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 second gameOlympiacos against Panathiniakosas well as the NBA draft prospects on hand.
Theodoros Papaloukas- We were quick to point out Papaloukas relative demise last season as his relationship with CSKA coach Ettore Messina appeared to have run its course, but hes found new life back in his native country of Greece and has had yet another All-Euroleague type season. Papaloukas is still the same incredibly efficient, incredibly ball-dominant point guardhe gets an unbelievable amount of freedom from Coach Giannakis to basically do as he pleases in the 25 or so minutes he sees per game, and the results have been mostly excellent thus far. Papaloukas is shooting a ridiculous percentage from the fieldconverting an outrageous 79% of his 2-pointers in the Euroleague and a respectable 37% of his 3s, and he gets a ton of assists and turnovers as well thanks to his very unique style of play. Hell undoubtedly be the key to the Panathinaikos game, and if hes able to replicate his heroic showing from the 2007 Euroleague in Athens, Olympiacos will be in fantastic shape.
Josh Childress- We covered Childress initial few months in Europe when we last saw him in December, and will be very curious to see how he looks this weekend now that hes had some more time to adapt. Childress was hampered by a fairly serious injury that forced him to miss some substantial time, but hes still the teams top scorer in the Greek league (14 points per game in 26 minutes), where hes had some outstanding performances. Well be following him closely this weekend and will hopefully be able to speak with him at some point. The Atlanta Hawks own his rights and it will be interesting to see whether or not he decides to opt out of his gigantic contract (6.7 million dollars net) with Olympiacos this summer, as its unlikely he will be paid anywhere near as much in the NBA.
Giorgos Printezis- Printezis has blossomed into a very productive rotation player for Olympiacos this season, which isnt an easy task considering how stacked their roster is. He is scoring at a nice rate thanks to his excellent athleticism and nice skill-level, and could be ready to take a shot at the NBA if the Toronto Raptors are interested. Well be keeping an eye on him this weekend to see how he fares.
Jannero Pargo- We wrote a very in-depth piece on Jannero Pargos adjustment to European basketball a few months back when we went to visit him in Moscow. Since then, Pargo has been forced to move to Olympiacos due to the financial struggles his team faced in Russia. Hes played 14 games thus far, mostly as a replacement for Josh Childress until he returned from injury, and hasnt really made much of an impact in limited minutes. Hes averaging just 13 minutes per game in the Euroleague in 10 contests, and has had a difficult time adjusting to his new role where he doesnt have a great deal of freedom. While hes clearly one of the top NBA prospects at this Final Four, its not clear how much hell be able to show here in Berlin. Regardless, well be keeping a close eye on him, and are curious to hear his thoughts on the interesting season hes been through thus far.
Vassilis Spanoulis-Spanoulis stint with Jeff Van Gundy and the Houston Rockets just wasnt meant to be, but he continues to be an extremely valuable cog for Panathinaikos as an athletic ball-handler who can create shots for himself and others from the perimeter. His ability to make plays with the ball will likely be a big key to matching up with Olympiacos, and if his perimeter jumper is falling in this particular game (you never really know with him), it could be a long night for the opposition.
Sarunas Jasikevicius- Jasikavicius has clearly lost a step in the past year or two, and his role has in turn diminished (he plays just under 20 minutes per game in both the Greek league and Euroleague), but hes still one of the most clutch and experienced guards in European basketball, and considering his reputation in games like this, you definitely cant rule out some kind of eruption from him. Hes a fiery, extremely confident and highly skilled combo guard with huge cojones and an even bigger heart.
Nikola Pekovic- Pekovic might not be shouldering quite as big a load for Panathinaikos this season as he did with Partizan last season (which is anything but a surprise), but hes still been incredibly productive for them in the minutes he has played sharing the 5-spot with fellow stat-machine Mike Batiste. Pekovic averages an outrageous 29 points per-40 in the Euroleague on 64% shooting. He oddly only plays 18 minutes a game, though, which is something wed like to get to the bottom of. From what weve seen, Pekovic is a clear-cut NBA rotation player on the right team, but is planning on staying in Europe for at least one more season before hell consider coming over.