Monday, May 10, 2010

Euroleague: Jan Vesely Impresses in Paris

Also: Euroleague Final Four Analysis: Barcelona Overwhelms Olympiacos

What a weekend for extraordinary basketball performances, highlighted by Rajon Rondo's 29-18-13 on Sunday and The Goran Dragic Explosion, with the young Slovenian's stunning 23-point fourth quarter on Friday night.

Add the drama of One-Eyed Stevie Nash getting up off the deck for a 10-point, 5-assist fourth quarter to exorcise the Spurs, and it turns out that classic performances by the two most famous players in the sport - LeBron's 38-8-7 on Friday and Kobe scoring 7 of his 35 in the last two minutes on Saturday - were mere afterthoughts by the end of this weekend of heroics.

Yet, save some room for Regal FC Barcelona, who won the Euroleague title in Paris on Sunday with an 86-68 thrashing of a powerhouse Olympiacos team (analysis of the final from Jay Aych here). Barca finished the season with an impressive 20-2 record in Euroleague play, and ran its record to 55-5 overall, when also considering games played in the Spanish ACB, Copa del Rey, and Supercopa.

The best game of the Euroleague Final Four was the semifinal matchup in which heavily favored Olympiacos held off an underdog Partizan Belgrade team full of heart by a score of 83-80 in overtime. Olympiacos needed a Lorenzo Charlesesque dunk by Josh Childress - a rebound of an airball - to tie the thriller at 67 with two seconds left in regulation.

From an NBA fan's perspective, the revelation of the weekend was Jan Vesely, Partizan's 20-year-old 6-11 Czech SF, whose versatile talents were fully on display on the high-pressure stage of the semifinal. Vesely ended up with 13 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 blocks on 6-10 FG in 40 minutes played, and showed why he will deservedly be a high draft pick whenever he decides to come over to the NBA.

While he still needs to bulk up and become more assertive, Jan Vesely certainly has enough NBA-quality skills to warrant a high draft pick. Based on what I saw from Paris, I would have moved Vesely up to no. 5 on my mythical 2010 draft board had he stayed in the draft. (Vesely removed his name from consideration for this year a couple weeks ago.) DraftExpress currently has Vesely at no. 3 in its 2011 mock draft, and I have no arguments with that.

The semifinal was the second Vesely game I've watched. My chief complaint after the other game (in which Vesely had 10 points, 1 rebound in 25 minutes in a blowout loss to Barcelona in March) was that the young Czech was not assertive, as he spent a lot of time wandering aimlessly on the perimeter.

Not so on Friday, as Vesely made plays all over the court. While Vesely will have to bulk up a bit, he clearly has the physical tools to succeed in the league, as a long 6-11 SF who can really run and jump. I was probably more pleasantly surprised by Vesely's lateral quickness than anything else. Matched up against a quality NBA athlete in Josh Childress, Vesely was able to move his feet and impressively stay in front of J-Chills for most of the game.

On offense, the name of Vesely's game is clearly versatility. He was able to score from the low post, and even though he missed his two 3-point attempts on Friday, he can stroke it from distance, as he hit 40% of his threes on the Euroleague season and has smooth shooting form.

Vesely delivered his four assists from all over the court - one was on a fast break, where he deftly scooped a dish on the run; one was in traffic in the low post; one was an entry-pass lob from the wing.

The kid also rebounded well in traffic and made big plays in crunch time, scoring on a putback dunk to put Partizan ahead 62-59 in the 4th, and reaching out for a nice block of Linas Kleiza with a minute left in overtime.

After a couple years with a smaller presence of international players in the NBA Draft, 2011 could offer a bit of a renaissance. Recent performances by Vesely at the Euroleague Final Four and Enes Kanter at the Nike Hoop Summit suggest that these players could be top picks, and Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas is highly regarded as well. Don't be surprised to see all three players go in the top 10 in '11.

Here's an in-depth highlights package from the Olympiacos-Partizan game, including many of the Vesely plays described above (Vesely is #24 in white).

Final Euroleague -> NBA translated stats for Jan Vesely (explained here):
MIN,   PTS, REB, AST,  FG%  
24.8, 8.4, 4.9, 1.4, 55.0
NBA36, 9.1, 8.4, 2.6, 48.4

For Ricky Rubio, Final Four weekend had its ups and downs. Yes, he walks away with a Euroleague championship at age 19, but Ricky played just five minutes in the second half of the final because of his miscues with the ball. Rubio committed 5 turnovers in the game, and lost the ball on the dribble three times in his brief second-half appearances alone, as he struggled to handle the defensive pressure of quick Americans Patrick Beverley (6-1 Arkansas product who was a Heat second-rounder) and Josh Childress. Rubio had a deceptively good stat line in the final, with 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in just 17 minutes, but the TOs told the true story of his game.

This came on the heels of a semifinal performance in which Rubio sealed the 64-54 win over CSKA Moscow with multiple heady plays down the stretch:
    • With the score 54-50, Ricky found Fran Vazquez with a gorgeous lob pass off the pick-and-roll for a dunk;
    • At 56-51, Rubio drove and drew the defense before calmly pitching out to Erazem Lorbek for a three;
    • At 59-51, Rubio came off a high pick-and-roll and drilled a three off the dribble to make it 62-51. Ballgame.
For the semi, Rubio had an impressive stat line of 10 points, 8 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals, 3 TO on 3-6 FG, including 2-3 on 3PT-ers, in 32 minutes.

All in all, I walk away form the Final Four with the same general feelings about Ricky Rubio's strengths and weaknesses: exceptional court vision (there were a couple stunning passes) and ability to run the pick and roll, but non-existent as a scoring threat as a penetrator. There were several occasions in which Rubio created quality scoring opportunities for himself via penetration, but he either threw up a errant shot or fired a wild pass which often led to a turnover. The ability to develop a floater will be the make or break for whether Ricky Rubio becomes an NBA star. As always, remember: the kid is just 19.

Final Euroleague -> NBA translated stats for Ricky Rubio (explained here):
MIN,   PTS, REB, AST,  FG%  
20.9, 6.8, 2.9, 4.1, 37.0
NBA36, 8.8, 5.9, 9.3, 32.6

Rubio was particularly devastating when paired in the pick and roll with Fran Vazquez, which made it surprising that Barcelona ran the combination so infrequently. As good as Rubio is at making the decisions and completing passes from all angles, Vazquez seems that good at finishing the play - he has great hands and coordination for a 7-footer. Vazquez can also finish the shot both at the rim or on a jump shot.

Vazquez had 11 points and 6 rebounds on 5-6 FG in 22 minutes in the semi, and was a defensive force in the final, contributing 4 blocks in just 16 minutes, to go with 6 points (2-2 FG), 2 rebounds and 2 nifty assists. Frankly, I was surprised Vazquez didn't play more, because I thought he affected both games whenever he was on the floor. The guy has skill, length, mobility, hands: Fran Vazquez is an NBA center, period.

One last note on NBA prospects: Partizan's Bo McCalebb, a 25-year-old 6-0 PG out of New Orleans, was really impressive in the semifinal, garnering 21 points, 4 assists and 4 steals in 40 minutes. The guy played like he had jets in his shoes, as he was lightning-fast with the ball, finished one fast break by soaring past Childress for a dunk, and raced full-court for the bucket that put Partizan ahead 67-65 with just seconds remaining.

McCalebb made just 13-56 3's (23.2%) on the Euro season, which would be a cause for concern, but he reminded me a little bit of Will Bynum, an explosive little guy who was dynamite off the dribble at Maccabi Tel Aviv for a season before getting a chance to establish himself with the Pistons.

What a weekend of hoops around the globe.

Also: Euroleague Final Four Analysis: Barcelona Overwhelms Olympiacos


At 9:35 AM, Blogger Jesús Llorente said...

Rubio is as devastating with Vazquez this year as he was with Rudy Fernandez when they both played together. So this is more than a trend, right?

At 12:38 PM, Blogger milaz said...

What's your take on Euroleague MVP Milos Teodosic?

At 1:14 PM, Blogger Filipe Furtado said...

I do hope whatever team Rubio plays for in NBA. also trades for Vasquez rights. As much as I want to see Rubio on my regular league pass rotation, I'd hate to broke 2010 most entertaining guard/big duo.

At 9:53 AM, Blogger M. Haubs said...

My opinion on Teodosic is that it seems crazy now, a year later, that he wasn't drafted last year, after all the success he's had in EuroBasket and Euroleague.

Still, I'm lukewarm on his chances as an NBA prospect. Great size and quick shooting release, but I don't know if he's athletic enough.

When watching Oly this year, Kleiza jumped off the screen as an NBA player, Childress jumped off the screen as an NBA player, but Teodosic did not, to me.

Not trying to slight Teodosic, he could end up as a Euro legend a la Papaloukas, but I was surprised to see he was Euroleague MVP, b/c I thought Kleiza was the guy who was truly unstoppable on their club.

At 5:34 PM, Anonymous Emili Paz said...

With Vesely still in the helm for Partizan, I am pretty sure that they are keeping their hopes up for another Final Four repeat in Barcelona this coming May 2011.

If you want to see that happen, no need to buy tickets from the secondary market because you won't have to pay more in order to enjoy the same brand of action that the Euroleague Final Four has to offer. Ticket2Final is aptly named since this is your way to the finals, especially for real fans who truly enjoy the sport!

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