Oct 15, 2014 1:48 PM EDT
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
Sep 15, 2014 4:19 PM EDT
The United States wrapped up their anti-climatic run through FIBA World Cup with another resounding victory over an overmatched Serbia squad. While this tournament emphatically demonstrated that teams around the world aren’t ready to compete against Team USA’s collection of stars, a few unheralded individuals on the outskirts of the NBA radar showed they are. That collection of players can pretty much be broken down into three groups: the ones who have been there and done that (Rudy Fernandez, Juan Carlos Navarro, etc), younger players with NBA ties (former first round pick, Petteri Koponen, 2013 second rick pick Joffrey Lauvergne and Joe Ingles) and finally those stuck in NBA limbo.
Limbo is the best way to describe the area where players whose skill and production have them vacillating back and forth between starring on the top teams in Europe or filling out the bottom half of NBA rosters. In this Basketball World Cup, Milos Teodosic, Emir Preldzic, Ante Tomic showed us (or reminded us) that they can contribute to NBA teams. For those three, it’s not so much a question of talent as it is a combination of fit, age, money and comfort, similar to the situation faced by some American players.
Three of those players -- Teodosic, Preldzic and Tomic -- are 27-years-old, a weird age when it comes to NBA prospects. No longer can stateside suitors view them through the lens of potential, as that age signals the beginning of a players prime. Teodosic, Preldzic and Tomic all can certainly get better and add things to their game, but for the most part they are fully-realized as basketball players.
At 7’2” with good mobility and a soft touch, Tomic, whose rights around held by the Utah Jazz, is ready to step in and boost an NBA offense. During this tournament with Croatia, Tomic reaffirmed that he can score in the post against other big men and cause problems for opposing defenses as a screener in the pick-and-roll. Were Tomic in the NBA, he would trail only Marc Gasol and Tiago Splitter when it comes to passing while rolling to the basket -- an extremely valuable skill given how good NBA defenses have gotten at preventing roll men from finishing at the basket.
Based off his strengths, it seems like a no-brainer for the Jazz (or another team who trades for his rights) to bring him over. However, Tomic isn’t a complete player. He would likely struggle with the more physically demanding NBA (both in terms of players and the schedule) and he’s not a great rim protector or rebounder despite his size and mobility. Factor in these warts and you get a player who likely tops out as a backup center for a team that will utilize his pick-and-roll strengths for short stretches. While NBA big men capable of making any type of positive impact can get rewarded with lucrative deals, Tomic’s age guarantees that his second contract -- when he could secure better money than he makes for his current club, Barcelona -- will likely come when he’s on the wrong side of 30. And that’s not even factoring that just to come over and test the NBA waters, Tomic would likely have to take a pay cut from the 3.4 million dollars he’s reportedly earning in Spain.
Money is also going to be the biggest obstacle for Teodosic as well, who is currently well-compensated by CSKA Moscow, an annual contender for the Euroleague crown.
At best, Teodosic’s combination of passing, shooting, pick-and-roll play and game management makes him an easy comparison to the Knicks new point guard, Jose Calderon. Calderon has long been an underrated offensive force but the Toronto Raptors spent his entire tenure there looking to replace him as a starter due to obvious defensive shortcomings. A similar fate could await Teodosic. Though perhaps an even better playmaker than Calderon, Teodosic’s allergy to defense may prevent teams from either ponying up the dough or giving him a role similar to the one he currently is enjoying overseas. If there’s not an intense desire to leave Eastern Europe for the challenge of the world’s best league, it’s extremely possible that Teodosic never suits up for an NBA team.
Where Tomic and Teodosic’s fit in the league is beyond a doubt, Preldzic doesn’t have the same clear cut role that awaits him. With the size to play either forward position (though maybe not the four full time), Preldzic is classic point forward, In four of Turkey’s six games, including their battle with the U.S., Preldzic had five assists. A 6’9” player that can handle, run pick-and-roll and pass like Preldzic is an extremely attractive player. But an NBA team won’t be crawling all over themselves to bring Preldzic over and hand him the reins to their offense, which he has for both Turkey and his club team, Fenerbahce.
Preldzic is talented and unique, but he’s not a star. And in the NBA, it’s the stars that will have the ball in their hands while everyone else adjust to life without out it. Wing players not named “James”, “Durant” or “Anthony” are primarily asked to do two things in today’s NBA: knock down 3’s and play defense. Neither of those two things double as a strongsuit for Preldzic. A forward-thinking NBA executive could try to carve out a situation where Preldzic handles the ball as reserve forward in a bench-heavy unit, but most front offices don’t cater to non-elite talents in such fashion.
America will long have a monopoly on basketball but will always look to import the best players from outside the U.S. and let them showcase their talents on basketball’s brightest stage. We like to think that the NBA will always contain the best of the best. But as Tomic, Teodosic and Preldzic used the FIBA World Cup to remind us, sometimes players with the ability to play in the world’s best league, won’t always get their shot.
Sep 04, 2014 1:27 AM EDT
For American fans, one of the most intriguing aspects of international tournaments like the World Cup is the chance to see some of the best young players in the world before they come to the NBA. Dario Saric, who was taken at No. 12 overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in this year’s draft, is the perfect example. While he has played extensively in Europe, his only real exposure on the North American continent came at the Nike Hoop Summit in 2011 and 2012.
Saric is only 20, but he has been competing in some of the best leagues in Europe for several years. Despite his youth, he is one of the most important players on the Croatian national team, averaging 27 minutes a game in pool play. Croatia has played down to the competition, with a 2-1 record including an OT win over the Philippines and an upset loss to Senegal, but Saric has more than held his own, averaging 14 points, 8 rebounds and 3 assists on 51% shooting.
At 6’10 210, his ability to slide between multiple positions upfront gives Croatia some versatility with their line-ups, but he has mostly played as a small-ball PF in Spain. Unlike for his club team, where he gets to dominate the ball as one of the primary options, Saric has primarily played off the ball, setting picks, cutting to the rim and spotting up from the perimeter. A hard-nosed player with a high basketball IQ, he can impact the game in multiple ways.
It’s easy to see where the excitement comes with Saric. He is a mismatch nightmare - he can put the ball on the floor and take bigger players off the dribble as well as play with his back to the basket and punish smaller players on the block. He can clear the defensive glass and start the fast break himself and he knows how to accept the double team and find the open man in the half-court. Not many guys have his combination of size, skill and athleticism.
On the offensive side of the ball, the big question is his three-point shot, something he has struggled with in his first few years as a pro. He is coming off his best season as a shooter, going 34.5% on 3.1 attempts a game in the Adriatic League, but he shot only 30.8% in Eurocup play and was at 30.3% and 33.3% the previous two seasons. That’s been the biggest hole in his game in Spain, where he has shot 2-11 from deep, mostly on open looks off ball movement.
That shot is almost always going to be there for Saric, since very few big men have the speed and quickness to match up with him so far from the basket. Being able to consistently stretch the defense will take his game to the next level - not only will it open driving lanes for everyone else on the team, it will give him the ability to create a good shot against even elite defenders. As is, international teams are happy to concede the jumper and play him for the drive.
For a point forward like Saric, the three-point shot is a crucial weapon in his repertoire, especially at the highest levels of the game. When looking for possible NBA comparisons, the most optimistic ones - Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Toni Kukoc - are all guys who made a living at the three-point line. Even at the World Cup, he isn’t going up against many of the long 6’9+ athletes in the frontcourt that he will see on a nightly basis in the NBA.
For the first time in his life, he will be matching up with defenders who are just as big and just as athletic as him. That’s what makes combo forward one of the most difficult positions to project in the draft - all of a sudden, a guy who was too big for small forwards and too quick for power forwards becomes too slow for small forwards and too small for power forwards. Derrick Williams and Michael Beasley are two prominent examples of that in recent years.
Saric is bigger than Beasley and more skilled than Williams, but he could have many of the same issues on the defensive side of the ball. He only has a 6’10 wingspan, so he has a hard time contesting shots on the perimeter or protecting the rim. Like most guys his size, Saric is not totally comfortable getting into a stance and sliding his feet on the three-point line, which opens him up to reaching and committing silly fouls. He is averaging 4 a game in the World Cup.
To be sure, a lot of that is inexperience and few players come into the league with the ability to be impact defenders. Saric gets an impressive amount of steals (1.3 a game in Spain) and should become a stronger player and a better positional defender as he gets older, but his inability to block shots (0.3 a game) will always give him a ceiling on that side of the ball. He may never be able to match up with the best players in the NBA at either SF or PF.
A good rule of thumb for combo forwards, whether in Europe or the NCAA, is that they are probably best suited as small-ball PF’s in the NBA. Saric is no exception - if he can play with a rim protector, he should be able to survive in the post and guard most PF’s on the perimeter. That’s Croatia’s biggest problem in the World Cup, as they don’t have a lot of team speed or interior defense, so opposing teams can put their head down and get easy looks at the rim.
Going forward, the best case scenario for Saric is that he continues to develop his three-point shot and becomes capable of being a primary or secondary option in the NBA. While he will never be a great two-way player, if he can come into the league as a high-level ball-handler, shooter, passer and rebounder at 6’10, he could be a starter on an elite team. He has the floor of a solid NBA contributor and he still has lot of room to grow as a player.
One interesting rookie to track next season will be Nikola Mirotic, a high-level European combo forward who is about the same age Saric will be when he comes over in 2016. While their games aren’t identical - Mirotic is a better shooter and a worse passer - they are both 6’10 small-ball PF’s with above average skill and average athleticism for their NBA position. If Mirotic can survive defensively in Tom Thibodeau’s system, that will be a good sign for Saric.
Saric is a unique player with very defined strengths and weaknesses, which gives his NBA career a wide range of possible outcomes. Maybe the biggest reason for optimism is his age, as he is one of the youngest players at the World Cup. If Croatia makes the Olympics in 2016, he will probably be their best player and he will still be only 22. No matter what happens in the NBA, Saric will be a player to watch at every international tournament for the next decade.
Aug 07, 2014
RealGM caught up with Martynas 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.
May 23, 2014
Tyrese Rice is one of those players who had to advance through his basketball career the hard way, but he's now been named the MVP at the second best club championship competition in the world.
May 01, 2014
Sergio Rodriguez is the winner of the RealGM Euroleague MVP award and was joined on the All-Euroleague Firest Team by Keith Langford, Sonny Weems, Nikola Mirotic and Ante Tomic.
Apr 18, 2014
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.
Apr 07, 2014
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.
Mar 31, 2014
RealGM caught up with Justin 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
Jan 23, 2014
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.
Dec 23, 2013
RealGM caught up with Luke Harangody to talk about his experience in Russia, playing under foreigner coach, NBA and more.
Dec 10, 2013
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.
Dec 04, 2013
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.
Nov 19, 2013
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.
Nov 12, 2013
Fenerbahce Ulker, Real Madrid, Olympiacos, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Barcelona, Anadolu Efes and CSKA are at the top of RealGM's Euroleague rankings.
Oct 28, 2013
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.
Oct 15, 2013
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.
Sep 19, 2013
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.
Sep 04, 2013
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.
Jul 17, 2013
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.
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