Monday, May 07, 2007

Euroleague Final Four Observations

Panathinaikos captain Fragiskos Alvertis raises the trophy in Athens

• More Painted Area - Jay Aych breakdowns:
Suns-Spurs Game 1 | East Semis Game 1s

Just wanted to close the circle on the Euroleague Final Four since we offered a preview last week.

Congratulations to Panathiniakos for winning the title - and to their fans, who came out in full force and rocked the house Oracle Arena-style in Athens.

The "Greens" topped CSKA Moscow 93-91 in the final on Sunday, in a game that was entertaining and competitive, though not really as close as the final score would indicate. Panathinaikos controlled the game with a lead in the mid- to high-single digits much of the time. Theo Papaloukas kept the pressure on from CSKA and Trajan Langdon made a pair of difficult threes in a row to make things interesting down the stretch, but it wasn't enough.

Here are a few observations from The Painted Area:
-Very surprising that the score was so high (40-minute game, remember), considering that these are two defensive-minded teams. Greens shot a blistering 68% in the first half.

-Panathinaikos really got contributions from up and down its deep roster:
*Greek Dimitrios Diamantidis (who hurt Team USA in the Worlds last year) was MVP with a trademark all-around performance - he ran the show from the point, played tough D, and hit clutch shots (15 pts, 3 reb, 3 ast, 2 stl, 2-2 3pters)
*Lithuanian Ramunas Siskauskas was the leading scorer with 20 - his shot wasn't falling like normal (0-5 on threes) so he bulled his way to the basket and ended up hitting 12-17 FTs. Also contributed 5 assists.
*American (and former Grizzly) Mike Batiste had 12 pts on 6-9 FG and hit some big shots down the stretch, including a tough fallaway that really helped clinch things.
*Serb vets Milos Vujanic/Dejan Tomasevic (key members of the 2002 Yugoslavia team which beat the U.S. and won gold at the Worlds in Indy) came up big off the bench - Vujanic (Suns property) had 12 pts and ran the show when Diamantidis was out with foul trouble. Tomasevic had 16 pts and finally won his first Euroleague crown at age 34.

-For CSKA, Theo Papaloukas was his usual marvelous self with 23 pts on 9-10 FG and 8 assists (and remember, they don't give these out as generously as they do in the NBA) as he really willed his team to stay in the game. The Athens-born Papaloukas was in tears on the bench after this tough loss to a team with several of his teammates from the Greek national team. Will the greatest player in Europe consider the NBA? See below.

-In the semis, CSKA held off an upset bid by Unicaja Malaga, winning 62-50. Panathinaikos knocked off Tau Ceramica 67-53. Batiste came up big inside with a 15 and 12, but the bigger story for NBA fans was how Luis Scola (6 and 7 before fouling out) and Tiago Splitter (7 and 6) turned in such underwhelming performances in front of many NBA scouts.

-I think the most interesting NBA-related question regarding Euros will be if teams follow the model of Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors, and seek to bring over veteran players from the Euroleague. Most of the Europeans who've come over to the NBA have done so at a young age, but Toronto had success in tabbing wily, proven vets like Jorge Garbajosa and Anthony Parker.

-Here's a look at the All-Euroleague first team, which includes the top candidates to come over:
PG (tie) - Theo Papaloukas, CSKA Moscow (Euroleague MVP)
PG (tie) - D. Diamantidis, Panathinaikos
SG - Juan Carlos Navarro, FC Barcelona
SF - Trajan Langdon, CSKA Moscow
PF - Luis Scola, Tau Ceramica
C - Nikola Vujcic, Maccabi Tel Aviv

Ian Whittell has done some fine reporting on in looking into whether Papaloukas (agent claims "three or four teams" have shown interest), Scola (Spurs own rights), and Navarro (Wizards) might make the jump (the latter two have large buyouts). Whittell also notes that Tiago Splitter has a buyout quirk which could hurt his draft stock.

I believe that Diamantidis could play successfully in the league mainly b/c of his prowess as a long-armed defender (has won three straight Best Defender awards in Europe). Conversely, I think that Langdon and Vujcic are not athletic enough to make it in the NBA.

I also think that All-Euroleague second teamer Igor Racokevic (played with Minnesota briefly in 2002-03) deserves another shot in the league, now that he's improved his shot and gained experience at age 29. He's super-quick off the dribble, but TOs are still a problem.

- Also, there was a report last week that the Jazz might be looking at Carlos Cabezas, a scrappy point guard from Unicaja Malaga. I was impressed anew by Cabezas, Carlos Jimenez, and Berni Rodriguez - teammates on both Malaga and the Spanish national team - in the semis. There are so many fundamentally sound players from Spain right now - their national team is going to be a force to be reckoned with for the near future.

- Jonathan Givony from Draft Express was in Athens and notes that CSKA coach Ettore Messina had some fun with the media regarding the rumblings that he might be coming to the NBA.

- Nice work on the call by NBA TV's Rick Kamla, Tim Capstraw and Alaa Abdelnaby, who all really know the international game well. Extra points to Alaa for working in the word "Bolsheviks" and the definition of Panathinaikos ("All of Athens", roughly), in addition to having one of the greatest natural broadcasting voices I've ever heard.


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