European Basketball Update - The End is Near

Nando-de-colo-champ-power-electronics-valencia-finals-2010-vitoria-gasteiz_medium

Will this scene repeat itself this year?
via static.euroleague.net

So, by now, everyone here has probably noticed that I haven't written anything for PtR in several months. And by everyone, I mean that nobody actually noticed, since everyone else on the staff here has done such a fine job of making this site the best it can be. Still, I feel the need to contribute something, and with the various European playoffs soon ending, this could be the last chance to catch everybody up on what's been happening across the pond.

The Spurs are currently in the midst of a remarkable run, and as of this writing they are tied for the least number of losses in the Western Conference. But some of the contributors to this season's squad will not be around for the next season, and that means the Spurs will have to replace them. With that in mind, the most likely place for those replacements to come from is Europe(see: Gary Neal; Tiago Splitter).

There are currently three former Spurs and two possible future Spurs fighting for the Euroleague and Eurocup championships, respectively, and there's decent cases to be made for each of their teams. We've also tracked down some other players whose names you may or may not recognize, and added them to our stalking tracking list.

Eurocup Final Four

Ecfinal4

Europe's second-tier competition is winding down, and the Final Four is this weekend. Since it's so close, we'll talk about these teams first. One of the teams in the Final Four features a former Spurs guard, and another one includes a potential future Spurs guard.

Saturday, 4/14/12
Valencia Basket vs. Lietuvos Rytas - 6:30 am Spurs time
BC Khimki vs. Spartak St. Petersburg - 9:30 am Spurs time

Sunday, 4/15/12
Third Place Game - 6:30 am Spurs time
Championship Game - 9:30 am Spurs time

As far as I know, these games won't be broadcast outside of Europe, but if you visit the usual feed sites on game day, you probably won't be disappointed.

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Valencia Basket (Nando De Colo)

Our first stop is Valencia, where we catch up with guard prospect Nando De Colo. With some help from teammates Florent Pietrus(brother of Mike), Blazers prospect Victor Claver, and leading scorer* Nik Caner-Medley, Nando led Valencia to the best overall record among Eurocup teams during the first round-robin stage, final 16, and top 8 playoff round. Two years ago, Valencia won Eurocup, and last year, they even made the quarterfinals of the higher-level Euroleague before getting relegated to Europe's second-tier league. Nando is shooting better from the field than any other guard on the squad, and is second on the team in assists and 3-point percentage. Not bad for an off-guard. He's also 5th in the league in steals per game.

(* - if you don't count Tiago's brief stint with the team during the NBA lockout).

According to Penya, a Spanish poster on SpursTalk, the news in Spain is that Nando is eager to join the Spurs, and there's apparently some mutual interest.

And now, I have some video of Nando, courtesy of his own youtube page, just give some idea of what he can do. Here is a collection of highlights from one of Valencia's Eurocup games in January.

This second video is a little older, but if you start at the 2:00 mark, you'll see him use his skills to hit the game winner over eventual ACB champion Caja Laboral during the 2010 Spanich Supercopa. I might just be crazy, but watching the way he moves and competes, I think PATFO might have seen at least a little bit of Manu Ginobili in him to draft him.

I've also been looking for video of some of his legendary passes(like one he made over his shoulder 3/4 the length of the court for an assist during Eurobasket last year), but haven't had any success. So you'll just have to take my word for it - De Colo definitely possesses above-average passing ability for an off-guard, which is one reason I think he would actually do well in San Antonio, despite his poor defense.

BC Khimki Moscow (Chris Quinn)

As you may have guessed from the logo above, Khimki is hosting this year's Final 4, and their season was nearly just as impressive as Valencia's. Since they're playing at home, they look like the early favorites to win the title and return to Euroleague next season.

Former Spur Chris Quinn is Khimki's backup(yes, backup) poing guard. For the season, Quinn is averaging 7.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.1 steals in about 18 minutes per game. Not gaudy numbers, but he at least picked up one thing with the Spurs: an aversion to TO's. Khimki's starting point guard, Zorin Planninic, turns it over at about 3 times the rate Quinn does. The fact that he still starts over Quinn is pretty damning. The likelihood of him ever coming back to San Antonio is pretty close to zero, but it's still fun to keep up with him.

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Euroleague

Ellogo

FC Regal Barcelona (Erazem Lorbek)

And here we are at what is quite possibly the best basketball team outside the NBA, and one that has dominated Euroleague and the ACB all season, with only Andrei Kirilenko's CSKA Moscow appearing to be able to stand in their way. Through both round-robin stages and the round of 8, Barca lost a total of 2 games in Euroleague play. Obviously, they are one of the teams in the final four, which is to be played in early May, and should be the favorites, based on their dominance so far.

Barcelona's clear best player this season has been power forward Erazem Lorbek, whose draft rights were included by the Pacers in the trade that sent George Hill to Indiana. Of all the people being tracked in this article, Lorbek is the most likely to be a Spur next season, or at least he was before the acquisition of Boris Diaw. Now Lorbek's status is probably dependent on the team's interest and financial commitment to retaining Diaw. But let's move on to what he does.

Lorbek is not much of a shot-blocker or rebounder, but what he can do is score. And when I say Lorbek can score, he can score from anywhere. Since he plays the 4, Barca usually has him working the midrange game while the center works in the low post, for maximum spacing. But Lorbek does have an array of moves in the post, as well as a great jump shot with plenty of range(he's shooting 40% from beyond the arc). He knows how to find any open space the defense allows and exploit it consistently, which makes him Barca's deadliest weapon. He's even averaging more points this season than teammate and Euroleague's all-time top scorer, Juan Carlos Navarro. His dribble drive is quicker and more effective than it looks at first glance. He also has good assist numbers for a European big man.

Defensively, I would compare him to this season's version of Matt Bonner, which is not a bad thing(and he's probably a little better). He's not a stopper, but he can hold his own - there's a reason Barca leads both Euroleague and the ACB in points against, and no other team is even close. Lorbek understands defensive positioning better than most, and while he's no Tiago, he shares the preference to get in the right position and alter shots, rather than going for the block. His cerebral method will play well with Pop and the Spurs' coaching staff.

Here's some highlights from this year's Copa Del Rey. As you can see, Lorbek mostly utilizes jumpers, which he's comfortable launching from almost anywhere. These are the kind of opportunities he always gets with Barca, which makes his nearly 60% shooting from 2 all the more impressive.

A couple months ago, Lorbek talked to Euroleague Adventures(which is just an awesome site, if you're a fan of European basketball). Here's the video:

Remaining non-committal is a smart thing to do when you want to make sure you get a good offer.

Olympiacos Piraeus (Vasillis Spanoulis)

Our old friend V-Span is back to his old tricks, leading a weakened Olympiacos squad to a Final Four bid that I would have scoffed at a couple months ago. He's scoring 16.5 points per game on fantastic shooting, while dishing out 4 assists. He also draws 6 fouls per game from opposing players, which is an amazing stat. Olympiacos look weaker than the other squads in the Final 4, but at this point, I wouldn't bet against him.

Panathinaikos Athens (Romain Sato)

Olympiacos's cross-town rival and defending Euroleague champs Panathinaikos came dangerously close to being knocked out during the round of 8, but earned their way to Istanbul with a narrow series win over another traditional powerhouse, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv. Unlike their bitter rivals, Pana employs a balanced attack, with 6 players averaging at least 7 points per contest. Former Spur Sato is one of those, with averages of 7.7 points, 5 rebounds, and one assist. His value, however, is much more pronounced on the defensive end, where he is one of the premier perimeter defenders in Europe. At 31 years old, he'll never sniff the NBA again, but he's a very good player.

******Eliminated Teams******

EA7 Emporio Armani Milano (Malik Hairston, Ioannis Bourousis)

After missing a pretty big chunk of the season with injury, former Spur Malik Hairston helped Milan sneak into the round of 16, but they were considered the least deserving team to make it that far, and did not advance beyond that. Malik played very well, and was the focal point of the offense after Danilo Gallinari had to return to the NBA following the lockout. He was the team's leading scorer(again, besides Gallinari), shot a ridiculous 55% from 2-point range, and an insane 48% from 3-point range. He's also one of the best perimeter defensive players in Europe. I'm not sure if he'd be able to duplicate the success he's had in Italy the last couple of years in the NBA, but I'm almost certain someone will give him that opportunity. He's certainly made the most of his change in scenery.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ioannis Bourousis, the Greek center who famously spurned the Spurs' advances two summers ago to return to Olympiacos. Things have... not gone well for the big Greek since then. He left Olympiacos in disgrace due to a gambling scandal, and joined up with Milan, spending the better part of the season looking completely lost. Towards the end of Milan's run, he regained some of his old form, leading the team in rebounding, and bring his shooting back above 50%(Though he was a miserable 18% from 3, it was a small sample size). His resurgence and Hairston's return helped Milano avoid the embarrassment of missing the round of 16, but Bontosaurus's numbers were down accross the board from his time in Greece. It's still possible that the Spurs pursue him again, especially if their lack of size kills them again in the postseason. But, I don't know if the interest is still there.

Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul (James Gist, Curtis Jerrells)

As one of its more versatile players, former Spur James Gist started every game for Turkish squad Ulker this season. Among players who were with the squad all season(Sorry, Thabo Sefolosha), James led the team in steals(1.3), rebounds(4.5), and blocks(1). In his second Euroleague season, he's even brought down his turnover rate pretty dramatically. Even though Ulker failed to advance beyond the round of 16, Gist proved his worth as a guy who makes plays, especially on the defensive end. While he probably still isn't NBA material, I can see him having a long, productive career in Europe.

Gist's teammate for the second year in a row, former Spur Curtis Jerrells had a decent year as well. He doesn't really stand out in any one thing, but he's been a solid player off the bench at both guard positions. Curtis averaged 8.6 points, 1.9 boards, and 1.7 assists per game this season. However, Ulker didn't value him much, as they let him leave for Murcia in the ACB recently.

Union Olimpija Ljubljana (Davis Bertans, part 1)

One of the more raw Spurs draft picks in recent years, Davis Bertans started out the season playing alongside some guy named Danny Green. After the lockout ended, Bertans picked up some more minutes, but his shooting didn't look so good in Euroleague play. Olimpija then accepted a buyout from Adriatic League rival KK Partizan for Bertans(see the bottom of this post for more details).

Zalgiris Kaunas (Robertas Javtokas)

Lithuanian club Zalgiris engaged in a grand experiment to start the season, signing NBA players Sonny Weems and Ty Lawson, along with bringing Spurs draft pick Robertas Javtokas back to his homeland. The results were extremely disappointing at first, as the team started 0-4 in Euroleague and looked like a winless team. However, they recovered enough to make the round of 16 after Lawson's return to the NBA, did well in the multi-national VTB league, and are currently second place in Lithuania's top league, the LKL. Side note: the first-place team(Lietuvos Rytas, who are in the Eurocup final four) is led by Jonas Valanciunas, who is going to be an absolute monster next year for Toronto.

Javtokas averages about 20 minutes a game, with about 8 points and just over 5 rebounds, while shooting upwards of 60% from the field. Unbelievably, he shoots below 50% from the FT line, despite his great shooting from the field. He's an excellent garbage man, but not really much more than that. If he had never been involved in a horrific motorcycle accident a few years ago that robbed him of quite a bit of athleticism, who knows how good he could have been? But as it is, you're not likely to see this guy involved with the Spurs, even in Summer league.

____________________________________

ACB (Spain)

Asignia Manresa (Adam Hanga)

Just before the Spurs drafted him, Adam Hanga signed with a club outside of his native Hungary for the first time. It took him a while to adjust, but he looks like a decent player so far. He struggled to begin the season, especially with his shooting, but has since really dialed in his game, culminating with a 21-point, 6-rebound performance this past week. He's shooting 45% from inside the arc on the season(actually pretty good for a guard), but only 23% from outside. Hanga rebounds the ball well for a guard, is second on the team in blocks(!) and is right behind Nando on the steals per game list(6th in the ACB). He's never been known as a good defender, but he does make defensive plays. I'd like to think that Manresa's rise to the middle of the pack in the ACB(as opposed to constantly threatened with relegation) has something to do with Hanga.

Also, this kid is freaky athletic. Doesn't look like he belongs on that team.

UCAM Murcia (Ime Udoka, Curtis Jerrells part 2)

Two-time(shudder) former Spur Ime Udoka found a home in January with one of the worst teams in the ACB, and he's really done well for himself. Ime is somehow managing to shoot decently on his way to 11.5 points per game, while pulling down nearly 5 rebounds per contest.

Curtis Jerrells has only been with Murcia for two weeks, scoring 7.5 per game on efficient shooting, but not doing anything else of note. What is notable is that he and Ime, along with Matt Walsh, are the only players on the team with a positive +/- value. So, even though Murcia is having a terrible season, their mid-season acquisitions seem promising enough.

____________________________________

Italy

Canadian Solar Virtus Bologna (Viktor Sanikidze)

A darkhorse to join the Spurs next year, Viktor Sanikidze recently said that he would like to stay in Bologna if they can qualify for the Euroleague next season. While that's certainly a noble sentiment, Bologna would get destroyed in Euroleague if they somehow made it there. Also, it's not going to happen, barring a miracle playoff run.

Sanikidze is one of the best players in Italy, and has the skills and size to play either forward position. The big Georgian is pulling down 10.7 rebounds per game, which is absolutely amazing in European ball, and shooting 62% from inside the arc. Like Hanga, he struggles from 3-point range(31%) and the free throw line(64%), but that shouldn't disqualify him from consideration, especially when taking his other skills into account.

He also, um, knows how to finish. (turn down your computer volume before playing this one)

A.S. Junior Palloncestro Casale Monferrato (Garrett Temple)

Former Spur Garrett Temple waited too long to find a team during the lockout. Then he also found out that most of the good jobs in Europe were taken, so he ended up with a team from Italy's second-tier league*. But that's not the bad part. Temple has struggled mightily, shooting less than 40% from the field, and 32% from 3. He's also pulling down 2.7 rebounds and dishing 1.5 dimes per game. Hopefully this is just a case of bad fit, and Temple's not really that bad, because it definitely looks bad.

* - Some sites list this team as being in the second-tier LegADue, some list them as last place in Serie A, so if I had to guess, I'd say they actually got relegated during the season because they were doing so poorly. Either way, not good.

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Elsewhere

Spartak Primorie Vladivostok (Sergei Karaulov)

Here's a long-lost Spurs draft pick(from 2004!) that I decided to check up on for no particular reason, other than the fact that he's 7'1" and the Spurs just got destroyed by Andrew Bynum. I can't claim to have watched Karaulov play, but his rebounding numbers are good in limutes. His 46% shooting is not good for a center, and he averages 2 fouls in 9 minutes per game, which probably explains why he only plays 9 minutes per game in Russia's main league, the PBL. Just in case it wasn't made clear by the fact that we never checked on him before, this is not the Spurs' future center, just a late draft pick that didn't pan out.

KK Partizan mt:s Belgrade (Davis Bertans, part 2)

After being eliminated in the first round-robin stage of Euroleague, Olimpija sent Davis Bertans away to Partizan Belgrade, where he has been shooting much better from deep in both the Adriatic and Serbian leagues. He's still playing very limited minutes, so it's nearly impossible to read anything into his stats, but I hope he can get some more burn next year, if for no other reason than to keep his development on track. He's got plenty of time to develop, however, since he's only 19.

Lugano Tigers/Great Britain (Ryan Richards)

Spurs draft pick Ryan Richards is an enigma, no matter how you look at it. He was on the roster of an ACB team, Gran Canaria, last season while recovering from injury. But, before he could play a game for them, he bolted for the lowly Swiss league, where he signed with league-leading Lugano. However, midway through the season, his minutes and statistics started to drop, and he mysteriously asked for a release. Before he was cut, Richards was averaging 11.2 points on 47% shooting(skewed by a horrible 3-point percentage) and 6.7 rebounds. He turned the ball over 2.6 times, which is a lot for a guy who should be dominating opponents at this level as a mobile 7-footer.

Richard is on the preliminary training camp roster for Great Britain's olympic team this summer. I can only hope he somehow makes the team, so we get another chance to watch him and see if he's improved his game any. I'd also hope the Spurs reach out to him and ask if he still prefers playing in the D-League over Europe. It can't hurt to ask, right?

Anyway, that's the last European update until the offseason. Until then, Go Spurs go!

Information Sources

Euroleague
Eurocup
ACB.com
Eurobasket.com
Jump-shot.net

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