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.