Welcome to Partizan Belgrade, Dominic James! “Now,” wonders the Grobari fan, “what can he do for us?” BallinEurope’s man in Serbia, Marko Savkovic, takes a look at the former Marquette Golden Eagle vis-à-vis Dragan Todoric’s master plan for the club.

In our praise of Partizan’s system of basketball, we’ve stated how this team’s success has turned it into a hot destination for American players looking to improve their careers. Since Bo McCalebb broke into big time two years ago, quality players from overseas have been offered contracts by Dragan Todoric, the Belgrade club’s perennial sporting director.

Take Lawrence Roberts: He was brought into shape for the first time since his college career thanks to Partizan’s conditioning routine. Or James Gist: a versatile power forward who is now one of players that Fenerbahçe Ülker has built its game around. Both found their game in Belgrade. Todoric has chosen wisely, one might say. Which is why Acie Law’s hiring might be counted as a mistake.

Let’s be fair, Acie had problems from the start. And it’s not all his fault. Although praised by Jovanovic for his commitment in practice (“he’s a good man,” coach Vlade loved to say), Law always looked out of sync. It was obvious he could drive that ball past any opponent, but drive it where? With Nikola Pekovic, Miroslav Raduljica and Rasko Katic, “one down” was Partizan’s preferred set play – no pick and roll, just lie there and wait; get it down somehow, hope for Vladimir Lucic to grab an offensive rebound if Pekovic missed (which did not happen too often).

This overreliance on big men was criticized by fans as well. Plus, Law’s perimeter shooting was inconsistent; it took him ages to get into position. Although welcomed as a team-oriented player with considerable NBA experience – a game changer, that is – Law stepped up only occasionally, as in Partizan’s 91-81 win over Spirou Charleroi.

If Law’s mid-season departure to Olympiakos did not come as a surprise, it still affected the team. Jovanovic was forced to improvise, giving more time to back-up players like veteran Petar Bozic, young Nemanja Jaramaz – still struggling to make this his breakout year – and Danilo Andjusic, who feels more at home as a shooting guard. Last weekend’s demolition of Zlatorog should not fool anyone; there is still much to wish for in Partizan’s game.

So that’s the kind of environment Dominic James, a former Marquette star and Big East Rookie of the Year, is coming to. What can fans expect from him? First, he is fast, seriously fast. At the college level, his first step enabled him to blow past any defender. He is agile and anticipates well – meaning that he could contribute to Partizan’s ever-changing defensive set-ups.

Body strength and insane hang time help James endure contact when penetrating through opponent’s defense. Still, he is a below average free throw shooter; not so consistent from the perimeter; has the tendency to dash forward, forgetting about the play that was called for; and may be a defensive liability, with taller point guards posting against him. It’s clear then: James is expected to make Partizan “run” faster.

Funnily enough, when McCalebb left Mersin in 2009, guess who was hired as his replacement? Right: It was our friend Dominic James. Seems to be a coincidence? Hardly, if you ask the average Partizan fan, who has over the years learned to trust Todoric’s instinct. What is certain is that James’ 14.6 points and 3.0 assists – his combined average for 21 games played in an Aris jersey – might come in handy with Korac Cup ahead.

Marko Savkovic fell in love with basketball because: a) his older brother used to play, so it must have been a cool thing to do; and b) he witnessed Vlade Divac, Dino Radja and Toni Kukoc play an exhibition match back in 1988. After learning the fundamentals with Partizan Belgrade, Marko spent four years in FMP Zeleznik’s youth system and another three playing lower-division ball. Years later, as a political science graduate, he found a different career for himself, yet remained devoted to hoops. For BallinEurope, he will be closely following developments in the Adriatic league. You may write him at markosavkovic@gmail.com.

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