Dzanan Musa’s personal rebuild has been remarkable to watch as the former Brooklyn Nets man has found his happy place and is ready for another shot in the NBA, writes Emmet Ryan
It was only one game. In truth, it was only one overtime period, but it was indicative of how Dzanan Musa has refined his game and made himself a far more versatile basketball player. The journey since leaving the Nets in 2020 required him to go back to what he was in order to mature into what he is now and that was clear against FC Barcelona on Thursday night.
Regulation had been ok to below par of Musa. He had 9 first half points but didn’t do much of anything in the second half and felt like he was going to be far from the deciding factor in El Clasico. Then overtime happened and Musa just plain took charge.
It began with a block, then came him scoring 9 of Real Madrid’s 18 point haul in that 5 minute spell while also dishing to Mario Hezonja for a three that essentially put it out of Barcelona’s reach.
The way back
Musa returned to Europe just over 2 years ago and, in terms of medals, it was great for him but it wasn’t quite the move he needed. The Bosnian joined an Anadolu Efes team that won the Euroleague and Turkish championships, the former a first in club history, but he saw little action in Europe’s top tier competition.
Musa rose to prominence before he was drafted on teams where he was, quite simply, the guy. He almost single handedly brought Bosnia & Herzegovina the FIBA U16 title in 2015 and followed that up with the Rising Star award from Eurocup, the secondary competition to Euroleague, with Cedevita. He was playing heavy minutes and getting a whole lot of the ball.
The jump to the NBA was at a relatively normal age, he had just turned 19 when he was drafted, but one for which he proved he wasn’t ready as he had never been asked before to build his way into a role in quite the same way. It wasn’t just the obvious higher level of the NBA but understanding what was required to make that jump a success while young.
So the Efes move got him a couple of championships but it was getting back to being the big guy that enabled him to bring himself back to where he needed to be mentally. Río Breogán in Spain was about as perfect a place for him to do that as it was going to get. A team that has plenty of top division experience in Spain but absolutely zip in terms of success.
So, naturally, Musa went out and carried them into the Copa del Rey for the first time ever and won the Liga ACB MVP award. The confidence was back.
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EuroBasket being spread across five venues in four countries made things a bit messy for those trying to cover it broadly but everybody was keeping an eye on Cologne where heavyweights Germany, France, Lithuania, and defending champions Slovenia were playing. There was also Musa, with his Bosnian side that was pretty much intent on spoiling any and all parties.
Musa couldn’t quite bring his side to the elimination phase but he managed to put the team on his back for a big 97-93 win over Slovenia, where he managed 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists. For the tournament he averaged 21.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 4 assists in 32 minutes per game.
Individually high stats with an underdog team were what we were used to with Musa before he made the NBA. What was different here was the common refrain from everyone watching him play in that tournament. Essentially “he’s ready and Real Madrid will make him more ready.”
His resurgence in confidence had allowed him to develop more as a player, knowing when to defer, knowing when he doesn’t need the ball, and knowing when it’s just plain Musa time. More importantly, he’s not visibly letting mistakes get to him, the full on to the next play mentality is obvious to even the casual observer.
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Los Blancos providing the ideal rehab
There are many, many, worse places in the world to be a basketball player than Madrid. The side is well supported, the salaries are good, the lifestyle is stupendous, and you tend to win championships. Still, if you want to get back to the NBA, there are also few better places to ply your trade for a season or two.
The quality of the roster has Los Blancos regularly considered the 31st best team in the world by NBA observers (although that fluctuates really by a handful of spots every season if we’re being honest). The quality of its youth development system means that so many scouts are over there that any player trying to stay on the radar has the benefit of probably running into guys who were raving about them five or six years ago. That, and again, it’s a really good basketball team.
The maturity of Musa showed truly in two plays of that overtime spell. His block was just plain rapid awareness, getting in ahead of Edy Tavares to ensure a big stop early in the extra period. It was an error that truly impressed me the most however as Musa made a sloppy turnover trying to make something out of nothing but he was back to business instantaneously.
This had him ready for Hezonja’s steal at the other end to try and miss a three ball before fighting inside and eventually scoring in the paint following the usual madness after other guys fumble about with a rebound.
That attitude, after such a cold second half, tells more about 23 year old Dzanan Musa than any whopper stat night. His season stats are good but not threatening the MVP race, with him averaging 15.4 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2.7 assists on just over 24 minutes per game.
The energy is there, so is the fire of youth, but the basketball brain (and probably the human one) is clearly in a better place. That’s got to get him some attention this summer.
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