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Euroleague's Best U-21 Players of 13-14

With less than a month remaining until the Euroleague Final Four in Milan, RealGM presents a list of ten young (21-year-old or younger) Euroleague players that had the most success in 13-14 season.

FC Barcelona’s Alejandro Abrines is the only young Euroleague player, who got already drafted, while some of the other players are projected to hear their name in future NBA Drafts.

- All records and stats through Game 14 of Top-16. 

Alejandro Abrines (FC Barcelona, Spain) - 2013 Round 2 Pick 2

Best performance: 19 points and 3 rebounds in 25 minutes against Partizan.

Averaged 6.8 points, 1.5 rebounds in 17 minutes.

For Alejandro Abrines, who was selected by the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 32nd pick in the previous NBA draft, it was the third Euroleague season of his career and the most successful one. One of the most promising young Spanish talents became an important part of winning FC Barcelona team, who spent more than 400 minutes on the court this Euroleague season. Abrines, who collected 28 performance index rating (PIR) points in a single last season game, did not come any close to this result in 13-14. However, the 20-year-old swingman was more consistent and scored more than 12 points five times already this season.

Arturas Gudaitis (Zalgiris Kaunas, Lithuania) - 2015 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 14 points (4/4 FG) and 6 rebounds in 24 minutes against Lokomotiv Kuban.

Averaged 4.4 points, 2.6 rebounds in 10 minutes.

Arturas Gudaitis spent most of the season doing rehab after having knee surgery last May and played in only seven Euroleague games. Nevertheless, that was enough for Gudaitis to be noticed. Gudaitis demonstrated two out of three best performances among all ten ranked players. In only eight game as a professional basketball player, Gudaitis made it to the Zalgiris starting five against Lokomotiv Kuban and scored 14 points and grabbed six boards. In that game, Gudaitis surprised Euroleague fans by collecting 22 PIR points, while two weeks later the big man also finished a game with 21 PIR points. 

Daniel Diez (Real Madrid, Spain) - 2015 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 8 points and 3 assists in 18 minutes against Lokomotiv Kuban.

Averaged 2.3 points, 0.9 rebounds in 9 minutes.

Real Madrid is currently the most dominant team in Europe, but at the same the Spaniards find time to develop players who might lead the team in the future. Daniel Diez, a product of Real Madrid youth program, had a chance to be a member of one of the most powerful Euroleague teams ever and gain experience from the best. As it has been the case this season, Real usually built an early lead and that allowed head coach Pablo Laso give more opportunities for Diez, who spent 165 minutes on the court this season. Diez has already proved he might be a future player of Real, for instance leading European U-20 Championship in scoring with 18.7 points per game. No doubt, next season with some of the players leaving Madrid Diez should become a more important figure in Madrid.

Domantas Sabonis (Unicaja Malaga, Spain) - 2018 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 7 points and 5 rebounds in 17 minutes against Panathinaikos.

Averaged 2.7 points, 2 rebounds in 9 minutes.

Domantas Sabonis, a son of legendary basketball player Arvydas Sabonis, was only 17 years and 168 days old when he scored his first points in Euroleague tournament. Despite his young age, Sabonis played in 19 games this Euroleague season and got a unique chance to spend 176 minutes on the court. However, Sabonis is not planning to stay in Europe for any longer as his dad confirmed his son’s plans to move to the States and join Gonzaga in 14-15. Recently head coach of Lithuanian national Jonas Kazlauskas revealed his affection for Sabonis’ game, which means that in next few years Lithuania might have another Sabonis in its squad.

Ioannis Papapetrou (Olympiakos Piraeus, Greece) - 2016 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 13 points (5/5 FG) and 2 rebounds in 17 minutes against Laboral Kutxa.

Averaged 4.9 points, 1.5 rebounds in 11 minutes.

After having a solid career with the Texas Longhorns, where he averaged 8.3 points and 4.4 rebounds, Ioannis Papapetrou decided to sign a five-year deal with current Euroleague champion Olympiakos. As expected, Papapetrou didn't get many chances to show his abilities and skill set in Euroleague, but Papapetrou was able to make his name heard in week 11 game against Laboral Kutxa, when the forward scored 13 points without missing a single shot.

Kenan Sipahi (Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul, Turkey) - 2017 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 10 points, 2 assists and 2 steals in 21 minutes against Partizan.

Averaged 2.7 points, 1,1 assists in 13 minutes.

At the beginning of the season, it seemed that Fenerbahce Ulker was too loaded and too deep to give any significant playing time for 18-year-old talent Kenan Sipahi. But not everything went according to the plan for Fenerbahce Ulker and that provided the 6-foot-6 point guard plenty of chances to taste Euroleague basketball. Sipahi, one of the youngest Euroleague players in 13-14, averaged more than 16 minutes a game in regular season and more impressively, started in eight of his 15 games played. 

Luka Mitrovic (Crvena Zvezda Belgrade, Serbia) - 2015 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 8 points and 8 rebounds in 23 minutes against Laboral Kutxa.

Averaged 3.6 points, 4 rebounds in 14 minutes.

Despite appearing in only seven Euroleague games this season, his efficiency in almost 100 minutes proved his worthiness to be among Top 10 young players of this season. Before suffering a knee injury, Mitrovic had become a starting forward for the Crvena Zvezda. Mitrovic collected more than 11 PIR points in three of his last four Euroleague games and considering his young age, turned the ball over only twice in more than 50 minutes of action in that time.

Mam Jaiteh (JSF Nanterre, France) - 2016 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 14 points and 11 rebounds in 22 minutes against Budivelnik.

Averaged 4.6 points, 3.7 rebounds in 13 minutes.

After a solid performance in the European U-20 Championship, where Mouhammadou Jaiteh averaged 12 points and 7.8 rebounds, the French big man received a chance to demonstrate his talent in the top European league. Despite JSF Nanterre’s Euroleague season was quite short, more or less Jaiteh appeared in all ten regular season games as he also was the only player from this ranking that managed to finish a game with a double-double. In week 8 match against Budivelnik Jaiteh scored 14 points and collected 11 boards, finishing the game with 22 PIR points.

Nikola Milutinov (Partizan Belgrade, Serbia) - 2016 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 10 points and 5 rebounds in 21 minutes against Zalgiris.

Averaged 4.7 points, 3.3 rebounds in 20 minutes.

Partizan Belgrade as usual was the youngest Euroleague team in the tournament, which reserved its starting center spot for 19-year-old Nikola Milutinov. The Serbian big man, who is projected as an early second round pick in 2015 NBA Draft, too often got into foul trouble and usually was overshadowed by his teammate Joffrey Lauvergne. However, considering Milutinov will begin his third Euroleague season being only 19-year-old, he still got plenty of time to strengthen his weak frame and learn how to avoid getting into foul trouble.

Tomas Dimsa (Zalgiris Kaunas, Lithuania) - 2016 NBA Draft Eligible

Best performance: 12 points and 3 rebounds in 19 minutes against Partizan.

Averaged 3.7 points, 1.6 rebounds in 15 minutes.

Tomas Dimsa grabbed Euroleague fans attention when former Zalgiris coach put 19-year-old athletic guard in the starting lineup in season opener against Real Madrid. Dimsa had to guard Rudy Fernandez, who scored 11 points, while the youngster collected six points in almost 24 minutes. However, in other 14 games Dimsa never played as much as in the first one and never took more than seven shot attempts. If next season Dimsa receives more playing time and if he learns how to better use his athletic abilities, Zalgiris’ talent might double his statistical figures in 14-15.

Honorable Mentions: Mihajilo Andric, Boris Dallo, Partizan; Devon Van Oostrum, Ilimane Diop, Laboral Kutxa; Paul Zipser, Bayern; Mario Hezonja, FC Barcelona; Cedi Osman, Anadolu Efes.

The Draft Deadline

With the NCAA Tournament coming to a close, the annual parlor game as to whether or not the best college players declare for the NBA Draft is in full swing. Some declare too early, others too late. The NBA is a fickle beast when it comes to the draft. Over the course of a player's NCAA career, the league can fall in and out of love with their game for no real rhyme or reason. Money that was there one year can be gone the next.

Few can resist the lure of being taken in the first round and the millions in guaranteed money that comes with it. With so much money on the line, it's hard to blame any top prospect who declares for the draft, regardless if they are "ready" for the next level or not. The developmental track for every player is different - some thrive around their peers in college, others benefit from being in a more professional setting.

Once they get to the NBA, everything changes. At that level, no one cares what a guy did in college or how high they were drafted - every player in the NBA was a star in college. The only thing that matters is how much they help their team in the minutes they are on the floor. For the most part, NBA coaches are hired to be fired. They can't afford to develop young players at the expense of the win-loss column.

An NBA draft pick is like a new car - they lose half their value the second they are driven off the lot. In the months leading up to the draft, teams focus on all the things a player can or could do in the future. In the months after the draft and going into their rookie season, teams start to focus on all the things they can't. While lip service is still paid to potential, the stats are the stats and there's no massaging them.

There's nowhere to hide in the NBA. Everything a player does on the court is exhaustively measured, analyzed and parsed for what it reveals about them. Things which a player could get away with on the college level are ruthlessly exploited at the professional level. People will rush to conclusions at the earliest opportunity - Otto Porter went from can't miss prospect to prospective bust on the basis of a few summer league games.

There's just not much patience at the highest levels of the game from fans or management. With 30 teams and 15 roster spots on each, the supply of young basketball players far outstrips the demand. If a team misses on a pick, there will be another next year. If a young player gets injured or comes up short in some way, there are a dozen guys in the D-League who would kill for the opportunity they have received.

Once a player gets into the league, the clock starts ticking. If a first round pick doesn't start showing something by Year 2, their third-year option might not get picked up. By the end of their third year, the team that drafts them has a good idea of whether they will offer them a second contract. If they get dropped by their first team, they become damaged goods and there's no guarantee they get a second shot.

The money from the rookie deal, meanwhile, slips through their fingers. No matter how much money a young player makes, it's never enough. Friends, family, agents, managers, Uncle Sam - the line of people with their hand out stretches around the block. Keeping up with the Joneses and maintaining an NBA lifestyle swallows up the rest. The things you own, as the saying goes, end up owning you.

The real money, like in most professions, comes once a young guy has paid his dues and moved up the ranks. Even the No. 1 overall pick isn't paid as much as an established veteran on a long-term deal. The second contract is where the real money is made in the NBA - that's the money that can set up a player for the rest of their lives and for the lives of their children. That's the money young players should think about.

The crucial earning years for a basketball player aren't their early 20's but their late 20's, when they are in the prime physically. At that point, it's not about whether they maximized their draft position but whether they developed their game and maximized their earning potential before they start to decline. It doesn't matter whether they are still in the league - the NBA isn't the only place in the world to make a living playing ball.

No matter where a player is drafted, they have to make it or not on their own. They will be cut a lot more slack and given a lot more chances at the college level than in the pros. Some guys are ready for that when they are 16, others are still figuring things out at 25. A basketball career is a marathon, not a sprint. How quickly you get off the blocks won't make a difference when you hit that second mile.

Being drafted in the lottery doesn't vindicate a player's decision to go pro anymore than slipping into the second round means they should have stayed in school. Whether or not they have game and are ready to be professionals will be sorted out in the wash soon enough. Draft position will only take a player so far - there are lottery pick who bust out of the NBA and second-round picks who get max contracts.

Coverage of the draft is like so much else in our society - no one has any patience anymore. Everyone is in a rush to get where they are going without any regard to how they are getting there. Whether a player stays or goes, if they work hard, stay in the gym and keep their ego in check, everything else will take care of itself. Far too many people act like being drafted is the end of a journey when it's really just the beginning.

Euroleague Interview: Justin Dentmon Of Zalgiris

Before the start of 13-14 season, Zalgiris had a limited budget to find a guard who could do it all - score, pass and guide the club in Euroleague. Zalgiris chose Justin Dentmon to lead the team to the Euroleague Top 16 stage and after few months it was obvious that the 28-year-old guard was a perfect fit for the extreme situation with Kaunas.

Dentmon didn’t blossom into an elite Euroleague point guard until a coaching change happened and Saulius Stombergas replaced Ilias Zouros. After that, Dentmon received a green light and complete freedom, which helped him become one of the best scorers in the league. Dentmon currently ranks second in scoring in Euroleague with 16.5 points per game, as he also averages 4.3 assists and 3.5 rebounds.

RealGM caught up with Dentmon in Panevezys, Lithuania during the Lithuanian cup Final Four event to talk about the current crisis in Zalgiris, his personal game, life in Kaunas and more. 

RealGM: First of all, what goes through your mind when you think about the seven months you spent in Lithuania?

Dentmon: With the first coach, he really tried to control me. I didn’t play well at that time and I almost left. Then coaching changes happened and the rhythm was good, but now we’re going downhill fast and I don’t know why. I’m out of the rhythm and to be honest, I have no idea what’s going on. But the beginning was rough and then it got better. It’s been a good seven months, but now we’re going downhill fast.

RealGM: Were you surprised about the coaching changes and Ilias Zouros' departure, which happened early this season? The main reason of was not giving enough playing time for young players.

Dentmon: If you want to win Euroleague games, you need play your veterans and guys with experience, talent that can play. And in the Lithuanian championship (LKL), you can use your young guys so they could prove they can play. I think that’s what he was doing here. There were misunderstandings and the team was losing. It’s a business and Zalgiris had to make a business move.

RealGM: The level of players on Zalgiris this season is very diverse. Some of the players are national team caliber guys, while some of them struggle to play in the LKL. How difficult for you is it to compete with others when some of your teammates are far away from their opponents in terms of talent?

Dentmon: It is very difficult and it is very different from the United States. The mentality is different and sometimes it’s difficult to explain. If you’re a professional athlete, you have to know how to motivate yourself and nobody should tell you about that. And it seems that sometimes we need to motivate our guys, which shouldn’t be a case. The excuse is always that they are young. When I was young, I had stuff to prove, to be better than the next person. I think that’s how young guys should take it; they should want to prove that they are better than other guys. Guys on other teams are looking at our guys like 'we can be better than you'. I think they should take it as a challenge and they should take it seriously.

RealGM: The situation in Zalgiris gave you lots of opportunities as well. Do you think Kaunas was a great place to showcase yourself?

Dentmon: All my hard work paid off, but I want to finish strong. Being the only American on a Euroleague Top 16 team, it feels like I’m doing too much work. I think it should be easier if you have a guard like me, you would want to make things easier for me. In other teams, they make it easier for their scorers. We struggle with our roles; we don’t know who plays what role. I’m trying to do the best I can, showcase myself and I also want to win the Lithuanian championship.

RealGM: Very often you seem to be frustrated with the calls you get or you would like to get from the referees. Does that cause any trouble for you to keep your focus on the game?

Dentmon: Mentally, it’s very difficult. Especially, when they see that and they don’t saying anything. They say that I’m a rookie, but that doesn’t mean anything. If you see a charge, call a foul. That’s really frustrating, when refs see it and they say nothing. When other defender feels that he can grab me, he does it. It’s not like I'm out my game, but I think 'what can I do? There’s nothing I can do about it'. They throw me off my rhythm in offence. Some of responsibility is on me, but most of it is on coaches because they have to figure out different strategy. We need to find stuff that would help us.

RealGM: You’re one of few players in Europe who whenever get fouled, always try to take a shot and get to the free throw line. It doesn’t matter is it inside the key or it’s the half court. Where did you learn that?

Dentmon: I always do that! I got that from Chris Paul. We have the Hack-a-Shaq thing in the U.S., so whenever somebody tries to foul Chris Paul, he takes a shot. So I’m always thinking, if they are going to foul me, I will shoot and get three free throw shots. Like I said, I got it from Chris Paul. Someday, they will give me a call and they will award me with three free throw shots. They don’t call it enough and they don’t want to give it to me yet, but I will keep doing it.

RealGM: Talking about your life in Kaunas, I heard that at first you had a hard time adapting there. With the time, did it get any better?

Dentmon: It was very tough. Now it got much better, I have my man Mindaugas (who works for Zalgiris). I know places where I can eat, so it is much easier. Going to shopping mall and playing video games on Xbox keeps my mind off basketball. Overall, now living in Kaunas is much easier for me.

Euroleague Interview: Malcolm Delaney Of Bayern Munich

RealGM caught up with Malcolm Delaney in Europe to talk about Bayern’s performance in the Euroleague, the team’s affiliation with the soccer program, his future plans and much more.

Europe Interview: Luke Harangody Of Unics Kazan

RealGM caught up with Luke Harangody to talk about his experience in Russia, playing under foreigner coach, NBA and more.

Euroleague Power Rankings (Mid-December Edition)

With less than two weeks remaining until the end of its regular season, RealGM presents the Euroleague Power Rankings. We evaluated and ranked all 24 teams' performance over their first eight games and their perspective for the next rounds.

D-League's Tre Kelley Driven To Turn Ruthless Past Into Success Story

Once the Grizzlies waived him in the 2010 training camp, Tre' Kelley played parts of two seasons overseas where he starred in Europe, and where he scored two 50-point performances in China. Through it all, his sights remained on finding a way back into the NBA, so he decided to return to the D-League with Austin.

Euroleague Interview: Alexis Ajinca Of Strasbourg IG

RealGM spoke with Alexis Ajinca to talk about the restart of his career, his plans to get back to the NBA, France's national team and much more.

Euroleague Power Rankings For Mid-November

Fenerbahce Ulker, Real Madrid, Olympiacos, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Anadolu Efes and CSKA are at the top of RealGM's Euroleague rankings.

Euroleague Power Rankings (End Of October Edition)

While Real Madrid, Fenerbahce Ulker, CSKA Moscow and Olympiacos are at the top of the table and our rankings, Alexis Ajinca has been playing like an MVP candidate.

Stephen Graham Hoping To Settle With NBA Team After Playing Overseas

As a career journeyman with seven teams, Stephen Graham had earned three multi-year contracts, but the NBA’s lockout in 2011 prevented him from working out for organizations in the summer and he eventually landed in the D-League and overseas.

Europe Interview: Jeremy Pargo Of CSKA

RealGM caught up with Jeremy Pargo to talk about his time in the NBA, his decision to join CSKA, the upcoming season in Russia and more.

Europe Interview: Petteri Koponen Of Finland

Right before the tip-off of EuroBasket 2013, Petteri Koponen talked with RealGM about Finish basketball, his NBA dream, first season with Khimki and much more.

The Euroleague Elite 50-40-90 Club

Nikola Mirotic, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Trajan Langdon are amongst the Euroleague players that have shot better than 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line.

Americans Winning Titles Abroad, 2013 Edition

In 45 European national leagues, there were 107 players from the United States on their rosters.

Europe Interview: Deon Thompson Of Alba Berlin

RealGM recently caught up with Deon Thompson to discuss his success in Europe, his game improvement and plans to make it to the NBA.

Europe Interview: Mindaugas Kupsas

RealGM interviewed Sabonis-alum Mindaugas Kupsas, the only potential NBA draftee from Lithuania this year, to talk about his development, the upcoming NBA draft, future plans and much more.

Europe Interview: Dirk Bauermann Of Lietuvos Rytas

RealGM sat down with Dirk Bauermann in Vilnius to talk about the changes in his life, time with Lietuvos Rytas, German basketball, Dirk Nowitzki, his new role with Poland national team and much more.

Euroleague Interview: Ettore Messina Of CSKA

RealGM sat down with Ettore Messina in London to talk about what the future holds for CSKA, the Euroleague Final Four format, Viktor Khryapa and things that money can't buy.

Euroleague Interview: President Jordi Bertomeu

RealGM sat down with Euroleague president Jordi Bertomeu to discuss the 2012-13 season, the new format of the competition, its biggest problems and the future of Euroleague.

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