All right, now things are getting interesting. Euroleague rosters are falling into place with top names signing with clubs that leave BallinEurope stretching the imagination – thinking about Papanikolaou outfitted in the Blaugrana here – and most of the prime pickups in the NBA have chosen their destinations for 2013-14. (Except … except … what about Nikola Pekovic and that $50 million deal? What is happening in Eurowolves land?)
Regardless of poor Peks’ situation, player movement kept things interesting for European basketball devotees even if no actual club games are being played. BiE took special notice of the following moves last week.
• Kostas Papanikolaou to Barcelona and • Mirza Begic to Olympiacos. So the Reds want to threepeat, huh? Well, they’ll have to do so with quite a different look; the losses of Papanikolaou and Kyle Hines while adding Mirza Begic and Bryant Dunston means swapping two guys who played above their height for, well, actual height – not to mention opening up a barrage of questions. Could we really see a downshift in tempo in Piraeus? Does management expect to improve in rebounding, in which Olympiacos was third-best in the 2012-13 Euroleague? How much more court time will Stratos Perperoglou see? And how important can former Harlem Globetrotter Brent Petway be?
Intriguing stuff indeed, but what about that shiny new Blaugrana acquisition? The not-quite 23-year-old (his birthday’s next week) joins a roster that includes La Bomba, Marcelinho Huertas, Ante Tomic and up-and-comers Alex Abrines, Mario Hezonja and Marko Todorovic – in short, a lot of weaponry in the arsenal. More is needed in the backcourt with no more Pete Mickael and who-knows-what-Erazem-Lorbek-will-bring, but BiE’s picks Barca to be among the big league’s top-scoring sides in 2013-14.
This week’s podcast pays homage to the axiom that, when in doubt about what to talk about in European basketball, simply go to Lithuania. And who better to discuss Team Lithuania’s chances in Eurobasket 2013, Linas Kleiza’s release from the Toronto Raptors, Zalgiris Kaunas’ exit from the VTB United League and such topics than Lithuania Basket’s Simas Baranauskas? Few, we think. (Spoiler: Simas is “cautiously optimistic” about Lietuva in the Slovenia tourney.)
Hein and yours truly also bring the speculation and chatter about recent moves and events in European ball and abroad, touching on Kostas Papanikalaou staying with prospective threepeaters Olympiacos; Richard Hendrix staying in his niche on Eurocup champs Lokomotiv Kuban; the success of Milwaukee Bucks draft pick Giannis Antetokounmpo in the FIBA U20 European Championship tournament; Andrei Kirilenko taking a pay cut to join the Brooklyn Nets (which is clearly about kickbacks and not pursuing an NBA title ); Bogdan Bogdanovic eschewing those same Nets for another turn with Fenerbahçe Ülker; and Bobby Brown attempting to crack the New York Knicks roster.
All this and our sports movie review of the week, the so-bad-it’s-marvelous Jean-Claude Van Damme flick Double Team co-starring none other than Dennis Rodman and Mickey “The Wrestler” Rourke. Ever wonder why The Worm has had to resort to bizarre forays into North Korea for HBO in order to stay in the entertainment biz? Rodman brazenly putting his acting “chops” in this flick will explain all. And remember: Offense gets all the glory, but defense wins championships…
Check out the entire podcast here or to subscribe from this episode ad infinitum, enter http://heinnews.com/feed/taking-the-charge/ into iTunes or any podcast aggregator.
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.
In the interests of complete transparency – hey, somebody in Hungary should aspire to such – BallinEurope today presents the outcome of a heavy Euroleague basketball-watching habit plus several hours of intense thought: Namely, the five names that went onto BiE’s media representative’s ballot for 2011-12 Euroleague MVP.
Since there’s no way the chosen quintet will make anybody completely happy – even though surely the top seven or eight (depending how you feel about certain American imports in Lithuania) individual performances in the 2011-12 ‘League would surely be agreed upon by the great majority of Euroleague fans – BiE will explain the thought process behind the vote and show the initial list of 25 from which the five players receiving points were winnowed. (Bonus: YouTube clips, natch.)
In backwards order, then…
• Toughest omissions – Henry Domercant, Erazem Lorbek and Sonny Weems. Each was so emblematic of their teams in 2011-12, with Domercant and Weems veritably carrying their clubs at times to unexpected Euroleague success. Unics Kazan got attention early in the regular season with a few monster performances by Domercant – including the amazing 30-point, seven-rebound show against Montepaschi Siena in the opener – but Bad Henry actually became more consistent and more well-integrated into the Kazan offense as the team’s season progressed.
Weems kept the overachieving Zalgiris Kaunas afloat – and more – after Ty Lawson returned to the NBA post-lockout, plus gets bonus points for performing among the more YouTubable in European ball. Keeping Weems off the ballot were a couple of off-games in the Top 16 round which may have ultimately kept the Greens out of the semifinal round – and the man did turn over the ball the second-most frequently in the EL, too…
Most notable about FC Barcelona – even more so than in previous years of title glory – is the team’s incredible defenses. Lorbek has controlled the paint on D to make the Blaugrana’s zone traps even more effective and together with Pete Mickael has been triggering fast breaks off the boards while playing in all 19 Euroleague games. Plus, what if someone had told you at season’s beginning that the leading scorer for 2011-12 on Juan Carlos Navarro’s team would be the big Slovenian?
Tough to leave off this expectation-scattering trio, one and all…
• 5. Nenad Krstic, CSKA Moscow
After not exactly fitting into the Boston Celtics after an ill-advised trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder late in 2010-11 and reading the writing on the wall vis-à-vis the player lockout, Krstic may have been the first NBA refugee headliner to sign in Europe. And whoa, has the investment paid off for CSKA Moscow. In Krstic, the Red Army has the ‘League’s no. 1 in accumulated performance index rating, no. 2 in average PIR and no. 5 in points scored – with a shooting percentage of just under 64% overall. A big man among the big men at Moscow, Krstic had to get on the ballot.
• 4. Bo McCalebb, Montepaschi Siena
• 3. Dimitris Diamantidis, Panathinaikos
• 2. Vassilis Spanoulis, Olympiacos
BiE swears that with each coming year, the playmaking guard becomes even more disproportionately important to European and/or international success. Case in point, these three guys in 2011-12; first, the statistical highlights for each:
McCalebb – 16.9 points per game on 61.3% overall shooting, 2.6 apg, 1.3 spg, 17.29 average PIR
Diamantidis – 11.3 ppg, 4.9 apg, 1.5 spg, 17.00 PIR
Spanoulis – 16.5 ppg on 49.7% overall shooting, 3.9 apg, 0.8 spg, 16.37 PIR
Bear in mind all are in the top five in average index rating behind a couple of dudes on CSKA Moscow and that none of three have missed a single game for their teams – now who do you choose? The reputed “fastest man in Europe” and Euroleague top scorer who can lead break after break though doesn’t have the best eye for the open teammate (Gee that’s kinda 2003-04 Kobesque)…
…or the more-than-sum-of-parts guy who just happened to chase last year’s EL MVP bid by leading the league in assists and three-pointers made plus added priceless veteran leadership of a three-time champion…
…or do you go with BiE’s selection from among the three, i.e. the “rock in the middle of that roster … on whom all the Reds could rely” with a career year on the only surprise in the Euroleague Final Four?
• 1. While deciding among the 2 through 4 and 5 through off-ballot positions was difficult, the top choice was the opposite. Yes, BallinEurope went for that most polarizing (only the basketball gods know why) player of 2011-12, Andrei Kirilenko of CSKA Moscow.
Forget what you may think about his consistent-if-not-mindblowing tenure with the Utah Jazz and the virtual all-star squad CSKA management set him up with in the 2011 offseason: The AK-47 has had a monster year. His average PIR of 24.07 per game played is more than 19% better than the nearest competitor (Krstic) – such a mark is currently the 15th best for a single season in the modern era and would be the highest by any player advancing past the regular season since Anthony Parker for Maccabi back in 2004-05. And while he’s “only” ranking seventh in ppg at 17.0, he’s tops in rebounds and blocks plus no. 2 in steals, making him the sole player even close to the top 10 in those four statistical categories.
Yes, Kirilenko missed five Euroleague games and yes, CSKA went 5-0 in that run, but BiE dares say that no single player in the 2011-12 EL became the center of focus every minute he’s on the floor the way that this season’s prospective MVP did – four player-of-the-week awards should prove it.
This season, Kirilenko rules. Let the comments begin.
The top 25 players, as BiE sees it for 2011-12, were the following.
Vassilis Spanoulis, Olympiacos
Dimitris Diamantidis, Panathinaikos
Bo McCalebb, Montepaschi Siena
Henry Domercant, Unics Kazan
Juan Carlos Navarro, FC Barcelona
Milos Teodosic, CSKA Moscow
Jaycee Carroll, Real Madrid
Devin Smith, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Omar Cook, Emporio Armani Milano
Marcelinho Huertas, FC Barcelona
Andrei Kirilenko, CSKA Moscow
Sonny Weems, Zalgiris Kaunas
Nikola Mirotic, Real Madrid
Mike Batiste, Panathinaikos
Marko Banic, Gescrap Bilbao Basket
Viktor Khryapa, CSKA Moscow
Bojan Bogdanovic, Fenerbahce Ulker
Pete Mickael, FC Barcelona
Richard Hendrix, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Felipe Reyes, Real Madrid
Nenad Krstic, CSKA Moscow
Erazem Lorbek, FC Barcelona
Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Maccabi Tel Aviv
Giorgi Shermadini, Bennet Cantu
Luka Zoric, Unicaja Malaga
The 2011-12 Euroleague Final Four field is now filled, as Panathinaikos’ cliffhanger of an 86-85 win against Maccabi Tel Aviv last night sets up a May date with the monsters of CSKA Moscow in Istanbul.
(And now, a slight bit of horn-tooting. Note a few Official BallinEurope Fearless Predictions™ made good, i.e. Dimitris Diamantidis as player of the game and a fairly close call of the final score. Yeah, yeah, BiE knows the drill from White Men Can’t Jump: “The sun even shines on a dog’s ass some days. Anyone can win the lottery.”)
While the bookmakers see the Greens as relative longshots – former Euroleague sponsor Sporting Bet has CSKA at 3/4, FC Barcelona at 12/5, PAO at 4/1 and Olympiacos at 11/1 – one compelling bit of history should be firmly in the minds of the favorites: Since 2001, Panathinaikos has played in five EL Final Fours and they’ve won four, including those three taken in the past five years.
Game highlight clip, a look at the last five seconds of game time, an obligatory YouTube of the OAKA crowd and official league writeup follow.
Games two of the 2011-12 Euroleague Playoffs have gone down … also down and just about out are Gescrap Bilbao Basket, once again outmatched and whipped by CSKA Moscow, 79-60. Unics Kazan may also be in the razor’s edge category as even a lackluster performance by FC Barcelona shooters – seriously, 19-of-57 (33.33%) overall and 13-of-43 (30.2%) not including Juan Carlos Navarro – wasn’t enough to buy the Russian side a win on Thursday night.
Meanwhile, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Montepaschi Siena managed to even up their series in a pair of thrillers: The former overcame Panathinaikos and lotsa noise for the 95-92 overtime win away, while the latter held off another fourth-quarter comeback by Olympiacos to tally an 81-80 squeaker in the win column.
And now, the BallinEurope YouTube compilation … what better to do on Saturday, anyway?
Going into what is certain to be a cliffhanger of a Euroleague Playoffs game one between Panathinaikos and Maccabi Tel Aviv, Sofoklis Schortsanitis is outwardly calm – this despite the way Big Sofo and teammate Richard Hendrix were thoroughly beaten at their games by the Greens in last season’s Euroleague championship.
Added to this is the fact that, bizarre as it sounds and due to his no-show for FIBA Eurobasket 2011, tonight’s game at OAKA represents Sofoklis’ very first court appearance in his home nation since joining Maccabi for 2010-11.
Over at Greece-based Eurohoops.net, yesterday was posted a nice interview with already-legendary former head coach Pini Gershon. Gershon in Europe is mostly known for his establishment of Maccabi Tel Aviv as a European basketball powerhouse, with Continental titles taken in 2001*, 2004, and 2005 (*actually a FIBA SuproLeague title in that strange season of two European club champions), plus a brief and respectable turn with Olympiacos in the late ‘00s.
Making him a local hero in Bulgaria was his guidance of the national team into Eurobasket 2009, particularly the underdog side’s upset over Team Italy in qualifiers to advance. And Gershon earned his 15 minutes of ESPN Sports Center fame after earning an ejection in October of that year during an exhibition game between Maccabi and the New York Knicks.
Nowadays, Gershon is in a state of retirement but naturally is still keeping up with the game. In the Eurohoops interview, much space is devoted to Gershon thoroughly sounding off on a couple series in the Euroleague’s elite eight tournament round. Most telling are two prescient points on individual performances; this stuff should probably be taken seriously.
Well, in the case of Keith Langford and teammate/keyboardist Richard “Jimi” Hendrix, it’s “two brothers from the South” bringing „something completely different for you in the conversation.” See below the break to enjoy a little musical styling, namely a performance of that ubiquitous song of 2011, Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”
All together now: “We could have had it aaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllll…”