With a stable of recent NBA draft picks, former NBA players and former NCAA stars currently playing high-pressure playoff games in Europe, now is a good time to check and see who has been stepping up this time of year.
Spain (ACB) – Semifinals
Regal Barcelona took a 2-1 advantage over Valencia with a resounding 80-64 win in Game 3 of their semifinal matchup behind 15 points from Juan Carlos Navarro. “La Bomba” was flanked by a pair of big men who could possibly make the leap over to the NBA next season, in Erazem Lorbek (10 PTS, 4 REB), whose right are owned by the Spurs, and Fran Vasquez (8 PTS, 4 REB), whose are owned by the Magic.
Valencia was paced by guard Nando De Colo (14 PTS), whose right are owned by the Spurs, however they were unable to overcome the ineffectiveness of former Maryland forward Nik Caner-Medley. The Spurs are so hot right now, that even the international prospects they’ve drafted in recent years have been on a tear. The Spurs will get a good look at De Colo’s progress this summer, as he will be lining up next to Tony Parker for the French National team in the Olympics.
In the other ACB semifinal, Real Madrid tied their series with Caja Laboral at 2-2 with a 76-66 win. After losing an overtime thriller in Game 3, two time Euroleague Rising Star award winner Nikola Mirotic made his return for Real Madrid, netting 7 points and 6 rebounds in limited minutes to help his team force a deciding Game 5. Serbian star Novica Veličković led Madrid with 22 points (9/12 FG) and 5 rebounds, with big help from Sergio “Spanish Chocolate” Rodriguez (15 PTS, 5 AST) and Ante Tomic (7 PTS, 11 REB)
Caja was once again playing without Andres Nocioni, and really missed his presence in this defensive-oriented game. Mirza Teletovic, who had an excellent Euroleague season and has recently drawn some interest from NBA teams, shot 5/13 from the field for 10 points, following up a miserable 5/18 performance. Former Knick Maciej Lampe went off for 20 points and 8 rebounds, while T’Wolves 2010 draft pick Nemandja Bjelica failed to show off the multi-faceted game that has helped get Caja Laboral this far, only netting 4 points in 29 minutes. He will need to produce if Caja has any chance of winning Game 5 on the road.
CSKA swept Khimki in the Russian league championship with an average winning margin of 17.6 points in the series. CSKA won the Russian League, the VTB league and lost in the finals of the Euroleague, behind a star-studded cast that included Andrei Kirilenko (former NBA all-star), Milos Teodosic (former Euroleague MVP), Nenad Krstic (NBA starter), Victor Kryhapa (first-round draft pick), Ramunas Siskauskas (former Euroleague MVP) and Alexy Shved (sure-fire future NBA’er).
Khimki has been on a roll lately as well, qualifying for the Euroleague after winning the Eurocup championship. They have already made themselves a Euroleague contender early on in free agency, signing Paul Davis (MSU, LA Clippers), James Augustine (Illinois), KC Rivers (Clemson) and Petteri Kaponen (Dallas Mavericks owned), all in the span of a few days. Look for Paul Davis to put up monster numbers in the Euroleague, after coming into his own the last two seasons in Spain. He has really discovered himself since coming to Europe and is a far better player than he was during his time with the Clippers.
Besiktas won game 2 of the Turkish League Finals with an 76-71 win over Anadolu Efes. The win puts the Eurochallenge champions closer to a Euroleague qualification after a fantastic season which began with point guard Deron Williams at the helm. Besiktas was led by their former NBA’ers Carlos Arroyo (19 PTS, 2 AST, 2 REB), Pops Mensah-Bonsu (18 PTS, 7 REB, 3 BLK) and Ersin Dagli (14 PTS, 10 REB) in the win.
Efes couldn’t keep up in the absence of Sasha Vujacic, despite a strong effort by former Cav and Grizzlie Terrance Kinsey (11 PTS, 5 REB, 3 AST). Former Celtic Oliver Lafayette (4 PTS, 4 AST) and former Hawk Esteban Batista (5 PTS, 4 REB) are going to need to step up if Efes will have any chance to come back in this series.
Not surprisingly, Besiktas has stepped up their game since the absence of the former No. 3 overall pick, Adam Morrison. In his time with Besiktas, Morrison showed that he can still score, but did little to prove that he could handle anyone defensively, even in an offense-focused league like Turkey.
Panathinaikos tied up the Greek final series with Olympiacos at two apiece with a big 84-74 road win behind Mike Batiste’s (23 PTS, 11 REB) dominant performance in which he got to the line a whopping 14 times. Former Euroleague MVPs Sarunas Jasikevicus (12 PTS, 7 AST) and Dimitris Diamantitis (16 PTS, 6 REB, 3 AST) were big for PAO, who are desperate to win this series after Olympiacos took home the Euroleague crown.
After spending the better part of recent history playing second fiddle to Panathinaikos, Olympiacos has a chance to remind people that they are one of Europe’s powerhouse teams by taking a Greek title home with their Euroleague trophy. Acie Law continued his strong play with 16 points and Joey Dorsey chipped in with 8 points and 8 assists. However, if Olympiacos is going to have a serious chance to win the decisive Game 5, they will need more than the 8 points and 8 assists Vassilis Spanoulis put up in Game 4.
In the Italian league, Montepaschi Siena hasn’t disappointed in the semifinals, taking a 2-0 lead over Banco in a 92-66 blowout win. Bo McCalebb led the way with 13 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists, while Greek veteran, Nikolous Zisis, chipped in 8 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. Banco has their backs against the wall, and former Pacer Travis Diener (9 PTS, 6 AST), will look to keep his team’s chances alive.
Armani Jeans Milano came away with an 84-68 Game 2 victory over Scavolini behind St. John’s Omar Cook (17 PTS, 5 AST), Oregon’s Malik Hairston (16 PTS. 6 REB) and the talented Greek big man Ionnis Bourousis (18 PTS, 7 REB). Scavolini was led by USC guard Daniel Hackett (20 PTS), former Cav Jumaine Jones (14 PTS, 7 REB) and high flying guard, James White (11 PTS, 3 REB). White has had an excellent season, and will need to use his athleticism if the team has any chance to crawl out of their hole.
In the German league finals, Brose Baskets will be taking on Ratiopharm Ulm. Former Texas Longhorn, PJ Tucker, has been leading Brose Baskets with 16.2 points and 7.1 rebounds. Tucker is well known around Europe for leading Hapoel Holon to a championship over Maccabi Tel-Aviv in 2008, the first time Maccabi didn’t win the Israeli league since 1993, and Brose Baskets will hope he can pull out the same championship caliber play that made him a legend in Holonia. Brooklyn Nets 2010 draft pick, Tibor Pleiss, has been averaging 10 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks to anchor the team in the middle, while former NBA shooter, Casey Jacobsen, has been putting up 10.9 points (44.6% 3PT), 2.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists.
Ulm is led by former FSU guard, Isiah Swann (15.3 PTS), who moved to Germany after a fantastic stint in Israel, and center, John Bryant, from Santa Clara (14.4 PTS, 9.4 REB, 1.3 BLK) in the middle.
In the Israeli league championship, Maccabi Tel-Aviv won its second consecutive championship with a 83-63 win over Ashdod. Keith Langford was once again spectacular for Maccabi with 16 points, and Yogev Ohayon had 10 points and 10 assists to cap off a season in which he was one of Europe’s best up-and-coming players.
Ashdod, after starting the season 1-6 and then losing former Kentucky guard, Ramel Bradley to Jerusalem, made a spectacular run to the championship game as a seventh seed. They knocked off the second seed Galil despite only playing with three foreigners (Israeli league allows four) behind the excellent play of veteran point guard, Meir Tapiro, and their three strong Americans, Alex Tyus (Florida), Josh Duncan (Xavier) and Josh Carter (Texas A&M).
After becoming the first team in Israeli league history to come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a five game series, Maccabi Rishon Lezion finished in fourth place, after losing the third place game to Hapoel Holon. Thanks to the heroics of former FSU guard, Derwin Kitchen, and Israeli veteran, Amit Ben-David, Rishon managed to win Game 5 of its first round series against Ashkelon, despite losing former Laker and Knick, Joe Crawford, to a knee injury in the closing minutes of regulation in Game 4. However, Rishon was unable to muster up another big win without Crawford, in spite of the effort of a strong supporting cast.
The Philadelphia 76ers aren’t the only eighth seed to make it out of the first round of the 2012 playoffs. The French Semifinals are set to begin, with eighth seeded Cholet, fresh off of defeating number one seed, Gravelines, set to take on Le Mans. Cholet is led by former Duke guard, DeMarcus Nelson, who will try to lead his underdog squad over former Piston, Alex Acker, and Le Mans. On the other side of the bracket, second seeded Chalon will take on third seeded Orleans.
Zalgiris may not have finished the season with Sony Weems and Ty Lawson, but they still managed to breeze their way to a championship with their strong veteran core, blowing past a Rytas team featuring Jonas Valancuinas and Tyrese Rice. The strong inside tandem of Jankunas and Javtokas proved too much for the youngsters to handle, with the perimeter play of Marko Popovic leading the way for Zalgiris.
Valanciunas finishes off a fantastic season that will surely be his last in Europe for awhile, as he will likely be a good starter in the NBA for some time to come. His length and footwork will give him an immediate role in the NBA, and look for him to be a candidate to make the All-Rookie first team this coming season, assuming the Raptors are able to negotiate a fair buyout with his current club.
Number one seeded Oostende tied up the series with Charleroi with a 72-68 win in Game 2 of the Belgian league finals. 2012 NBA draft prospect, Tornike Shengelia, finished with 10 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists for Charleroi, while Shaq’s cousin, Demond Mallet, had 14 points. Former Florida Gator, Brent Wright, had 14 points and 5 rebounds to pace Oostende for the win.