Starting with Damir Markota, who missed our top-5 by a hair, this young Croatian has enjoyed a breakthrough season. Coming off the bench, he established himself as the top frontcourt scorer for Cibona while decisively helping his team advance to the Top-16 stage. Olympiacos is another team still in the competition, with Panagiotis Vasilopoulos and Renaldas Seibutis, both newcomers in the Euroleague, certainly contributing to their teams success with solid displays, providing excellent depth to the Greek roster. It was a different situation for Uros Tripkovic and Kosta Perovic. Both were meant to have a very significant role in Partizan (particularly Tripkovic) and they left a certain degree of disappointment, on par with the Serbian team, once again unable to escape from mediocrity. Finally, Marko Tomas and his inconsistent performances for Real Madrid puts an end to this coverage.
Cibona Zagreb; 1985; PF; 6-11; 22.3 mpg, 9.3 ppg, 5.7 rpg
by Kristian Hohnjec
In the latter stages of the regular season Markota suffered through some minor injuries that may have cost him a spot amongst the top-5. His game suffered, but he was still able to put in some decent efforts and participate in Cibona Zagrebs qualification for the next phase of Euroleague competition.
Damir started the season red-hot from behind the three-point line, leading the Euroleague in 3-point percentage for the first couple of weeks. Since then he cooled off and missed 20 of his last 26 attempts from downtown. He showed a little more versatility in his offensive game lately, but still scores mostly with outside jumpers. Markota attacked the basket more aggressively in the second part of competition and even showed some post game, but not consistently enough. He will need to work on his ball-handling skills hard this summer, because this could open up a whole another dimension to his game, as he can blow by most Euroleague power forwards with his speed.
Defensively, he improved on the glass, boxing out better and increasing his rebounding numbers. He still makes some foolish mistakes on defensive rotations and finds himself out of position from time to time, but is consistently improving in this area and is on the way to becoming a pretty solid defender. Some doubts about his NBA position seem to be resolved this season, as it has become clear that he is incapable of defending perimeter players due to his lateral quickness not being up to par with his other physical gifts. He will definitely be a power forward in the NBA and in order to enjoy some success there will obviously need to add bulk to his skinny frame.
Markota can be happy with the level of performance he exhibited this season, being back on the NBA radar after a year and a half of decline. If he decides to put his name in the draft in June, barring dramatic improvement in the last few months of the season Markota should be picked somewhere between the late first and early second round.
Olympiacos; 1984; SF; 6-8; 18.2 mpg, 6,3 ppg 4.0 rpg 1,2 apg
by Dimitris Ritsonis
Vasilopoulos was unlucky to get injured early in the 2nd round of the Regular Season, just when his game had started picking up and regaining stability. Therefore, it was obvious that when he came back he would need a couple of weeks to regain his steadiness and spot in the rotation, as other players had managed to fill his gap for the two weeks he was out.
In the second round he started off pretty well in Olympiakos' win over Barcelona, playing very solid defense and adding 8 points, 4 boards and 2 blocks. He got injured in the 1st quarter of the game against Maccabi and returned in the loss to Efes Pilsen to score 10 points, along with 4 rebounds and 3 assists. He went scoreless in an excellent win over Cibona and had his best game of the year in Olympiakos' most impressive win, the only road one of the Euroleague season over Olympia Milano, with 11 points and 7 boards.
Overall he seems to be the key player for Olympiakos' connection between the perimeter line and frontcourt. He is still not moving that much offensively and his shot suffers from a fairly slow release, but his overall offensive game has improved. He is shooting very well, which was not usually the case over the past couple of years. Vasilopoulos seems to have regained his confidence and trust in his shot. He is slashing impressively thanks to a good first step and is a strong finisher due to a nice vertical leap. There are not many occasions that he shows that he is only 21, as well as a Euroleague rookie, so this means maturity and selective offensive priorities. He is no go-to guy, but is still a key player, helping the up-tempo rhythm that has been Olympiakos' style over the past months, just with his team about to peak. His feel for the game is very good, especially passing the ball from the perimeter and particularly into the post.
Defensively, as mentioned, there arent too many concerns. Vasilopoulos has strong legs and can guard most players on the perimeter at this level. Being smart and alert, he does a good job staying in front of his man. His fine leaping ability and the quickness in which he gets off his feet make him a surprising shot-blocking threat, even going up against players that are taller than him. He is not yet a great inside defensive player, though. Despite not avoiding contact, his small size does not allow him to match up with the taller players his coach asks him to defend sometimes. What Vasilopoulos needs to focus on the most to improve his NBA prospects is to move to the perimeter full time and gain experience playing on both ends of the floor, as he is still making the transition to being a full-time wing player. Vasilopoulos has NBA upside as an all-around role player, possibly in the mold of a Luke Walton type guy.
Olympiacos; 1985; SG; 6-5; 17.5 mpg, 6.8 ppg, 2.0 rpg
by Dimitris Ritsonis
Seibutis has been proving lately why he is considered one of the most talented young players in Europe. Being a 7th or 8th player for a top-16 Olympiacos team with a very bright future, he is getting better by the day and is providing an amazing offensive spark for his team off the bench.
In a more or less stacked perimeter line that Olympiacos features, Renaldas has now found his place and has become a valuable piece. Being such a serious and versatile offensive threat is not what most people are accustomed to seeing out of a typical 20-year old off-guard. He is a warrior and has repeatedly stepped up to be a leader for the young Reds team, showing the ability to hit tough shots in the clutch. His scoring stats are on the upswing as his spot in the rotation becomes more and more entrenched, averaging 8.7 points per game in the 2nd round of the Euroleague and finishing off the round in style with 16 and 15 point outings in his last two games.
Unfortunately, beyond his scoring prowess the other parts of his game are not quite as advanced. He might be a well established player offensively and quite team oriented for a guy of his age and skills, but he is not all-around. Despite being a fighter he does not rebound the ball much, and his passing skills are rather average. However, his assist averages could be higher had Olympiakos' offensive game not been so dependant on Tyus Edney's streaky game and offensive moods. For Seibutis to really become a serious draft prospect, he will have to expand his range to the NBA 3-point line and become as deadly a shooter as most of his countrymen usually are. He only hit seven 3-pointers in 14 Euroleague games, doing most of his damage from the mid-range area or slashing to the hoop. Adding strength to his skinny frame would not hurt either.
Overall, Renaldas is only getting better by the day and should play a role for his team in the top-16. As his role increased his production rose accordingly, improving his draft stock in the process. There is still long way to go to be considered a solid NBA prospect, though, as were not talking about an athletic freak with unlimited potential. On the court rather than NBA draft websites is where Seibutis will have to make his fans.
Partizan Belgrade; 1985; C; 7-2; 26.3 mpg, 10.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 1.7 spg
by Kristian Hohnjec
Kosta Perovic hasnt made huge improvements in the past couple of seasons, and so far it appears that this one isnt an exception. In the second part of the competition he had some decent offensive outings, mostly thanks to his frontcourt partner and stat-leader Dejan Milojevic, who opens up plenty of space for Kosta under the basket.
Perovics greatest assets are his height and very soft hands. He uses his length and soft touch to score in the post, as well as from mid-range with an accurate jumper. Defensively Kosta has once again been lackluster; outrebounded, outmuscled, outquicked...whatever word you like. For someone this tall he is an extremely poor rebounder, getting just over 4 per game. The reasons for this are his inability to get off the floor, lack of basic technique and poor body strength. He was a little better in man-to-man defense, where his length bothers opponents, but his slow feet hurt him in this area too.
Nothing has changed regarding Perovics attitude. He is still very passive on the court, showing a poor demeanor and body language. His stock continues to fall and after being considered a sure-fire first round pick some years ago, but now it wouldnt be a surprise at all to see him go undrafted. More realistically hes someone that will be given a shot in the second round based on the potential he showed in years past and the lack of quality Centers coming out of the NCAA these days. However, as things currently look it is pretty hard to imagine Perovic being serviceable at the next level. He still has one more year left before becoming eligible for the draft, but considering how his stock has fallen every year after pulling out of the draft repeatedly, he might be wise to make himself available in June. He has a long term contract with Partizan and no buyout clause, but they could want to unload him since theyd have to pay around $500,000 to keep him around next season, and for that money they can get a much better Center on the European market.
Partizan Belgrade; 1986; SG; 6-5; 28.3 mpg, 10.2 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.3 spg
by Kristian Hohnjec
Tripkovic overcame nagging injuries and picked up his game in the second part of the regular season. Playing on what was probably the weakest team in the competition, he enjoyed more than his fair share of minutes and offensive responsibilities. But despite showing some flashes of brilliance he did not live up to the pre-season expectations stemmed from his performances last season.
Tripkovic shoot the ball poorly, hitting less than 40% of his FG attempts and committing more turnovers than assists. With the departure of Gerald Brown, Partizan was without a pure playmaker for a long stretch, so coach Dusko Vujosevic was forced to use Tripkovic as the point guard. He showed good court vision and passing ability, but it was clear that this isnt his natural position and Partizan didnt enjoy much success with him running the offense. Uros certainly can play PG for some stretches, but has more potential as a shooting guard thanks to his impressive scoring potential.
The Serbian exhibited his lighting quick release, but surprisingly almost nothing went in for him. Besides his bad shooting streak, the reason for his poor percentages mostly lie in his shot selection. Tripkovic didnt hesitate to fire in up in almost impossible situations and didnt show enough patience to wait for good opportunities. A player with his combination of speed and ball-handling skills should drive to the hoop more often.
On defense Uros was somewhat better than last season, but was still inconsistent. Its not his athletic ability that limits him in this department, but his attitude and effort which is not always good enough. Tripkovic certainly belongs with the group of most talented European guards, but this season he didnt show the improvement that many expected. He would be best served to wait at least one more year before applying to the draft, but if he decides to put his name in this year Tripkovic still has a pretty good chance to be selected in the first round regardless. He has a lot to learn before going overseas if he wants to make an impact, though. Moving to a stronger Euroleague club this summer might be the best thing to do.
Real Madrid; 1985; SG/SF; 6-8; 23 mpg, 6.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1 spg
by Luis Fernández
The moderate optimism we transmitted in our half-season report has turned into a certain feeling of disappointment, as its fair to think that Tomas has lost an excellent chance to show some serious offensive power at the Euroleague level.
He has certainly enjoyed the playing time; coach Maljkovic has kept him on the court at least 20 minutes in every single game of the second half of the regular season. However if we compare between both halves of the regular season, his averages dropped from 7.9 points and 2 assists per game to 4.7 points and 1.7 assists, while his percentages were even worse going from 54% to 23% accuracy from the field.
Of course stats dont tell the whole story, but the reality has come pretty close. Besides going through a probable run of bad luck with his shooting, Tomas has looked incapable of elevating his complimentary offensive role. This impression, intuited throughout the season, became evident in the game against Montepaschi Siena. Here Marko was left alone on the court without the company of the catalysts of Real Madrids offensive game, scoring guards Louis Bullock (injured) and Igor Rakocevic (in foul trouble). Tomas couldnt assume the lead of the team in that moment as has a very tough time creating off the dribble. His handles are slowing him down to the point that he can barely create his own shot, a problem that looks far from being solved and that would certainly only get him in more trouble at the next level. Add in the fact that he isnt a freakish athlete and that his body, even if improved, still needs serious work, and its easy to presume that a hypothetical NBA dream looks far from becoming true at this point, just as far as real stardom at the European level.