Several NBA scouts and GMs will get a live look at the action to see if they can find some new international talent.
Which future NBA players will make their name known this weekend? Which former NBA players will shine with the pressure on? Here is a guide for the casual NBA fan on what to watch for in NBATV’s broadcast of the Euroleague Final Four, and why you should care.
You can watch the Final Four on Friday night at 7 p.m. Eastern on NBATV.
In the NBA, talent, health and matchups typically determine the favorite in a series. However, the one-and-done concept of the Euroleague Final Four throws all that garbage out the window. In America, you can win with stars and talent; in Europe that’s all a bunch of B.S.
On this side of the pond, you win with competitive spirit and aggressiveness. Similar to the NCAA tournament, this is the kind of competition where a David can certainly beat a Goliath. Last season a Maccabi Tel-Aviv team led by current Cavs head coach David Blatt turned a surprising Final Four run into a miracle championship season by knocking off powerhouses CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid, despite a significantly lower budget and a roster with far fewer stars.
Which team will come with the most desire to take home the Euroleague glory this weekend?
CSKA is the heavy favorite against the 2012 and 2013 Euroleague champions, Olympiacos. Boasting a very talented roster led by former Russian NBA star Andrei Kirilenko, CSKA has the type of talent one would expect from Europe’s most expensive roster. Kirilenko replaced the injured Viktor Khryapa during the regular season and will be looking to finish off his illustrious career bringing back the glory to his home country. Clearly a shell of his former self, it will be interesting to see if AK47 has enough left in his tank to lead his coach Dimitris Itoudis’ side to victory.
All-Euroleague first team point guard Milos Teodosic, who has been on several NBA teams’ radar for quite some time, arguably has the most to prove with a good showing in this year’s Final Four. CSKA has not won a Euroleague title since 2008 and frustration has been building up in recent years around CSKA’s club. The buzz has been that despite his fantastic and consistent play, perhaps Teodosic doesn’t have what it takes to lead a team to a Euroleague crown. Taking home a title would not only could cement Teodosic as one of the greatest European guards of this era, but could perhaps catapult him into an impact role on an NBA team in the near future.
What makes CSKA so dangerous is their incredible length and depth at every position. They have excellent size and athleticism in the frontcourt with Kyle Hines and Sasha Kaun, multiple ball handlers with All-Euroleague Second team guard Nando De Colo, and Aaron Jackson, to go along with Teodosic, and length at the wing with Kirilenko, Sonny Weems and outside shooting ace Demetris Nichols.
While CSKA has a huge advantage on paper, Olympiacos star Vassillis Spanoulis has been through this rodeo before and will try to prove again that his will to win can take down any juggernaut on this side of the pond. The most clutch player in Europe, Spanoulis has taken Olympiacos to new heights the past several years despite the team lowering their budget due to the economic crisis in Greece. Spanoulis may never have gotten a fair shot to get minutes in the NBA, but make no mistake that he is an absolute superstar in Europe who will probably go down as one of the greatest European stars that the NBA missed out on.
Spanoulis won’t be going at it alone, however. He will be joined in Madrid by Euroleague Defensive Player of the Year Bryant Dunston, a Fordham product who played for my current team, Bnei Herzliya, while I was an intern in college. One of the most humble players at the top level in Europe, Dunston plays with a high motor and energy level which, combined with his quick legs, makes him a defensive force in the Euroleague.
In Europe, where the added preparation time compared to the NBA makes the game far more tactic-oriented, the ability of big men to move their legs defending on the perimeter to prevent opposing teams from exploiting a possible mismatch is crucial.
Dunston essentially stepped into Kyle Hines’ former role in Olympiacos, and their matchup should be one of the more interesting sub-stories in this game.
Possibly the biggest x-factor will be forward Georgios Printezis, a Greek forward whose rights are owned by the Hawks. Printezis hit a buzzer-beating 3-point shot to knock off Barcelona in the quarterfinals, adding another game-winner to his illustrious career, to go along with his Euroleague winning shot with 0.7 seconds left against none other than CSKA Moscow in 2012. Can Printezis help Olympiacos make another miraculous run?
While CSKA certainly has the horses to win this game big, in Europe you win from having local players with spirit. Despite the odds being stacked against them, it’s hard to count out Spanoulis and Printezis from stealing all the glory. Spanoulis is flat out the best player in Europe, and chances are he will put on another heroic performance this weekend.
Fenerbahce may be appearing in their first ever Euroleague Final Four, but with the experience of legendary coach Zeljko Obradovic, an eight-time Euroleague champion, they should be prepared for the tough weekend that awaits them.
Former Laker Andrew Goudelock has been the most explosive scorer in Europe this season, and Fenerbahce will need him to get buckets if they are going to have a chance to make it past Real, yet alone bring home the gold. With ex-Maccabi Tel-Aviv guard Ricky Hickman out for the playoffs with an injury, Goudelock will have no choice but to come through if Fenerbahce has a chance to win.
Flanking Goudelock is former lottery pick Jan Vesely, a super athletic big man who tore apart Maccabi Tel-Aviv with his athleticism in the quarterfinals. Although he has an expensive contract for next year, Vesely will have a chance to show that he is a bit more polished and experienced than he was when he looked totally lost throughout his NBA career. At just 25 years old, Vesely’s best years are still ahead of him and there is no doubt that his athleticism is elite even for NBA standards.
Despite arguably not even being the best player on his team, Nemanja Bjelica, this season’s Euroleague MVP, whose draft rights are owned by Minnesota, is probably the most likely player in this Final Four to be suiting up in the NBA next season. After making the All-Euroleague First Team this season, the 27-year-old versatile forward could be making his way over to join the talented young Timberwolves roster this fall. While it’s been quite some time since the T’Wolves acquired his draft rights in 2010, Bjelica could end up coming with a wealth of experience playing under Coach Obradovic, and looks to be a success story from the famous draft-and-stash strategy many teams have in the second round.
The hosts, Real Madrid, come into the Final Four after finishing as the runner up in the two previous Final Fours. The pressure will surely be high for Real, who will be playing in front of a home crowd that has very high expectations for this group.
Real’s backcourt play ultimately will be the difference in this matchup, with Sergio Rodriguez and Sergio Llull leading the way for this fast-paced offense. Rockets fans should pay special attention to Llull, whose draft rights have been held by Houston since 2009, as he could possibly be an answer to the unstable point guard situation the Rockets have had in recent years. If Llull were to lead his team to a title, he possibly could yearn for the challenge of the NBA next season, where he is certainly at the level to make a significant contribution.
Former Blazers and Mavericks swingman Rudy Fernandez will be filling in the wings with his flashy play. Still good for at least one backdoor cut every game, Fernandez still flashes the same moxie and athleticism he displayed in the NBA, and is one of the more exciting players to watch in Europe. Fernandez is joined at the wing by former Chicago Bull Andres Nocioni, who has been effective in a role as a spot-up shooter with a whole lot of hustle.
Up front, Real has Felipe Reyes, an All-Euroleague First Teamer, who recently broke the Euroleague’s all-time career rebounding record, providing his steady physical play inside. Always finding a way to mix it up in the paint, Reyes is one of the true leaders of this team, and his performance will be doubly as important in front of a home crowd that feeds off of his energy. Reyes is joined in the frontcourt with former NBA big man and Mexican national team star Gustavo Ayon.
Possibly the biggest x-factor in all of the Final Four is Jaycee Carroll, the Euroleague’s version of J.J. Redick. The best shooter in Europe, Carroll is a killer coming off screens and can light it up in a hurry from behind the arc, really changing the momentum of a game. His minutes have been up and down playing for a team loaded with some of the best guard talent in Europe, but he has been very effective when called upon.
While Fenerbahce has the Phil Jackson of Europe on their side, it will be very hard to beat Real Madrid in Madrid, especially with Real sporting so many talented Spanish players. Having local stars is a sometimes overlooked intangible in European basketball, as their experience and overall desire to bring pride to their hometown clubs give an immeasurable boost when the pressure is on.
Prediction: Real Madrid
Real may have the home court advantage, but look for Spanoulis to lead Olympiacos to their third title in the last four seasons. The Greek domestic league may be a little down overall because of their money situation, but there is no doubt that the physicality and aggressiveness that the Greeks are known for is a proven recipe for European success. When you play one game with everything on the line, it turns out to be the small details that win you the game, like an extra loose ball or pushing through a screen, and Greek grown players simply have this in their basketball DNA.
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.