BARCELONA — When it comes to finding NBA talent in Europe, the Eastern Conference is admittedly a step or two behind the West. General managers such as San Antonio’s R.C. Buford and Houston’s Daryl Morey have a knack for squeezing value out of overseas talent they’ve either drafted or acquired for picks and cash.
Now the East is making a comeback, hitching their wagon to quality instead of quantity. So while the Spurs and Rockets’ combined 12 rights-held players are more than half of the East’s total yield, today’s list has a better chance of producing an All-Star than the one published on this site yesterday.
Here are the top 10 Eurostash players whose rights are held by Eastern Conference teams.
1. Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto
European Club: Lietuvos Rytas (Lithuania).
Odds He’ll Defect: 99.9 percent.
Last June, the Raptors drafted Valanciunas fifth overall, making him the second European to land in that slot in three years. The other was Ricky Rubio, he of the dazzling first half and recently torn ACL. With Valanciunas, folks in Toronto should expect all of the hubbub with half of the build-up, as Jonas is free to leave Lietuvos Rytas once the season is finished.
The only player better than Valanciunas in last year’s draft class was Kyrie Irving, and the Cavaliers could have had them both. Raptor fans will surely count their blessings as Valanciunas exorcises the Ghost of Rafael Araujo, one vicious slam at a time.
2. Nikola Mirotic, F, Chicago
European Club: Real Madrid (Spain).
Odds He’ll Defect: 75 percent.
Nikola Mirotic has eaten up quite a lot of Sheridan’s real estate this season, but not without damn good reason. Real Madrid’s Montenegran marksman has started to fill out his frame just as quickly as he’s plugged the holes in his game, and now only his contract (which runs through 2015-16) stands between him and a Bulls uniform.
3. Fran Vazquez, C, Orlando
European Club: Regal Barcelona (Spain).
Odds He’ll Defect: 10 percent.
The Magic have enjoyed just two lottery picks since drafting Dwight Howard first overall in 2004. Otis Smith spent the 11th pick in 2006 on JJ Redick. He used that same pick one year earlier to select Vazquez, a 22-year-old spindly center who could soar.
Now Vazquez is 28, still gangly and just as much of a threat to sky for an alley-oop or throw a lazy floater into the seats. He’s even cooked up a reliable little 15-footer, making his pump fakes that much more believable. The Euroleague’s all-time blocks leader’s got the body and he’s got the game; the only thing missing is a desire to re-locate.
4. Kyle Singler, F, Detroit
European Club: Real Madrid (Spain).
Odds He’ll Defect: 90 percent.
As most locked out NBAers devised their travel plans back to the States in late November, Singler was more interested in swapping Spanish addresses. So instead of flying to Detroit to sign with the Pistons, he parlayed his excellent numbers with Lucentum Alicante into a deal with Real Madrid for the remainder of the season, a choice he says he does not regret.
In Singler’s case, however, the whole Kyle is learning to excel in a more methodical, technical setting discussion flies out of the window, as Madrid is putting up 104 points per 48 minutes (European games are only 40 minutes). Nobody’s transition between college and high-level European ball was as painless as Singler’s, and the jump from Madrid to the Motor City should go just as swimmingly.
5. Bojan Bogdanovic, SG/SF, New Jersey
European Club: Fenerbahce Ulker (Turkey)
Odds He’ll Defect: 80 percent.
Bojan Bogdanovic overcame a new role, a rough start and his head coach’s questionable decision making in the first year of a three-year deal with Fenerbahce Ulker. The Nets want Fenerbahce to release Bogdanovic from his contract early, but I still can’t see any reason why the Turkish side would leave their most valuable asset on the curb.
Once in Brooklyn, Nets fans can expect a Mike Miller type, only before Mike Miller was not good.
6. Milan Macvan, PF, Cleveland
European Club: Partizan (Serbia)
Odds He’ll Defect: 20 percent.
When Maccabi loaned Milan Macvan to Partizan at the start of the season, the Euroblogosphere (it’s a thing) raised a collective eyebrow. Turns out it was worthy of both our eyebrows. Macvan joined forces with Nikola Pekovic to complete a scary Euroleague front court, leading the Euroleague in rebounding in Partizan’s ten games. He has never and will never blow you away athletically, and his body’s still got more chub than chisel, but put him in a pick and roll and he’ll pass the eye test every time.
Macvan could sign up with an NBA team and be good for some scoring and boards off the bench, but he would be more comfortable and successful in a Euroleague setting which fits him quite snugly.
7. Sasha Kaun, C, Cleveland
European Club: CSKA Moscow (Russia).
Odds He’ll Defect: 25 percent.
His 7-foot-6 wingspan puts him in the top 25 of Draft Express’ measurements database, level with NBA starters like JaVale McGee and DeAndre Jordan and fractions of an inch ahead of cult hero and Russian countryman Pavel Podkolzin. Unfortunately, his history of injuries is just as long. Kaun’s left knee kept him out of the Euroleague entirely in 2010-11 (he did play in 25 Russian League games that year), and groin surgery interfered with last summer’s EuroBasket in Lithuania. Now, CSKA has installed so much talent around him that Kaun doesn’t even make the team’s Top Three Players Whose Names Begin With ‘K’ list; Andrei Kirilenko, Nenad Krstic and Viktor Khryapa have him bested. Less dynamic than he was before his legs starting losing their screws, the former Kansas Jayhawk rarely misses from in close (73 percent in Euroleague play this season) and still has plenty to offer an NBA team defensively. Especially a Varejao-less Cleveland.
8. Emir Preldzic, G, Washington
European Club: Fenerbahce Ulker (Turkey).
Odds He’ll Defect: 40 percent.
This Preldzic is making me thirsty. Istanbul is just as parched, as the Euroleague’s most harmfully addictive enigma puts up one checkered performance after another. The 6-foot-9 guard makes it impossible for the opposition to get clean looks, and his combination of height and creativity make him a dangerous passer. Consistency, or lack thereof, has been a bugaboo for the Bosnian and Herzegovinian who competes internationally for Turkey. He’ll follow up a double-digit assist night with donuts or something close, and though he attacks the lane aggressively, he’s usually stonewalled by the weak side bigs who are licensed to camp out in the European paint. If the Euroleague instituted a penalty for defensive three seconds, it would be too soon for young Emir.
It should go without saying that D.C. isn’t the best place to shed bad habits these days, so Preldzic’s undulating progression will likely make Fenerbahce fans scratch their heads a little longer.
9. Stanko Barac, C, Indiana
European Club: Anadolu Efes (Turkey).
Odds He’ll Defect: 15 percent.
A very standard, old school center who can bring his man out about as far as the foul line. He’s still in the first year of a three-year deal with Anadolu Efes, however, so Indianans may never have the pleasure of saying “Stanko” in everyday conversation.
10. Vladimir Veremeenko, PF, Chicago
European Club: UNICS Kazan (Russia)
Odds He’ll Defect: 10 percent
Veremeenko’s talent runs deep enough that even steady production has earned him the bust label, but one can only hope it was written in pencil. The Belarusian 27-year-old has been pivotal for UNICS Kazan this season, finally turning all of that talent into double-doubles and weekly MVP awards. Though while Vlad’s trending upward, his game isn’t attractive enough to garner much NBA attention.
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.