Maccabi Tel-Aviv demolished Besiktas Istanbul 101-58 en route to its sixth consecutive win in the Euroleague Top 16 round. In a contest that was over almost as soon as it began, Maccabi was able to all but solidify a position in the Euroleague quarterfinals despite dropping five out of its first seven top 16 matches.
After spending half of a season in Israel with Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Malcolm Thomas managed to turn a one game stint in the D-League into a 10-day contract with the Golden State Warriors.
After scoring 13 points and 17 rebounds in his only appearance for the Los Angeles D-Fenders, Thomas was able to convince the Warriors brass he was worth a closer look.
I have been watching his career take a dip this season in Israel, and I can tell you Thomas is a very athletic big man with a high motor.
While NBA training camps may be getting under way, players such as Jordan Farmar, Sonny
Weems, Shelden Williams, Craig Smith and Bo McCalebb are getting ready to start their seasons in Europe.
McCalebb has begun with a bang, as his team, Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul, managed to beat the Boston Celtics during their European tour, showing that European hoops is continuing to close the gap on the NBA.
Yes, the Celtics have only been together for a short while, and the loss says nothing about their prospects for the upcoming season. But this is another reminder that the style of play in Europe is far different than in the NBA, and that American players have the same difficulty adjusting overseas that European players do transitioning to the NBA.
While every American player grows up with the dream of playing in the NBA, the option of playing overseas has become quite alluring for players who haven’t distinguished themselves as starters or rotation members.
Aside from the obvious opportunity to be a focal point of a team abroad rather than a role or bit player in the NBA, it is important to note that contracts overseas are structured differently than NBA deals. While an NBA player needs to pay taxes, agent fees and lawyer fees, European teams pay the taxes and all fees involved in the deal, meaning that a player making $300,000 overseas actually sees all of that money. By comparison, a player making the $473,000 NBA minimum only actually receives roughly half of that salary. For players whose other option is the D-League, where the maximum salary is $30,000, playing overseas is almost a no-brainer.
Similar to soccer, European basketball teams not only play in their domestic leagues, but some of the top teams also compete in FIBA’s European cups, known as the Euroleague, Eurocup and Eurochallenge. Teams that finish at the top of their domestic league standings are chosen to play in these European competitions based on recent domestic league results, team budget and arena attendance.
With European cup games only taking place once a week, games are treated with an NFL-type intensity and scrutiny. Teams have a full week to study their opponent’s tendencies, and each possession is far more crucial to the big picture of a team’s season.
With many NBA-caliber players and former college standouts taking their talents to the mother continent, here is a look at the top 20 American players currently playing in European competition.
1. Bo McCalebb, G, Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul (Turkey), College: New Orleans
Entering his fifth season in Europe, McCalebb has taken the reins as the best American (and Macedonian) player currently in Europe. Although he is just 5-10, McCalebb is one of the few players who can single-handedly take over a game at the highest levels of European hoops. While he can get to the basket at will with his quick first step, strong upper body and fantastic body control and is a lights-out shooter, it is his competitive spirit that sets him apart from the rest of the pack. Down 10 with less than five minutes to play, there are few as capable as McCalebb at shifting the momentum back in his team’s favor.
In Europe, McCalebb is an MVP-caliber player, and has the ball in his hands a great deal. If he made the leap over the pond, he wouldn’t likely be the main player on an NBA team but projects very well as a sixth man who can change momentum with his ability to get buckets and play aggressive defense. Whether he wants to give up being the alpha dog at a very high level to be a key cog off the bench is another story altogether.
2. Sonny Weems, F, CSKA Moscow (Russia), College: Arkansas
After proving himself as a solid rotation player with the Toronto Raptors in the back end of his three-year NBA career, Weems committed to playing a full season in Europe amidst last year’s lockout. While Weems significantly improved his jump shot and decision-making throughout last year, he opted to stay in Europe to replace Andrei Kirilenko with CSKA, one of Europe’s powerhouses.
The athletic wing man will prove very valuable with his versatility and ability to fit in with the elite talent he is surrounded by at CSKA. After Weems signed a three-year deal to play in Russia, it will be interesting to see whether he makes another go-round in the NBA or is content making big bucks competing for championships in Europe, like Trajan Langdon.
3. Jaycee Carroll, G, Real Madrid (Spain), College: Utah State
Arguably the best shooter in Europe, Carroll’s shooting ability makes him one of the continent’s deadliest weapons. His ability to shoot coming off screens rivals the greats such as Reggie Miller, Richard Hamilton and Allan Houston, and demands an inordinate amount of defensive attention, opening things up for the rest of the offense.
Carroll definitely could cut it in the NBA as a shooter, but his lack of size for a shooting guard and his slight frame would likely make him too much of a defensive liability to make a big impact. In the right system, he probably could be a big weapon like Steve Kerr. But at this point, it seems more likely that Carroll will continue giving opposing European coaches nightmares.
4. Jordan Farmar, G, Anadolu Efes Istanbul (Turkey), College: UCLA
The two-time NBA champion got his first taste of Euroleague last season with Maccabi Tel-Aviv during the lockout. While he counts as a local player in Israel thanks to his Jewish roots, Farmar opted to team up with Sasha Vujacic in Turkey to see if the former Lakers backup backcourt can achieve the same success in Istanbul that they had in LA.
Last year, it took Farmar a couple of weeks to adjust to Euroleague play. He should be far more prepared heading into this season and could easily shoot up these rankings after the first couple of months of the season. A true point guard who can get in the paint with ease, Farmar stays true to his UCLA roots by playing top-notch defense. When combined with defensive ace Jamon Gordon, Efes likely will have the best defensive backcourt in Europe.
5. Keith Langford, G, EA7 Emporio Armani Milano (Italy), College: Kansas
After winning an Israeli league and Adriatic league championship with Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Langford has moved back to Italy, where he will try to build on the success he has had since crossing the pond. While his generously listed height of 6-3 makes him undersized for a wing in the NBA, his incredibly strong upper body gives him a big advantage at both wing spots in Europe.
Langford is incredibly crafty as a scorer and one of the few players who has the green light to play 1-on-1 at a high frequency at the higher levels in Europe. With his incredible talent, Langford would be an impact player in the NBA if he were a few inches taller. While he doesn’t have the mindset of an NBA point guard, he could be a good fit paired next to a point guard who can defend bigger guards.
6. Joey Dorsey, C, Olympiacos Pireus (Greece), College: Memphis
Last season, Dorsey was able to redeem the success that Mario Chalmers robbed him of in the 2008 NCAA title game by winning both the Greek and Euroleague titles. He is the perfect fit for the Greek league, a circuit with a very physical style of play and an incredible amount of pressure for each game. He may not be the most technically sound player, but his effort level is off the charts.
Dorsey’s knack for making big defensive plays at key moments and grabbing important rebounds down the stretch make him a big man that every team in Europe would love to have. He may never be a player who can impact your fantasy basketball roster, since his stats do not reflect his effect on games. But this is a player that any NBA team should feel comfortable using down the stretch of close games.
7. Craig Smith, F-C, Hapoel Jerusalem (Israel), College: Boston College
Known as “The Animal,” Smith will hands down be the most physically imposing player in the Israeli league this season. While a 6-6 center may be grossly undersized in the NBA, he is not considered small in Israel and Eurocup, where his enormous frame will give him a huge advantage over just about anyone he will face.
A known NBA commodity who has proven he can provide energy off the bench, Smith has a chance to establish himself as a star in Europe. Jerusalem is coming off a down season, and if he is able to help lead the team back to its accustomed success, it will go a long way toward enhancing his reputation in the international basketball community.
8. Henry Domercant, G, Galatasaray Medical Park Istanbul (Turkey), College: Eastern Illinois
A 32-year-old veteran of the Euroleague, Domercant came from a small time college to become one of the stars of European hoops. He should be one of the poster boys of the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, as he made the unlikely jump from Eastern Illinois to the first division in Turkey as a rookie and never looked back. This incredible shooter should be a motivation to every unheralded player that even if you may not have the hype that the All-Americans are getting, you can still cut it if you are dedicated and stay ready for whenever your opportunity may arise.
9. Mike Batiste, F, Fenerbahce Ulker Istanbul (Turkey), College: Arizona State
After having a cup of coffee with the Grizzlies in the 2002-03 season, Batiste went back to Europe where he starred at Panathinaikos for nine seasons full of titles and endless accolades. One of the best roll men in the pick-and-roll, Batiste has established himself as one of the top forwards overseas for the last decade. While he will have to show this year that he can do his damage without the help of super point guard Dimitris Diamantidis, he likely will make a seamless transition playing with McCalebb. At 34, he may be trending down but still has a couple more years as a top player.
10. Shelden Williams, C, Chalon (France), College: Duke
The former fifth overall selection is one of several former lottery picks and NBA vets to make the leap across the pond. Williams has been a big disappointment so far in the NBA considering his draft position but has shown he belongs in the league as a fourth or fifth big man for defensive purposes. While his athleticism and height may prevent him from being the type of presence he was at Duke, he should be a better fit for the European style of play.
In Europe, where each possession is magnified, being in the right spot defensively and making the right play on offense are far more valued than in the NBA game, Williams’ knack for being in the right spot should make him very valuable this season. With his ability to absorb new concepts from coaches, he could learn a couple new tricks overseas that could help him be a more effective backup big during the back end of his NBA career.
For players 11-20, click here.
11. Patrick Beverley, G, Spartak St. Peteresburg (Russia), College: Arkansas
This former second-round pick was one of the most effective guards at the Eurocup level this past season. With a very versatile game, Beverley rebounds very well for a ballhandling guard, can defend both backcourt positions and is able to get a high rate of steals without cheating defensively.
A Chicago native, Beverley played for the Bulls in the Las Vegas Summer League and drew some interest as a possible training camp invite. He has the ability of many NBA backup guards but realistically wouldn’t garner more than a non-guaranteed deal. With the type of money available to stars in Russia, it would take an NBA team falling in love with him for there to be any chance of his return stateside.
12. Paul Davis, F, Khimky Moscow (Russia), College: Michigan State
After failing to break through in his first few years in the NBA, Davis made a name for himself as a very efficient big man in the highly competitive Spanish ACB league. Now moving to Khimky Moscow – which will be making a big return to the Euroleague – Davis should be in prime position to move up the ladder in the European rankings. His mid-range game is top notch, and he competes very hard on the boards.
Talent-wise, Davis is at an NBA level, but his inability to put the ball to the floor and lack of toughness to bang with centers hurts his chances to make an NBA comeback. However, he is a guy who could emerge as a top-three big man in Europe within the next three years.
13. Chuck Eidson, F, Unics Kazan (Russia), College: South Carolina
The consummate glue guy of European basketball, a team featuring Eidson is very likely to get the most out of its roster. His shooting ability and defensive prowess are overshadowed by his reputation as an excellent teammate. He is a prime example of how the most talented or athletic players aren’t necessarily the most successful overseas, and how character, effort and basketball IQ are very crucial to success.
14. Malik Hairston, G, EA7 Emporio Armani Milano (Italy), College: Oregon
A super athlete who had a brief stint with the San Antonio Spurs last season, Hairston has proven to be a great scorer and all-around player the last couple years in Italy. Although a go-to guy in Europe, Hairston has shown that he can be an excellent NBA role player if given another chance next season. What sets him apart is his ability to “make two plays” at a relatively high rate, since he is very multi-faceted on both ends of the floor. Hairston’s ability as a momentum-changer should get him some looks next summer, but it will take a handsome guaranteed offer to get him to leave his European offers on the table.
15. Nik Caner-Medley, F, Maccabi Tel-Aviv (Israel), College: Maryland
Coming off an excellent season in the Eurocup and ACB league with Valencia, Caner-Medley has joined Israeli powerhouse Maccabi Tel-Aviv. An excellent halfcourt offensive player, he is a knock-down shooter who does a great job taking big guys off the dribble.
Caner-Medley doesn’t really have an NBA position, since he isn’t athletic enough to be a small forward but isn’t strong or tough enough to be a power forward. However, he is a perfect fit as a 4 in the European game. Playing in the Euroleague this season will give him a chance to show he can hang at the continent’s top level after being one of the top performers in the Eurocup the last several years.
16. Hilton Armstrong, C, Panathinaikos (Greece), College: Connecticut
After failing to distinguish himself in the NBA, Armstrong made the smart decision of heading to a good-but-not-great team in Europe during his rookie campaign overseas. This season with Panathinaikos, Armstrong should be a big defensive presence in the middle and will be a very important player in both the Greek and Euroleague competitions.
Armstrong may not be able to create much offensively for himself but is an elite rebounder and should be treated to a lot of easy buckets while playing with some of the best guards in Europe. He has a chance to not only skyrocket up the rankings in Europe but earn a nice NBA role if he has an outstanding season.
17. Nick Calathes, G, Lokomotiv Kuban (Russia), College: Florida
While the Dallas Mavericks own the rights to Calathes, he just signed a two-year deal with Lokomotiv Kuban that includes a prohibitive NBA buyout. With Israeli point guard Yogev Ohayon’s deal with Kuban being blocked by FIBA, Calathes will be given the opportunity to be extremely successful these next two years.
Stepping away from Panathinaikos, where he played for coach Zeljko Obradovic and next to Diamantidis, it will be interesting to see if he has a breakout season after learning from the best. With Dallas set to make a major splash next summer, Calathes appear poised to be an integral piece of the Mavs going forward.
18. Derwin Kitchen, G, Panathinaikos (Greece), College: Florida State
After being ruled academically ineligible to play for the University of Florida team that went on to win back-to-back NCAA championships, Kitchen went through a long and winding road before getting an opportunity at Florida State. While Kitchen was an outstanding player at FSU, he hardly got a look from anyone when he graduated as he was a 25-year-old rookie. Last season with Maccabi Rishon Lezion, Kitchen made the All-Israeli First Team as a rookie, averaging over seven rebounds a game as a point guard, playing extremely efficient offensively, proving himself as one of the league’s best defenders and repeatedly coming through in the clutch.
While primarily a point guard, Kitchen is unselfish enough to play off the ball and versatile enough to defend shooting guards and even some small forwards in Europe. Getting an opportunity to play for a giant such as Panathinaikos will be a great stage for Kitchen to show his talents. A successful season may make NBA executives second-guess taking a pass on him.
19. Bobby Brown, G, Montepaschi Siena (Italy), College: Cal State Fullerton
Making up for his lack of height with elite athleticism, Brown is able to score in bunches. While always an explosive scorer, over the past several years he has emerged as a better leader capable of rallying his teammates down the stretch. This increased leadership may not show up on the stat sheet but makes Brown much more favorable in the eyes of European talent evaluators . After not really getting enough of an opportunity to show his talents in the NBA, it is unlikely he will get another shot to prove himself. However, Brown has proven that he has a knack for getting buckets.
20. Jared Jordan, G, Telekom Baskets Bonn (Germany), College: Marist
Among the league leaders in assists virtually everywhere he has played, Jordan is one of this era’s few pure pass-first point guards. He may have a slight frame, but his ability to see the floor, run an offense and knock down shots will help him have a long career in Europe.
Jordan didn’t get to distinguish himself in the Euroleague as a rookie with Lietuvos Rytas but seems ready to make the jump to being an elite quarterback in Europe. Another strong season with Telekom Baskets should propel him to the highest levels next summer.
A.J. Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working as an assistant coach for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a basketball blog, http://mindlessdribble.net, and is pursuing a pro basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel. Follow him on Twitter.
This season, Maccabi Tel-Aviv has played in three separate leagues, playing well over 80 games in a compact schedule that often involved taking connecting flights around Europe to get to countries such as Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia. Despite the fact that Maccabi typically breezed past opponents in the Adriatic league, there was no doubt that the team felt a large sense of accomplishment with this title after their intense travel schedule.
Maccabi controlled this game right out of the gate, with impressive defensive execution.
Dominating the paint from the opening tip, Maccabi held Cedevita to a mere 1-for-18 shooting on 2-point shots in the first half.
Keith Langford, the game’s MVP, led Maccabi with 21 points, penetrating his way through Cedevita’s defense and making some difficult contested shots. Richard Hendrix was fantastic around the basket, scoring 16 points (8-of-10 shooting) and pulling down seven rebounds in a mere 21 minutes while limiting the up and coming 7-footer, Miro Bilan, to 4 points. Any time Cedevita showed signs of life, Maccabi’s shooters David Blu (3-for-3 on 3PT) , Guy Pnini (2-for-3 on 3PT) and Devin Smith (3-for-4 on 3PT) knocked down timely buckets, breaking Cedevita’s spirit.
Cedevita seemed quite nervous in their first time playing in an Adriatic league championship, arguably the biggest game in the history of the franchise.
The team knew going into the game that they needed to come out strong to hang with Maccabi, but they were outmatched from the early moments of the game. Cedevita was led by the game’s leading scorer, Levour Warren (South Carolina), who had 24 points on 6-for-8 shooting from behind the arc. Star guard Dontaye Draper (Charleston), was limited to 8 points, barely making an impact on the game amid rumors that he has agreed to a deal with Real Madrid for next season.
Cedevita is in the midst of its best season since the franchise was purchased by Atlantic Grupa in 2005, competing in the Eurocup, finishing 2nd in the Adriatic league, and currently in contention in the Croatian league after finishing the regular season in 2nd place.
The club will be making its first appearance in the Euroleague next season, and with good ownership and smart decision-making, Cedevita is surely a team on the rise in Europe.
As with players, it is crucial for teams to take a step by step approach to playing at the highest level, and the fact that Cedevita built themselves up before hoisting themselves to the Euroleague should bode well for the long-term success of the club.
Teams should take note (Maccabi Haifa, this means you) that creating a plan that involves incremental progress, and sticking to that plan without making impulse decisions, is the only way to build a team that will consistently play at the highest levels in Europe.
Maccabi participated in the Adriatic league this season in an attempt for the league to build up its product by adding another team with a high level of talent and tradition that will draw fans.
Maccabi was well received on the road in the Adriatic league, drawing big crowds on the road, and occasionally getting applauded for their play in opposing gyms. In addition, the chance to play at the Nokia Arena in Tel-Aviv proved to be a great experience for many Adriatic league teams. Members of the Croatian media were amazed by the atmosphere in Tel-Aviv during the Final Four, as 11,500 fans packed the stadium, chanting and singing from start to finish.
The additional schedule of the Adriatic league may have been tough travel-wise, but since the league has no restriction on how many foreigners can play, it gave Maccabi the chance to use its full roster, as opposed to the Israeli league in which only four non-Israelis can dress. Those extra minutes kept most of Maccabi’s roster happy throughout the year, and helped the team keep its chemistry strong over the duration of a long season.
Whether Maccabi will participate in the Adriatic league next season has yet to be determined, but with Maccabi currently lobbying for the Israeli league to change the rules limiting the number of foreigners, it is possible that Maccabi will use the threat of leaving the league to only play in the Adriatic league, as a means to get what it wants.
With their Euroleague and Adriatic league seasons both wrapped up, Maccabi looks ahead to the Israeli league playoffs, where they will square up against Frank Robinson (Cal State Fullerton) and Dion Dowell’s (Texas) BC Habikaa squad in the quarterfinals. Habikaa will be playing without leading scorer Paul Delaney (UAB), giving the team very little chance of sneaking a win in this best-of-five series. However, with a one-and-done format in the Israeli league Final Four, Maccabi’s work this season is far from over.
AJ Mitnick is an American currently living in Israel and working for Maccabi Rishon Lezion of the Israeli Basketball Super League. A recent graduate of IDC Herzliya, Mitnick also maintains a basketball blog, http://mindlessdribble.net, and is pursuing a professional basketball coaching license from the Wingate Institute in Israel. Follow him on Twitter.