Welcome to my inaugural EuroHoops update column. You will be getting these once per week, and I will be keeping you abreast of all the guys who may one day be headed to the NBA, or those who already have been there and won’t be going back … like the first guy we are checking in on.
Vassillis Spanoulis scores Euroleague career-high 34 points in a road win for Olympiacos.
Former Euroleague MVP candidate Vassilis Spanoulis pulled off one of his greatest Euroleague performances of his career, going for a Euroleague career-high 34 points in a big road win for Olympiacos (Greece) in overtime against Euroleague newcomers Neptunas of Lithuania.
Ten years after being selected in the NBA draft, Spanoulis is still unquestionably among the top handful of players outside the NBA, and it still is mystifying how the NBA missed on him. The Houston Rockets sort of gave him a chance in 2006-07, but Jeff Van Gundy barely attempted to learn his name, yet alone let him to play.
After a measly 31 appearances in Houston, Spanoulis requested his release in the summer after being traded to San Antonio for the rights to Luis Scola. He went on to sign for millions to win MVPs in Europe. Spanoulis is comparable in ability to Manu Ginobili (although Ginobili’s game is more suited for the NBA), and not only did Spanoulis’ tough experience in the NBA deny the American audience a top talent, it also kept fellow Greek guard Dimitris Diamantitis from taking a crack at the NBA.
Could Spanoulis or Diamantitis have changed the fate of an NBA franchise at some point? Some things we will just never know.
Milos Teodosic has been torching it the past week for CSKA Moscow
While Spanoulis may have slipped through the cracks, CSKA Moscow guard Milos Teodosic, whom the Memphis Grizzlies have flirted with in the past, has been on fire over the last few weeks. After torching Khimki Moscow for 27 points and 10 assists in the VTB league, Teodosic nailed four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of a Euroleague game against Cedevita Zagreb.
One can’t help but feel that Teodosic could be a great fit in the triangle offense, since he has great size for a point guard, a great outside shot and is a willing passer. While defense is far from his specialty, he theoretically can match up against two-guards. Nevertheless, if Teodosic keeps putting up brilliant performances for the highest budget team in Europe, an NBA gig will be there for the taking if he decides to pursue that route in the summer.
Teodosci was all-World Cup first team for leading Serbia into the gold medal game against Team USA.
Dario Saric absent for Efes while Cedi Osman is shining
After setting the Adriatic league on fire last season with Cibona Zagreb, it seemed obvious that all the hype surrounding Dario Saric was well-deserved. After riding the wave to being a lottery pick by the Sixers, and signing a big contract with Anadolu Efes Istanbul, it seems as if things are coming back down to earth.
Saric was not registered for Efes in their first two Turkish League games, since they can only register six foreigners for each game. Saric was relatively quiet in his lone appearances before going down with a mild injury.
It is possible that another experience of proving himself, and working himself to being a contributor in a big Euroleague club, can be the type of experience that enhances his NBA career. However, with Saric things can spiral out of control quickly if he lets his overemotional father – who loves to speak nonsense to reporters – allow this situation to get into his head.
Pedrag Saric recently told reporters that Dario was “depressed” and “unhappy with his playing time” after making waves pre-draft for being too heavily (and negatively) involved in his son’s career. If Saric goes to work and fights through to succeed in this situation, he will be prepared for anything that comes his way, and he should not let one tough month get in his head.
While Saric has been trying to find his way, 2015 NBA draft prospect Cedi Osman has been showing some positive signs. After a summer in which he was MVP of the U20 European championships and squeezed his way onto the Turkish national team, Osman has been playing steady minutes for Efes, going for 13 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists (with 5 TOs) in a close with over Karsiyaka. As a 6-7 guard with great legs and a great shot, the NBA potential is obvious, and with plenty of eyes on Osman this season, he will have a chance to prove he could be worthy of an early first-round pick this summer.
Almost 17-year-old Dragan Bender is an MVP candidate in the Israeli National League
In a typical season, someone like me who is an assistant coach/scout for a team in the Israeli Winner League (Israel D1), would obviously keep a close eye on the National league – the Israeli minors – to look for emerging Israeli talent, or young American players who could be prospects in the near future. This season, however, it’s obvious that every Tuesday I will be watching the Ramat Gan squad to cherish every opportunity I can get to see an obvious future NBA star play in the Israeli minor leagues.
Meet Dragan Bender, a 6-11 soon-to-be 17-year-old forward that Maccabi Tel-Aviv signed to a long term deal from Croatia and loaned to the minor league club Ironi Ramat Gan. This kid can handle and pass like a guard, has a great outside shot, excellent defensive fundamentals and an off-the-charts basketball IQ for someone his age. He plays with a maturity and poise that makes him seem like one of the veterans in the league instead of a seeming like a high school kid who can’t even drive a car.
Through his first two games, Bender is averaging 13.5 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists on 60 percent 2-point shooting and 35.7 percent 3-point shooting, winning game MVP both times. Additionally, in the state cup, Ramat Gan almost knocked out last season’s Winner League runner-up, Maccabi Haifa, before Haifa narrowly escaped embarrassment with a barrage of 3-pointers by Dagan Yavzuri.
Bender will not become NBA draft eligible until 2016, where he will be a surefire lottery pick. Until then, I am going to soak in watching him in small gyms throughout Israel, so I can remember just exactly where he was before he makes his mark over the next two decades.
Nikola Jokic coming into his own for Mega Vizura
After being selected in the second round by the Denver Nuggets this past summer, Nikola Jokic opted to stay with his club in Serbia, Mega Vizura, for another year of seasoning in the Adriatic League. After averaging 11 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists last season, the 6-10 center has upped his game to the tone of 16.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists through the first five games of the season.
At 19 years old, Jokic still has plenty of time to improve after bursting on the scene last season and could quietly become a very heady Eurostash addition for the Nuggets in the next few years. Big men are typically late bloomers, and it should be a very positive sign that Jokic is able to be a dominant player at his age, albeit for a small club. Jokic will most likely need another year with a bigger club than Mega Vizura before he is ready to make the jump to the league, but his performances thus far this season must have Denver’s international scouting department feeling pretty good right about now.
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.