcelona, where they are very deep and talented.
Fran Vazquez Vasquez is, as we discussed on depth a few months back, a high-level NBA rotation player if he ever decides that he wants to become one. Orlando owns his rights and could be in need of a good backup 4/5 if Marcin Gortat bolts this summer, but its unknown at this point how realistic an option that is from Vasquezs end. Here in Berlin, Vasquez will need to be at his best defensively, cleaning up the glass and running the floor against CSKA's slower big men.
Sada is one of the more offensively challenged players youll find seeing major minutes this weekend, but his virtues as an athlete, distributor and especially perimeter defender are undeniable. He gets tons of assists, steals and rebounds, and is very solid running the pick and roll, usually to look for the pass. He is the Jacque Vaughn of Europehe understands his role, rarely makes mistakes, and is as steady and efficient a point guard as youll find. His limitations as a shot-creator and off the dribble shooter make it difficult to rely on him very heavily in the half-court, though. In the right system, under the right coach and next to the right teammates, there is no reason why he couldnt be a solid backup NBA point guard. His stats at the point are simply off the charts, leading both the ACB and Euroleague in a number of categories on a per-minute basis.
Part Two: Olympiacos vs. Panathinaikos (tomorrow)