Gibson: Euroleague update: For Cantu, Doron Perkins Is a Risk Worth Taking

BARCELONA — This Thursday in Israel could mark Doron Perkins’ first Euroleague game in over 10 months. As far as Perkins is concerned, it couldn’t come in a better place; Tel Aviv’s Nokia Arena has been home to many of Perkins’ finest moments with Maccabi.

Only this Thursday, he might be sliding into his socks in the visitor’s locker room as a member of Bennet Cantu, a team that bested Maccabi 82-74 Thursday.

Let’s rewind a bit.

Last March in a playoff series against Caja Laboral, Perkins crossed from left to right and exploded toward the cup, Brad Oleson with him step for step. It took just a single dribble for Perkins to get himself even with the rim. For one of the Euroleague’s best and most physical finishers, we all thought we knew what was coming next.

But instead of a shot going up, it was Perkins going down to the floor in a yellow, writhing heap. He tried to drag his limp lower body off the court before signaling for help.

He had torn two ligaments and severely damaged the meniscus in his right knee, and had to watch from the sidelines as Maccabi made it back to the Euroleague finals for the first time since 2008.

Now, the morning after rumors raced in from the Twittersphere of his return, Eurobasket.com senior writer and Sheridan Hoops guest contributor David Pick can confirm their veracity.

Cantu has until February 7 to reach a deal with the former Santa Clara Bronco if they want him to legally suit up for next Thursday’s Euroleague challenge.

If the circumstances of Perkins’ return weren’t peculiar enough for you, consider this: if Cantu beats Maccabi and Barcelona wins at Zalgiris, the Euroleague runners-up will be eliminated from playoff competition. A year after lifting them to championship levels, Doron Perkins could have a hand in Maccabi’s undoing.

Cantu has every reason to be excited.  With help from one of Europe’s rowdiest cheering sections, one of its hottest coaches in Andrea Trinchieri and budding mini-stars like Vladimir Micov and Giorgi Shermadini, the Italians are 2-1 in the Top 16 and second place in Group H. Now with advancement potentially six days and one tough road test away, they are on the verge of adding a point guard that was an awkward landing away from an All-Euroleague team last season (his teammate, the also-deserving Jeremy Pargo, earned the honor instead).

But before Cantu gets too giddy about their chances to bury Maccabi, they should remember who they’ve handed the shovel.

Firstly, it’s not as if Perkins took the last 10 months off to fill holes in his stamp collection. He was hurt, and hurt so badly that a surgeon had to cut him open and fiddle with the same ligaments that used to support some of Europe’s most violent slashes and cuts.

Secondly, Cantu’s system isn’t one that favors stars.  Everyone brings his fair share to the table and then everyone eats.

For instance, Cantu as a team ranks third in assists per game (16.2) and assist/turnover ratio (1.4) behind only the 13-0 CSKA Moscow and 12-1 Barcelona. Yet scan the individual assist leaders and you won’t see the team name Bennet Cantu until the 17 slot, where forward Vladimir Micov is handing out a pedestrian 3.3 dimes per game. Then there’s Gianluca Basile at 25 (3.0 apg) and ex-Oregon Duck Maarten Leunen at 38 (2.4). Cantu’s starting point guard Andrea Cinciarini is all the way down in 42nd place with just 2.08 assists per game.

Much like the passing, the scoring is an abnormally cooperative effort also, with seven players averaging at least 7 ppg while none average more than Micov’s 11.

Now here comes Perkins, a man whose rambunctious style seems at odds with Cantu’s tidy offense, and suddenly a team that entered the season without expectations is in a position to knock off a card-carrying member of Europe’s upper echelon.

Perkins’ mind will be churning 100 miles a minute and his right knee will do its damnedest to keep up, and we will need more than a few minutes of watching him against Maccabi to tell if Doron Perkins is still Doron Perkins.

Maybe Cantu shouldn’t tinker with a system that has run smoothly all season long. Maybe they’re getting greedy. Maybe Perkins’ presence will upset Cantu’s equilibrium and they’ll spiral out of control, and out of the Euroleague.

Maybe. But probably not.

Doron Perkins is a star, and for Cantu, he’s a risk entirely worth taking.

CSKA Still Perfect

Nenad Krstic picked up weekly MVP honors with 20 points and 9 boards in CSKA Moscow’s 85-70 drubbing of Galatasaray. The win moved them to 3-0 in the Top 16 and 13-0 on the season.

In order to go undefeated the rest of the way, they would need to win nine more games: three more in the Top 16, a three-game sweep of the best-of-five quarterfinals (likely against Real Madrid with an outside shot at Montepaschi Siena), then two wins in the single elimination Final Four to lift the crown.

Things just took a nasty turn for the Russians, though, as Viktor Khryapa dislocated his finger and will miss some time. This is one of those moments where having guys like Andrei Kirilenko and Andrey Vorontsevich at the same position comes in handy.

Motiejunas on the Move?

Houston’s first round draft pick Donatas Motiejunas might be on the move again, as the Lithuanian 7-footer has drawn interest from several European clubs (Anadolu Efes, Khimki Moscow and Avozmash Mariupol among them).

Motiejunas is in Poland at the moment playing for Asseco Prokom, who was knocked out of the EL after a 1-9 regular season but still competes in the Polish League and the VTB United League. For the time being, Montiejunas’ next destination—if there is one outside of Gdynia, Poland—is unclear.

Montiejunas did not take the opportunity to shine on a lesser team for granted this season, as the 21-year-old averaged 12.5 points and 7.9 boards against the continent’s best competition.

Don’t be surprised to see him in a Rockets uniform as soon as next season. We’ll keep you posted on his whereabouts until he makes his way to Texas.

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

 

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