Euroleague: Who's Hot

Euroleague: Who's Hot
Dec 21, 2006, 07:08 am
In recent years, there is a growing trend of brining experienced Euroleague stars to the NBA. Players such as Fabricio Oberto, Jorge Garbajosa, Jose Calderon, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Anthony Parker and Maceo Baston have made an impact on their respective teams, while there have been also busts like Arvydas Macijauskas, Ibrahim Kutluay and Antoine Rigaudeau.

While it has been unpredictable, just like anything related to International players and their adjustment to the NBA, it is fair to say that bringing in Euroleague veterans has been proven as a legit option with good results in most cases. Another advantage of this strategy is the price, as these players are usually cheaper to sign then some other guys who hit the market with a couple of solid seasons in the NBA behind them.

The Euroleague helps prepare players for the NBA mightily, as the level of play has risen in the last few years and the competition is definitely on the rise, even if more and more players are leaving for the NBA. But there is also the other side of the coin, as Arvydas Macijauskas, Zoran Planinic, Jiri Welsch and others return to the competition, joined by highly regarded Americans such as Alex Acker or Tony Delk for example this season.

The transfers between the Euroleague and the NBA are increasing every year, and with half of the regular season behind us we give you an update on the most probable candidates to wear an NBA uniform in the next season. DraftExpress takes a look at the most impressive performers as well at those who didn’t live up to the preseason expectations. The article doesn’t include NBA draft prospects, but the players that are Free Agents or their rights are owned by an NBA team.


JUAN CARLOS NAVARRO 6-3 SG FC Barcelona 1980
29.5mpg 20.5ppg 2.3apg 60.6% FG 48.8% 3FG 93.5% FT

Juan Carlos Navarro established himself as the best scorer on European soil over the past few years, and after winning almost everything possible on the international and European scene, "La Bomba" seems ready to take the next step in his basketball career - joining the NBA.

Navarro is playing better than ever, hitting shots at an incredible clip, which enables him not to only top all scorers, but also lead the Euroleague in Index Rating (an efficiency stat). He is an amazing shooter with a lighting quick release and unlimited range, but also a dangerous penetrator, who knows how to get to the basket and finish despite lacking some vertical explosiveness and size. Navarro has a quick first step and moves very well off the ball, while he is also adept at drawing fouls, which is visible from his high Free Throw rate.

Navarro has good ball-handling and passing ability, but he might not be able to play the PG position in the NBA, unless he’s teamed in the backcourt with a bigger guard with more natural playmaking instincts. His biggest issue is his play on the defensive end, where he shows below average size, length and lateral quickness.

We are talking about arguably the best player in Europe here, and while undersized scoring guards aren’t really at the top of the priority lists of the Washington Wizards, they are certainly happy with the fact that they hold Navarro’s rights. It is very possible that Juan Carlos Navarro will finally fulfill his dream of playing in the NBA next season. Barcelona is reportedly finally willing to discuss a reasonable buyout to reward the loyalty of their franchise player, and from the whispers we are hearing from that part of the world, Navarro is ready and very much interesting in taking that next step.

ALEX ACKER 6-5 SG Olympiacos Pireus 1983
16.5ppg 7.5rpg 2.9apg 2.4spg 52.1% FG 37.5% 3FG 88.2% FT

It didn’t take long for Alex Acker to adjust to the Euroleague. In his debut, Acker was spectacular, delivering 25 points and 13 rebounds in a win against heavy favorites for the Final Four, Tau Ceramica. Although that remains his best game of the season, Alex continued with consistent production for Olympiacos and is one of most impressive players in the competition up to date.

Acker is a smooth athlete, possessing a quick first step, good body control, solid leaping ability and long arms which enable him to play bigger then his size. His rebounding average is ridiculous for someone who projects as a point guard at the NBA level.

Speaking of the point guard position, Alex doesn’t get many chances at running the Greek offense with Scoonie Penn manning that spot, but he has been able to showcase his steady ball-handling and passing ability. Acker is more of a Point Forward than anything in Europe, while he lacks some size to play that kind of position in the NBA.

Acker’s biggest weakness is defense, where he gets beaten off the dribble on quite a few occasions. That has probably been the reason why he didn’t get much burn in his first stint with Pistons. Alex, who is a combo guard by NBA standards, is quite a talented player, but he still seems to have great upside to fulfill despite being 23 years old. Detroit still hold his rights, and while he will probably return to the NBA at some point, another season of fine-tuning in Europe could do only well for him. He should become a very dependable NBA rotational player down the road.

DIMITRIOS DIAMANTIDIS 6-5 PG Panathinaikos 1980
8.8ppg 4.9rpg 4.5apg 2.9spg 47.9% FG 38.1% 3FG 69.5% FT

Diamantidis is the top defensive player in international basketball, and the leader of a very powerful Panathinakos squad; one of the main favorites to claim the Euroleague title this season.

Dimitris has posted his usual all-around numbers across the board to complement his amazing defensive ability. Diamantidis is a tall, gritty point guard with long arms, good lateral quickness and extremely impressive defensive instincts and awareness. He is a lockdown defender who makes good decisions on the offensive end and shows steady playmaking ability.

Diamantidis can get by his man, as well as make shots when needed. He has above average court vision and passing ability, being efficient rather than spectacular. He is not much of a scorer and is at most an average athlete who lacks some speed and explosiveness.

Still, his low profile character, excellent defense and solid playmaking ability will get him strong looks from NBA teams in the upcoming summer. The question is whether he is at all interested, since he’s repeatedly down-played that possibility in the past. He’s probably one of the more humble and “low maintenance” guys you’ll find, even by European standards.

14.6ppg 3.0rpg 1.6apg 49.2% FG 53.6% 3FG 71.9% FT

Together with Theo Papaloukas, Matjaz Smodis was most responsible for CSKA’s Euroleague crown last season. He really shined in the Final Four in Prague, even in areas where he usually does not thrive - rebounding and low post scoring.

This season, Smodis has been taking way more outside shots, and rightfully so, because he has been on fire from three-point line-- hitting 15 of his 28 attempts. But he hasn’t displayed the same level of intensity and hustle in the paint that he showed in Prague.

Matjaz is a strong and skilled Power Forward with a good outside-in offensive game. He has excellent hands, which shows in his finishing around the rim, passing and outside shooting. On the defensive end, Matjaz isn’t a great rebounder or shot-blocker, but he does a good job in man to man defense, exhibiting solid footwork and toughness.

He is a bit undersized by NBA standards, while his athleticism is just around average also. Matjaz could certainly help an NBA team in a similar way Jorge Garbajosa is doing for the Raptors. It is questionable if he will get a tempting enough offer to leave his very rich Moscow club, but he’s had NBA offers in the past.

ZORAN PLANINIC 6-7 PG/SG/SF Tau Ceramica 1982
11.3ppg 3.6rpg 4.8apg 1.7spg 1.4tpg 46.7% FG 26.7% 3FG 65.5% FT

Planinic, who is currently out with an ankle injury, is playing above expectations after getting little playing time with the New Jersey Nets in the past three seasons. He has proven to be a major mismatch at the European level thanks to his combination of size and ball-handling ability. Along with Luis Scola, Planinic is a clutch performer in Tau Ceramica’s title aspirations.

Planinic is starting at the Point for Tau Ceramica, but has been getting playing time at all the perimeter spots. In the NBA he was turnover prone and a poor defender, but in Tau Ceramica’s system he is displaying very satisfying defensive effort by using his size to alter shots and collect steals.

On the offensive end, he showed his usual talent by making crisp passes and by taking the ball to the hole. His shooting is still inconsistent, due to his problematic shooting mechanics, but he has been able to keep his turnovers down.

The former first round pick made a good decision by returning to the Euroleague, given that his game is obviously better suited for European competition, where his size and technique has better use. Still, if he continues to play at a similar level, Planinic might get a chance to return to the NBA. The question is if he really wants it after a frustrating experience with the Nets.

LAZAROS PAPADOPOULOS 6-11 C Dynamo Moscow 1980
16ppg 7.8rpg 1.3apg 0.5bpg 67.6% FG 64.2 % FT

After being out for a while with an injury, Lazaros returned in a big way by posting 22.5 ppg and 7.5 rebounds in Dynamo’s last two victories. He could very well be the top European low post scorer in the competition.

Lazaros is an old-fashioned, back to the basket-type Center. He establishes good position on the low block and has an array of options at his disposal once he receives the ball. Papadopoulos is very skilled, being able to create good angles to release his shot. He is also an above average passer out of the double team, as well as a solid shooter from 12-15 feet.

On the defensive end, he uses his wide body to put opponents in tough spots, and positions himself well under the basket to collect rebounds. The real knock on him is his lack of athleticism, as he is a slow player both horizontally and vertically. While Lazaros has proved to be one of the best big men in Europe, his physical shortcomings may leave the NBA out of his reach.

NIKOLA VUJCIC 6-11 C Maccabi Tel Aviv
14.8ppg 7.3rpg 4.0apg 51.1% FG 37.5% 3FG 85.2% FT

Vujcic recently posted the second triple-double in Euroleague history. Ironically, the first one was also made by the Croatian Center last season. Vujcic is the lone remaining star from Maccabi’s dynasty team that won two Euroleague championships and made the Final Four in each of the past three years, after Sarunas Jasikevicius, Maceo Baston and Anthony Parker all left Israel for the NBA. The Israeli powerhouse has struggled to regain its status this year so far.

Vujcic said that last summer was his last chance to get to the NBA, but he wasn’t satisfied with the offers from the U.S. and decided to remain in Israel, where he enjoys cult status as a true Maccabi legend.

Nikola is a truly special offensive player, with uncanny passing ability. Even if Maccabi most of the time has two playmakers on the floor in potential NBA players Will Bynum and Yotam Halperin, Vujcic is the true playmaker of the team-- directing the offense from the high post. He is also a very skilled low post scorer, as well as a reliable shooter with range out to the international three-point line.

Although Nikola puts up good rebounding numbers, his defensive game has never looked more concerning. Jumping jack Maceo Baston hid a lot of Vujcic’s defensive deficiencies in the past. Now with Lior Eliyahu playing alongside him, Nikola gets exposed on the defensive end where his soft attitude, lack of strength and poor athleticism are obvious.

Nonetheless, Vujcic is an elite Euroleague player and will probably be in contention for the MVP award.

NIKOS ZISIS 6-5 PG Benneton Treviso 1983
12.3ppg 2.5rpg 5.9apg 50.7% FG 31.6% 3FG 77.4% FT

Another phenomenal Greek guard, Zisis is currently the top passer in the competition. It is kind of surprising how well Zisis has been able to adjust to the Point Guard position, given that he played as a Shooting Guard earlier in his career.

Zisis is a true floor general with a pass-first mentality, good court sense and excellent instincts. He is very accurate at executing his team’s offensive sets and is a reliable decision maker. Nikolas shows decent quickness and nice ball-handling ability, which enables him to get into the lane and create opportunities for teammates as well as for himself.

He is a good shooter from the mid-range area, while from 3-point land his consistency needs work. Nikos has good size and despite not being much of an athlete, is a very solid on ball defender.

Not spectacular, but more steady than anything is the best way to describe Zisis. Just as in Papadopoulos’s case, physical gifts are what might keep him out of the NBA.

MIKE BATISTE 6-8 PF Panathinaikos 1977
15.9ppg 7.0rpg 1.1bpg 68.5%FG 76.3%FT

The Euroleague player of the month in November, Batiste has really been on a tear this season and is Panathinaikos’s first offensive post option, as well as the anchor of the defense in the paint.

Batiste had a solid rookie season with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2002/2003 when he averaged 6.4ppg and 3.2rpg in 75 games.

Mike is a dynamic Power Forward, built like a tank, and loves to overpower opponents in the key. He is also a very good athlete who can get off the floor and finish emphatically. Batiste is a menace in the paint thanks to his physicality, but also has some reasonably solid skills, mainly in the low post. He has soft touch around the rim, and does a good job at moving off the ball and recognizing holes in the defense. He’s been able to hit the mid-range jumper with more than decent results this season also.

On the defensive end, Batiste is above average in man to man, but doesn’t thrive in help defense. His main weakness is his size, 6-foot-8, while his wingspan doesn’t appears to be phenomenal either. Batiste could be a useful rotational player off the bench if he chose to leave European stardom for a return to the NBA.

MARCUS HAISLIP 6-10 PF Efes Istanbul 1980
12.6ppg 6.5rpg 2.0bpg 48.6% FG 38.7% 3FG 75.0%FT

Probably the most athletic player in European competition, Marcus Haislip is a former lottery pick-turn bust who became a huge disappointment for Milwaukee Bucks fans.

Now Haislip is providing solid outings for Turkish powerhouse Efes Pilsen, but is still not considered among the premier Euroleague big men. Marcus has amazing physical tools—having a vertical leap that allows him to jump out of gym. It is not surprising that he leads the Euroleague in blocks per game.

Outside of his natural gifts, Haislip’s biggest weapon is his jump-shot, which has been consistent with solid results even from the three-point line. Fundamentally, he is still a raw player, lacking post moves, being a below average passer and showing a low basketball IQ. He often makes basic things look difficult on both ends of the floor and consistently gives his coach a headache with head-scratching decisions.

It is probable that he will return to the NBA at some point, but at this point it’s even more likely that he will never put it all together and fulfill his immense upside coming out early from college.

LUIS SCOLA 6-9 PF Tau Ceramica 1980
24.6mpg 15.8ppg 5.4rpg 2.1apg 60.0% FG 66.6% FT

You keep hearing Scola’s name related to the NBA year after year, but he never makes it because of the mammoth buyout Tau Ceramica is asking. Next year could be the year Luis Scola finally steps on the NBA court after being the top player in international basketball for years—or at least that’s how the mantra goes. San Antonio still has his rights, although there have been rumours that they might trade them to another team.

There is nothing new about him this season-- he is still the same scoring machine who torches opponents in the post with his wide array of skills. Scola’s presence is crucial as Tau makes another bid at the Euroleague crown.

Standing 6-9, Scola is a solid athlete with good strength and footspeed. He doesn’t have great size, nor is he particularly explosive though. Scola is a very intelligent and skilled player with a wide array of low post moves. He is also an above average shooter from mid-range and a good passer.

A solid man-to-man defender, Luis is an average rebounder and below average shot-blocker due to his lack of length and leaping ability.

24.1mpg 10.8ppg 3.0rpg 4.9apg 1.6spg 54.9% FG 22.2% 3FG 72.2% FT

The biggest winner in European basketball currently, Papaloukas is known for clutch performances when it’s time to compete for trophies, but during the regular season he usually isn’t quite as impressive and dedicated.

This season he is playing a little better than last, showing more consistency in his play and effort. Durability might be one of main issues when it comes to Papaloukas and the NBA, as it is questionable if Theo can play on the same level energy-wise night in and night out when there are 82 regular season games.

Papaloukas is a pure Point Guard at 6-7 with excellent passing ability. He sees plays before they happen and delivers even the most difficult passes with outstanding accuracy. Theo uses his strength and size to get into the lane and find scoring opportunities. He is also a very good defender, making the most of his physical ability and using his brilliant basketball IQ to anticipate opponents’ moves. As noted above, Papaloukas is phenomenal in clutch situations, taking his team on his shoulders and performing spectacularly under pressure.

While he might not be the greatest athlete in the world, Papaloukas is the type of player who defies stereotypes and should be considered the exception, not the norm. His all-around feel for the game and terrific mismatch potential means that he should be able to make a solid impact in the NBA if placed in the right situation in the correct system. From what we’ve been told, Papaloukas is very much interested in playing in the NBA and should be considered one of the most intriguing free agents on the market this summer. He has a set buyout in his contract and is expected to go for the market rate for European free agent perimeter players—a la Jasikevicius or Anthony Parker—meaning around 3 years for 12 million dollars.

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