While everyone else in the basketball universe is watching the minute-by-minute maneuvers of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the like, BallinEurope has an eye on those powers from The Continent who may be moving around within the NBA to help reshape rosters for the 2010-11 season. Our man in the U.K., Sam Chadwick, ruminates on the final destinations of 15 European NBA players. Os Davis provides the ever-popular (yeah, surrrrrrrrrrrrrre) fearless predictions.
Right, so everyone knows this is the summer of free agency, with possibly the top free agents ever to come on to the market in the NBA. In total, there are around 17 European players on the market – right now, we’re ranking the top 15.
15. Primoz Brezec (Slovenia), Milwaukee Bucks
Brezec has been in the league for eight years now and it’s not looking great for the big man from Slovenia: He was traded mid-season in 2009-10 from Philadelphia to Milwaukee, where he averaged just four minutes per game.
Brezec didn’t play in the NBA the previous year, after playing in Europe for Lottomatica Virtus Roma; the season before that, he played for three different teams (Charlotte Hornets, Toronto Raptors, Detroit Pistons) not once averaging more than 13 minutes. In fact, at Detroit, Brezec played just five minutes per game in 17 games. And the numbers don’t help either: 21 games, 35% field goal percentage, 0.6 offensive rebounds, 0.6 defensive rebounds, and 0.9 points per game are not the best numbers of any free agent, and the free agency options this year make it look like he’s heading back to Europe for another season at least. Fearless prediction: Brezec back to Roma.
14. Francisco Elson (Holland), Philadelphia 76ers
Elson has seven years in the NBA, splitting his 2009-10 between Milwaukee and Philadelphia, and as a member of the formidable ‘03 draft class was taken alongside Carmelo Anthony in Denver. Career-wise, Elson’s gone for 3.9 points per game scorer and a great rebounds 3.8 in just 16 minutes per game. Unfortunately, last season Elson was 3.0 points per game short of his career average in Milwaukee in just 11 games played for 5.6 minutes per; in Philadelphia, Elson only played one game and got only four minutes, two points and one rebound.
In general, Elson’s free agency hopes aren’t looking great; however, he is a solid rebounder and 33% field goal shooter. I feel Europe may be his next destination: With the NBA so tight on what they want in this free agency bonanza, why would a team take a guy with such bad numbers? Knowing the management in New York, Elson will be the starting centre in The Big Apple come September. Fearless prediction: Elson to New York. We *do* know that Knicks management.
13. Yakhoba Diawara (France), Miami Heat
Diawara is a 6’7” forward/guard who came into the league for years ago with the Nuggets to make 4.4 points per game while grabbing 1.7 rebounds in around 18 minutes per game in 64 games. Though Diawara even occasionally cracked the starting lineup for Denver in 2006-07, it’s unfortunately all been downhill from there.
In 2007-08, his numbers dropped to 2.8 ppg and 1.1 rpg; in 2008-09, his first season with the Heat, he had 3.4 ppg and 1.4 rpg. This was an improvement over the previous season and Diawara was starting to become a solid player off the bench, a solid big body who could run at the two or three spot … but then this last season: In just two starts and six games in total, the career 36% shooter went for a 20% percentage in 2009-10, with 0.2 offensive rebounds per game, 0.5 defensive rebounds and a total of 0.7 rebounds per game. Along with this, Diawara managed just 0.2 assists,0.1 steals and 1.3 fouls in 7.3 minutes per game while hitting only 0.8 points per game.
Diawara’s promising young career has taken a drop, but he’s still young and could be a contributor off the bench. Obviously, he wouldn’t require a high contract and would probably take the minimum; Diawara could be a good two-guard or three man as an option off the bench and could end up on a team who needs a backup. It seems likely that he could end up re-signed by Miami to come off the bench, though after filling the roster with big-money free agents. If he doesn’t land with Miami, Diawara may struggle to find someone interested and so eventually head back to Europe for a better contract and better playing time. Fearless prediction: Diawara to Cholet Basket.
12. D.J. Mbenga (Belgium/Congo), Los Angeles Lakers
Okay, so Mbenga has two NBA championship rings, but I don’t know why, after six years in the league, Mbenga only managed averages of 7.2 minutes, 2.1 points, 1.8 rebounds, 0.6 blocks per game and a 46% field goal percentage. He had two starts and appeared in a total of 49 games.
Now these may be considered the numbers of a guy playing limited time, but are they really? He’s playing alongside one of the best players of all time in Kobe Bryant and a veteran triangle-running point guard in Derek Fisher, so they will find him if he is open. Plus, with the amount of shots Kobe jacks up, surely Mbenga could find more than 0.7 offensive rebounds in over seven minutes per game.
Or maybe its the opposite: Perhaps Mbenga’s numbers are actually great. He’s playing with Kobe, who finds it hard to trust his teammates and still hits a lot of shots; maybe Mbenga’s rebounding numbers are reduced because he’s on court with Bynum, Odom and/or the mighty Pau Gasol. Maybe Mbenga will re-sign with the Lakers and collect his third ring. Fearless prediction: Or maybe not. Mbenga to the Los Angeles Clippers.
11. Oleksiy Pecherov (Ukraine), Minnesota Timberwolves
Okay, Oleksiy and our next free agent are basically the same guy with similar numbers and Ukrainian backgrounds. Both Oleksiy and Krylo Fesenko are three-year players and seven-footers, and we’ve got Oleksiy slightly lower because he played in Minnesota and doesn’t have as good a field goal percentage – apart from this, though, his numbers are higher. Pecherov played 44 games including five starts, grabbing 2.8 rebounds 4.5 points per game and a 41% field goal percentage in just 10 minutes per game playing behind the likes of Kevin Love and Al Jefferson. Pecherov has only been in the league three years and is still developing, still gaining the weight that will make his a true big man. I feel Minnesota will re-sign him as he has developed well and helps solidify the T-Wolves’ front court. Fearless prediction: Sure, why not? The Timberwolves are apparently just collecting European big men in some kind of bizarre attempt to hook both fans and Ricky Rubio (someday), so Pecherov to Minnesota.
10. Kyrlo Fesenko (Ukraine), Utah Jazz
Like I said, Fesenko’s incredibly similar to the guy above – just add 70 pounds and a better field goal percentage. Unlike Oleksiy, Kyrlo played for the Utah Jazz, a much better team, and is a restricted free agent whereas Oleksiy is unrestricted, so the Jazz can match any offers.
Oleksiy managed 1.9 rebounds, 2.6 points and 8.3 minutes per game in 49 games played and five starts, all while hitting a stunning 55% from the field and maintaining a career 54% average. A great inside presence with the build to battle players like Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum, the Gasol Brothers, and the other bigs from round the league, Fesenko could be a great big man off the bench and would get even more minutes in Utah in 2010-11 with Drew Gooden on the off. Fearless prediction: Jazz match any offer, Fesenko stays in Utah.
9. Ian Mahinmi (France), San Antonio Spurs
Ian is a good player as a third option off the bench for the Spurs; however, sometimes instead of third, Mahinmi is fourth or not even played. But you cant blame his stats: 3.9 points and two rebounds per game in just his second season; additionally, this year in the playoffs, Mahinmi went for 4.5 points per game and one rebound in just six minutes per game while hitting an even more ridiculous 64% from the field.
San Antonio, as you know, now have a relatively crowded front court with Tim Duncan, DeJuan Blair, Tiago Splitter prospectively and draftee Ryan Richards; due to this, I don’t know if the Spurs will resign him. However, with reports that Richards will be sent back to Europe or at least the D League, I feel Ian may be kept to allow the Spurs to challenge the Lakers in front-court depth. Fearless prediction: Richards plays D League for a while (‘cause he already said he world) and Mahinmi gets back with the Spurs on a one-year deal.
8. Rasho Nesterovic (Slovenia), Toronto Raptors
Toronto has the most European and international players of any team in the NBA. Nesterovic is among them, a 12-year pro from Slovenia.
Rasho played 42 games last season with eight starts, hitting 54% from the field with 3.9 points per game and 2.1 rebounds, all in 9.8 minutes. Nesterovic is experienced and can re-sign for the veteran’s minimum. I expect the Raptors to keep him and use him to teach Andrea Bargnani; plus, it’s never a bad thing to have an extra seven-footer. Fearless prediction: Nesterovic back with Toronto. Unless he signs with Minnesota.
7. Johan Petro (France), Denver Nuggets
Johan Petro is ranked above Rasho due to his youth: I would rather have a player who is younger, has five years experience and can play with slightly lower numbers rather than a a 12-year guy who won’t be around much longer.
Petro played 36 games last season with 16 starts in Denver on a highly competitive Western Conference squad with the likes of Nene and Melo. He hit 54% on his way to 3.4 points per game and grabbed 3.6 rebounds; the downside is Petro fouling at a 2.2 per game clip. But though he sometimes fouls, Petro’s inside presence is noticeable and another seven-footer in the key is good in case Chauncey Billups has lost a step.
Johan could also sign with any team in need of a backup big man; opportunities include re-signing with Denver, getting with Toronto as a backup providing inside scoring if given more time on the floor, or landing as a bench player for a team like the Lakers, Knicks or Boston Celtics. Fearless prediction: Petro to the Knicks as part of Plan C.
6. Sasha Pavlovic (Montenegro), Minnesota Timberwolves
The seven-year veteran forward/guard started his career in Utah as part of the draft class of ‘03, played 79 games as a rookie and grabbed promising numbers of 2.0 rebounds and 4.8 points per game. Pavlovic grabbed career highs playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers alongside Lebron James in 2006-07, and there he averaged a career high 9.0 points per game and 41% from deep, also dishing out 1.6 assists and picking up 2.4 rebounds per game.
Pavlovic played a total of five seasons for the Cavs and eventually ended up in Minnesota. Last season, he played in 71 games and playing just 12 minutes, but hitting 36% for 3.7 points per game and 30% from beyond the arc. He also contributed 1.7 rebounds in just 16.5 minutes per game. Pavlovic could end up back in Cleveland alongside his old teammates. However, Lebron won’t be there and he may be able to contribute. If not, Pavlovic can go anywhere in need of a three-point shooter. Fearless prediction: Pavlovic to New Jersey. They need three-point shooters.
5. Sergio Rodriguez (Spain), New York Knicks
Sergio is a talented point guard, has only been in the league four years and has improved throughout his American career. In 2008-09, Rodriguez posted career highs in both points and minutes played serving as a valuable backup for Chris Duhon. This season he played 66 games and started eight times, all for the Knicks after zero starts with the Sacramento Kings – even when Kevin Martin was injured. He finished the season with a promising 1.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 6.6 points per game while hitting 42% from the field and 32% from three-point territory, but also a disappointing 1.7 turnovers in 15.9 minutes per game.
I feel the Knicks need a talented young point guard and someone who can run the team. If New York’s not interested, Rodriguez is already being linked with teams all over Europe, mainly Real Madrid, but the best choice for him in my mind is New York. Fearless prediction: Rodriguez to Real Madrid.
4. Vladamir Radmanovic (Serbia), Golden State Warriors
Vladamir is a nine-year pro and a good experienced fit in Golden State, as this team is generally pretty young and Radmanovic’s experience vital. Last year, he played in 41 games and started 20 before getting injured; he shot 38% from the floor and got 6.2 points per game, also dishing out 1.1 assists and grabbing 4.3 boards per game. I feel Radmanovic could be re-signed but he isn’t high on any particular team’s priority list and his injury has also put teams off. Fearless prediction: Radmanovic to the Los Angeles Clippers.
3. Peja Stojakovic (Serbia), New Orleans Hornets
The reason Stojakovic is lower than Ilgauskas is due to reports that Peja will retire at the end of the season don’t get me wrong, they could both retire after 12 years in the league each and a combined 24years of NBA playing time, but mainly because I feel Peja is more likely to retire, Peja is younger but the time is mounting and he’s becoming more effected by injuries. His stats last season were 62 games, 55 starts 40% from the field and 38% from three 3.6 rebounds per game, 1.5 assists and 12.6 points per game.
Should Peja retire, well, it’s been a great career … on the other hand, I feel he could fit in with a lesser role in New Orleans next season and come off the bench when they really need a shooter to come in and score he can also work wonders with the youth on the squad and become like a coach for this young team. Fearless prediction: Really fearless. Peja’s gonna stay in New Orleans and collect that $14 million plus. Sorry, Panathinaikos fans.
2. Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Lithuania), Cleveland Cavaliers
Ilgauskas, too, could retire. However, the Cavs have the option to keep his contract and depending on Lebron they may choose to keep him. Big Z had great stats last year; his experience is really helping him grab smart rebounds and take smart shots. Ilgauskas doesn’t force much at all and simply knows when to give up the ball and let someone else, i.e. Lebron, get to work.
Due to the Shaquille O’Neal fiasco last season, Ilgauskas played in 62 games but only started six times! The big Lithuanian shot 44% overall and managed 5.4 rebounds and 7.4 points per game in providing valuable experience for this Cavs team. I feel his option will be picked up.
If not, Toronto needs a big man and they love Europeans, while the Wizards seem to be taking on contracts, especially those of guys like Kirk Heinrich who can help develop their players. Fearless prediction: Ilgauskas to Žalgiris Kaunas – but BiE’s only saying that so as to stir things up on in the comments section of the Euroleague Transfers Table, heh heh.
And finally the moment you have all been waiting for but is easy to know who….
1. Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Dallas Mavericks
This pick was the easiest and most predictable, but certainly very few thought Nowitzki would opt out of his contract with Dallas after 12 years. In 2009-10, Dirk’s stat line was again astounding: 81 games, 80 starts, 48% field goal shooting, 42% on threes, 92% at the line, 7.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 blocks and 25 points per game. Simply put, Nowitzki is one of the top free agents available and the best from Europe.
Now the hard bit is determining will he end up. We reckon Nowitzki has two main options: 1) he teams up with his best friend and ex-teammate Steve Nash on the Phoenix Suns after Amare decides to opt out or 2) he stays loyal to Dallas and maybe re-signs for less money … but it’s all about whether he wants a championship or not.
We hope he ends up in Phoenix, putting him and Nash back together with an even better pick-and-roll favored over Amare just rolling through the lane for the dunk. The Suns could have the Dirk option of either rolling through the key for a dunk of his own or exploiting his ability to step out to shoot the three-pointer at a high percentage. He’s a perfect fit in the Suns system. And it’s even doable. Fearless prediction: Nowitzki back to Dallas. Sigh.
Sam Chadwick is a assistant coach for the Solent Kestrels U13 team. He also writes a basketball-centered blog called Hype.