Thursday, May 06, 2010

2010 Euroleague Final Four: Players to Watch

Also: Euroleague Final Four: Team-by-Team Analysis

For a vast number of American sports fans, the first weekend of the NCAA tournament is considered to be the best basketball weekend of the year, but for my money, I prefer the annual basketball overload weekend in early May, when the NBA Playoffs intersect with the Euroleague Final Four, an event which combines the emotion and drama of the NCAA format with a vastly higher quality of play.

I don't know that the 2010 Euroleague Final Four can match the drama of the 2009 edition, when Panathinaikos, Olympiacos, CSKA Moscow and FC Barcelona played three pulsating games, with Panathinaikos beating CSKA 73-71 in the final.

But three of those four teams are back in the 2010 Final Four, which will take place in Paris this Friday and Sunday, with this schedule, airing on both NBA TV and in the U.S.:
    FC Barcelona vs. CSKA Moscow, Noon ET
    Olympiacos vs. Partizan Belgrade, 3 p.m. ET

    Final, 3 p.m. ET
FC Barcelona and Olympiacos are big favorites to advance, and would make for a titanic matchup in the Final, as both teams are loaded, and are two of the most talented European club teams I've ever seen.

I'm picking Olympiacos over FC Barcelona in the Final, in part because of my concerns about the Barca minute distribution, which I've written about previously.

Jay Aych broke down the teams in his Final Four preview, posted earlier today. Now, I'll offer a look at players of interest to watch from an NBA perspective.

Below, I offer a list of 11 players, which includes their Euroleague stats for the season, as well as their translated NBA per-36 minutes stats, based on this formula created by John Hollinger:

• Scoring rate decreases 25%
• Rebound rate increases by 18% (more missed shots in NBA play)
• Assist rate increases by 31% (Euro scorers = tightwads with assists)
• Shooting percentage drops by 12%
• PER drops by 30%

Certainly, with fairly small sample sizes, these translations are not meant to be definitive, but they generally work pretty well. Take a look at three NBA players who were in the Euroleague last season.

• Ersan Ilyasova - '08-09 translated PER: 14.5, '09-10 NBA PER: 15.8
• Omri Casspi - '08-09 translated PER: 12.1, '09-10 NBA PER: 13.0
• David Andersen - '08-09 translated PER: 12.9, '09-10 NBA PER: 12.1

One more note on the translated stats - age matters. The younger the player, the more likely his translated PER is likely to be higher in the league. OK, here we go:

1. Ricky Rubio, FC Barcelona - age 19
Rights held - Minnesota
MIN,   PTS, REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
20.6, 6.5, 2.8, 4.0, 35.1, 17.1
NBA36, 8.6, 5.8, 9.2, 30.9, 12.0
The most intriguing player to watch from an NBA perspective is certainly Ricky Rubio, as the Spanish wunderkind carries the expectations of a high draft pick, yet it's still difficult to project exactly how his game will translate to the NBA.

When I checked in on Rubio in January, his translated assist numbers were off the charts at 12.7 per 36 min. Ricky's stats tailed off in the second half of the Euroleague season, as his translated assists dropped to 9.2 - still impressive, but not otherworldly, and look at that translated FG% - 30.9% - egads!

I still think Rubio has world-class court vision, but man oh man he needs to improve his finishing ability to thrive in the modern NBA game. In any event, he should certainly make for an entertaining watch in Paris, if nothing else.

The most underrated stat with Rubio is age. At age 19 in the Euroleague, the translated PERs for both Brandon Jennings (8.1) and Nicolas Batum (8.9) vastly undervalued how they'd perform in the NBA. Ricky is still ahead of schedule at just 19.

2. Jan Vesely, Partizan Belgrade - 20
Draft-eligible - removed name from 2010 Draft
MIN,   PTS, REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
23.8, 8.0, 4.6, 1.3, 53.4, 14.8
NBA36, 9.1, 8.2, 2.6, 47.0, 10.4
Vesely's draft stock was rising to the point where he looked like a top 10 pick in the 2010 Draft, which made it surprising that he recently pulled his name out of consideration for this year.

Based on my very limited viewing of Vesely's game to date, I think it's a good decision. He's impressive as a 6-11 SF with bounce in his step and three-point range, but he seems like he could use a little more seasoning. Vesely is rail-thin, and could stand to become more assertive.

Certainly, the Euro Final Four offers a nice big stage for Vesely to display his talents - and for NBA scouts and fans to get a look at him in a high-stakes situation.

3. Josh Childress, Olympiacos - 26
Restricted free agent - Atlanta
MIN,    PTS, REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
31.9, 15.1, 4.7, 1.9, 54.1, 18.4
NBA36, 12.7, 6.3, 2.8, 47.6, 12.9
After a bit of a struggle to adapt his game to Europe last season (Chills averaged just 8.8 pts on 47% FG (14.4 PER) in Euroleague play in '08-09), it all clicked in for Josh Childress in 2009-10, as he was clearly one of the best players on the continent.

Childress has been a defensive force since he stepped on Greek soil, but he was able to lift his offensive game this season, scoring 15.1 ppg on 54.1 FG%. Now he gets a chance to clean up some unfinished business, as Olympiacos lost an 84-82 heartbreaker to archrival Panathinaikos in the 2009 semifinals.

4. Linas Kleiza, Olympiacos - 25
Restricted free agent - Denver
MIN,    PTS, REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
30.0, 17.3, 6.4, 1.4, 48.2, 21.6
NBA36, 15.6, 9.1, 2.2, 42.4, 15.1
Kleiza was an absolute beast in Euroleague play this season, winning the Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy. Kleiza offers the best of both worlds in Euroleague play, with NBA athleticism and experience, plus a Lithuanian's grasp of the European game. Along with Childress, Kleiza could be an underrated NBA acquisition in the crazy summer of 2010.

5. Fran Vazquez, FC Barcelona - 27
Rights held - Orlando
MIN,    PTS, REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
17.5, 7.4, 3.4, 0.8, 66.3, 19.0
NBA36, 11.4, 8.3, 2.1, 58.3, 13.3
FC Barcelona's Erazem Lorbek has earned All-Euroleague honors with his variety of low-post moves, but he's a classic high-skill, low-athleticism Euro big.

It's teammate Fran Vazquez who is more of an NBA-caliber player. At 6-11, Vazquez has very long arms and very good mobility, which allowed him to block 1.1 shots in just 17.5 minutes per game in Euroleague play. With good hands and finishing ability, plus surprising shooting range, Vazquez is also a factor in both the pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop games.

Unfortunately for Stateside fans, the 2005 lottery pick still shows no signs of making the jump from Europe to the NBA. I strongly believe he could be an effective NBA big man if he ever came over.

6. Yiannis Bouroussis, Olympiacos - 26
Free agent
MIN,    PTS,  REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
16.1, 8.7, 4.7, 0.8, 51.7, 25.8
NBA36, 14.6, 12.4, 2.4, 45.5, 18.1
Last summer, the rumor mill suggested that Yiannis Bouroussis might sign with the San Antonio Spurs, before the rugged big man decided to stay at home in Greece. Currently, Bouroussis stands as the no. 1-rated overseas free agent on the DraftExpress board.

For some reason, Bouroussis averages just 16 minutes per game in the Euroleague, even though he has been highly productive on a per-minute basis for the past two seasons. Translated stats suggest he'd hit the boards hard in the league - Bouroussis is at 12.4 rebounds per NBA 36 this season, after 14.4 per NBA 36 last season.

7. Viktor Khryapa, CSKA Moscow - 27
Free agent
MIN,    PTS, REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
31.2, 10.1, 6.4, 4.2, 54.3, 19.1
NBA36, 8.8, 8.7, 6.3, 47.8, 13.4
After four middling seasons in the NBA, I thought that Viktor Khryapa was headed back to Europe for good, but recent reports suggest that Khryapa is interested in coming back to the NBA, and considering that Mikhail Prokhorov signed him at CSKA Moscow, the Nets seem like a reasonable potential landing spot.

Call me crazy, but I still think Khryapa can be a contributing rotation player in the league, in a system which knows how to take advantage of his versatile talents. As a 6-9 SF/PF, Khryapa can affect a game in multiple ways without scoring, similar to fellow Russian Andrei Kirilenko. He's a deft passer and won the Best Defender Trophy in the Euroleague this season.

In the 2007 EuroBasket, a tournament littered with NBA players, Khryapa made our First Team. On a team with god-awful wings like the Nets, I think Khryapa could be an underrated upgrade - a small piece to help that franchise back to respectability.

8. Milos Teodosic, Olympiacos - 23
Free agent
MIN,    PTS, REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
29.9, 13.4, 2.5, 5.2, 50.3, 22.0
NBA36, 12.1, 3.5, 8.3, 44.3, 15.4
After going undrafted in 2009, Milos Teodosic had a superb showing at the 2009 EuroBasket, averaging 14 points and 5 assists on strong shooting numbers to lead a young Serbian squad to a surprise silver medal.

Teodosic has continued his strong play in the 2009-10 season, revitalizing his status as an NBA prospect, though he seems likely to stay in Greece. Teodosic has excellent size as a 6-5 PG, though his athleticism is still questionable.

I particularly enjoy that Milos' head shot on makes him look like Justin Bieber:

9. Sasha Kaun, CSKA Moscow - 24
Rights held - Cleveland
MIN,    PTS, REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
21.4, 9.4, 4.5, 0.5, 72.7, 23.2
NBA36, 11.8, 9.0, 1.0, 64.0, 16.2
During his time at Kansas, Sasha Kaun was never a player who particularly impressed me as an NBA prospect, but his game has developed nicely while playing in Europe, and Brian Windhorst reported in March that Kaun is "very much on the Cavs' radar" after a "breakthrough season."

I hope he makes it just so I can say this on a more regular basis:
"Sasha Kaun. Sasha Kaun. Sasha Kaun, let me rock you. Let me rock you, Sasha Kaun."

10. Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Olympiacos - 24
Rights held - LA Clippers
MIN,    PTS, REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
12.4, 7.0, 2.4, 0.6, 65.7, 19.4
NBA36, 15.2, 8.3, 2.2, 57.8, 13.6
I'm keeping Big Sofo on the list even though he still struggles to keep himself on the court due to conditioning and foul trouble. As seen in the Greece upset of Team USA in 2006, Sofo certainly has an NBA-quality body if he can ever find a way to get it into reasonable shape, and he's still only 24.

Schortsanitis only gets 12 minutes per game, but he's highly productive on a per-minute basis, especially in field-goal shooting.

11. Bo McCalebb, Partizan - 25
Free agent
MIN,    PTS, REB, AST,  FG%,  PER  
29.3, 13.1, 3.0, 3.4, 46.9, 18.0
NBA36, 12.1, 4.4, 5.5, 41.3, 12.6
Bo McCalebb makes the list mainly as a response to guys like Jacob Pullen, who draw tons of acclaim during the NCAA Tournament even though they are marginal NBA prospects, at best. For every Pullen, there are multiple players like McCalebb (a University of New Orleans product), who improve their games as pros, and are much better than the Tourney flavor of the moment, but play far off the radar of American basketball fans.

When I asked DraftExpress President Jonathan Givony who was more likely to be in the NBA in three years: Pullen or McCalebb, he said, "If Pullen becomes 1/10th the player McCalebb is I'd be shocked."

Enjoy the basketball weekend, folks.

Also: Euroleague Final Four: Team-by-Team Analysis


At 2:07 PM, Blogger Juan y Fer said...

Good work!
By the way, There is a good analysis of the Euroleague Final Four, written by the agent of the great Papaloukas. The article is in English.

At 4:20 AM, Blogger psilos said...

"I don't know that the 2010 Euroleague Final Four can match the drama of the 2009 edition, when Panathinaikos, Olympiacos, CSKA Moscow and FC Barcelona played three pulsating games, with Panathinaikos beating CSKA 73-71 in the final."

I don't think so either. I don't think that we will ever see such a Final Four like 2009 again.
As far as the games are concnerned, everyone agrees that Barca and Oly are the favors
for the final, however you should never underestimate the very exeprienced CSKA and the Serbian School and Dule. I do have a feeling about CSKA making it to the final. No offense to Barca fans, but Barcelona is the biggest loser team. The have won only 1 out of 10 final fours and the one they won was in their home and having Bodiroga-Navarro-Saras in their squad.

At 10:40 AM, Blogger Acuarela said...

Ricky Rubio 10 points, 4 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 steals, 3 turnovers in a Barcelona win over CSKA. The 19 year old magician has played like a veteran.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger Stey said...

looking for part II soon. Maybe the Knicks will take an interest. :)

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