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14-15 Euroleague Power Rankings: Small Forwards

As the 14-15 Euroleague season begins, RealGM presents the ultimate positional rankings of the league's best players. In the third edition, we rank the elite small forwards from one to ten.  

1. Emir Preldzic (Fenerbahce Ulker, Turkey)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 10.2 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists. 

The 2013-14 season was arguably the best of Emir Plredzic’s career. In his seventh Euroleague season with Fenerbahce Ulker, Preldzic averaged MVP-worthy numbers of 11.7 points, 4.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists in the regular season and despite the ups and downs in Top 16, Preldzic was the most efficient small forward in the whole league. Preldzic was also dominant in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, where he once again demonstrated his versatility by averaging 12.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4 assists. The 27-year-old forward was also under the spotlight after hitting the shot of his career, a last second three pointer that carried Turkey over Australia. Preldzic could compete for MVP award in any of the upcoming seasons but he might have to sacrifice his statistics by involving his teammates to achieve better results as a team.

2. Alessandro Gentile (EA7 Emporio Armani, Italy)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 11.4 points, 2.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

Despite his young age and EA7 Emporio Armani being loaded with deep backcourt, the 22-year-old Alessandro Gentile was one of Luca Banchi's main options in crucial moments last season. Gentile, who started playing professional basketball at the age of 16, quickly learned how to use his strong body in Euroleague and that helped him to achieve success in 13-14. Gentile also demonstrated his leadership in Italian league, where he helped EA7 Emporio Armani win the championship while Gentile was named the Italian League Finals MVP. Considering that the rising Italian basketball star was also the top scorer for the Italian national team at EuroBasket 2013, within the next three years with EA7 Emporio Armani Gentile has a great chance to become one of the youngest Euroleague MVP award winners ever.

3. Sonny Weems (CSKA, Russia)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 12.2 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists. 

For the second season in a row, Sonny Weems averaged more than 12 points, two rebounds and two assists per game, which helped him to make RealGM's All-Euroleague First Team of 2013-14. Weems established himself as one of the best wings in the league back in his debut season with Zalgiris Kaunas in 11-12 and it seemed that joining a winning team and will provide him an opportunity to fully reach his potential in Europe. However, in two years Weems played twice in Euroleague semifinals and both times failed to carry CSKA to the final. In last season’s final four, Weems was one of the most disappointing players as in two games he collected 14 points, making six shots out of 23 attempts, and dished out four assists.

4. Andres Nocioni (FC Barcelona, Spain)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 13.6 points and 6.6 rebounds.

The 35-year-old veteran Andres Nocioni proved last season that he is still capable of playing 26 minutes a game and being a leader in a Euroleague Top 16 caliber team. Nocioni collected 20 or more performance index rating (PIR) points in seven Euroleagues games, including two 35 PIR performances against FC Barcelona and Panathinaikos Athens. Nocioni decided to improve his chances on winning Euroleague title this offseason by leaving Vitoria and joining Real Madrid. Gustavo Ayon, Marcus Slaughter, Felipe Reyes, Ionnis Bourousis, Salah Mehri - Real has one of the best frontscourts in Euroleague, and as lately Nocioni spent more time playing at power forward, therefore no surprise that his role will decrease and playing time will be limited to around 15 minutes per game. 

5. Nemanja Bjelica (Fenerbahce Ulker, Turkey)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 10.4 points (42% 3FG), 6.1 rebounds and 2.2 assists.

For Nemanja Bjelica, the 13-14 season was also the best of his career as he averaged solid numbers in both Euroleague and 2014 FIBA World Cup competitions. In 24 Euroleague games, Bjelica averaged career-high 10.4 points and 6.1 boards, including three double-doubles twice against FC Barcelona and once versus EA7 Emporio Armani. However, the Euroleague season for Fenerbahce Ulker ended soon while with Serbian national team Bjelica traveled all the way to the 2014 FIBA World Cup final. Bjelica led the silver-medal winning team in rebounds (6.9) as he was also one of the Top 3 scorers (11.9 PPG). As it is the case with Preldzic, Bjelica will not be the main and only Zeljko Obradovic’s option on offence this season. As Fenerbahce Ulke is once again full of talent, it is going to be difficult for Bjelica to improve his numbers, which would possibly happen if he plays for other Euroleague team. 

6. Matthew Lojeski (Olympiacos, Greece)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 11.1 points (43% 3FG), 4 rebounds and 2 assists.

Matthew Lojeski had a difficult task in replacing Kostas Papanikolaou in his debut Euroleague season for the back-to-back champions. By using his versatility, Lojeski did that surprisingly well - he helped Vassilis Spanoulis to lead Olympiacos all season long and was surprisingly persistent throughout regular season, Top 16 and the playoffs as he averaged more than 10 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in each stage. Despite being his first Euroleague season, Lojeski was also a big threat behind the three-point line as he scored three or more long-range shots in eight Euroleague games last season. Lojeski revealed his intentions to have a bigger role this season, which means that if Olympaicos stays on winning track, Lojeski might become a serious contender for the MVP award.

7. Jonas Maciulis (Real, Spain)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 8.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.7 steals.

Jonas Maciulis’ performance in 13-14 could be divided in two parts - Euroleague regular season and the rest of the year. Maciulis was one of the Panathinaikos’ leaders in regular season where he averaged 12.3 points and 5 rebounds and played his career game (19 points and eight boards) against Laboral Kutxa. Then Maciulis disappeared in Top 16 as his scoring averages dropped from 12.3 to 5.6 points per game as all his shooting percentages went down as well. The absence of few key Lithuanian national team players gave Maciulis opportunity to become a leader but the 29-year-old forward failed to use the chance. Despite Maciulis being one of the key defensive stoppers in 2014 FIBA World Cup, his contribution to team’s results (6.9 points and 2.1 rebounds per game) was far behind the expectations. 

8. Tremell Darden (Olympiacos, Greece)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 5.7 points (46% 3FG) and 2.6 rebounds.

Tremell Darden played an important role in last year’s Real Madrid team and was an important figure during Real’s 31-game winning streak. Darden started in 30 out of 31 Euroleague games last season and despite his statistics does not reflect that, he was one of the best defensive stoppers in the whole league. His direct opponents averaged only 6.3 points in 19.4 minutes while facing Darden, which helped Real become one of the best defensive teams in the Euroleague. Due to his specific role, Darden will never be considered as a contender to win Euroleague MVP prize, but he still holds a chance to win the Euroleague Best Defender award within the next two years with Olympiacos.

9. James White (Unics, Russia)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Italian league): 17.1 points and 5 rebounds.

While playing for three different Italian teams since 2010 (with a break in 12-13), James White was undoubtedly the best scorer in Legabasket Serie A. White, who averaged no less than 17 points per game in each of those three seasons, comes to Euroleague after winning EuroChallenge trophy with Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia, where he was also the most efficient player on the team. The 32-year-old forward averaged 15.8 points, 4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game, including his 17 points on 5-of-8 from the floor, four rebounds and two assists performance in the final game. After White registered a double-double in his Euroleague opening game, it seems that the new leader of Unics has ambitions to be make it into the Euroleague MVP conversation too.

10. Stratos Perperoglou (Anadolu Efes, Turkey)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 9.9 points (46% 3FG) and 2.8 rebounds. 

Stratos Perperoglou had a career year last season after successfully taking advantage of playing some minutes at power forward due to the injury Georgios Printezis. When Printezis was out, Perperoglou played his career game against FC Bayern, scoring 25 points, grabbing four boards and finishing the game with 28 PIR points. Perperoglou collected 20 or more PIR points in four Euroleague games last season and solid performance helped him to secure a new two-year deal in Turkey with Anadolu Efes. Perpreroglou is reunited with Dusan Ivkovic again and as Anadolu Efes frontcourt is loaded with talent, Perperoglou should be again Ivkovic’s main option at small forward position.

14-15 Euroleague Player Rankings: Power Forwards

As the 14-15 Euroleague season begins, RealGM presents the positional rankings of the league's best players. In the second edition, we ranked the elite power forwards from one to ten.

1. Viktor Khryapa (CSKA, Russia)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 6.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists.

Victor Khryapa, winner of the RealGM Euroleague MVP award for the 2012-13 season, had a notable step-back season. After averaging 10.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game in 12-13, all his numbers including all shooting percentages went down significantly (apart from assists). Also, Khryapa was no longer one of the main options of CSKA on offense as his shot attempts per game dropped from 8.1 to 5.3. Despite the setback, Khryapa remains the most versatile power forward in the Euroleague and that secures him the number one spot in our rankings for the second consecutive time.

2. Georgios Printezis (Olympiacos, Greece)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 10.2 points and 4.7 rebounds.

Georgios Printezis, who will always be remembered for his game-wining shot in the Euroelague title game, recently agreed to stay with Olympiacos until 2017 and together with Bryant Dunston anchor one of the Euroleague's best frontcourt. Last season, Printezis was solid throughout regular season and Top 16 but disappeared in the playoffs series against Real Madrid. In five games, Printezis combined for only 39 points and 11 rebounds. Printezis scored four points, grabbed two boards and collected season-low minus one performance index rating (PIR) points in game five of the series, while back-to-back Euroleague champions Olympiacos were eliminated from the competition.

3. Linas Kleiza (EA7 Emporio Armani, Italy)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 10.1 points (92% FT) and 3.5 rebounds.

Linas Kleiza's transition from the NBA to Europe was not as smooth as expected and the Lithuanian forward did not become a dominant force straightaway. Due to previous knee injury Kleiza seemed to be slower and more inconsistent than ever before. Despite that, Kleiza occasionally demonstrated his skill and leadership, for example, in a 26-points game against his current team EA7 Emporio Armani, 21-points game versus Olympiacos or 22-points scored against FC Barcelona. Kleiza decided to rest this summer and did not join Lithuanian national team in 2014 FIBA World Cup. Good preparation for the season should help Kleiza, who is still 29-year-old, to have a much better season than the previous one.

4. Felipe Reyes (Real, Spain)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 9.1 points (86% FT) and 4.8 rebounds.

Despite being 34 years old, Real Madrid captain Felipe Reyes remains an elite player and important piece on a championship-caliber team. Reyes’ role, as it became expected since 11-12, was limited last season as he played 16 minutes a game. Still, Reyes managed to average 9.1 points, most since 08-09, and 4.8 rebounds after coming off the bench in every of 30 Euroleague games. In the 2014 Euroleague Final Four, Reyes was one of four Real players who scored in double-digits in both semifinal and final game. Nothing should change for Reyes in the 14-15 season, his 11th with Real Madrid.

5. Jan Vesely (Fenerbahce Ulker, Turkey)

Statistics in 2013-14 (NBA): 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds.

It has been four years since Jan Vesely last played in Euroleague. In 2011, the 21-year-old Vesely was one of the most intriguing international prospects, a 6-foot-11 guy who can run the fast break. Four years later it seems that Vesely did not improve his game much, but he should still be good enough to be one of the Top 5 power forwards in the league. After playing just 2,455 minutes over three NBA seasons, Vesely is back in Europe where he is expected to revive his career and help Fenerbahce Ulker reach the Euroleague Final Four.

6. Dario Saric (Anadolu Efes, Turkey)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Eurocup): 12.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists.

It seems that the transition from youth basketball to the elite level was super quick for Dario Saric and it is just a matter of time until he becomes an MVP contender in the strongest European basketball league. In only his second offseason with the Croatian national team, the 20-year-old big man demonstrated maturity as he played 26 minutes a game and averaged 8.7 shots in 2014 FIBA World Cup. It is going to be interesting to see how Saric fits along Euroleague veterans Nenad Krstic, Stephane Lasme and Milko Bjelica and how much playing time he will receive from head coach Dusan Ivkovic.

7. Kyle Hines (CSKA, Russia) 

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 7.6 points, and 4.5 rebounds.

For the first time in his Euroleague career, Kyle Hines was no longer a candidate for RealGM’s Sixth Man of the Year Award as he started in a career-high 12 games last season with CSKA Moscow. The Euroleague version of Charles Barley, Kyle Hines was super efficient in the regular season, where he averaged 9.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.1 block while playing his familiar sixth man role but then the numbers started to drop in later stages. The playoffs series against Panathinaikos Athens was the worst in Hines’ career. After scoring 15 points and grabbed eight boards in the first game, then he combined for only 10 points and nine rebounds in the next four matches of the series.

8. Dusko Savanovic (Bayern, Germany) 

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 10.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists.

Dusko Savanovic, a stretch four who does not spend that much time inside the paint, moved from Turkey where he has joined German champions Bayern Munich. Savanovic is one of the most active bigs around three-point line as around a third of his shot attempts have been threes last season. As key player Malcolm Delaney left Bayern, Savanovic should demonstrate the leadership and partially compensate the absence. In his Euroleague career, Savanovic has never made it to the Euroleague Final Four and if he wants to do that within next two years with Bayern, he needs to be as productive as never before.

9. Paulius Jankunas (Zalgiris, Lithuania)

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 8.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 1.9 assists.

After Zalgiris started to face financial troubles and had to cut down their expenses on players, captain of the team Paulius Jankunas was the one that young newcomers of Zalgiris could trust and follow. The 30-year-old forward already has 11 years of Euroleague experience under his belt and his knowledge for younger players, including young star Arturas Gudaitis, will be priceless. However, Jankunas’ biggest moment of 13-14 season happened outside Euroleague competition. Last season, Jankunas recorded a triple-double with 15 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists - the first triple-double in the history of Lithuanian basketball league finals.

10. Milko Bjelica (Anadolu Efes, Turkey) 

Statistics in 2013-14 (Euroleague): 10.6 points (93% FT), 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists. 

There are not many big men in Euroleague who averaged over 10 points per game in four out of the five past seasons. Bjelica is one of them, as after a disappointing second year with Laboral Kutxa he made a successful move to Anadolu Efes where he once again averaged more than 10 points and three rebounds per game. Bjelica was also the most reliable free throw shooter in the league last season as he made 93 percent of his attempts from the line.

Previous Edition: Centers

Euroleague Interview: Martynas Pocius Of Galatasary

After dealing with injuries and playing in only 27 games during 12-13 season, 28-year-old guard Martynas Pocius revived his career in Kaunas where he was one of the key players for Lithuanian champion Zalgiris.

Pocius played the best game of his career against Galatasaray last season, a team he will join for 14-15 season, scoring 26 points and along with four rebounds. The Lithuanian national team and former Duke University guard also managed to make seven threes in a single game against Strasbourg and repeat Zalgiris Euroleague record in that category. Pocius averaged 10.8 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 23 minutes in Euroleague and helped Zalgiris to reach Top 16 stage.

RealGM caught up with Pocius in Kaunas during the Lithuanian national team training camp to talk about being raised in sportsmen family, development of young players, 2014 FIBA World, future with Galatasaray and more.

RealGM: First of all, what was it like to grow up in a family of athletes?

Pocius: The main difference between a regular family and mine was that I was always surrounded by sports. At the same time, it is more difficult because my father was a professional basketball player and if a father wants to make a good basketball player of his son, he wakes him up every morning and takes him to the basketball court. I had to train there and it didn’t matter if I wanted that or not. He knew that I needed that, while a regular dad who does not know much about the game maybe would not do the same thing. Apart from this, I don’t think it differs a lot. When you are a kid, everyone supports you and wishes you all the best.

RealGM: Did you feel at the time that your habits came from your family were different than your friends?

Pocius: Of course. Everything was related with basketball. Before going to school, I always went to the basketball court. While everybody sleeps, you make shots. Then you go to school and afterwards you cannot spent too much time playing outside because I had to do my homework before the evening training. I was always busy because those extra trainings took my time.

RealGM: I read that your move to the U.S. in 2003 was very spontaneous. Do you remember how that happened?

Pocius: It all happened after I attended Steponas Kairys' basketball camp in Silute. I went there for only one day and he really liked what he saw. In a week or ten days I was already in the U.S. and I didn’t expect everything to happen so quickly.

RealGM: Usually basketball coaches emphasize the importance of giving playing time for young players. However, you did not get many chances to play while you were at Duke, but you still developed yourself into a Euroleague and national team level player.

Pocius: A basketball game lasts for 40 minutes. But everyday you train at the highest level for two or three hours, this is what brings you most benefit. I didn’t play much and it was difficult for me but everyday I was part of training. I believe that those practices, lessons I learned from Coach K and routine we had there gave me a lot.

RealGM: Do you think that coaches in Lithuania feel too much pressure to play young players?

Pocius: If you have great young players and they deserve to play, then why not. But you cannot play youngsters who are not ready for a certain level just because somebody tells you to do that. If a player deserves that and coach see his performance in practices, he should play. Of course, there are situations when you have to play over 70 games in three or four leagues in one season, and you want to rest your older guys or leaders, then you can give chances for young players as well.

RealGM: While watching you play last season, it seemed that you were slowly becoming a veteran player. For example, instead of driving to the basket, now you more often take a three-pointer or make a pass. Do you feel that your game and decision-making is changing?

Pocius: I agree. At first, you do not think much because everything is new, you can run as much as you want and you want to score. I remember Marcus Brown was telling that I was a great player but I need to calm down and start to think. It also has much to do with injuries I suffered and pain I feel and sometimes because of that instead of driving and dunking, I try to make smarter decision, take a shot or do something else. Before I broke my hand last season, I didn’t feel good but afterwards my health condition got much better. In every team you play, you try to take as much experience you can. I took a lot while I was with Real Madrid, this season I learned from Sarunas Jasikevicius. I try to use my main strengths while also taking care of my health. I feel like I am slowly becoming a so-called veteran player.

RealGM: I see some similarities between you and Tomas Dimsa. Did you have much time to work out with him and give him any advices?

Pocius: We were roommates last season and he’s a great player. It is difficult to say what kind of player I was at his age because that was very long time ago. He’s 20-years old right now and at that time I was still in the States and I did not play for Zalgiris. Despite his young age, he’s already a member of this team, he got enough playing time and he performed really well in practices. I learned throughout my career that the main thing is when you think that you already archived something, do not stop and keep going forward. When you calm down and you feel you’re a great player, then you start to fall down.

RealGM: Moving on to the Galatasaray, why did you decide you join this team and did you have a chance to have a better look at their summer moves?

Pocius: In basketball, you never know where you might end up playing. Before we signed a contract with Zalgiris, both me and the general manager, Paulius Motiejunas, knew that most likely I will leave the team after one season, therefore Zalgiris could get a buyout. It was a great offer that I could not refuse. Also I talked with the coach and he really wanted to see me playing for Galatasaray. I did not see a reason why I shouldn’t sign with Galatasaray.

When I had my health check in Istanbul, I talked with coaches and agents who told me what the roster would look like. I know pretty much all the names while not all of them have been officially announced. I know some of the guys personally as Nolan Smith was my teammate at Duke for three years. The team will be really good but for me it was also important that coach likes me and he wanted to have me on his squad. I really did check everything and so far everything seems to be ok.

RealGM: Is it easier to concentrate on work with the Lithuanian national after sorting out the contract with Galatasaray?

Pocius: It is always like that. I had a contract by the end of first week with the national team. It also helps with insurance. It is not official yet, but signatures are there. Right now I do not think about Galatasaray as everything seems to be so far away. My concentration is on the national team now.

RealGM: Talking about FIBA decisions, what was players’ reaction to the news that EuroBasket will change to a four-year cycle?

Pocius: I didn’t really think about it. When does it start? I hope I’ll still be playing at that time, otherwise it might not be important for me. However, a free summer is priceless for every basketball player. Especially it is tough if you have such long season as I had with Real Madrid. Because of not getting any time to rest, in the middle of the season you start to break down and get injured. Proper rest is very important but it is not up to players to decide and you cannot say, “I’m not coming”. 

RealGM: What are your personal goals for this upcoming 2014 FIBA World Cup?

Pocius: I don’t want to talk loudly about it. However, for the last couple years the most important thing for me is to stay healthy. If I stay healthy, everything else will come in time. I don’t have any high goals for myself as we play for Lithuania and the most important thing is team’s result.

RealGM: Did you ever have offers to participate in NBA summer league? Do you see yourself trying your luck in the NBA?

Pocius: I had two offers while I was with Zalgiris to take part in NBA training camp, but I had a back surgery and it did not work out. Anyway, I don’t have big intentions to play in the NBA. Everything is great in Europe, both playing and money wise. I’m not that young anymore to try myself everywhere. However, if I get a chance, you never know. But I don’t think about it now.

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Euroleague Interview: Ettore Messina Of CSKA

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Euroleague Interview: President Jordi Bertomeu

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