Gibson Column: Krstic, Weems among Euroleague’s best

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BARCELONA — After nine weeks and 108 games, the final session of the Euroleague’s regular season tipped off with four Top 16 slots still empty, and eight teams vying to fill them.

Fenerbahce Ulker bested Cantu 83-76 and Bilbao took care of Caja Laboral 77-72, leaving the Basque powers out in the cold after seven straight trips to the quarterfinals.

In Group B, Zalgiris tucked Ty Lawson and their organizational turmoil under the rug long enough to end Zagreb’s season with an 87-76 victory, while Bamberg faltered in Athens, losing to Panathinaikos 71-66.

And in Group C, Olimpia Milano silenced Partizan’s notoriously noisy home fans as they gobbled up that fourth and final ticket in Pionir Arena by a final score of 72-66.

So with the Top 16 draw still days away and the next Euroleague game scheduled for January 18, some premature congratulations are in order for 10 exceptional individuals.

Ladies and gentlemen: your Regular Season All-Euroleague teams.

Marcelinho Huertas, Regal Barcelona
9.2 ppg | 5 apg | 65% on two-pointers

Mitnick Column: Regular Season “All-Euroleague” Team

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With the NBA preseason making its debut, the Euroleague regular season enters its final week before teams advance to the “round of 16,” the next stage of the Euroleague competition.

This year’s regular season has been one of the most exciting since the league took on its current format in 2001-2002, due to the influx of talent during the NBA lockout. With each team only having one game remaining in the regular season, now is a good time to take a look at the All-Euroleague teams from the league’s first round.

While most readers may be used to the typical NBA “MVP” rankings which rely heavily on statistical input, statistics have far less value in evaluating players’ performances in the Euroleague. Typically, the best teams in Europe have deep player rotations in 40 minute games, and the games have a more defense-oriented, playoff type of atmosphere, resulting in lower statistics for players who clearly bring more value to the table. Therefore, rather than rationalize picks by the numbers, it seems more accurate to observe what a player has brought to table — and how he has helped his team win.

All “NBA-Out” Team

G – Jordan Farmar – Maccabi Tel-Aviv – New Jersey Nets

After taking a few weeks to adjust to playing in Israel, Farmar emerged as the leader of Maccabi Tel-Aviv during his time with the club. His ability to get into the paint and either kick out to shooters or finish around the rim was the driving force behind Maccabi’s offense in the early portion of the season, and the team has struggled in running their offense since his departure. As a two-way guard who can take command of the offense and lock down opposing guards, Farmar has locked up a spot with Maccabi if he should choose to take advantage of his Israeli passport and head abroad in the future.

G- Rudy Fernandez – Real Madrid – Denver Nuggets

Getting a chance to play the style of game he has openly admitted to missing the past few years, Rudy thrived as an athletic wing man. Plugged into a deep Real Madrid squad, Rudy’s combination of speed, hops and shooting ability made him one of the most explosive scoring threats in the Euroleague. While he still had a tendency to disappear at times, his ability to contribute on hustle plays, and defensively, allowed him to make an impact even while he was struggling. Fans of Madrid have been keeping their fingers crossed that Rudy can negotiate a buyout with Denver and help the team make a run at a Euroleague title.

F – Nicolas Batum – SLUC Nancy – Portland Trailblazers

Batum has emerged as a jack-of-all-trades player over the last few years. During his time with Nancy, Batum proved he is ready for a breakout season this year in the NBA. With Brandon Roy and Fernandez no longer in Portland, Batum may be one of the early contenders for the Most Improved Player award this season.

F – Andrei Kirilenko – CSKA Moscow

Fantasy owners would be pleased to know that AK47 can still put up his old-school stat lines in the Euroleague, averaging over two steels and three blocks. As a player whose game clearly is more suited to Europe than the NBA, AK has been hands down the best player of the Euroleague so far this season. In the NBA, where teams play very isolation-heavy offenses, a player like Kirilenko who plays well through the flow of the game, suffers a bit. Since Europe has far less one-on-one play, guys like Kirilenko gain a significant amount of value. With the option to leave his contract for the NBA, AK is likely done once he can find a team. However, it wouldn’t be shocking if CSKA opts to increase his contract to convince him to stay.

C – Nikola Pekovic – Partizan Belgrade – Minnesota Timberwolves

Pekovic has quietly developed into one of the best back-to-the-basket big men in the world. Pekovic possesses excellent mobility for his size, and has an excellent array of moves in the post. His ability to not only draw a double team, but to pass out of the double team has proven to be very effective, as many of his teammates, notably Cavs 2011 second-round pick Milan Macvan, have had career years playing off him.  While he didn’t make a big impact as a rookie in Minnesota last year, look for Pekovic to emerge as a reliable big man in Rick Adelman’s Euro friendly system. If given the opportunity, Pekovic could be a solid starter in the NBA, and a strong building block for the Wolves going forward.

Honorable Mention

Danilo Gallinari – Emporio Armani Milano – Denver Nuggets

Thabo Sefolosha – Feberbahce Ulker – Oklahoma City Thunder

Gibson Column: Krstic Keeps CSKA Undefeated; Reeves Nelson from L.A. to Lithuania

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BARCELONA — Regal Barcelona came into Thursday night letting up just 59 points per game. Montepaschi Siena scored more than half that in the final nine minutes and sent the team from Catalunya packing with their first loss of the year, a 77-74 final.

And though Siena’s Coach Simone Pianigiani has locked up five straight Italian Championships and is coming off of a Euroleague Final Four, this win belongs right near the top of his list.

Why? Because he beat Europe’s best team without his three best players.

In Bo McCalebb, Rimantas Kaukenas and Ksistof Lavrinovc, Pianigiani is missing out on an MVP candidate at the point, his second-leading scorer and one of Europe’s most accomplished stretch bigs, respectively. That’s 54 percent of Siena’s scoring, 51 percent of their assists and 60 percent of their steals (Siena led the Euroleague in thefts last season).

Still, for a second straight week without all three—McCalebb has missed just two games while the Lithuanians have missed three apiece—Pianigiani pulled off a win against a Top 16 team.

The first was a 67-64 road win against Galatasaray, who has already punched their ticket to the next round. In that match up, former New Orleans Hornet David Andersen (18) and reigning scoring leader Igor Rakocevic (17) combined for 35 of Siena’s 67.

This week, Rakocevic put up 21, but Andersen’s former club held him to just six points on 3/11 shooting. If you thought you were beating Barcelona on one man’s back, think again.

So on an injury-ridden team that had depth issues even when healthy, the scoring would either have to come from an unlikely candidate or not come at all.

Gibson Column: Basile puts Cantu in Top 16; Bulls’ Mirotic killin’ it; ‘Melo crossed over by Bodiroga

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BARCELONA — They say you should act like you’ve been there before. With a Euroleague-best 396 career 3-pointers, Cantu’s Gianluca Basile had been there plenty.

Still, with the clock racing toward triple zeroes and the game tied at 64 in Bilbao, nobody thought Basile’s 35-foot heave would turn into number 397. Then it did, and some 8,000 Bilbao supporters sat in stunned silence. The scoreboard told them that Cantu had taken the lead 67-64, and that in one-tenth of a second their heartbreak would become official.

Bilbao’s Roger Grimau inbounded the ball to Marko Banic, who chucked it at the rim as a formality, but the buzzer had already sounded. Cantu had locked themselves into a Top 16 berth, becoming the first team in the Euroleague’s chaotic Group A to do so.

The 36-year-old Basile grinned like a teenager out past his curfew as his teammates chased him down and buried him beneath their bodies, reminding us that having been there and actually being there are two entirely different sensations.

A year ago today, nothing about this scene would’ve made sense. For starters, Gianluca Basile would have been in street clothes at the end of Barcelona’s bench, his season lost to a balky left foot which required surgery and made us wonder aloud if this would be it for the battle-hardened Italian.

Gibson Column: How the end of the NBA lockout affects Euroleague

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BARCELONA — Bieber must have dumped Selena. Or the other way around. That, or the British are coming.

There are tweets in ALL CAPS. There are tweets with exclamation points. There are tweets in ALL CAPS followed by exclamation points. There are tweets comprised only of exclamation points that are re-tweeted with a “!!!!” preface from the re-tweeter.

But these aren’t the hormonal babblings of Beliebers, nor are they warnings of an impending attack from the red coats. These are men and women whose opinions I’ve willingly subscribed to by clicking ‘Follow.’

Writers, bloggers, basketball minds and insider-ish types—all of whom I respect, some of whom I even admire—who let their collective euphoria man the keyboard for a tweet or two, replacing their typically thoughtful, informative 140 characters with a virtual fist pump.

It was November 26, 2011, and the NBA lockout was apparently over. After 149 days of frustration and bewilderment, I fetl a breeze as my Twitter timeline exhaled.

Yet as I sat in my tiny Barcelona apartment, the two little fellas perched upon my shoulders violently exchanged pros and cons until my head was spinning.

“Well, say sionara to Andrei Kirilenko’s MVP season. The facemask would have complemented the pterodactyl tattoo expertly, too.

“Be well, Nicolas Batum. Fly safely, Jordan Farmar. There goes that book I was about to start writing. (Tomorrow probably. Yes, I definitely would’ve started tomorrow.) Damn, the traffic on Euroleague Adventures is about to take a hit.”

Then…

“At least we get to see Ricky Rubio commit the league’s most exciting turnovers for the Timberwolves, and Jan Vesely oop John Wall’s alleys in the Wizards’ new threads. Probably wasn’t ever getting around to writing that book anyways. Oh, and I guess we’re getting rid of Sasha Vuja—oh yeah. No NBA-out clause. We’re stuck with Floppy Sasha. There is no God.”

Eventually, I decide I’m ambivalent. It’s easier that way.

Somewhere in this same city, there’s a man whose head is far clearer than mine. He knows where he stands, what he’s accomplished and exactly how he’s accomplished it. No internal debate or structural changes to consider; there is only one task, and that is to maintain the momentum he and his team have manufactured through seven perfect weeks in the Euroleague.

That man is Xavi Pascual, Barcelona’s head coach.

Instead of placing bids on locked out rentals, Barcelona’s management spent their summer locking up proven stars who have already crested their learning curves.

Having Nicolas Batum for six games or Ty Lawson for seven is cool, but you know what’s even cooler? Having Chuck Eidson or Marcelinho Huertas for an entire season.

With money to spend and rumors aplenty, Barcelona could have snapped up a big fish fairly easily. Yet even as eligible bachelors like Rubio and the Gasol brothers stood on Pascual’s front lawn, strumming on their acoustics as they tossed pebbles longingly at his window, he could not be wooed.

After all, what good is an expensive Band-Aid when your opponents haven’t drawn a single drop of blood?

A little farther east of here in Athens, Zeljko Obradovic should share Pascual’s resolve. Although Panathinaikos has two losses on their résumé this season, the Greens are one of six Euroleague teams that have already clinched a Top 16 berth (the other five: Barcelona, Montepaschi Siena, Unics Kazan, CSKA Moscow and Real Madrid).