Not all of the best NCAA players always make it to the NBA, sometimes certain prospects slip through the cracks (for various reasons, mostly justifiable ones) and it's only natural to continue to watch them carry on their careers in Europe and evaluate their progress to see if they have improved on the weaknesses that kept them out of the league in the first place. This helps estimate whether or not they are ready for a first or second shot. With the recent influx of high school players and extremely raw Europeans on to almost every NBA roster, more and more potential NBA players are being pushed aside right from the get go because of a relative lack of upside, and solid NBA veterans are losing their spot on NBA rosters to make way for potential laden players who are being stockpiled for the future. It isn't out of sight, out of mind for this group of outcasted players as far as NBA scouts are concerned, there are too many good examples of players who were brought into the NBA after a year or a couple of years of seasoning in Europe to ignore them. Some great examples being: Brad Miller, PJ Brown, Stephen Jackson, Udonis Haslem, Carlos Arroyo, Bruce Bowen and others.
This type of scouting is becoming more and more important then ever now. The following players have caught our eyes over the past year and could be considered NBA prospects this summer. None of them are going to be stars right off the bat, if they were, they most likely wouldn't be in Europe in the first place, so please take what is said here in relative terms, and assume that unless noted these players would be brought in to serve as excellent role players off the bench.
6-7 1/2, 225, SF, TAU Vitoria (Argentina), Age: 24
Written by Luis Fernandez
After some solid seasons in Argentina, with a sixth-man award included, Nocioni went to Europe in 2000 to sign with TAU Vitoria, one of the powerhouses of the Old Continent for some years now. He was even loaned to a second-division team for one season, not a very common thing for an already 21 year old prospect and soon-to-be stud with an EU passport. Back in Vitoria, he reached European stardom (16.8 points and 7.5 rebounds in the Euroleague in the 2002/03 season), and earned MVP honors in the Spanish ACB league last season, despite suffering an injury that affected his game, averaging 15.5 points and 7.1 rebounds (13.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in the Euroleague).
He has shined equally bright with the Argentinean national team as well. In the1999 pre-Olympic tournament, a vicious dunk on Kevin Garnett's head went around the globe. He was also a key contributor at the World Championships in Indianapolis in 2002 where Argentina won the silver medal, averaging 12.8 points (third on his team, right after Ginobili and Oberto) and 4.8 rebounds (second,just behind Oberto). In the historic win against team USA, he had 14 points and 4 rebounds.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Nocioni is known as a fierce competitor, an intense and physical player that is gifted with great athleticism. Nocioni's game has evolved to the category of an almost complete all-around player. He hasn't lost a single bit of his heart on the way, his intensity or his love for the physical game never wavered, but he has matured and significantly polished his abilities.
The most noticeable development comes in the shooting department. His jumper has become quite reliable, from mid-range distance out to the three point line. One look at his style is enough to know that he's not a pure shooter, but he can and will knock it down, even off the dribble.
When he doesn't have enough space to shoot, he usually opts for the penetration option, taking the ball fearlessly to the hoop, usually looking for contact with his opponent while taking advantage of his excellent strength and getting a fair amount of baskets plus the foul. He has good handles and likes to carry the ball down the court in transition after grabbing a defensive rebound. Although not his main strength, he can pass the ball and he's a fairly good decision maker. Defensively he's very tough. It's almost impossible to out-hustle him. He uses his strength and athleticism to get some spectacular blocks and dominates the glass using these traits as well.
Nocioni's intense game sometimes costs him in the form of personal fouls, so you can say he's a little foul prone. His ability to score in the NBA will probably suffer somewhat as a big part of his game in Europe relies on his superior athleticism and strength, advantages that he probably won't be able to exploit, at least not as explicitly, in the NBA. Because of his role as the number one option in Spain he also sometimes forces things offensively. He might also suffer against quicker wing players, as his lateral defensive movement is average.
Why sign him?
Nocioni is the kind of player every coach loves to have. You can expect him to be the guy that plays as hard as anyone around, bringing intensity and energy to his team and not being an offensive liability at all. In the NBA he would be a role player, not a huge scoring threat, but the kind of player every winning team needs to have. Not having a big scoring responsibility might be an even better situation for him. He's good enough to be a starter at the NBA level, but he could be equally valuable off the bench. The adaptation process wouldn't be dramatic for him. Since he's not a pure shooter he might suffer initially from the NBA three-point line which is a little farther back, but that's not really a huge concern. He's undoubtedly one of the most NBA-ready players you will find in Europe.
The biggest knock on Nocioni in order to sign him is his price. He's not just a high-valued player in Europe, his buyout is quite expensive as well, supposedly around $2 million dollars, which would force a team to dig deep into its mid level exception before they even started negotiating his salary. Besides, he doesn't seem all that interested right now in playing in the NBA that he would be willing to sacrifice too much. He wants playing time and wouldn't leave Vitoria unless someone convinces him that he would get significant minutes.
6-10, 240, PF/C, Parmesa Valencia (Argentina), Age: 29
Written by Luis Fernandez
After five seasons with Atenas, a team from CÃ³rdoba in Argentina, becoming the best big man in his country and winning various individual and team titles, he tried making the NBA, but could not find a spot in the League. So in 1998 he started his European adventure with a first stop in Greece to play for Olympiakos. After a so-so experience, TAU Vitoria from Spain signed him at the end the 1999 season. In Vitoria, playing for coach Ivanovic, he established as one of the best paint players outside the NBA and helped make TAU one of the most feared teams in Europe. A Euroleague final appearance and an ACB League title were his best achievements so far. For the last couple of seasons he has played for Pamesa Valencia, also in Spain, a team full of stars who consistently play at the top levels of Europe. This last season he has averaged 11.5 points and 5.4 rebounds at the ACB League, and 13.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists in the Euroleague.
He has been one of the leaders and the main post player of the wonderful generation of Argentinean players that have placed their National Team among the elite national teams of the world. At the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis he led his team with 5.6 rebounds and closely trailed Manu Ginobili in the scoring department with 13.3 points per game. Against the US he scored 11 points and grabbed 9 rebounds. The following year in the Tournament of the Americas, he put a memorable offensive show against Tim Duncan, finishing the game with 17 points with 8/9 from the field.
Fabricio Oberto is one of the best paint players outside of the NBA. He's a tough, skilled big man, with nice mobility, for whom the key is his natural home where he feels comfortable and everything seems so much easier for him. He displays a great post-up game, showing very nice footwork. He loves to spin and release a slight fade-away shot, which is very difficult to stop. He also can score using his mid-range jumper out to 14 feet on a regular basis. Quite a nice passer, Oberto usually finds the right man when double teamed. In transition, he runs the floor as a trailer pretty well. He plays hard on defense and never avoids physical contact. It's not easy to post him up at all. He is a good rebounder due to his positioning and hustle; he can also block some shots while showing very good timing. He's a player with character, who plays the game with passion, displaying great intensity like most of his countrymen, and who shows a very good understanding of the game.
Oberto isn't a physical freak. While he's pretty strong, his athleticism isn't top notch. His vertical leap is average for a power forward, as well as his quickness. As a result, his rebounding and blocking production aren't outstanding and he may suffer while defending quicker, more versatile players outside of the paint. He can play as both a power forward and center, although he's a little slow for the four spot, and a little undersized (6-10) for the five spot. The level of intensity that he brings on defense often earns him easy fouls, and he usually has to spend more time than desired on the bench. For a player with his ability to go to the line so often, his horrible free-throw shooting is one of his worst weaknesses. This last season, his percentages were well under 50%. It's really sad considering his decent mid-range stroke.
Why sign him?
With the lack of reliable big men in the NBA, it's surprising to see Oberto still playing in Europe. He would be a solid presence in the paint for any team, especially for teams that play a more team-oriented style of play. With the lack of low post threats in the NBA, he could be really valuable. He should try to improve his free-throw shooting, though. He's under contract, but his buyout (reportedly around $800,000) isn't outrageously expensive, especially considering some of the contracts that have been handed out recently by NBA teams.
On the other hand, at age 29 he isn't getting any younger, and he isn't as crazy as some about playing in the NBA. It was a dream for him when he was younger, but after some rejections and his success in Europe, he looks at things from a different perspective. With that said, if a team calls him with the right offer and the right words, he would probably give it a try. The Spurs are said to be pursuing him. It could be a good fit for him, combining the four and five spots with Duncan and Nesterovic. Despite being a paint animal, he doesn't necessarily have to be teamed with another more perimeter oriented big man, as he doesn't need too much space to play his game and he makes really good passes inside the paint for his fellow big man.
6-4, 200 pounds, PG, Maccabi Tel Aviv (Lithuania), age: 28
Written by Jonathan Givony
Jasikevicius is almost unanimously considered the #1 PG in the world outside of the NBA. If he is indeed signed by an NBA team this summer, he will have to find a house in the States with a big room to store all of his trophies and awards from the past two seasons.
Jasikevicius is very familiar with American basketball. He moved to the U.S. as a teenager and attended Solanco High School in Quarryville, Pennsylvania. After that he played in the NCAA for four years at the University of Maryland under Gary Williams, mostly as a shooting guard. He went undrafted despite NBA director of scouting Marty Blake saying that he has can't miss potential and that "There ain't no way he's not going to play in the NBA".
That was early on in his collegiate career, though, the Jasikevicius you will see today is a completely different player now. There is no doubt anymore that he is a pure playmaker.
The Sydney Olympics in 2000 is when he really started to come into his own as a player, because as usual for him, the bigger the stage, the more he steps up to the challenge. He averaged 14 points and 5 assists in the tournament. In the quarterfinals he led Lithuania to a huge upset win over heavy favorites Yugoslavia with 18 points. The next game was against the Dream Team Americans, and as many fans remember today, the Lithuanians came very close to knocking them off. Jasikevicius almost single-handedly kept them in the game with his playmaking and timely scoring. He ended the game with 27 points and five three pointers. Two missed free throws at the end by Ramunas Siskauskas did them in eventually, the game ended 85-83 in favor of the Americans. Lithuania finished the tournament with the Bronze, their first medal since regaining independence.
In his first season after that at Barcelona in 2000-2001, Jasikevicius averaged 14 points and 6 assists per game in the Euroleague, and helped Barcelona win the ACB (Spanish league) championship, averaging 16 points a game in the playoffs. He was invited to the Spanish All-star game and also helped his team win the Spanish King's Cup, the Copa Del Ray. The next two years after that we saw Jasikevicius do a lot of the same, many wins, points and assists. He helped Barcelona win the Copa Del Ray once again in 2002, and led his team to the ACB Semi-finals.
2003 was probably his most successful year to date as a basketball player. Barcelona won the King's cup once again in February, the all-important Euroleague in May and the ACB finals in June (Jasikevicius was named the MVP of the playoffs). Jasikevicius was once again invited to lead Lithuania at the national team level, this time in Sweden for the European Championship (other participants: Tony Parker, Nowitzki, Kirilenko, Okur, Gasol and many more). Jasikevicius did not disappoint, helping his team win the gold for the first time in 64 years, and was again named the MVP of the tournament after averaging 14 points and a tournament high 8.2 assists per game. Jasikevicius was already under contract at that point with Maccabi Tel Aviv for the following season, with no escape clause for the NBA (much to the dismay of the San Antonio Spurs). This year he added some more awards to his trophy case in Israel, including yet another Euroleague title (18 points in the final game) an Israeli championship and the Israeli Cup.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
As mentioned already, Jasikevicius is considered the #1 point guard in Europe. He has great height at 6-4 which allows him to see over his opponents and make fantastic passes both in transition and half court situations thanks to his excellent court vision and knack for improvising. He knows how to run a team and thrives when doing so, especially in clutch situations under immense pressure, which is why he should be considered by every NBA playoff team looking for a backup PG this summer. He controls the tempo of the game wonderfully, knowing when to push the ball down the opposition's throat and when to pull back and regroup for a high percentage shot. He is a world class shooter, averaging 45% from 3 point range in the Euroleague for the season, and 57% in the Israeli league. From the free throw line he shot a remarkable 96% in the Euroleague (70/73), missing only once from the line in the last 13 games (50/51 or 98%). The best part of his game is definitely his demeanor on the court. He is a natural leader that plays with great passion for the game and fierce competitiveness. He loves taking big shots and as you can see by his list of accomplishments he usually succeeds when doing so.
His main weakness is his defense which is not up to par with the rest of his game and is considered weak even for European standards, although he plays on a very offensive minded team. He is not the type of player that a coach can call plays for from the sidelines, but that's not really a concern considering his usually excellent decision making. Athletically he isn't extremely quick or explosive which should relegate him to a role as an outstanding backup that can play both the 1 and the 2 spots, especially for a team like the Spurs who have shown the most interest in his services and would help mask his poor defensive by playing him in front of two excellent shotblockers in Duncan and Nesterovic. San Antonio just drafted a PG in Beno Udrih, whose rights are owned by Maccabi Tel Aviv, the team Jasikevicius currently plays for, but it would make sense to either keep him overseas for a year or groom him behind Jasikevicius and Parker for a year or two until he is ready to contribute at the highest level. Parmesa Valenica, one of the top teams in the ACB Spanish league, offered to make Jasikevicius among the highest paid players in Europe this summer, but he decided not to make the same mistake as last summer and see what ends up happening with the NBA.
Why sign him?
He should be considered one of the top 4 playmaking point guards on the free agent market along with Rafer Alston (who just signed a mind-boggling 6 year, 29 million dollar contract) Troy Hudson and Carlos Arroyo. He has no buyout issues and his salary demands should probably be in the same ballpark area of the other top backup PG's, somewhere around the lower level exception (1.5 million for two years). Other then the Spurs, the Suns (before overpaying Steve Nash) and Celtics have also shown interest. Logic says that the Mavs, Kings, Pacers and maybe even the Heat could get involved. There is a serious shortage of quality backup PG's in the NBA right now, and teams could do a lot worse then to sign such an accomplished player to backup the 1 spot and maybe even get some minutes at the 2.
6-6, 215 pounds, SG/SF, Maccabi Tel Aviv (United States) age: 29
Written by Jonathan Givony
Parker played college ball for Bradley in the Missouri Valley Conference, was drafted in the first round (#21) by the New Jersey Nets as a college senior 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. He played for Quad City in the CBA for the rest of the year and later left for Europe after failing to catch on with a team in Summer league (he played for the Raptors). His first stop in Europe was with Maccabi Tel Aviv, where he stayed for two years, averaging around 14 points on good shooting and dishing out close to 5 assists in his second season. From there he went to Italy for a season to play for Roma, where he had a strong year with 14.5 points 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Last suimmer he was again brought back to play for Maccabi, where he and his wife say they feel at home. This year he probably had the best season of his career so far, his improvement as a player throughout the year was just stunning to watch. He helped Maccabi win the Israeli championship and cup, and put on a breathtaking performance in the Euroleague Final Four which earned him MVP honors for his efforts (24 points, 5 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1 block per game). Basket News named him the best American player in Europe this season.
One of the best athletes in Europe, extremely quick and fluid, great vertical leap, explosive first step. Nice mid-range game, superb elevation on his picture perfect jump shot. Efficient shooter with great mechanics, shoots a very good percentage. Good ball handler, will occasionally bring the ball up the court and set up the offense. Slashes well to the hoop and finishes strong or finds the open man. Extremely unselfish, very nice court vision, especially when passing off the dribble. Makes everyone around him better. Creates his own shot just about as well as anyone in Europe, but hardly ever forces things. Good defender as well, moves well laterally and possesses nice footwork. Not afraid to stick his nose in to take a charge. A team player that is adored by his coaches, teammates and especially the fans. Has a great attitude towards the game and a winning personality. Very smart and efficient.
Parker does everything well, but nothing really great. In the NBA he would probably be considered a 7th or 8th man depending on the situation, and when you are reaching into your bench a lot of coaches really want to have one specific skill they know they can count on. While he shoots very well from long range (51/101 or 50% in 46 games this year) he's not really automatic from outside and you might wonder how well he will shoot from the NBA three point line. This wouldn't be a huge concern to me but that's the perception that is out there because of the player he used to be. Also consider that he plays for the #1 team in Europe with the best PG around so he obviously gets his fair share of open looks. Other then that it's hard to pinpoint the weak parts of his game, maybe you can say that he doesn't have a superstar mentality, he's sometimes a little too unselfish considering how much better he is then everyone, but that's also what makes him such a complete player, the fact that he doesn't need or want to take 20 shots per game and is willing to do other things to make his presence felt.
Why sign him?
He is in my opinion the best player in Europe today, he does everything on the court: He slashes, finishes, creates for himself and others, rebounds, passes, plays defense, shoots from outside and mid-range, and does it all in an extremely unselfish, yet very exciting manner. He knows his strengths and weaknesses (if he even has any) and always stays within the context of the offense. He has a great demeanor as well both on and off the court. Pretty much a perfect player on the European level. Does he have what it takes to do that in the NBA? There is really only one way to find out.
Parker has said many times that he is extremely content playing and living in Israel. He has no interest in leaving for the NBA unless the situation is ideal. His agent, Henry Thomas, has said that they will consider any offer over a million dollars, which is quite reasonable for a player of his caliber. A two year guaranteed contract for the lower level exception and the opportunity to come in and get around 20 minutes per game might do the trick. Teams that should give him consideration: New Jersey, Indiana, Orlando, New Orleans, Chicago, San Antonio, Sacramento, Houston, Phoenixthere is really no shortage of NBA teams out there that could use a quality backup all-around swingman.
6-5, 220, SG, Benetton Treviso (USA), Age: 25
Written by Jonathan Givony
Evans started off his NCAA career by playing two seasons of junior college at Wichita State and then transferred to Texas in the Big 12. After one good season (2001) averaging 15.5 points and 5 rebounds he hired an agent and declared for the draft back when it wasn't such fashionable or accepted thing to do. He went undrafted in one of the craziest drafts of all time despite being considered one of the most athletic players in the country. His problem back then was that he simply relied on his freakish athleticism too much; his ball-handling and perimeter shooting just weren't up to par with the rest of his game. After going undrafted he was signed by the Minnesota Timberwolves for the season after a good summer league campaign but did not see much playing time that year and was waived next year right before the 2002-03 season kicked off after already making the team through summer league. He was signed by Olympiakos Pierus and had a great rookie season in Greece and the Euroleague. From there he again tried his luck with the NBA via summer league, this time with the Washington Wizards, but they were already too stacked at his position with Hughes, Stackhouse and Dixon and he was one of the last players cut. He signed with Benetton Treviso in Italy and had a fantastic season as noted above. He is currently trying out once again with the Wizards this summer, his fourth summer league campaign in a row.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Evans is most likely the most athletic player in Europe today, bar none. He has great quickness, a superb first step and a jaw dropping vertical leap that has put him on many highlight reels both in Europe and in the NCAA. He is built extremely well with an impressive NBA body, and has excellent body control which he uses along with his strength to finish powerfully at the hoop. He is a tough, hard nosed player that is not afraid of mixing it up and has no problem driving with reckless abandon looking to finish with contact. He has the ability to cut and change directions quickly which helps him with his off the ball movement, coming off screens and such, and you can see that he's starting to develop a mid-range which could be deadly with his ability to elevate off the floor quickly and create space. Defensively he is a tough player with pretty good lateral quickness and the ability to fight through screens. He can't afford to get into foul trouble in Italy because of his important scoring role, but you can tell he has the potential to excel in this area if he puts his mind to it. He obviously can crash the boards with the best of them if needed, even as a guard because of his strength and superb vertical leap. Evans has improved significantly in Europe on the two biggest aspects of his game that have kept him out of the NBA so far, his outside shooting and ballhandling. Shooting wise he shot 44% for the season from behind the arc (103/235 in both Italy and the Euroleague) which is a big improvement that reflects the hard work he has put in. His shooting form is slightly awkward, he shoots the ball low and in front, but it works for him and he gets it off quickly. In terms of ballhandling he'll never be a PG like Marquis Daniels, but he is a very good slasher as noted and can occasionally pull down a rebound and start the fast break. He can create his own shot in the NBA, his crossover is getting better and better and should continue to improve.
Why sign him?
Evans is one of those rare free agents who can come in and contribute immediately to a team but still has a large upside to continue to improve. Despite the fact that he has a large contract waiting for him in Spain (reportedly offered 800,000 dollars by Parmesa Valencia) he can most likely be had for cheap by an NBA team with a guaranteed minimum contract. One of the biggest knocks against him coming out of college was that he only played one year in a major conference, but experience is no longer a concern as he has played for some of the best leagues in Europe over the past two years (the Euroleague, Greece and Italy) and did so for top teams. He has a good attitude towards the game and has showed the willingness to work hard in order to continue to improve. Evans would be a low-risk, high return type signing that could be a nice contributor off the bench in the right situation. Two years in Europe can do wonders for a player's desire to stick in the NBA.
6-4, 214, Shooting Guard, TAU Vitoria (Ltihuania), Age: 24
Written by Luis Fernandez
Strengths and Weaknesses:
Macijauskas is a world-class shooter. He's right there with the best of them. Not only because of his reliability, but also because of the tremendous speed in which he gets his shot off. Any momentary lapse on the part of his defender and he fires. He can be dribbling in motion or coming off a screen, and in no time he balances himself to shoot. He can practically shoot the ball asleep from anywhere on court. His free-throw percentages are usually over 90%. Arvydas is also a decent penetrator, finding ways to finish in traffic in spite of his height, as he shows a good stroke in any situation or distance.
The main problem for Macijauskas is that he's a shooting guard trapped in the body of a point guard. Not only because of his size, but also because of his thin frame and poor athleticism for a shooting guard. His defense is not even average at the top levels of European. His attitude looks OK, but the results aren't there. He gets abused by stronger and faster match-ups. On the offensive end, he's not always patient and occasionally makes bad decisions, especially when he's not getting good shooting position. Sometimes he insists on dribbling in front of his match up, trying to find room to penetrate or to shoot, and risks excessively the possession of the ball. In fact, when playing against decent defenders who are familiar with his game and typical body fakes and moves, he can barely create his own shoot due to his average ball-handling and explosiveness.
Why sign him?
As you can see, Macijauskas is a very unique player, with some amazing weapons to play the game, but also with some very noticeable flaws. That's why his potential to play at the NBA level remains a mystery. The main problem is of course his defense. If he already suffers in Europe, what will happen in the NBA going up against faster, taller and stronger opponents? It's quite probable that if he does make it he becomes a one-dimensional situation type player in the NBA, because given his height and athleticism it won't be easy for him to score on anything more than jumpers.
Therefore, I don't think he has the proper tools to become a starter at the next level, but his wonderful stroke could make him a valuable off-the-bench player. He will need a coach that believes in him and knows how to take advantages of his great strengths while masking his weaknesses as much as possible.
What seems pretty clear as of right now is that he's on his way. His $200,000 buyout is a bargain these days, and he seems pretty eager to try the next level. The Chicago Bulls are rumored to be his destination, but that was before they drafted a much more athletic version of himself in Ben Gordon. Considering the field goal percentages that we saw this year in the NBA, there are quite a few teams that could use such a pure shooter, but the initial speculation about a 3 year, 9 million dollar contract seem a little far fetched even though it wouldn't be the worst contract handed out this summer.
6-7, 220, Small Forward, Maccabi Tel Aviv (USA/Israel) age: 23
Written by Jonathan Givony
Maccabi Tel Aviv fans will probably be out for my head after this article, but here is yet another Maccabi player who has a chance at being signed by an NBA team for next season. He will be playing with the Sacramento Kings summer league and has an outside chance of actually making the team considering the Kings' offense and style of play and the fact that they don't have a backup small forward. He might even remind them a little of Jim Jackson (today's version). Unlike Anthony Parker, Bluthenthal actually has a great skill that can be counted on consistently off the benchâhe is a tremendous outside shooter--he's very pure--and he showed that especially well during the final four in Tel Aviv, where he hit 4 threes in 16 minutes off the bench in the final game to finish with 20 points for the game. He isn't the quickest, most athletic player in Europe right now, and probably lacks the ball-handling skills and explosiveness to be able to create his own shot, but if a team is looking for a smart player who can rebound, post up his man in the paint and flat out shoot the ball, Bluthenthal might be their guy. Bluthenthal can probably be had for the league minimum. He is an American with an Israeli passport and will always have a paycheck waiting for him in Israel if he desires.
Other players who deserve consideration for next year