The Top Overseas Free Agents on the 2007 Market (Part Two)-- Rights Owned Players
Part three of our top overseas free agents article will talk about players who are free to sign with the NBA franchise of their choice-- if their European team allows--and who will likely garner offers for more (sometimes much more) than the NBA minimum salary.
This has been a successful strategy for NBA teams in recent years--with players like Jose Manuel Calderon, Anthony Parker, Charlie Bell, Jorge Garbajosa, Fabricio Oberto, Walter Hermann, Andres Nocioni and others helping their respective teams substantially, especially relative to what they cost.
Marcus Haislip, 6-10, Power Forward, Efes Pilsen (Turkey), 1980
Once just a freak athlete with very little in the ways of fundamentals, skills or basketball IQ, the Bucks gave up on him very quickly--just as he was going into his third NBA season, a move theyll freely tell you they regret in hindsight when considering the type of player hes developed into. Thats not a shock when considering the fact that hes only 26 years old at the moment.
When examining Haislips physical toolsincredible explosiveness, superb fluidity, excellent speed, and the awesome quickness in which he gets off his feetits easy to see why Milwaukee decided to gamble with a late lottery pick in a shallow draft on him. Hes essentially a highlight reel waiting to happen on tape with Efes Pilsen, looking extremely hard to stay in front of at the European level considering how much more athletic he is than anyone else on the floor. He cuts to the basket and finishes with ease, drops in impressive alleyoop dunks off pick and roll plays, rotates from the weakside looking for blocks, only to pin the ball against the glass in mid-air, and puts the ball on the floor well with an outstanding first step. Hes also improved his shooting range considerably, to the point that he hit just under 38% of his 3-pointers in the Euroleague this season on over 4 attempts per game.
Haislip still doesnt have anything more than some simple moves he can go to in the post- a quick spin or a turnaround jump-shot seem to be his favorite, and he can look quite predictable when trying to create offense for himself. Thats where a playmaking point guard could have come in extremely handy as far as hes concernedbut alas, Efes Pilsen made the questionable move of signing two trigger happy combo guards (Drew Nicholas and Horace Jenkins) to man their backcourt this year, and thus had an extremely disappointing season-- being swept in the Turkish league finals and knocked out of the Euroleague in the Top 16 stage.
While he was ranked the #1 shot-blocker in the Euroleague this season (1.8 in 28 minutes per game), most NBA coaches would probably not consider him a great defender. He has a tendency to bite on pump-fakes, rotate haphazardly (exposing his teams interior defense) and swat at the ball violently. Hes generally speaking a fairly wild player whose consistency level still wavers dramatically. Hell for example score 33 points one week in the Euroleague and then follow that up the very next game with just 2 points. This also shows up in his rebounding, where his intensity level boxing out opponents seems to waver and his freakish athleticism only takes him so far.
With that said, for what Haislip needs to be considering his physical tools, he is doing fairly well for himself as far as the NBA is concerned. There are just a handful of players at the power forward position who should be considered better free agent prospects than him, and it shouldnt shock anyone to see someone use their lower-level exception or a part of their MLE to lock him up for a few years. Put him next to a good point guard in an up-tempo offense and he should be able to deliver solid production off the bench. His contract had another year on it with a team option, but Efes Pilsen already decided to move in another direction and has reportedly signed Andre Hutson as his replacement.
Felipe Reyes, 6-8, Power Forward, Real Madrid (Spain), 1980
Reyes has been the same old hustler in the paint, a restless 6-9 inside player with a great nose and aggressiveness chasing the rebound, particularly on the offensive glass, toughness on defense, and an excellent ability to score from the paint. But this season he has also added a much improved mid-range spot-up jumper. This single skill addition has takes him from a marginal NBA prospect to a very legit one, as he now fills quite well the bill of a power forward.
Were not talking about a finesse player, but still about a very productive guy with a very nice feel for the game. Reyes is rather effective from the low post, not thanks to any particularly remarkable footwork, but more due to his great aggressiveness, footspeed and adaptation to the environment (yes, he feels at home fighting near the rim). Felipe can effectively put the ball on the floor to attack the basket, although as always, hes still very predictable trying to go right (or changing directions if he attacks his left first).
His aggressiveness can eventually get out of control, particularly this past season, in the form of complaints to the referees, brawls or severe infractions (he even head-butted an opponent during a game), and coming back to haunt him with several technical and unsportsmanlike fouls.
For any NBA team signing him, they should expect an instant intensity boost on both ends of the floor whenever he hits the court, but also a player with the ability to create his own shot in the paint, knock down his open mid-range looks regularly, and contribute to the general offensive flow. Indeed, pretty much a blue-collar guy, not a star, but a contributor. However, it looks unlikely at this point that he opts to try to make the NBA, particularly this summer. Hes under contract and Real Madrid faces an extremely important season, hosting the Euroleague Final Four, for which they will try to build a very strong squad. Still, his name deserves to be in the conversation.
Yiannis Bouroussis, 7-0, Center, Olimpiacos (Greece), 1983
A legit 7-footer with a huge frame and a very nice wingspan, Bouroussis looks the part and then some. And while he is not a spectacular athlete by any stretch, particularly in the way he gets off the floor to finish around the basket, he moves well enough and is fluid and coordinated to the point that this wont be whats holding him back either.
Skill-wise, Bouroussis is intriguing as well. He has a beautiful looking flat-footed stroke with range that extends past the European 3-point line, and the touch to punish any rival that dares leave him open from there. His quick release combined with his size establish him as a fantastic option to space the floor for his team from the perimeter, and hes talented enough to present himself as a pick and pop threat from mid-range as well.
Bouroussis bread and butter this year lied in his ability to play the pick and roll, though. Whether setting the pick himself and rolling to the hoop or coming off a secondary screen as the cutter following one of his guards forays into the paint, he established himself as an incredibly reliable presence in the paint thanks to his fantastic hands and very sure touch around the hoop. His strength helped him here as well, as he can take contact and finish around the hoop fairly well thanks to his great frame.
Leading the Euroleague in Field Goal Percentage (at a ridiculous 76.5%), shooting 41% from behind the arc, finishing fourth in the Greek league in rebounds and second in blocks, there is a lot to like about the way his season went. What might even be considered more frustrating is the fact that he often did not see as much playing time as you might have hoped considering his productionaveraging just under 9 points and 6 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game. In fact, he only played a total of 6 minutes in Olimpiacos first five Euroleague games, immediately beginning to produce as soon as he was thrown on to the floor.
Its with those numbers that we wonder just how much room he has left to grow when considering his learning curvehe could barely get off the bench for AEK Athens just two years ago, and is now one of the best centers in Europe. Bouroussis still hasnt played for the Greek national team much eitherits almost a give-in that he will surpass Sofoklis Schortsanitis on the teams depth chart this summer at the European Championships in Spain. Its there that his notoriety could grow amongst NBA personnel that somehow missed the terrific outbursts he had in the Euroleague (for example 16 points, 6 rebounds in 22 minutes at CSKA).
What that does for his ability to join the NBA is still a bit up in the air, though, even if he probably isnt athletic enough to be considered more than just a nice backup in todays NBA regardless. He just signed a four year contract with Olimpiacos last year according to his agent Costas Papadakis of First Class Management, and only has an NBA out clause in 2009. Papadakis says that as many as ten teams have regardless expressed interest, and that Bouroussis does have a desire to play in the NBA, like all players. In his opinion he will need at least one more year in Greece, since he still is very far from reaching his full potential as a player due to the fact that he started playing the game much later than most, at age 18. But, as Papadakis explained, when the time is correct, hell surely be interested.
Theo Papaloukas, 6-7, Point Guard, CSKA Moscow (Russia), 1977
A superb floor general, Papaloukas always comes off the bench to provide a huge offensive spark to his team from the point guard position. Its a repeated situation: as soon as he on the court his team builds a solid lead in the score. Theo is a very smart playmaker that tries to takes advantage of any situation to get easy points. Hes excellent in transition, but also very effective in the offensive set.
Papaloukas is an off-the-charts passer and distributor. Not only does he enjoy terrific court vision and decision making skills, but his 6-7 frame comes in very handy to easily see the floor. He particularly excels in pick-and-roll settings. In pure two-on-two plays, hes most likely going to get the job done. He enjoys very solid ball-handling skills, being aggressive attacking the basket and pretty difficult to stop around the rim due to his size, so somebody has to step into his way, and its right at that moment when he delivers the pass to the big man, usually over his rivals head. If any defensive help arrives, he finds the open man. His biggest weakness is his perimeter stroke, but hes not that bad of a shooter to grant him a lot of space. Theo also uses his size in the low post, either to score himself or to pass the ball. Hes also very good with the kickout pass, feeding the weak-side, cutters or just moving the ball within the offensive flow.
A curiosity: Theo Papaloukas was this season the single only player able to eventually make Ricky Rubio look like a teenager on defense.
Unspectacular, but solid on defense, this is the area that might raise the biggest concerns about his position in the NBA. Hes likely not quick enough to consistently stay in front of many NBA point guards. So defensively he could really use quick perimeter teammates to switch their assignment. Another issue is his age. Hes has been peaking for a couple of years and wont get any younger, although hes not a guy that needs to rely that much on his athleticism (actually, hes an average athlete).
Any team looking to sign him should be well aware of how to take advantage of Papaloukas. Its either he really runs the point or he will be pretty much useless on an NBA court. Theo is the player he is now because of the way he makes decisions with the ball in his hands. Put him off the ball and hes a bust waiting to happen (hes not even a good shooter a la Jasikevicius). Indeed, hes not a teenager who needs to earn his stripes on the court; regardless of not having any NBA experience, you better give him floor general status. Any other situation is a mere waste of time, money and talent.
Recent reports on Eurobasket.com indicate that Papaloukas may have resigned with CSKA Moscow.
Dimitrios Diamantidis, 6-5, Point Guard, Panathinaikos (Greece), 1980
A nightmare match-up, Diamantidis' strong 6-5 body and his endless arms are usually all over his opponents. Hes not an athletic freak, but hes still nice in this area and a player who makes the most of it. Extremely active, and extremely smart in his efforts, his positioning is close to perfect, being equally good in man-to-man defense or team defense. Hes awfully hard to beat given his length and lateral quickness, he stays physical on his opponent, but doesnt get obsessed with his match-up and gladly helps his teammates, either on the perimeter or the paint, but at the same time hes capable of recovering to his man very quickly. Not risking his positioning, hes always alert enough to come up with a steal in the passing line, while hes also not a bad shot-blocker (leading his team in the Euroleague this past season in this department).
Offensively, hes a very good player, quite unspectacular, but really solid. Besides, hes growing as a playmaker and scorer. A nice ball-handler, he uses his strength and footwork to effectively attack his match-ups, although he could be a lot more active in this department. He often settles for a kickout pass instead of going all the way to the basket, showing solid court vision (he sees the weak side really well) and decision making. Its a pattern in his game, the way he avoids the spotlight, sacrifices for the team and shows great unselfishness. Diamantidis takes advantage of his size to create mismatches posting-up smaller opponents. His shot has gained a lot of consistency lately, looking solid out to the three-point line and also quicker in the release, which provides him a lot more opportunities to fire.
Dimitrios is not a greatly creative player, nor is he the type of point guard who likes to dominate the ball and the offense, but he shows an excellent basketball IQ, commits few mistakes and always stays focused. Really a hard-working guy.
A hypothetical future in the NBA looks very unclear at this point for Diamantidis. He has repeatedly stated that hes not interested in the American league, while hes an extremely highly appreciated player in Europe, and particularly in Panathinaikos, which means that hes making very good money (recently having signed a 3-year contract for a reported 5 million Euros net). Anyway, if by any chance he ends up playing in the NBA, dont expect a star, but the ultimate team player, a complimentary player who does the dirty work and shares the ball with his teammates, a real glue guy.
Ermal Kuqo, 6-10, Center, Efes Pilsen (Turkey), 1980
Kuqo played Junior College basketball in the States (at Fort Scott CC and Seminole JC) but never became eligible to play D-1 from the NCAAs standpoint due to his professional background. Since his American adventure hes played in Croatia, Slovenia and in Turkey with Efes Pilsen for the last four years. He considers himself an Albanian through and through, though, and is often looked at as an ambassador of sorts for a culture that has had to deal with hardships over the years.
In terms of his skill level, Kuqo can find some production with his back to the basket (despite his fairly basic footwork) or facing the basket, thanks to a nice jump-shot with range that extends to the 3-point line. Hes usually never the most talented player on the floor, but he often is the most physical and hardest working, setting good screens, knocking guys around, and presenting himself as a threat on the pick and roll. He boxes out well thanks to his strength and frame, but often comes up a bit flat-footed for rebounds.
If this doesnt sound like the most attractive prospect in the worldhe probably isntbut considering his size, strength, experience, toughness and ability to knock down a jumper, teams could probably do worse than to consider him in the 1-1.5 million dollar range.