Sonny Weems: Lithuania's top import in 2011-12

Now here’s an argument starter for you … with much debate perpetually going on among European basketball fans vis-à-vis the influence of American and/or NBA players on the Euroleague, BiE decided to take a look back at the 2011-12 season in hopes of drawing some comparison on an individual, player-by-player level.

Below, then, runs four all-star squads based on play in this season’s edition of the big league; for convenience and competition’s (rather than geopolitics’) sake, players from Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro and FYR Macedonia will be virtually suiting up for the “former Yugoslavia” team.

Right, so who wins this tournament…?

• Team USA
Henry Domercant, Unics Kazan
Bo McCalebb, Montepaschi Siena
Sonny Weems, Žalgiris Kaunas
Mike Batiste, Panathinaikos
D’Or Fischer, Gescrap Bilbao Basket

A couple of characteristics come to mind when contemplating the above starting five. The past season seems to prove (or at least heavily imply) that though a Euroleague team may be built around an American playmaker type, the title itself will regardless probably remain unattainable without a team concept at work. Weems, Domercant and possibly McCalebb can be considered to have carried their clubs beyond expectations while steadfastly playing through opposition defenses focused single-mindedly on the star.

Note, too, that just one of this would-be starting quintet actually played in the Final Four tourney: Batiste, an EL modern-era top 10 scorer and rebounder, who’s nevertheless known mostly for his defensive prowess. While Batiste was second-best on Panathinaikos in scoring, rebounding and performance index rating, why would the Greens ever let him go? Of course, they wouldn’t.

Honorable mentions: Pete Mickael, FC Barcelona; Richard Hendrix, Maccabi Tel Aviv.

• Team ex-Yugoslavia
Nenad Krstic, CSKA Moscow
Milos Teodosic, CSKA Moscow
Marko Banic, Gescrap Bilbao Basket
Milan Macvan, Partizan Belgrade
Erazem Lorbek, FC Barcelona

Bizarre that BiE came up with at least nine viable names for this squad – with only one currently playing in European basketball capitals like Belgrade, Zagreb, Ljubljana and such. Naturally, CSKA swallowed up Serbia’s top two Euroleague players to go with half of Team Russia, a couple of Lithuanian greats and a few with NBA games on their CVs – and Red Army backers weren’t disappointed in the least throughout the season until, say, the last quarter of the EL championship game in which Teodosic uncharacteristically blew up with 0-of-4 shooting, a missed free throw that might have iced the game, three personal fouls and four turnovers.

Meanwhile, all Slovenia’s Lorbek did for FC Barcelona was post a career year of 13.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 15.1 PIR and a first team All-Euroleague nod. Banic was a force for Bilbao either off the bench or in the starting lineup; finally, in 10 games with Partizan, the 22-year-old Macvan scored in double figures every time and may have given attentive Cleveland Cavaliers fans some hope for the future – the sky’s the limit for this guy, it appears.

Honorable mentions: Luka Zoric, Unicaja Malaga; Vladimir Micov, Bennet Cantu; Igor Rakocevic, Montepaschi Siena; Luksa Andric, Galatasaray

• Team Russia (literally)
Andrei Kirilenko, CSKA Moscow
Alexey Shved, CSKA Moscow
Viktor Khryapa, CSKA Moscow
Andrey Vorontsevich, CSKA Moscow

You know that star-studded CSKA squad? Well, it’s a lot like Team Russia’s gonna look this summer. Except … does anyone have a fifth nomination…?

• Team Greece
Dimitris Diamantidis, CSKA Moscow
Vassilis Spanoulis, Olympiacos
Georgis Printezis, Olympiacos
Kostas Kaimakoglou, Panathinaikos
Ian Vougioukas, Panathinaikos

While the country and its national basketball scene are not exactly experiencing the best of times, Greek hoops fans can take solace in one heck of a 2011-12 thus far – and with another Panathinaikos-Olympiacos domestic championship battle set as well. (So crisis really *does* create heroes…)

First and foremost, of course, there was Spanoulis. Already entering the Greek basketball history annals by becoming the second player to win Euroleague titles with both Greece’s Greens and Reds (the first was Dimitris Papanikolaou), Spanoulis turned in a champion-leading season that surely had many EL media partners wishing they could take back those Kirilenko MVP votes after witnessing Olympiacos’ ultimate triumph in the finals.

Printezis might have made this squad based solely on his runner in the final two seconds of EL 2011-12, but his 57.8% two-point shooting beyond the regular-season round displayed growing intensity and focus as the season wore on for Olympiacos. And with last year’s MVP Dimitris Diamantidis again turning in a killer year, Greek fans can take a fair amount of pride in their guys going into 2012-13.

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