Among the 14 players selected in the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery, only Sixers picks Joel Embiid and Dario Saric have yet to play in an NBA game.
Embiid, the third overall pick, has been sidelined with a debilitating foot injury for the entirety of his NBA career, sitting on Philly’s bench in street clothes for a year and a half now. Saric, selected 10th by the Magic and then swapped for Elfrid Payton, has been in Istanbul in Andolu Efes colors, trying to polish up his weaknesses while scraping out wins against Euroleague competition.
This season we’ve got even more evidence that shows while Dario might develop a jumper, he’ll never become a leaper.
That plus Nando de Colo and Quincy Miller in this week’s Euroleague Update.
Dario Saric Looks Slow, but Shoots Well
Saric is as fierce and persistent competitor as you’ll find. He leaves it all out there, and he can go hard for 35-40 minutes per night because he is a 21-year-old who takes great care of his body. To top it all off, he hasn’t had any major lower-body injuries in his career. All signs point to this being the point in Dario’s career where he reaches his athletic peak.
Sadly, that might be the truth, and Dario’s athletic ‘peak’ just isn’t all that high. In fact, it is very low.
While Dario meets or exceeds NBA standards for size, smarts and skill, he’ll never be an NBA-level athlete. This much is clear when you see Dario try and finish around the rim, or (fail to) elevate for a block or rebound. He’s got no lift, no bounce, and limited quickness. An NBA weight program will definitely be more sophisticated than what he’s used to in Europe and will likely lead to marginal improvements in explosiveness, but he still won’t be all that explosive.
NBA strength coaches are generally good at their jobs, but they can’t turn Luis Scola into Blake Griffin.
Luckily for Saric, he’s got Scola’s blend of mental and physical toughness that makes him a threat against superior athletes, and he’s sharpening the skill that compensates for athletic limitations like no other: shooting the basketball.
This has long been the knock on Dario, and he’s finally starting to knock back:
2011-12: 23 percent 3FG, 61 percent FT
2012-13: 29 percent 3FG, 66 percent FT
2013-14: 32 percent 3FG, 72 percent FT
2014-15: 33 percent 3FG, 74 percent FT
2015-16: 40 percent 3FG, 83 percent FT
That’s four straight seasons of baby steps from the stripe and the arc, with a large lunge forward this year. That’s a reflection of Dario’s tireless work ethic. That’s why, when the time comes for Dario to produce in the NBA, I’ve got no doubt he’ll do what he needs to make a profound and nearly immediate impact.
Nando de Colo Has Been the MVP, is CSKA the Best Team?
The Russian power CSKA Moscow leads the Euroleague in scoring at 91 PPG, and the deadliest weapon in their arsenal is 28-year-old Nando de Colo.
The long, lithe Frenchman is tops in points-per-40 minutes (28.2) and second in per-game (18.6) scoring ranks and has insanely efficient averages of 59.7 percent from two, 45.2 percent from three and 91.7 percent from the stripe. He shared Week 8 MVP honors with Maik Zirbes of Crvena Zvezda after dropping 27 points and 11 assists on the road against a smart Bamberg team, and Nando is the early favorite to have the season-long MVP all to himself.
While Nando is handling a fat chunk of CSKA’s scoring load, he’s also setting the tone for an offense that shares the ball and keeps it moving. Nando is 10th in the Euroleague with 4.8 assists per game, with his backcourt mate Milos Teodosic fifth on the list with 6 per game. These two lead a lightning quick offense that has the defense playing catch-up, and that torrid style has produced the third most 3-point makes (9.1) and attempts (21.6) per game, with CSKA converting a whopping 42 percent per game (second in the EL behind Anadolu Efes at 47 percent).
Who will stand up to CSKA down the stretch? Well, the team that handed them their only loss, for one: Unicaja Malaga. They have the speed and size to match CSKA, and are led by Coach Joan Plaza, who has taught his players how to thrive when the pace reaches fever levels.
And then there’s Olympiacos, who can counter with the Euroleague’s best defense (68 PPG allowed…nuts), which features long, aggressive stoppers up and down the roster in Daniel Hackett, DJ Strawberry, Patric Young and Othello Hunter and has matched CSKA’s record at 7-1. Vangelis Mantzaris has upped his offense with Kostas Sloukas in Istanbul. Matt Lojeski is making shots. And if you think Vassilis Spanoulis is going to shoot 25 percent from the field much longer, then I’d like to trade you Fran Vazquez’s draft rights for cash. Olympiacos will only improve, and you know they’ll be there in the end because they always are.
Melli and Miller Emerge
One theme this column will continue to follow this season: Which players are rising as NBA prospects? I’m not going to use up any more of Chris Sheridan’s pixels going on about Mindaugas Kuzminskas, so let me just say he’s an NBA player and then leave this here if you’re thirsty for more.
Along with the lanky Lithuanian, Bamberg’s Nicolo Melli and Crvena Zvezda’s Quincy Miller are two players that have grabbed my attention, and surely the attention of the NBA’s international scouting community.
For two years now I’ve heard NBA and European scouts whisper that it was Melli, not Rockets 2015 draft pick Alessandro Gentile, that had the better NBA future. Granted, Gentile is leading the Euroleague in scoring at 20 PPG as Milano has stumbled to 2-6, but his Italian NT teammate Melli has been the more valuable player so far as Bamberg makes a run at the Top 16.
I used to doubt that Melli had the physical attributes to defend in the NBA, but the 6’10 power forward looks tremendous physically—gone are the days where scouts described him as soft or slight—and he is moving his feet better than ever on defense (1.3 blocks per game is a career high). Defense is not and will never be his calling card, but coaches will live with decently mediocre D if he can bring his 57 percent 3-point shooting to the party.
Melli is also one of just nine players in the Euroleague this season to register 10 assists in a game, and the only one that’s not a point guard, so you know he can pass. As shooting and BBIQ become all the rage, the 1991-born Melli (24 years old) is undoubtedly garnering interest from NBA teams. But will they be willing to pay him enough to pry him from top European clubs? NBA taxes are a bitch.
Someone who’s always been on the NBA’s radar is Quincy Miller, the former top HS prospect turned Baylor standout turned 38th pick to the Nuggets turned King turned Piston turned loose to Serbia this season. The skillful, 6’10” power forward is has gone off for 22, 23, 24 and 25 in his last four after starting his Crvena Zvezda career with measly totals of 4 and 7 points. Quincy combines scoring and shooting (36 percent from three) with high levels of defensive activity that have made him the Euroleague’s second-leading shot blocker at 2.3 per game (Patric Young of Olympiacos swats 2.6).
He made one of the best defensive plays of the season this week as he came from the free throw line to block Marko Todorovic’s dunk as the final 30 seconds ticked away against Khimki Moscow.
Crvena Zvezda won that game against Moscow a week after beating the defending champions Real Madrid and will make the Top 16 if they can win their final two contests against Fenerbahçe and Bayern Munich. It remains to be seen how far Quincy can take Red Star this season, but I’d bet money that he will be bought out and back in the NBA later this season at the earliest, this Summer at the latest.
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Nick Gibson covers international basketball for Sheridan Hoops. He spent the last two seasons working in the Atlanta Hawks front office scouting international players and is the editor of Euroleague Adventures.