Early in the season, it’s difficult to judge the US newcomers you have choose; anybody wants to give them a final chance becoming acclimated to other ways of life and play, to never-seen or -known teammates, to different expectations on them. But now that winter has come, it’s time to say something about these players. In present day basketball, US players are no longer so necessary, especially at the highest levels, while their play for smaller teams in smaller realities are still considered essential to the survival and the targets of the less wealthy squads. After three months of training, with domestic leagues and European Cups going on, we can summarize what the US newcomers have done here in Europe.
And the Oscar goes to….
Starting our analysis from those men able to emerge at the highest European level, Earl Calloway is the first name that comes to mind. As his career’s grown step by step from New Mexico State to Indiana University, from Fort Wayne and the D-league to Cibona Zagreb, his initial impact facing the Euroleague was less than tremendous: 3 points in 24 minutes against Maccabi. After this shock, he has taken over the team, averaging 15 points and 3 assists in the next four games. Sure, he has to reduce turnovers (3.2), he should wake up at dawn to shoot 1000 three-pointers a day (he average beyond the arc is 21%), but for a guy at his first professional season (D-League? I’m serious), his numbers and his decision-making are enough to consider him among the best US newcomers.
Another possible “steal of the market” is Jamont Gordon, the Fortitudos’ 21 year-old combo-guard from Mississippi State. This wardrobe man is, at the moment, the core of the Italian team until Qyntel Woods is more consistent and D.J. Strawberry more entwined in the playbook. He’s never been lost in the strange, absurd system designed by Zoran Savic, scoring, defending, rebounding, stealing, and sometimes calling screens like a point guard. Probably he’s not NBA level, but no doubt he can step up in Europe: He’s a kind of black Diamantidis.
Jannero Pargo was expected to be the shiniest star coming from the NBA, close as he was to winning the NBA’s Sixth Man Award last year with the New Orleans Hornets. Considering how many top players Dynamo Moscow has, it was difficult to imagine more than 25 minutes per game for Pargo. Not wrong: Blatt gives him 22 mpg, but the Chicago original is not sad playing somewhat less than in the NBA, and his numbers (14 points per game, 62% FG, 4 rebounds per game) confirm he already is the Dynamos’ leader; Pargo plays when it counts and he’s driven the club to a 6-2 record after an unexpected debut loss to Spartak Primorie and a tough battle against CSKA Moscow in which he scored 25 points.
Stephane Lasme comes from Gabon, but he went to U. Mass and then played in the D-League and NBA, so we can consider him a US player by formation. Lasme is one reason why Partizan is in third in Euroleague Group D and nearly stole an upset over CSKA. He represents a species close to extinction: the raw, big, tough old-schooled center. He dunks, rebounds, blocks, he’s a presence in the paint, the last bulwark between the basket and the one-on-one players. Greater than the numbers (9.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks per game), is his ability to change a game with only his moves all around the rim. Challenging Partizan, you must change your playbook to adapt to Lasme.
In the middle
Not bad, not even well. That’s what we used to hear about those attention-attracting players who turn out neither so disappointing as to deserve release from the team, nor inspiring enough to be worthy of high praise. Instead, wait for a moment and we’ll see whether they improve or fall. Brandon Jennings is the most suitable example here: huge talent, powerful agents, an elite team in one of the most popular cities in the world, but he hasn’t the key to Lottomatica yet. Never mind the stats (9 points and 1.2 assists in 18 minutes per game) and remember how Repesa loves a platoon system that also includes Gabini, Giachetti, Datome and, if he could, probably also assistant coach Nando Gentile, but we have to say, until the great exhibition in Vitoria, that B.J. is not playing as we would expect from a presumed 2009 NBA Draft lottery pick.
Earl Boykins is a my-story-first-me-second guy, but he has confirmed the qualities shown in the US that made him the most remarkable move of the summer market after Josh Childress. His statistics are solid (18 points per game, 50% three-point shooting, 87% FT, 3.8 assists per game), but before coach Pasquali was fired, Bologna lost several matches in the final seconds during which Boykins did not show the lucidity and leadership typical of an NBA veteran. Now, coached by Boniciolli, he’s going on his comprehension of the rules, teammates and situations, and it’s not the case that LaFortezza is now beyond Siena, alone in the second place.
Josh Childress, in the same way as Boykins, has been the symbol of a new era in which famous US players decide to cross the ocean to play in Europe. $20 million for three years, OK, but on the court? Though he’s never been characterized by huge numbers, he’s not expressing himself as we knew him to in those seasons with the Atlanta Hawks. When he is willing to defend, Childress is the best stopper on the perimeter of the whole Euroleague, but we have seen him so available too few times. Offensively, he is not a factor – and this was foreseeable – but at 9.8 ppg and not scoring double figures in three consecutive games are not enough for a guy who can dominate on sheer athleticism alone.
Kalise Gran Canaria is third in the ACB, but James Augustine can’t take much credit. He’s only part of the rotation, averaging 7.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game and doesn’t change the games as Carl English or Marcus Norris do. Augustine remains an useful post-down player, but Joel Freeland is much more compelling and productive.
Go back to the US!
Andre Barrett was a prospect at Seton Hall, then he survived four years between NBA and D-League. Now, at the age of 26, it was time to upside his career and join a top European team like Barcelona. He began the season fighting for a spot on the starting five, but soon finished third in this race, overtaken by Jaka Lakovic, Victor Sada and sometimes Grimau – an interesting player, not a playmaker. At 12 minutes per game in the Euroleague, his one-speed way of play doesn’t conform to the tough European game: Barrett has suffered the leap.
Is Pat Calathes the new Garbajosa? Don’t kid me. At 25% from the arc, 14 minutes and 5.7 points per game in what Maroussi had described as a possible standout team and is now instead 3-5. I think his parents will be more satisfied with his brother Nick, the amazing guard at University of Florida.
Dear Rod Benson, we like your blog, but when do you want to play? Cyril Julian and Victor Samnick aren’t exactly Shaquille O’Neal and Amare Stoudemire.
Good job, men
Jaycee Carroll (Teramo) has spent the last two years visiting the world on his Mormon mission: no practices, no gym, no games, no basketball. His right hand, however, is the same as it was at Utah State: 18.3 ppg, averaging 54% from beyond the arc. Not a one-dimensional shooter, Carroll has developed his ability getting to the basket and finishing through contact; the next step is a top European club or a journey to the NBA.
Alexander Johnson became notorious when he barely fouled Andrea Bargnani during a Miami-Toronto regular season match; this year for Brose Baskets Bamberg, Johnson has demonstrated how to be a basketball player rather than a three-second lane fighter, averaging 11.7 points and 5.9 rebounds per game while shooting 52.6%. Johnson must control his intensity to spend much more time on the floor, however, because 3.3 fouls in 23 minutes per game is a limit that could separate him from more fascinating European leagues.
Mike Hall is coming from off into the distance after a terrible start with Milano. Now he’s emerging as a complete forward, more suited in front of the basket and on kickout passes than on the high post. The misunderstanding was thinking of Hall as a power forward while Mason Rocca and Pape Sow were both injured: Hall is a wing, maybe endowed with a slower release and less spectacular to see, but a perfect second/third voice in a team like Milano.
We are curious to see Andre Emmett on a team in which he’s not the one-and-only go-to-guy, because if he increases his unselfishness (and defense), he can turn in a great weapon from the bench for a title contender. Pau Orthez is at the bottom of the Pro A ranking without a win so far, and the team needs their scorer back and healthy from injury.
Flying to the suburban domestic leagues, in Turkey, Lester McCalebb and Chris Lofton are the thorn of Mersin, a very talented backcourt duo combining for 40 points; the same can be said for Pinar Karsiyaka’s Ralph Mims (the TBL’s third-high scorer at 21.9 points per game) and Belizean Leon Williams (averaging 17.8 points and 10.9 rebounds per game); and a promising point guard is Alex Gordon (from Vanderbilt), who is scoring 18.4 points and 3.8 assists per game for Oyak Renault Bursa.
In Israel, Davon Jefferson is a money-in-the-bank bet. He came out of USC too soon – after playing one year – and was drafted by the Phoenix Suns with only the 48th pick by the Phoenix Suns. But Jefferson’s potential is unlimited and he has the skills of a small forward in the body of a power forward. He has to refine himself, but the fact that he’s now with Maccabi Haifa, and not in a lonely place in the D-League showing his skills to obtain a 10-day contract in the NBA, gives you an idea of what type of person he is.
Coming back to France, give Besançon’s Justin Hawkins a look, while in Germany Drew Neitzel searches for more minutes to show his Steve Nash-style play. And his former college, Michigan State, is a guarantee. Nick Fazekas landed in Oostende to help the team recovering from its disastrous beginning, and for now he hasn’t achieved the target. The record says two wins in nine matches, a last place standing in D1, and Fazekas is not the prophet Belgian fans waited for. Ten points and 6.6 rebounds per game: The rundown starts from here, and I trust he can change the trend in a hurry.
Finally, are you a mid-level team GM and want a proven playmaker? Buy Taurean Green…