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Euroleague's Most Improved Players Of The 2012-13 Season

- All records and stats through Game 10 of Top-16.

1. Aron Baynes - Union Olimpija Ljubljana

2012-13 (Euroleague): 13.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 26 minutes

2011-12 (Greek League): 13.6 points, 8.7 rebounds in 28 minutes

In his Euroleague debut season three years ago, Aron Baynes averaged more fouls per game than rebounds and blocked shots combined. Baynes' first coach in Europe, Rimas Kurtinaitis said "if a Russian can teach a bear how to ride a bike, then we'll make something out Aron as well".

After spending two seasons in Germany, Greece and gaining experience playing in the Eurocup, Baynes got back to the strongest European competition as a mature and a decisive player. The Australian leads the league in rebounds (9.8 per game), averaged nearly a double-double this season and was influential on both ends of the floor. It didn't take long for Baynes to get noticed by the San Antonio Spurs, who bought out the 26-year-old center's contract with Union Olimpija.

2. Shawn James - Maccabi Tel Aviv

2012-13 (Euroleague): 11.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 23 minutes

2011-12 (Euroleague): 2.6 points, 2.4 rebounds in 8 minutes

After the departure of Richard Hendrix and Sofoklis Schortsanitis, the 29-year-old Shawn James sought an opportunity to step up and become an impact player for Maccabi. James perfectly used this chance and had a breakout season as he became one of the most efficient players in the Euroleague.

James ranks 2nd in the league in blocks per 28 minutes (2.2), 2nd in field goals percentage (67.1) and 3rd in average performance index rating per 28 minutes (PIR, 22.1). The NCAA All-Time leader in blocks per game (6.5 in 2005-06), James continues to play strong in the Top 16 stage and has enough potential to carry Maccabi to the Top 8 by himself.

3. Nemanja Bjelica - Caja Laboral Vitoria

2012-13 (Euroleague): 10.8 points, 5.1 rebounds in 24 minutes

2011-12 (Euroleague): 4.8 points, 2.1 rebounds in 14 minutes

Nemanja Bjelica's transition from his previous team, Crvena Zvezda to Caja Laboral was not as smooth as expected. It took a while until Bjelica earned more playing time and finally proved himself to be one of the most talented European players.

The 25-year-old Bjelica doubled his main statistical numbers compared to last season and made at least one three-pointer in his last 12 Euroelague games. Also, the forward played his career-best game in the Euroleague against Cedevita this season, scoring 22 points (9-for-10 FG), grabbing three rebounds and dishing out three assists in 22 minutes of action. Bjelica, who often gets called the future star of the Serbian national team, has finally started to live up to expectations.

4. Curtis Jerrells - Besiktas Istanbul

2012-13 (Euroleague): 14.2 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 31 minutes

2011-12 (Euroleague): 8.6 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 21 minutes

Curtis Jerrells established himself as a Euroleague star in his third season overseas and proved he can lead a team in the strongest European competition. Playing under Erman Kunter, the former Baylor guard raised his value by becoming one of the best lefty point guards in Europe.

However, after succeeding in Europe, Jerells returned to the States, where he joined NBA D-League's Maine Red Claws and will try to draw attention from NBA teams. If things don't work out at home, many Euroleague team will surely want to sign Jerells.

5. Vladimir Lucic - Partizan Belgrade

2012-13 (Euroleague): 13.7 points, 4.8 rebounds in 33 minutes

2011-12 (Euroleague): 5.8 points, 2.4 rebounds in 22 minutes

No surprise, every year there must be at least one talents-making-machine Partizan player included in Euroleague most improved players list. No exception was made this season as 23-year-old Vladimir Lucic was ranked fifth.

Lucic is another product of Partizan basketball school, who is finally paying its dividend. After spending a year on Partizan bench, last season Lucic received a chance to become a member of the starting five. The Serbian talent was learning in a process rather than producing results, but this season Partizan got full return for all their trust in Lucic. The forward received most playing time among all Partizan players (33 MPG) and became the leader of the team.

6. Pietro Aradori - Mapooro Cantu

2012-13 (Euroleague): 15 points (57% 3FG), 4 rebounds in 30 minutes

2011-12 (Euroleague): 4.8 points, 2 rebounds in 10 minutes

Pietro Aradori made his name known in 2009-10, leading Biella in both Eurocup and Italian championship. However, since now, Aradori didn't have a chance to play a big role in Euroleague, as he previously was stuck on the bench twice with Armani Jeans and Montepaschi.

After leading the Italian national team, together with Danilo Gallinari, in qualification for EuroBasket 2013, Aradori had a very successful season in the Euroleague as well. The 24-year-old Aradori averaged 15 points per game and finished the season ranked 5th in terms of three-point shooting percentage (57%). A statement was made - Aradori might be a savior Italian basketball needs.

7. Jaka Blazic - Union Olimpija Ljubljana

2012-13 (Euroleague): 12.4 points, 4 rebounds in 20 minutes

2011-12 (Euroleague): 3.6 points, 2.4 rebounds in 14 minutes

A massive improvement of Jaka Blazic's game might be a huge surprise for European basketball fans, but those who followed Slovenian hoops closer have noticed changes a bit earlier. Blazic has been playing impressively since the second half of last season and smoothly carried his game to this Euroleague season.

Blazic, 22, is heading to his contract year with Union Olimpija and next season will have a chance to prove that this season wasn't a fluke and he's capable of putting big numbers consistently.

8. Ante Tomic - FC Regal Barcelona

2012-13 (Euroleague): 11.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 24 minutes

2011-12 (Euroleague): 6.7 points, 3.7 rebounds in 15 minutes

The reason why Ante Tomic is on this list is not the numbers he produces, which are similar to 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, or the results achieved by FC Regal Barcelona. No doubt, FC Regal Barcelona is currently the best team in Europe and Tomic is one of team's main strengths.

The consistency of Tomic in Euroleague Top 16 stage is the difference as the Croatian center constantly plays as an MVP on every game. Tomic became a game changer as he leads the Euroleague in plus-minus (+/-) rating with 13.1 points per 50 possessions. Tomic finished in double scoring figures in all ten Top 16 stage games so far and if the 25-year-old center maintains this pace, he has all the potential to be considered as a candidate to win MVP award in near future.

9. Mindaugas Kuzminskas - Zalgiris Kaunas

2012-13 (Euroleague): 6.3 points, 2.8 rebounds in 12 minutes

2011-12 (Euroleague): 2.8 points, 1.3 rebounds in 8 minutes

Mindaugas Kuzminskas had been having a hard time getting playing time in the Euroleague, but when the opportunities arose, the 23-year-old forward was ready to strike and use them. In the second half of this season, Kuzminskas finally received a chance to show his skills on the big scene and those performances weren't left unnoticed.

Kuzminskas scored 15 points, grabbed 8 rebounds and finished the game with career-high 21 PIR against Unicaja. Last week Kuzminskas made more noise against Real as he registered career-high 16 points (7-for-7 FG) and attracted attention from Spanish teams, who will consider bringing Kuzminskas for the next season. In addition, with the departure of Tremmell Darden, Kuzminskas should receive more playing time in last four Top 16 games.

10. Kostas Papanikolaou - Olympiakos Piraeus

2012-13 (Euroleague): 8.5 points (50% 3FG), 4 rebounds in 22 minutes

2011-12 (Euroleague): 6.1 points (33% 3FG), 3.4 rebounds in 20 minutes

After spectacular performance in last year's Euroleague final, where Kostas Papanikolau scored 18 points (3-for-3 3FG) and helped Olympiakos win the Euroleague, the expectations for the 22-year-old forward were sky-high.

Papanikolau demonstrated impressive shooting range this year as he ranked 2nd in three-point shooting percentage in regular season (59%) and averaged 10.5 points per game in that period. The Greek talent has slowed down a bit in Top 16, but it's clear that Papanikolau's game steadily grows and the question how good Papanikolau can be remains unanswered.

 

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