Part 1, covering players who will likely come over in this draft (or upcoming drafts), can be found here.
Hundreds of thousands gather to celebrate Maccabi's Championship
The second route that can be taken from the Final Four to the NBA is via free agency, this is for players over the age of 22 that did not get drafted by NBA teams. Sometimes these will be American players who were not polished enough coming out of college to make it in the league, and are now collecting their pay checks in Euros or some other currency. Nate Huffman is a good example of this, he dominated Europe for a few years, helping his team Maccabi to three straight final four appearances, including one title, and was then signed (and later dumped on the curb when he broke down) by the Toronto Raptors after being named the best player in Europe. Other times this will be late European bloomers who did not show enough potential to be drafted before the age of 22, but are now proving the scouts wrong and showing that they could successfully contribute to an NBA team that is looking for immediate help and experience. This is a route that surprisingly has not been explored much by NBA teams. With the way the gap between the level of play amongst the elite teams in Europe and the NBA is closing, that could very well begin to change starting this summer.
There were some excellent veteran players who we personally feel could contribute to a couple of NBA teams. Here is who we thought are the four best.
The MVP of the tournament. Was playing absolutely out of this world at times, and was a big part (along with Jasikevicius) of why Maccabi Tel Aviv looked so much like a legit NBA team. Parker was drafted by the New Jersey Nets in the 1997 draft as the 21st pick and was immediately shipped out to Philadephia in the first Keith Van Horn trade. He played two very non-descript seasons on his rookie contract battling injuries, and was traded to Orlando and waived soon after. Since then he has been fine tuning his game in Europe. His ball handling and outside shootingâthe two weakest parts of his game as far as the NBA is concernedâhave both improved dramatically. He now slashes to hoop like a pro and regularly brings the ball up the court for Maccabi, averaging 3.5 assists per game (Europe is a lot stingier statistically handing out assists). He shot 49% for the year from three point range in the Euroleague and 52% in the Israeli league. His jumpshot is now a thing of beauty, he elevates extremely well of the floor and releases it with a great touch, with the ability to create separation from midrange off the dribble just like a true NBA shooting guard would. His freethrow shooting has improved as well, up to 87% on a large number of attempts.
Parker's athletic ability is unrivalled on the European level, and he showed that numerous times in the Final Four by skying high above anyone else to finish two awesome alley-oops, also throwing down vicious slam dunks and blocking shots with authority. He has just become an ultra confident, fluid team player that plays in an unselfish way and is willing to do whatever is necessary to secure the win, including sticking his nose in to take charges and igniting the crowd with almost everything he does. There is no question that he could play in the NBA next season, the only question is whether an NBA team will pawn up the cash to make that happen, because according to what Parker himself says, he is extremely content living in Tel Aviv where he is absolutely adored.
Jasikevicius--Sharas or Jasik or however you want to call him-- already had one foot in the NBA last season after a spectacular performance in the European (national) Championship in Sweden last summer with Lithuania, where he was voted the MVP of the entire tournament (over Nowitzki, Gasol, Kirilenko, Parker and many other current NBA players). The San Antonio Spurs were interested in making him Tony Parker's backup, and the way he played this season has only elevated his stock even more. The problem last season was that he was already under contract with Maccabi Tel Aviv after teams started expressing interest, but now he is free to go wherever he likes. We are talking about a true winner here, with two straight Final Four titles under his belt, and a European Championship and MVP nod to boot. That is on top of another championship and MVP award in Spain last season playing for Barcelona.
Jasikevicius is a tall PG, 6-4 with fantastic court vision and an outstanding stroke from three point land. He is a fiery competitor, will never back down from a challenge, always looking to create something, always making things happen, whether it's a no look alleyoop pass within the half court offense, or a simple but efficient bounce pass for the easy layup. He is a true leader and playmaker, with an outstanding sense for controlling the tempo of the game; he thrives when the game is on the line and is not afraid to take big shots. He uses his size not only to see and pass over his opponents, but also to back down the smaller and weaker point guards that are usually guarding him. Being a bit of a hot head sometimes gets him in trouble, but the purest of coaches and basketball fans wouldn't want him any other way. His biggest knock is his defense along with his shot selection which can sometimes be questionable, but he is still without a doubt the #1 PG in Europe today. He has the stripes, the attitude and the talent, and he is already quite familiar with American basketball, having played in Maryland for four seasons under Gary Williams. Any NBA team looking for about as solid of a backup as you can get will be giving him a very hard look this summer. He won't be playing for the NBA minimum, though.
Thomas Van Den Spiegel:
(written by Luis Fernandez)
Van Den Spiegel surprisingly enjoyed some minutes of playing time despite just coming off a bad foot injury. We're talking here about a 25 year old, 7-1 center with great mobility, who runs the floor like a forward, and has a very good feel for the game, soft touch around the basket, some post moves (not too polished though) and the ability to hit the mid-range jumper. Really an interesting player who has yet to fulfil his vast potential. It was clear he wasn't at his full condition to play, but despite that, he managed to get some points, rebounds and intimidate in limited playing time. Definitely a player to keep an eye on for the future. Defensively is where he needs the most work, but the size and athletic ability is certainly there.
Vujcic is a 6-11 Croatian PF/C, had a breakout season. He continued his excellent form this season, but probably wasn't as dominant due to the number of options that Maccabi had on offense. He averaged 17 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists for the season, but was a bit inconsistent and did not have a standout final four tournament. Vujcic will not be playing in the NBA next season, not because he doesn't have the talent, but because he is under contract for next year without a buyout clause. Although he plays center in Europe, he is definitely a power forward in terms of the NBA. He has an excellent face up game, with range all the way out behind the arc, he can pass the ball rather well and can even put the ball on the floor, although as you may have seen in the tournament--you would sometimes rather he didn't. He played some decent defense in the final four itself although he's usually not much of a shot-blocking threat, as he's rather limited with his vertical leap. He is quite mobile, though, and runs the floor extremely well. His back-to-basket skills are still somewhat of a work in progress, he doesn't always take full advantage of his height in the paint and he could probably add some strength to his frame to help him defend and rebound better. He is young, very coachable and is a fan favourite. One of the premier big men in Europe, after next season the NBA is certainly an option. Of course, he turned down a non-minimum offer from the Toronto Raptors to stay with Maccabi.
The third and last route from Europe to the NBA is a bit of a combination of the first two. Sometimes players are drafted by an NBA team and are sent to develop elsewhere, maybe they aren't ready to contribute just yet, maybe the team would rather save their salary exceptions for someone else, sometimes teams want to stay far enough under the dreaded luxury tax that they are willing to let a player stay overseas for a year and try his luck next time. Keep in mind that when you (yes you!) are 22 your name is entered automatically into the draft and your rights are put up for grabs. The Sacramento Kings for example drafted Dejan Bodiroga, one of the greatest European basketball players ever, but for one reason or another, he decided not to leave the comfort of being a superstar in Europe along with his large contract for the sake of losing 60 games a year in Sacramento. There is no shortage of excellent NBA players who took this route, and many of them played in the Euroleague final four. An example from last year, Darius Songailia and his team CSKA made it to the final four in Barcelona. Songalia was drafted by the Boston Celtics in the 2nd round the year before after an excellent career at Wake Forest. His team CSKA lost in the semi-finals but Songailia played a very good game, with 14 points off the bench. His rights were traded by Danny Ainge to the Kings and he had a very nice rookie season for them. 2001 now was an excellent year for NBA personnel to travel to the final four (there were two of them this year for reasons we won't get into). This may have actually marked the beginning of Euro-madness, because of two young fantastic players who were drafted WAY further then they should have in the draft. NBA GM's have been over-compensating ever since. Andrei Kirilenko--after being sent by the Jazz to develop as the #24 pick--again showing us what a hotbed for young talent CSKA has always been, took Maccabi Tel Aviv to the wire in the semi-finals scoring 23 and then 16 points in the 3rd-4th place matchup. Manu Ginobili, who was drafted 57th by the Spurs in 1999, was named the MVP of the other final four and joined the Spurs the year after that.
Standout players in Tel Aviv who's rights are owned by NBA teams:
(written by Luis Fernandez)
Rights owned by the Detroit Pistons
Delfino showed he's one of the most NBA-ready players in all of Europe (tattoos included) with a great performance at the semi-finals. To his usual great team effort and display of skills, he added a brilliant day beyond the arc. But that's not a given: Delfino is an inconsistent and streaky shooter. He can have great scoring days, when the shots are falling and he gains confidence. But he's not a scorer and nobody should expect a big point production out of him in the NBA. He's a team player, not a go-to guy. The final was the perfect example: his couldn't make his first shots, being unable then to step up and lead his team back to the game.
What you can expect from him on a regular basis is to hustle for rebounds, using his strength and athleticism, point guard style plays spreading the floor with his passes using his court vision, driving and penetrating with his amazing handles, good quickness and some very solid defensive capabilities. In fact, coach Repesa used him to defend both guards and forwards, including Montepaschi's PF Kakiuzis. Those things are possible when you have such a combination of strength and quickness. Anyway, he wasn't always focused, making some mistakes, and he couldn't escape Skipper's horrible defensive performance at the final.
But despite the Maccabi game, he left a sweet taste. He can be a splendid addition for the Pistons. The first wing off the bench to provide intensity and all around versatility.
(written by Luis Fernandez)
Rights owned by the Phoenix Suns
Vujanic didn't have his best day at the semi-finals. We're talking mainly about a scorer here, and he managed to get only 12 of the 103 points his team scored. Even though he did show his ability to drive to the basket with amazing handles, and a glimpse of what a great shooter he is. Unfortunately his biggest knocks were there too: limited playmaking abilities and questionable defense. Vujanic is a much better game creator for himself rather than for his teammates. He got some assists, but mainly as a result of perimeter ball circulation finished with three-pointers. Defensively, it was quite self-explanatory how coach Repesa made the assignments. Vujanic was matched against SF's Vukcevic and Zukauskas, the least dangerous Siena players, every time it was possible. Besides, when coach Recalcati went with Stefanov, Vanterpool and Thornton on the perimeter on the fourth quarter, Repesa immediately benched Vujanic (who anyway wasn't playing at high level). Milos will probably have some serious problems against quick guards in the NBA.
The final perfectly completed the picture. We saw the usual Vujanic, because this guy can flat out score. But we also saw the typical one-man show. When it was becoming clear that it wasn't the best Skipper day, Milos decided to take the game by himself, to fight his own war. And he fought well: 21 points on 21 minutes with very good percentages. He shot the ball from everywhere and penetrated almost at will. But he wasn't capable of getting his teammates involved, it was a guitar solo. There's just no chance when you play one on five. Truly a very talented player, but with some serious concerns about his game. Isiah probably did him a nice favor by shipping his rights off to Phoenix.
(written by Luis Fernandez)
Rights owned by Atlanta Hawks
A great semifinal for David Andersen. He was especially brilliant from the mid-range area, knocking down almost every single jumper he tried, including a great turnaround shot on a very polished movement. He's one of those big guys who like to play facing the basket and doesn't ask for physical contact. But the Aussie made some trips to the low post with nice results, showing decent footwork. He had quite a complete offensive performance, although perhaps he lacked a bit of toughness on defense. He wasn't too inspired, nor motivated in the game for third place, but overall he looked good. Will the Hawks consider bringing him this summer? Given Atlanta's current situation, I think it would be the right moment if they want to take a chance on this guy.
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All images are taken from http://www.euroleague.net.