BallinEurope just loves season- and year-ending polls, and every December FIBA Europe offers hoops devotees the opportunity to participate in the naming the Continent’s Players of The Year. And while the winner of the award for 2011 – a.k.a. the Year of Dirk – is surely a no-brainer, the FIBA ballot calls for electors to award a 1st, 2nd and 3rd place vote from among 10 nominees; BiE is finding that no. 3 spot a real mind-bender. If someone can provide a nice salient argument for the final spot, that person will have BiE’s undying admiration.

The process of elimination went the following way, in reverse order of finish, and garnishing with highlight clips.

10. Dimitris Diamantidis, Panathinaikos. Yes, Double-D was the Euroleague MVP and the Euroleague Final Four MVP for 2010-11. Yes, he thus established himself as one of the five or six greatest of the EL modern era. But Diamantidis did not play any international ball, whereas all other nine nominees participated in Eurobasket 2011 and most where instrumental to their team’s successes. Dimitris simply has the shortest CV of a very talented ten.

9. Dusko Savanovic, Power Electronics Valencia/Anadolu Efes/Team Serbia. Savanovic may not have even been the best player on an ultimately disappointing Serbian side that lost six of its last seven games to finish eighth in the Eurobasket tournament. (Nenad Krstic? Milos Teodosic, anyone…?) Savanovic seemed to get swamped with the tide as Serbia sank late, only managed to top 4-of-9 shooting twice in that seven-game stretch.

This is not to say that Savanovic can’t be clutch. After all, he live on forever in Valencia BC annals for the game-winning shot that put the Spanish side into the Euroleague Top 16…

8. Nicolas Batum, SLUC Nancy/Portland Trail Blazers/Team France. How old is this guy? What? He’ll be 23 on Wednesday? BiE guess we’ll have to call his 2010-11 NBA season (of 12.4 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists per regular-season game) as his coming of age on the international stage, with the 2011 Eurobasket tournament and subsequent play with SLUC Nancy during the lockout the icing of that reputation. But even before his two Euroleague Player of the Week awards, Batum turned in one of the great clutch performances of 2011 for Les Bleus against Team Russia in the Eurobasket semifinal with his “all-action line of 19 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks.” BiE can’t believe we’re only up to number eight…

7. Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies/Team Spain. Like Batum, Gasol The Younger will have a few more chances at winning this award – how about in, say, 2012, after a deep run by the surprising Memphis Grizzlies chased by a silver- (or gold-!) medal win by Los Rojos at the Olympics …? Marc did have one heck of a 2010-11, though, enjoying an all-star level performance in the regular season; a playoffs in which he averaged a 15.0/11.2 double-double while generally performing at a level diametrically opposed to that of his older sibling; and a nearly turbulent-free cruise through Eurobasket as he and brother Pau formed a twin-tower combination built for schooling young ‘uns like Enes Kanter. To paraphrase the governator, “he’ll be back.”

6. Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers/Team Spain. You’d think that after starting at center in the NBA All-Star Game and leading one of the best national teams ever assembled in points and rebounds in Eurobasket would get Pau ranked higher, but the truth is that, fair, fortunate or not, for the 2010 FIBA Europe Player of the Year, 2011 will be remembered as the year in which he, ahem, “led” the Lakers’ ignominious collapse in the NBA playoffs. No way can he make this ballot, particularly with the suddenly reborn possibility that he could enter “disgruntled” status after landing with the Houston Rockets. And this has nothing to do with the fact that BiE is a Lakers fan. Well, not much.

5. Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs/Asvel Basket/Team France. Tough elimination here … the last name to be definitively crossed off the list nevertheless had a year for the ages, turning in his usual solid season for the Spurs at 17.5 points, 6.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game. While Western Conference-winning San Antonio was bounced early, Parker contributed the second-most points (19.7 per game) and dished the most assists (5.2) for his team in six games of the first-round series.

All Parker did to “redeem” himself was write his and Team France’s way into the history books at Eurobasket 2011, leading the tournament in scoring, FG attempts, and FGs made. Given more weapons on a national team than ever before, Parker was nevertheless an indispensable force in getting Les Bleus to their first-ever Eurobasket final.

Parker capped the calendar year by becoming one of the first NBA players to announce a jump overseas; while proving utterly crucial to Asvel’s success in French League and Eurocup play, Parker may be creating something of a financial model for European basketball stars, particularly in times of labor troubles: That of the team executive/player.

Four names remain … now we come to the hard bit, so let’s dispense a couple of easy formalities first.

1. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks/Team Germany. Nowitzki last won this award in 2005, the first year of the award. Compared to that year, Dirk is down statistically in all major statistical categories from games played to free throw attempts to assists. But come on! Proving unstoppable in the 2011 NBA playoffs while simultaneously shrugging a big monkey off his back, entering “all-time greatest” conversations and dispatching the EEEEvil Miami Heat? Yep, Nowitzki wins.

2. Juan Carlos Navarro, FC Barcelona/Team Spain. Navarro is to European basketball as Nowitzki is to the NBA: Ever-reliable, always there to consistently produce for consistently winning teams. Though Barça suffered an early exit out of the Euroleague playoffs, the Blaugrana nevertheless took the ACB title – with Navarro named tournament MVP. Team Spain of course took gold at Eurobasket 2011 … with Navarro named tournament MVP. Just for good measure, La Bomba helped Barca to the Spanish Cup … and was named tournament MVP, has led his team to a 17-1 overall run to start 2010-11, and just became the modern-era Euroleague career scoring leader. A pretty good year.

And so they meet yet again to decide the final spot on the BallinEurope ballot: It’s down to Andrei Kirilenko and Bo McCalebb.

Regarding Kirilenko, forget his season with the Utah Jazz (even though his stat line was a respectable 11.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 3.0 assists in a turbulent year for the team); if we’re talking *European* Player of the Year, just consider what the AK-47 did on The Continent in 2011. As the oldest player on a decidedly more up-tempo Team Russia than he’s used to, Kirilenko was nevertheless a monster at Eurobasket 2011, leading the third-place finishers in scoring, offensive rebounds and total rebounds; plus, his 29 steals was best of the tournament.

But it was with CSKA Moscow that Kirilenko really demonstrated his brilliance and abilities as a model European player. After arriving about 14 minutes before the season began, Kirilenko was thrice named Player of the Week in six weeks of Euroleague play, sometimes killing with shooting, sometimes crashing the boards, sometimes doing it through intangibles. From a purely selfish perspective, one of the worst outcomes of the NBA lockout settlement is the departure of the most dominant performer we’ve recently seen in Europe’s biggest league.

Finally, what about Bo? BallinEurope can feel the shudders all across The Continent in reaction to this nomination. Seriously, a New Orleanian who’d barely stepped foot in FYR Macedonia suddenly becoming a citizen of that country and subsequently gaining eligibility to awards like such as this? McCalebb’s new passport was quite the subject of debate among the Eurobasket press corps, let BiE tell ya.

Put the micro-geopolitics aside momentarily, though, and consider the kind of ball Bo brought to Europe in 2010-11. After a Euroleague season in which McCalebb led a youthful Partizan Belgrade to a shocking Final Four finish, Bo moved to Italy and, despite a knee injury, returned to the tournament to help Montepaschi Siena land a third-place finish. He’s already adding to his personal highlight clip this year as well with a 23-point show against Unics Kazan a couple weeks ago.

And then there was the biggest surprise and perhaps even the single biggest story (competing only with Spain’s dominance and France’s first-ever finals appearance) of Eurobasket 2011: Team FYR Macedonia. McCalebb fearlessly and meticulously led his equally fearless and meticulous national team to mouse-that-roared status at the European tournament. With the point guard position given such exaggerated importance at tourneys of this ilk, McCalebb added an exciting cutting-and-slashing dimension throughout Eurobasket, consistently drawing attention while contributing to the best side in terms of ball protection and turnover differential in the competition.

As awesome as Navarro and Pau Gasol were, as brilliant a field general as Parker was, no Eurobasket team – and perhaps no European team on any level in 2010-11 – so depended on a single player as did the 2012 Olympic qualifiers FYR Macedonia.

So, how about it? Who gets the no. 3 spot on BallinEurope’s ballot? Good thing that BiE has until January to figure this out…

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