Euroleague Final Four: NBA Prospects

Euroleague Final Four: NBA Prospects
May 04, 2006, 04:40 am
As we do every year, DraftExpress takes a look at the top individual players that participated at the Euroleague Final Four from an NBA perspective.

The players are separated into NBA Draft prospects, Formerly drafted players whose rights are still held by NBA teams, and potential free agent targets for this upcoming summer.

2005 Euroleague Final Four NBA prospects articles:

Part One

Part Two

2004 Euroleague Final Four NBA prospects articles:

Part One

Part Two

NBA Draft Prospects

Tiago Splitter, 7-0, Center, Tau Vitoria


Jonathan Givony

Playing only 11 minutes due to a shoulder injury that will keep him out of action for 15 days, this was clearly not the type of performance either Tiago Splitter or the many NBA front office types that made the trip to Prague envisioned when Tau Vitoria clinched their spot in the Euroleague Final Four.

If it’s of any consequence, Splitter did not do much in the 11 minutes of action he saw in the first game of the Final Four. He pulled down one nice offensive rebound and scored on the putback, picked up two quick fouls, played nice pick and roll defense on one possession, and generally did not touch the ball even once in Tau’s lethargic looking half-court set. He fell to the ground midway through the 2nd quarter with his team down 16 points, and was announced out of the game shortly after. His team never really stood much of a chance to make a comeback after he left, as Maccabi completely dominated them offensively.

With Splitter out of commission, there was nothing for the NBA people to take in as far as draft prospects go. CSKA has a few interesting youngsters in Kurbanov and Zavoruev that did not see the floor for even a minute in the Final Four, and the same was the case with Maccabi’s Omri Caspi.

Drafted Players/Rights Held

Roko-Leni Ukic, 6-5, Point Guard, Tau Vitoria

(Toronto Raptors)


Kristian Hohnjec

For the most part this was a disappointing season for Roko, but his performance in Prague was actually quite promising. In two games, Ukic played 35 minutes combined, logging 17 points and 5 assists. He was especially impressive in the 2nd half of the consolation game against Barcelona, making some nice baskets in critical situations for Tau Ceramica.

Ukic was better on the defensive end, looking more focused and bothering opponents with his length and quick hands. He is also making some strides as a distributor, playing better off the ball and looking to pass more. Roko Leni proved once again that is very hard to keep him out of the lane, as most of his points came from slashing all the way to the basket or pulling up for a reliable floater.

Shooting is still his biggest weakness; this was evident during the weekend where he hit only one three-pointer out of 7 attempts. Ukic explains his shooting struggles by saying that he was only shooting off the dribble when playing in Split and doesn’t feel comfortable as a set-shooter when he gets passes from teammates, although he is working on it every day by shooting 200 - 300 attempts.

After the mid-season signing of former Clipper guard Lionel Chalmers, Ukic’s short-term situation at Tau didn’t look bright. Eventually, though, he was able to surpass the American in the rotation and with this performance should earn more trust and court time from his coach as the season continues. While he definitely didn’t reach the expectations of Tau’s board, media and fans, long-term Ukic still looks like steal for the Toronto Raptors. His herky-jerky style of play is more suited for the NBA than Europe, and he should be ready to contribute in 2007 when he has an opt-out clause for the NBA in his contract.

Juan Carlos Navarro, 6-4, PG/SG, Barcelona

(Washington Wizards)


Luis Fernandez

The Euroleague Final Four was all in all a disappointing tournament for Navarro. We couldn’t see him in his typical high-scoring fashion in the game that mattered the most, the semifinal against CSKA, settling for only 10 points (3/8 from the field) this time around. He suffered against the very physical defense of the Russian perimeter, also getting less calls than he’s used to while driving towards the basket. Navarro is a very quick and skilled combo guard, really hard to keep out of the lane, and also a very dangerous perimeter shooter, but the aggressiveness of CSKA defenders didn’t allow him to operate comfortably, actually exposing some of Navarro’s physical weaknesses.

However, it might be significant to mention that right in the middle of the best season of his career, Juan Carlos lost some momentum after a minor injury he suffered in his left ankle about a month ago. Perhaps he’s not still 100% healthy, and indeed he looks a little less aggressive trying to get past defenders. Anyway, he came back fairly strong in the game for the third place against Tau Vitoria, scoring 20 points, most of them from the three-point line. Navarro barely elevates his feet to shoot treys, but his very quick mechanics and ability to shoot off the dribble, sometimes after faking his matchup, makes him hard to stop. Certainly the poor intensity of this game helped him to find his scoring habits again.

Navarro’s rights are owned by the Wizards, and until this season, there hadn’t been any buzz about him going to the NBA. He had always been focused on succeeding in Europe and the Washington franchise hadn’t shown a strong desire to actually sign him.

However, the excellent season he had has apparently changed the situation. Several weeks ago, Navarro made public his intention of trying the NBA adventure in the near future. This week, the Spanish basketball magazine Gigantes del Basket published that, according to Tim Connelly (Washington’s assistant director of player personnel), Navarro has already accepted the Wizards’ proposition to join the team after the World Championships this summer. Still, Navarro has three years more left off his contract with a huge buyout, and Winterthur FC Barcelona won’t open the door that easily: “we wouldn’t reduce even one euro in his buyout”, said GM Zoran Savic the to El Mundo Deportivo.

Luis Scola, 6-8, Power Forward, Tau Vitoria

(San Antonio Spurs)


Luis Fernandez

This was a tough weekend for Luis Scola. Not only did this mean the third time he falls just a bit short of the Euroleague title (after losing 3-2 in the 2001 Finals against Manu Ginobili’s Kinder Bologna and last season in the final against Maccabi again), but his father suffered a heart problem while in Prague. Still, Scola led Tau in scoring (17 points) and rebounding (11) against Maccabi, not giving up to what quickly looked like a sure loss for the Spanish team.

With the disappearance of point guard Pablo Prigioni (shrunk by the very intense defense delivered by Solomon and Sharp), Scola couldn’t take advantage of the multiple scoring opportunities that the pick and roll plays with his countryman provides him. Maccabi executed an awesome defensive game-plan all over the court, not allowing spaces and being particularly intimidating near the basket. Therefore, Scola’s production off his excellent off-the-ball skills was dramatically reduced, being forced to play more one-on-one situations that anyway weren’t as effective as usual, having to battle against a surprisingly aggressive frontcourt.

Scola is a very smart player, a guy with incredible intuition to play the game, and if foul trouble doesn’t bother him (he played 39 minutes), he usually finds a way to get points. This time, he managed to keep his production up thanks to his unusual activity on the offensive glass (and Maccabi’s own weakness securing their own rebounds), which provided him with several second-chance points off his 7 offensive captures.

Despite the delicate health situation of his father, Scola played the meaningless game for third place. There isn’t much to say about it really. It was more of a conventional game, with Prigioni back in his distributing role, although Scola shared the scoring duties in the paint with Predrag Drobnjak, settling for only 11 points.

The feeling in Spain is that Scola will finally leave for the NBA this summer. His contract apparently runs out in 2007, and Tau will likely prefer to cash in this year before losing him for nothing the following one.

Free Agents

Editors note: Not all players are free agents in the traditional sense, as some are under contract for next year with their respective European teams. For the NBA’s purposes, though, no NBA team holds their rights, meaning they can be signed by anyone if bought out of their European contract.

Theodoros Papaloukas, 6-7, Point Guard, CSKA Moscow


Kristian Hohnjec

Papaloukas proved that he is one of biggest winners in European basketball currently, being able to take his game to another level on the most important occasions. Coming off the bench, Theo was clutch for CSKA in both of their games, helping them to finally bring the Euroleague championship to Russia. CSKA started both off the games slowly and was struggling offensively until the moment Papaloukas entered the game. Theo’s leadership, intelligence and good decision making were essential in their success.

After not scoring in double digits for whole Top 16 and quarterfinals, Papaloukas posted 19 (season high) and 18 points in these two games respectively. As a result of his excellent play, Papaloukas was voted for MVP of the Final Four.

Still, despite his terrific showing, it is questionable how much interest he’ll garner from the NBA, since he has some glaring weaknesses when speaking about the NBA style of play. Papaloukas gets by defenders mostly thanks to his mind, length and strength, definitely not his speed. He is a fairly slow player who is not going to blow anybody away with his explosiveness and first step. It is questionable how effective he would be offensively in the NBA, since he isn’t much of a shooter, especially off the dribble. Papaloukas gets no elevation on his shot whatsoever and needs time and space to get it off since his mechanics aren’t the smoothest either.

On the positive side, Papaloukas is a tenacious defender with great size, good court vision, and an excellent feel for the game that constantly allows him to make everyone around him better. He makes around $800,000 per year in Moscow, and is not clear if he would like to compromise his status of a European star to go overseas fully knowing the possibility of warming the bench just like Lithuanians Arvydas Macijauskas (all season long) and Sarunas Jasikevicius (lately). If some NBA team is ready to spend a good chunk of their MLE to get him out of Russia, he could probably be a dependable backup at both guard positions, but only for the right team.

In addition to being named the MVP of the Euroleague Final Four and the All-Euroleague First team in the regular season (despite coming off the bench), Papaloukas also helped Greece win the European Championship this past summer in Belgrade with a 22 point performance in the final.

Anthony Parker, 6-6, Shooting Guard, Maccabi Tel Aviv


Jonathan Givony

This Final Four weekend was a story of night and day for Anthony Parker, highlighting equally well both his strengths and weaknesses as a basketball player.

In the semi-finals against Tau, Parker was nothing short of incredible in the 25 minute stretch that saw Maccabi steamroll through the Spaniards and open up a 30+ point margin that was only chipped away slightly in garbage time. Parker’s phenomenal athleticism and all-around versatile skills were on full display here, looking like a legit NBA starter in the process. Some of his highlights included stroking the ball beautifully from behind the arc and from mid-range off the dribble, finishing acrobatically around the hoop, defending seemingly every position on the court, handling and distributing the ball like a point guard, and doing everything else in between. Parker finished the first half with 19 points on 3/3 shooting from behind the arc, to go along with 3 assists and 3 rebounds. Parker came out for a few minutes in the 2nd half with a slight leg cramp as Maccabi traded baskets with Tau, and was more of a disinterested bystander in garbage time when the game was clearly over, not scoring a single point after his 19 point first half outburst.

In the Finals against CSKA things were very different for both Maccabi and Parker, as the Russians put a stranglehold on the Israeli team with their incredible team defense and did not give them any space to operate at all. He showed some sparks of greatness with a beautiful mid-range jumper off the dribble, an outstanding block and a deep contested three late in the shot-clock, but for the most part was exceptionally quiet as we’ve seen from him at times this year. He’s clearly more content being a role player and had problems creating his own shot against a defense that was clearly geared to containing his dribble penetration. He finished this game with 10 points on 4/9 shooting, and as usual was unwilling to force the issue even when his team clearly needed him to.

Whether or not he’s a legit NBA starter, like many people in Europe and the States think, is something we’ll have to debate for another year since he’s under contract with Maccabi for one more year with no buyout option in his contract. He’ll be making 1.2 million dollars next year--chump change for a player that is clearly the best guard on the continent—but seems very much content staying in Israel for another season. Considering the massive turnover that is expected on Maccabi’s roster this summer, Parker is one piece they absolutely can not afford to lose. While he looks nowhere near on the verge of slowing down at this point, he’ll be 32 next summer and will likely not be considered a great target for teams to go after in free agency. NBA teams had their chances over the past two years to sign him to a reasonable guaranteed and get an absolute steal in the process, but no team showed the intuition or fortitude to do so.

Nikola Vujcic, 6-11, PF/C, Maccabi Tel Aviv


Jonathan Givony

While Parker is under contract for another year and appears very much content finishing off his career with Maccabi Tel Aviv, Nikola Vujcic is a player that will be on the free agent market and will be fielding offers from teams all over the globe.

Like Parker, Vujcic was absolutely outstanding in the semi-finals against Tau, coming up with 16 points (6/8 shooting) with 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks in 32 minutes of play. This might have been his best game of the year besides possibly the triple-double (11 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) he had in the regular season against Prokom.

He was doing absolutely everything he could in this game to make himself as much money as possible this upcoming summer, whether it was stroking 3-pointers from behind the arc, making incredibly intelligent passes playing a 2-man game with one of Maccabi’s guards, leading the fast break, scoring with his back to the basket, throwing up a gorgeous alleyoop lob to Maceo Baston, knocking down 17 foot mid-range jumpers off the glass a la Tim Duncan, or even playing solid defense in the post. Vujcic’s decision making was always lightning quick and absolutely impeccable, and he looked like a legit NBA big man with the phenomenal skill level and basketball IQ he showed.

Things didn’t go nearly as well for him in the finals against CSKA. He got his first and only field goal of the game with 2 minutes to go in the 3rd quarter, finishing up 1/6 on the day, and only scored 4 points total to go along with 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 4 turnovers. After being completely invisible in the first half, Vujcic really forced the issue in the second, throwing in bad passes into the paint from the high post, being burned repeatedly on defensive rotations, and coming up with a terrible turnover late in the game after trying to force his way to the hoop with his back to the basket.

Only turning 28 this summer, the Croatian Vujcic is ready to cash in on a big contract this summer and will likely go to the highest bidder. He reportedly has multiple suitors amongst the powerhouse teams of Spain, but will also be fielding offers from NBA teams looking to use a sizable chunk of their MLE on a skilled big man.

Maceo Baston, 6-9, Power Forward, Maccabi Tel Aviv


Jonathan Givony

Even though Parker and Vujcic were both incredible in the semi-finals against Tau, it might have actually been Maceo Baston who left the strongest impression on NBA scouts that were in attendance in Prague. Besides the fact that he shattered the records for blocked shots and rebounds in a single Final Four game, the way he put up his numbers screamed NBA with every action he made.

Most impressive was the way he put an absolute lid on the rim in the first half, coming up with 5 super athletic blocks (already tying the record) in the first half alone. He got them both from the weak-side as well as on his own man, using his superb length, timing and incredible leaping ability to either swat away or alter anything that was even remotely in his area. There probably isn’t another player in all of Europe who is as quick off his feet as Baston is.

What was most surprising though were the skills he showed on the offensive end. Coming out of college at Michigan and during his short tenure in the NBA, Baston was always known as a player who couldn’t score outside of 5 feet if his life depended on it. Three years with Maccabi has made him into a player who can now step outside and knock down 3-pointers and mid-range jumpers as he showed on a number of occasions here. Even his ball-handling has improved to the point that he is no longer a liability as he once was. He finished the first game with a game high 20 points on 8/10 shooting (2/2 3P) to go along with 7 rebounds and 6 blocks in 28 minutes.

His performance didn’t fall off as sharply as some of his teammates in the finals against CSKA either. Even though he wasn’t nearly as much of a factor on the offensive end (shooting just 1/6 from the field), he again showed off his incredible tenacity and leaping ability to pull down a Final Four record 15 rebounds. His man to man and team defense were again excellent even though he only came up with 2 blocks this time around.

As far as the NBA goes, from what Baston told us himself a few months back, he is certainly not opposed to the idea. It would take at least a multi-year guaranteed contract, but considering the lack of depth amongst this year’s free agent class big men, that does not seem unreasonable at all. Baston told us he has a limited window this summer where he has an option to leave the team for the NBA only if the right offer comes along.

Travis Hansen, 6-6, Shooting Guard, Tau Vitoria


Luis Fernandez

The former BYU wing Hansen was one of the most consistent pieces for Tau Vitoria in the Final Four. After a difficult beginning to his European career (bringing an American mentality, he was obsessed with being some sort of go-to guy playing off the dribble, which is not his best strength), he finally figured out his role somewhere during the past season, becoming a very valuable contributor on a squad that already has other well-established offensive references.

Hansen now puts his excellent athleticism at the disposal of his team, being the best perimeter defender (usually taking care of the best perimeter rival) and rebounder (particularly in the offensive glass) on Tau, while delivering good intensity and consistently knocking down his shots whenever he’s open. This is what he provided against Maccabi, even if more devotion to try and keep Anthony Paker off the ball would have certainly been useful. He reproduced a similar role in the game for the third place against FC Barcelona, with better results for his team.

Hansen is a player who might interest some NBA teams. His athleticism makes his complementary role fairly easy to translate to the American league. His biggest problem probably revolves around his size. At 6-6, it’s not sure that he will be able to play SG, giving his lack of skills at this position. His ball-handling skills and general slashing game are just average, and he’s not a great passer. Hansen can shoot off the dribble with high elevation given his fantastic leaping ability, but preferably after easy moves; he doesn’t look capable of being a consistent scoring force, regardless of some remarkable offensive stretches shown during the preseason. Therefore, regardless of his size (he partially makes up for it with his explosive leaping ability), he looks more suited for the SF spot, which usually requires less offensive prominence, but hard work and good execution, which he provides on a regular basis.

Shammond Williams, 6-3, PG/SG, Barcelona


Kristian Hohnjec

Williams is a familiar name to most NBA fans, having stints with 6 different NBA teams over his career, and being a part of the rotation on most of them. Since September 2004 Williams plays in Europe, and after a good performance with Russia’s very rich Unics Kazan last season, Shammond got a contract at the more famous and respected FC Barcelona. Williams was the most consistent and reliable player in Barca’s crowded backcourt throughout this season, and the Final Four was no exception.

Shammond’s long range shooting and ability to create off the dribble kept Barcelona in the game against CSKA, as he was playing very well in the first three quarters by finding the right balance between looking for his own shot and creating for teammates. Unfortunately for his team he lost control and patience down the stretch, starting to jack up contested three-pointers and turning the ball over, as CSKA make a comeback and advanced to the finals. With 24 points and 4 assists, Williams was still Barcelona’s best player in that game.

As he was in his NBA days, Williams is still more of a scorer than a passer, but he’s improved his playmaking skills significantly in the last two seasons. He averages now 4.2 assist in 27.5 minutes per game, which is very good for the Euroleague, and he isn’t even always his team’s primary ball-handler. Offensively, Williams is hard to defend since he can shoot well from long range (41% on almost 5 attempts per game), is athletic and has the ability to get into the lane. His vision as a point guard isn’t the best around, but he will find the open man when he gets by his defender.

Already being 31 years old, Williams is no spring chicken, so it’s possible that he might have a certain urge to get back to the NBA. If that’s the case, this season certainly helped his cause and some team in need of a sparkplug off the bench might give him a shot. Williams is more mature and a better decision maker now and should be a serviceable backup if someone gives him another chance. The possibility always exists that he could make more money playing in Europe, though, as along the way he somehow managed to get a passport from the Republic of Georgia, so a minimum contract might not be all that attractive to him.

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