Gaze into the crystal (basket)ball…

Glimpses into the possible Euro-flavoured future of several NBA teams will begin on Friday with the welcome return of the NBA Europe Live Tour and the Euroleague American Tour. What could inspire a Chicago Bulls fan to catch a Memphis Grizzlies preseason game against Real Madrid? The prospect of checking out Nikola Mirotic, of course!

A handful of rights-owned players will be suiting up to play on both sides of the Atlantic over the next eight days, but today BallinEurope takes a slightly wider view beyond these exciting-but-mostly-irrelevant dozen games. Below a look at five players – a bit of a future dream team, perhaps, though desperately seeking a monstrous big man – taken in recent NBA drafts and currently developing in Europe’s higher levels. And yes, there will be highlights.

Your five for the European present and NBA future, then…

SG/SF Bojan Bogdanović, Fenerbahçe Ülker (2011 draftee; rights owned by Brooklyn Nets). The steady rise of the 23-year-old Croatian continues apace after a season for the Turkish powerhouse that saw him go from status as the sole weapon on a disastrous 2010-11 campaign with Cibona Zagreb to an integral part of the Fenerbahçe offense: Bogdanovic was good for 12.1 ppg in his third full Euroleague campaign and 13.6 in the TBL.

And even those who missed last season in the big Continental league had to have noticed the man leading Team Croatia back to prominence in the EuroBasket 2013 qualification round. Bogdanovic drove the 8-0 Croatians on the fuel of 15.8 points and 1.25 steals.

Good news for Nets fans: 2011-12 saw a nice improvement in shooting threes for Bojan, who put in a nice 41.1% for Fenerbahçe – another benefit of playing with a well-rounded team – chased up by a 48.9% assault in the EB qualifers. Better news: His contract with Fenerbahçe expires at the end of this season.

SF/SG Emir Preldžić, Fenerbahçe Ülker (2009; Cleveland Cavaliers). As good as his and Bogdanovic’s team looks going into 2011-12, Preldzic may just fine staying put. (Sorry, Cleveland.) Though entering the latest Euroleague season aged just 25, Preldžić has already been with the club since 2007; with a team now designed to squeeze the most of his skills – Fenerbahce’s gonna torture squads on the perimeter with kickout after kickout, aren’t they? – it’s tough to see Preldžić ever suiting up for the Cavs, even when his contract comes up in 2015. But don’t take my word for it; BiE infamously swore Ricky Rubio would never play in Minnesota…

And here’s a nifty game-winning dagger by Preldžić for Team Turkey against Belarus in the recent EuroBasket qualifers.

PG/SG Sergio Llull, Real Madrid (2009; Houston Rockets). The biggest problem with Llull isn’t his sometimes shaky one-and-one defense or his minuses in physical play. Though his shooting numbers were down for last season in both Euroleague and Liga Endesa play, Llull showed far greater willingness to play harder underneath and above the rim – two bugaboos that have dogged him.

After years of watching steady improvement from a classic Liga Endesa type (i.e. addicted to the tight pick-and-roll), however, BiE can help but worry about consistency issues. Folks like Draft Express wondered in the past whether Llull can compete at high levels and despite some brilliance in Liga Endesa and Euroleague ball (see below for a nice example from the former), BiE’s still just not sold on the guy.

In missing a decent portion of the 2011-12 Euroleague season, Llull then went on to get limited time for Team Spain in the 2012 Olympics. While showing some nice mettle in the Russia game, Llull was sadly invisible far too often during the ‘Games; in fact, the one time has was allowed to tee off – against Australia in game two – Llull was a shoddy 2-of-10 overall with three TOs and three PFs.

So as not to dampen Rockets’ spirits (rumors of a whopping six-year contract extension offer from Real will do that), BiE will call London an aberration. Llull has invested years in his young career at developing certain aspects of his game. What Houston and Madrid fans will be looking for is whether 2012-13 is the season in which his skill set all comes together.

SF Nemanja Bjelica, Caja Laboral Baskonia (2010; Minnesota Timberwolves) . Originally drafted by the Washington Wizards, Bjelica was then traded to the T-wolves in a deal that involved Trevor Booker, Hamady N’Diaye; depending on the havoc the Wizards’ staff can wreak with Booker, Bjelica might one day go down as the key player in this swap – and, oddly enough, another feather in the cap of Minnesota GM David Kahn.

Bjelica will be starting for an intriguingly international Baskonia side in 2012-13; thanks to the additions of Fabien Causeur and Team Montenegro sensation Tyler Rochestie in the backcourt, Bjelica will be free to roam the wings and do that off-ball stuff for which his reputation has grown.

Waiting for Bjelica to join the Eurowolves of Rubio, Andrei Kirilenko, Alexei Shved and Nikola Pekovic in Minnesota might require some patience, as the Serbian has been penned to a deal with Baskonia through 2016; on the other hand, he’ll be just past 28 years old at that point…

PF Milan Mačvan, Galatasaray Medical Park. (2011; Cleveland Cavaliers). Drawing enough interest from Galatasaray to be worth a €250,000 buyout of his Maccabi Tel Aviv contract, Mačvan starts 2012-13 as a starter for the Turkish Eurocup side.

Since his man-among-boys, 23-point, 14-rebound, six-assist MVP performance in the 2009 Nike Hoop Summit, Mačvan has shown major improvement in terms of court vision and overall basketball IQ thanks to some nice playing time with Partizan Belgrade in his first Euroleague season: The end result was a line of 15.3 points and 8.2 rebounds.

Those interested in checking out Mačvan vis-à-vis his potential future with the Cavaliers (he’s signed with Galatasaray through 2014, at which time he’ll be 24½) won’t have too much difficulty doing so: With the Medical Parks, Mačvan will surely rack up the minutes on a team in which he and 19-year-old Furkan Aldemir will essentially divide up the frontcourt minutes with prototypical grizzled veterans Boniface N’dong (35 years old) and Erwin Dudley (31).

Tomorrow: Five more to look for in 2012-13.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,