Gibson Column: Navarro Breaks Euroleague Scoring Title. Who’s Up Next?

BARCELONA — Chuck Eidson stared at a clear path to an empty basket as the crowd rose to their feet in Palau Blaugrana. Eidson knew this ovation wasn’t intended for him, so he glanced to his left and wisely shoveled the ball off to Juan Carlos Navarro, who caught it, took two steps and laid it up off the glass.

When the ball fell through the nylon, the Euroleague had a new all-time leading scorer. La Bomba had needed 14 points to pass Marcus Brown, and he hit that number on the nose as Barcelona dismantled Union Olimpija by a final score of 72-46.

But see, this Euroleague is a tricky business, and all-time really means since the 2000-01 season. That’s when Europe’s top-tier of competition came out from underneath FIBA’s direct rule and, as with any change in structure, all-time records usually have to make room for an asterisk.

Also, thanks to the compact Euroleague schedule, it’s tough to accumulate huge numbers. For instance, the maximum number of games any team can play in a Euroleague season is 24 (that number will become 32 next year with an expanded Top 16). Let’s take a peek at the continental leaders to show you what I mean:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 38,387 points in 1,560 games over 20 seasons.

Juan Carlos Navarro: 2,716 points in 198 games over 10 seasons.

They both have three names. Besides that, not too much in common.

But what’s attractive about 2,716 is its beatability. Juan Carlos is only 31 and very much in his prime, but there’s a whole new generation of scorers on the rise that could plausibly make a run at La Bomba before they shoot their final jumpers.

Nine that Navarro should look out for:

Erazem Lorbek, Power Forward, Regal FC Barcelona
159 games | 1,432 points | 27 years old

You drop your duffel on the YMCA hardwood and ask if you can hop into the next game. The folks on the court nod, call you over, and point out the tall, goofy character with the double chin and professorial part in his hair as if to say Check him. You nod back. Done.

Pick. Pop. Splash. Then a hook shot finds the bottom of the cup. Offensive board plus the putback. Elbow jumper. Finally, another triple and this lanky NASA technician has burned you for five straight buckets.

The old man game, the old man style and the nine-year Euroleague career with six different clubs make it hard to believe the big Slovenian is still only 27 years old. The ridiculous efficiency (67 percent on twos, 64 percent on threes this season) makes it hard to believe he’ll bow out before getting into the top five of the scoring list.

Milos Teodosic, Point Guard, CSKA Moscow
86 games | 730 points | 24 years old

From the shaggy scruff that swallows his head like kudzu to the way he flails and flops about on the floor, Milos Teodosic plays like a stoner shaken awake from a nap. This is the guy who accepted his MVP trophy in red Nike sweats while everyone else around him rocked tailored suits. He’s not much for ceremony and he’s mastered the muted celebration, but it’s this same apathy that manifests itself as nervelessness in critical situations. Need proof? Ask Jorge Garbajosa if he regrets switching off that screen two summers ago at the World Championships.

Vassilis Spanoulis, Guard, Olympiacos
102 games | 1,315 points | 29 years old

His me-against-the-world approach to the game has left him on benches in fourth quarters and proved enigmatic on a Greek national team famous for its ball movement, but nobody has ever doubted Vassilis’ scoring acumen. Were it not for some dust-ups with Jeff Van Gundy while with the Rockets in 2006-07, he might still be in a league where selfish play is Sharpied into the game plan, but now he’s back in Greece on an Olympiacos team that requires Spanoulis to be the consummate leader.

Yet even as he gets his fill from passing, defending, and doing the “little things,” he saves plenty of room for his favorite dish: points. Just over 21 per game, in fact. Tops in the league. The problem is that he’s only two years Navarro’s junior, meaning Vassilis needs to stay hungry and healthy well into his 30′s to catch the king.

Nikola Pekovic, Center, Partizan Belgrade
97 games | 1,128 points | 25 years old

Only David Kahn and Partizan’s budget stand in the way of Nikola’s assault on the record. He’s Minnesota’s property through the end of the 2012-13 season for four and a half million a year, but if he hasn’t cemented himself as a back-up big by then, a 27-year-old Pekovic could return to the Euroleague for the 2013-14 season to resume his climb up the scoring ladder.

If Partizan could lock him up for life, they would do it in a Serbian second, but with a team budget hovering around three or four million, Nikola might suit up for the highest bidder (like his club from 2008-10, Panathinaikos) where he’d share minutes with a stable of proven bigs and watch his numbers taper off.

Bojan Bogdanovic, Guard/Forward, Fenerbahce Ulker
32 games | 365 points | 22 years old

Last season, Bojan Bogdanovic visited the scoring column as frequently as anyone in the Euroleague, netting 18 per game in the regular season. The only problem was the shoddy assortment of players assembled around him, as Cibona floundered to a winless (0-10) season and bowed out of the Euroleague, leaving Bojan fans hungry once Christmas rolled around.

Now a well-known commodity in the Euro market, his days of playing for losers are over. That means no more 10-game seasons, and no more holds on his EL scoring output. As if his deadly shooting stroke weren’t enough, Bojan’s been showing off a brand spankin’ new back-to-the-basket game whenever a shooting guard is foolish enough to stick him.

Mirza Teletovic, Power Forward, Caja Laboral
116 games | 1,393 points | 26 years old

It just happened. Suddenly and without warning, Mirza Teletovic decided he wanted to be the best forward in Europe. He cashed in all those coupons for ill-advised jumpers and lackadaisical defense and came away with a grab bag of devastating post moves and an extra portion of bulk. Now instead of invoking face palms, he hands out facials:

The trouble with his overnight development is his simultaneous spike in value, and Caja Laboral might not be able to hold onto him forever. Teletovic could start—not play, but start—for 15-20 NBA teams if he so desired, and if someone’s willing to open their wallets in a year or two, then Mirza might have a big decision to make.

But for now let’s stow all this negative speculation, kick our shoes off and enjoy the stylings of Mirza 2.0.

Rudy Fernandez, Shooting Guard, Real Madrid
25 games | 379 points | 26 years old

Among the myriad of things Juan Carlos Navarro does well, perhaps his most valuable asset is his short memory. Whether he’s hit six straight or he’s scoreless in the third quarter, he’s still running off that screen with his eyebrows arched and his mouth open, clapping his hands so he can fire off some off-balance mess of a shot from beyond the arc. There are only a handful of players whose confidence comes close, and most (Teodosic, Spanoulis, Teletovic) are on this list. But there may be nobody who feels less guilty about a miss than Navarro’s countryman, Fernandez.

Whether Rudy suits up for the Mavericks this year or not, his NBA contract is up at the end of the year and he’ll have the option of returning to Madrid for another season or two, which could possibly lead to forever. Rudy loves the limelight, so we might not have seen the last of him in the NBA; however, if we have, his trigger happiness will  shoot him skyward on the EL’s scoring chart.

Nikola Mirotic, Power Forward, Real Madrid
27 games | 184 points | 20 years old 

Nikola’s career could go anywhere from here. On the one hand, he’s the Euroleague’s Rising Star winner and has a contract with Europe’s most championship-laden club until the end of the 2015-16 season. On the other, the Chicago Bulls hold his rights and could buy him out whenever they’d like (teams can only put $500,000 toward a player’s buyout, so Mirotic himself would likely have to front the remainder).

Some see NBA stardom in his future, so allow me go on record and tell you I’m not one of them. But an All-Euroleaguer for years to come? Now we’re talking. If he plays 15 uninterrupted years on a contender, he should accumulate enough buckets to make a run at the top.

Milan Macvan, Power Forward, Partizan Belgrade
18 games | 134 points | 22 years old

John Henson at UNC, Mouphtaou Yarou over at Villanova, Mason Plumlee at Duke, Connecticut’s Alex Oriakhi and even an international big like Asefa Estudiantes’ Lucas Nogueira from Brazil. These folks are all members of two groups: A) Names that will be called on draft night, if there is one in 2012, and B) Players whose offensive arsenals will never be as sophisticated as Milan Macvan’s.

Luckily for fans of European basketball, Milan doesn’t pass what you might call the NBA’s eye test, so he might hang around at the Euroleague level for another 12-14 years. He’s not a leaper, a highflyer, or a spectacular shot blocker and he’s probably carrying a few too many kilos in his lower half, but at 22 years of age and in his first true Euroleague season (he was a ghost last year with Maccabi, playing just nine minutes per game), Milan has put up 14 or more in all six games this year with Partizan.

But all it takes is one savvy NBA GM who’s heard of Luis Scola (or, to a lesser extent, Glen Davis), and the aesthetically unattractive game of Milan Macvan could be whisked away forever, putting the all-time scoring title out of reach.

Nick Gibson, editor of EuroleagueAdventures.com, covers Euroleague and other European basketball developments for SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear each Friday. Click here to follow him on Twitter.

 

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    • says

      I’d be shocked if he returned to the NBA for any team other than the Bulls (loves Tom Thibodeau, an assistant for the Rockets under Van Gundy when Vassilis was there). And as for the record, the only issue is longevity; remember that La Bomba hasn’t slowed down one bit, and he’s only got a couple years on Spanoulis.

      But will he break 2,716? Oh, absolutely.

      Thanks for reading, Zoran.

  1. Sam says

    Lorbek was one of the first players I remember seeing as a kid at Michigan State and my dad went on and on about how he had an NBA career if he wanted it. Guess he’s doing alright anyway haha

  2. Such Sweet Thunder says

    >Were it not for some dust-ups with Jeff Van Gundy while
    >with the Rockets in 2006-07, he might still be in a league
    >where selfish play is Sharpied into the game plan, but
    >now he’s back in Greece on an Olympiacos team that
    >requires Spanoulis to be the consummate leader.

    You should be more careful about labeling NBA ball “selfish” and I’ll do the same with European ball. There is a clash between our understandings of what comprises fundamentally sound ball and labels like “selfish,” while fun, are not descriptive. There are a handful of bottom dwelling NBA teams that do not share the ball enough, Minnesota and Sacramento come to mind, but as you note, what you consider selfish is often a component of an NBA teams’ game plan.

    I watched Real Madrid’s way too close for comfort victory over Belgacom Spirou yesterday. The game started with Mirotic scoring three straight baskets in the paint, followed by another bucket or two by Ante Tomic. Real Madrid’s big men clearly had the upper hand over Charleroi, and it seemed to me like Real Madrid could have ended the game in the first quarter by pounding the ball inside and putting Charleroi’s big men in foul trouble.

    . . . instead, Real Madrid appeared to attempt to get its backcourt and wing involved. They posted up Carlos Suarez, there were a couple of turnovers by Rodriguez and, if I remember correctly, Rudy Fernandez jacked up a bad shot. Real Madrid lost all of its momentum.

    My first thought was that Real Madrid was playing selfish ball. The non-post players appeared, to me at least, to be so concerned about their individual stats that they refused to make plays that were in the best interest of the club. I get the feeling that if you watched the game you wold have seen the benefits of getting all of the players involved early and thought it was understandable for Real Madrid to stop looking for Mirotic and Tomic after four or five straight baskets.

    My point is that it’s possible to label as selfish both the decision to target match ups and individual players, and the decision to try to integrate the full team, in lieu of what may be particular advantages.

    What I find selfish you may label team ball; and what you find selfish, I may label team ball.

    • says

      Firstly, thanks for reading and even more for the comment. Let me assure you that I mean ‘selfish’ in the most neutral way possible. As a guy that watches a lot of European ball, the lack of selfishness frustrates the Hell out of me sometimes. At the same time, so does watching Joe play for my Hawks back home in Atlanta.

      With Spanoulis specifically, I meant that had he developed into a Flip Murray-type off the bench, his role would have been to put up shots and take folks off the dribble; meanwhile, that’s the same sort of behavior that gets him in trouble with Greek fans and coaches.

      I love the Euroleague, but I love the NBA just as much. What makes them different keeps them interesting.

      • Such Sweet Thunder says

        Ah. Sorry about this miscommunication. I understand your point. Indeed, I think you can make the same comment about Rudy Fernandez.

        Pablo Laso is giving Fernandez a lot of minutes and Rudy’s scoring numbers are off the charts, but things are not progressing well. Rudy’s shot selection is becoming increasingly erratic, and it looked to me like he spent the game against Belgacom Spirou pouting. I don’t see things ending well for Rudy in Madrid if the lockout continues.

        That being said, I think Rudy Fernandez could be a nice pickup for the Mavericks in a Jamal Crawford type role; provided, of course, that the Mavs are able to stomach Rudy’s decision making.

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