Top 2015 draft candidate Mario Herzonja managed to break the 20 minute mark for the first time and left his mark in a win against Milano in Euroleague. Nikola Jokic and Dario Saric continued their fantastic play, and are continuing to show that they will be quality contributors when they make their debuts stateside.
As my team, Bnei Herzliya prepares to play against the reigning European Champions, Maccabi Tel-Aviv on their home floor this Monday, we take a look at their Euroleague semifinals rematch against CSKA Moscow, and their fantastic coach Dimitris Itoudis. Read more for our full weekly Eurohoops update.
Saric dominates in blowout win over Sassari
Continuing his momentum since the injury of Nenad Krstic, Dario Saric had his best Euroleague performance to date, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds over the Italian side Dinamo Sassari. After struggling to start the season, Saric has been on a tear lately, also putting up his best performance in Turkish league this past week, with 23 points and 9 rebounds against TED Kolejiller. As a lottery pick by Philadelphia in this past year’s draft, these are the performances that were expected of Saric after a superb season in Croatia last year, and it seems as though his adjustment period to playing on a big club has finished.
2014 NBA draft prospect, Cedi Osman, chipped in with a solid 12 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists, to keep up the solid basketball he has been playing this season. Coach Dusan Ivkovic has shown a lot of confidence in his youngsters so far this season, which is atypical for a big club in Europe, and at 5-2 Euroleague play and 5-2 in the TBL, it appears his confidence is not misplaced.
Mario Herzonja has breakout game against Milano as Barcelona steals the W
Just two weeks after Sportando’s David Pick tweeted about Herzonja’s camp’s frustration over his lack of playing time in Barcelona, the top European prospect in the 2015 draft had his breakout game of the season against EA7 Armani Milano. Playing 22 minutes in an 84-80 victory, Herzonja managed 12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 block on 2/2 2PT and 2/4 3PT. This was the first time this season that Herzonja saw more than 20 minutes on the floor, and his performance as a 19-year-old against a top Euroleague team shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Barcelona’s two Eurostash prospects came to play against Milano as well. Swingman Alex Abrines, whose rights are owned by the OKC Thunder, came through with 11 points and 3 rebounds in 17 minutes, and the Washington Wizards’ owned PG, Tomas Satoransky, had 8 points, 3 assists and 0 Turnovers in 17 minutes of action.
Barcelona has one of the deepest squads in Euroleague, and the potential of their young prospects makes them one of the few teams that looks like they can contend with the dominant CSKA Moscow for the Euroleague title this season.
CSKA Moscow demolishes the reigning Euroleague champs in Tel-Aviv
In a rematch of the Euroleague semifinals from last season, CSKA Moscow wiped the floor with Maccabi Tel-Aviv from the opening minute in Tel-Aviv this past Thursday, crushing the champs 84-61, without starters Milos Teodosic and Viktor Khryapa. In Teodosic’s absence, both Aaron Jackson (10 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists) and former Spur and Raptor, Nando De Colo (13 points, 7 rebounds) filled in admirably at point guard, while swingman Sonny Weems (19 points) and center Sasha Kaun (15 points, 10 rebounds) supplied the front court production.
Dimitris Itoudis, CSKA’s Greek coach who was a longtime assistant of the legendary Zeljko Obradovic, has been putting on a coaching clinic so far this season. He has CSKA Moscow playing far freer offensively than they did last season under now Spurs assistant coach Ettore Messina, and he has been able to maximize the talents of the Euroleague’s highest budget roster.
CSKA’s defense has been fantastic so far, especially with their suffocating ball pressure. They have excellent communication on switches, which almost rarely results in easy opportunities for their opponents, and their size advantage at most positions make it very hard for teams to find a mismatch to they can exploit.
What has been most impressive however, has been Itoudis’ demeanor and the confidence he has instilled in his team. When Maccabi Tel-Aviv made a couple of 3-pointers to chip into the lead in the 2nd quarter, which sent the Tel-Aviv crowd into a frenzy, Itoudis resisted the urge to call a timeout, preferring to let his team grow from the experience of maintaining a lead in a tough road environment. Most coaches would panic in this type of situation, because Maccabi Tel-Aviv has a long history of making phenomenal comebacks behind the energy of its home crowd, but Itoudis knew if he wants to take home the Euroleague title with this group, he will need to strengthen them mentally for the stretch point of the season.
Jokic and Miljenovic continuing to impress for Mega Leks
Denver Nugget Eurostash Center Nikola Jokic, continued his fantastic play in Adriatic League this past week with an outstanding 22 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block and 4 three pointers, in an 80-72 win over Krka. Through 8 games, Jokic has been putting up outstanding numbers, averaging 16.7 points, 10 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.3 steals, 1 block, while shooting a ridiculous 57.6% from 2PT and 40.5% from 3PT.
After breaking out last season and emerging as a second-round pick, Jokic is playing at a level this season that would likely have him in the mix for the first round, if not the lottery, had he opted to wait another year to enter the draft. If he continues his rapid improvement, Jokic could ultimately end up being one of the biggest steals of the 2014 NBA draft.
Jokic hasn’t been the only one impressing for the Serbian squad, point guard Nenad Miljenovic has been showing he can be a true lead guard at the highest levels of Europe, and if he develops a consistent jump shot, perhaps even the NBA. At 6’5” Miljenovic has fantastic size for a lead guard, and his 9.3 assists per game are indicative of his outstanding court vision and ability to run an offense.
The glaring weakness for Miljenovic, who will be automatically eligible for the NBA draft this summer, is his lack of an outside shot, where he 3/18 (16.7%) from 3PT through the first 9 games of the season. While there have been point guards who have made an NBA career without an outside shot, like Rajon Rondo, or Jason Kidd and Tony Parker at the early stages of their career, those players had a level of foot speed that dwarfs Miljenovic’s. His leadership, hustle and confidence are excellent, but at the NBA level you either need to be very fast, or an outstanding shooter to be able to see the floor, and Miljenovic will need to answer one of these questions by June if he wants to hear his name called in New York.
Turkish Club Galatasaray falling apart financially
In an event that could never happen in the NBA, Euroleague club Galatasaray who will likely make the top 16, has announced that all of their players except for Carlos Arroyo are free to find a new team, due to lack of payment. Just days later, center Furkan Aldemir chose to opt out of his contact and signed with the Philadelphia 76ers, who owned his NBA draft rights, and likely will have some playing time for him in the midst of their abysmal season.
Ergin Ataman: If FIBA and Euroleague were serious foundations, they wouldn’t have let Aldemir join 76ers.
— BarışaRock. (@Emre_kilic54) November 29, 2014
Coach Ergin Ataman had the guts to call out FIBA and Euroleague for allowing Aldemir to opt out of his unfulfilled contract to pursue his NBA deal, questioning the seriousness of both organizations. Unfortunately, coach Ataman fails to see the irony, because if Galatasaray was a serious club, they would not sign players and staff members to contracts they could not afford, and would not have the disrespect to call out players who leave after the club failed to meet their obligations. When a player breaches his contract for code of conduct, teams typically show no hesitation to penalize the player, so why should a player not do the same when his club breaks their end of the obligation?
In general, European basketball is still light years behind the NBA when it comes to the fairness of contracts between players and their clubs, with many teams throughout Europe suffering due to the ongoing financial crisis in Europe. There are several teams who are frequently late on payments, and many American agents are still trying to force teams to pay the last month of players’ paychecks from the past several seasons, as some teams put off paying a last check since the player is not there anymore to collect it.
It is far overdue for there to be a collective bargaining agreement between all the national federations of FIBA’s European basketball leagues, and a players union consisting of both European and Import (American) players. A system in which the majority of teams lose money every year, and many players do not receive the full extent of the contracts they agreed to, is not a sustainable system, and without a long term solution, it will be tough to see European basketball make the same financial jump that the NBA recently made with the new TV rights deal.
AJ Mitnick is an American living in Israel and working as an assistant coach in the Israeli Basketball Winner League. A graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick is an assistant coach with Bnei Herzliya, following three seasons with Maccabi Rishon-Lezion . Follow him on Twitter.