Euroleague Final Four Preview

Euroleague Final Four Preview
Apr 30, 2008, 02:33 pm

The most important in-season event on the European basketball calendar will be conducted this weekend in Madrid, Spain, and for the third straight year, DraftExpress will be represented. Maccabi Tel Aviv, Montepaschi Siena, Tau Vitoria and CSKA Moscow will battle it out for the prestigious title of being considered the best team in Europe. Alongside them, eight of the top junior teams will compete in the Euroleague Basketball Nike International Junior Tournament, featuring teams such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, FMP Zeleznik, and Zalgiris Kaunas. Considering the location, and the fact that there are plenty of intriguing NBA prospects to take in both at the senior and junior level, we’d expect a large contingency of NBA scouts and executives present in Madrid. In this preview, we take a look at some of the most interesting players that NBA teams will be watching.

The Schedule


6:00 PM CET (Noon EST) Montepaschi Siena - Maccabi Elite
9:00 PM CET (3 PM EST) Tau Ceramica - CSKA

3RD PLACE, May 4

6:00 CET (Noon EST) Loser SF1 - Loser SF2

FINAL, May 4

9:00 CET (3 PM EST) Winner SF1 - WinnerSF2

All games will be broadcasted LIVE in the US by NBA TV

The NBA Prospects

Maccabi Tel Aviv

Omri Casspi- The only player in attendance eligible to be drafted this June, Casspi will receive a fair share of attention from every NBA team present in Madrid, as he is on the early-entry list, and has been playing some of the best basketball in his career over the past six weeks or so. He’s trying to work his way into the first round at this point, and what better stage to help accomplish that than with the eyes of the entire NBA on him this weekend? We’ll be watching his progress closely and breaking his game down in much more depth, so stay tuned.

Yotam Halperin-
Although he already has two Euroleague titles underneath his belt at age 24 (of which he played minor roles), Halperin has blossomed into one of the top guards in European basketball this season, providing an incredible lift to Maccabi at some key moments with his terrific outside shooting, playmaking ability, and overall basketball IQ. He might be considered the most important player on the roster along with Terence Morris, and will be heavily scrutinized by various members of the Seattle Supersonics (who drafted him in 2006 under a different regime), including GM Sam Presti. He may be viewed as a Beno Udrih type, a skilled and savvy combo guard who can play a supporting role in the NBA. We’ll be keeping an eye on him.

Terence Morris-
The former 2001 2nd round draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks has revived his career over the past two seasons in Israel, going from sitting at home for an extended period without a job to possibly being the most coveted American big man on this summer’s free agent market. He’s a smart, athletic, and fairly skilled power forward who rebounds extremely well, can hit a spot-up 3-pointer, and is a presence in the paint defensively—all things that are in very short supply when you are talking about long 6-9 guys with great intangibles. As far as the NBA is concerned, considering his age, and the fact that he still hasn’t made that one killer contract that will set him up long-term, it would be hard to envision him passing up the extremely lucrative deals that will be thrown his way from the top-tier teams in Europe—although a big performance this weekend could go a long ways in changing that.

Will Bynum-
Like a many players on Maccabi’s roster, Bynum already played in the NBA, spending some time with the Golden State Warriors after leading the D-League in scoring. Considering the way he’s looked this season, though, it seems like he’s in the right spot at the moment. A freakishly athletic undersized combo guard with limited perimeter shooting and playmaking skills, Bynum is still adjusting to European basketball, so you never quite know what to expect from him on any given night. He does put in a good effort, though, even if he’s very turnover prone, but at this level he’s a great weapon to have considering his shot-creating ability and game-changing athleticism.

Nikola Vujcic-
If there was a Euroleague hall of fame, Vujcic would surely be inducted into it after he retires. His basketball IQ, passing ability and overall skill level has made him somewhat of a legend in Tel Aviv, and he is really the most recognizable piece remaining on the roster of that incredible Maccabi team that went on a dynasty run a few years back alongside the likes of Anthony Parker, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Maceo Baston. Vujcic missed considerable time this year with all kinds of various injuries (particularly knee problems), and considering how fragile his body is at this point, the NBA can’t considered anything more than a pipe-dream. That shouldn’t take anything away from what he’s accomplished thus far in his career, though, and surely doesn’t mean he can’t help Maccabi out this weekend.

Lior Eliyahu-
Eliyahu has spent the better part of this season glued to the bench, as he just doesn’t seem to bring what current head coach Tzvika Sherf is looking for in terms of toughness, defense and rebounding. He’s a flat-out scorer who probably needs a change of scenery at this point to show the Houston Rockets that he is capable of playing in the NBA after he was drafted by them in 2006.

Esteban Batista-
Batista spent two non-descript seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, and is now in his first season playing high-level European basketball. It’s been somewhat of an adventure for him and his team, as he’s had good games and bad ones, but is clearly a force to be reckoned with offensively inside the paint if you catch him on the right day.

Big, strong, but not particularly athletic, he uses his body extremely well to establish position for himself in the post, where he has plenty of ways to create shots for himself and good touch to finish. He has a great drop-step move, and beautiful pivots. He plays way below the rim, and can finish with either hand. He does a great job with pump-fakes, and is very skilled in the post, although he’s somewhat of a black hole and fairly predictable at times. Defensively, he is furthest from being an NBA player, just not having the agility to stay in front of quicker post players and getting absolutely roasted when forced to step outside on pick and rolls. He’s probably in the perfect spot as far as his level is concerned, and may have a breakout year next season if he’s utilized more.

Montepaschi Siena

Ksistof Lavrinovic, 6-11, PF/C, Lithuania- We’ve written about him many times before, including a very in-depth scouting report just two months ago. Lavrinovic is a big and athletic scoring big man who is very skilled facing the basket. He averages an incredible 29 points per 40 minutes pace adjusted in the Italian league, while that number drops to “just” 25 in the Euroleague. He’s probably too well compensated to consider going to the NBA at this point, but you really never know. According to his agent Kenny Grant, Lavrinovic “is in the 1st year of a 3 year contract…[with] no NBA out,” although one can be negotiated. On the other hand, Grant did inform us that his twin brother Darjus Lavrinovic (who is coming off a monster season in the ULEB Cup and is equally as interesting) will be a free agent this summer. He believes they “would both be interested in the NBA, if a team is seriously interested.”

Romain Sato-
A former 2nd round pick of the San Antonio Spurs, Romain Sato never made it out of NBA training camp, but has developed into quite a reliable player at the top level of Europe since then. He’s a very solid scorer here, but is extremely efficient at the same time, having improved his perimeter shot considerably since his time at Xavier. Sato measured out at just 6-3 in shoes at the NBA pre-draft camp, but has a ridiculous 6-11 wingspan to compensate for that. He’s still not much of a ball-handler, and generally isn’t the most creative player you’ll find, but he knows how to maximize his strengths to the benefit of his team, and will rarely force the issue. Although there might not be that much separating himself from some bench players in the NBA, at the end of the day, he’s probably found the perfect level to showcase his skills with Siena. We’ll take a look regardless.

Drake Diener-
The brother of Travis Diener has overcome some serious health problems right after graduating from DePaul to emerge as a very interesting prospect for European basketball, with the perfect combination of basketball IQ, perimeter shooting and playmaking skills to make him an ideal cog in a disciplined half-court offense, such as Siena’s. He hasn’t been much of a factor in the Euroleague with Siena thus far (he started the season in Sicily but was bought out mid-season), but might be able to come off the bench and give them some quality minutes if they are lacking inspiration at some point. His NBA prospects are pretty murky considering his below average athleticism and especially his poor lateral quickness, although if he continues to improve the way he has over the past two seasons, there may be something to talk about at some point.

Benjamin Eze-
6-10 players with a ridiculous 7-6 wingspan like Eze will always get consideration from the NBA, especially when they athletic enough to earn a nickname like “the Helicopter,” for his acrobatic displays. He’s a limited offensive player with fairly poor hands who is mostly known for his rebounding and interior defense, but we will take a look at him too to see if there might be something more to talk about. He has an Italian passport.

Bootsy Thornton, Terrell McIntyre and Shaun Stonerook also play extremely important roles for Siena, but are not likely to get much NBA consideration. Ironically, they might be Siena’s three best players on any given night.

CSKA Moscow

Ramunas Siskauskas-
Ranked as the #1 player in our overseas free agents rankings, there will be a lot of NBA eyeballs watching the play of Ramunas Siskauskas this weekend in Madrid. Arguably the most complete player you’ll find outside the NBA, Siskauskas has established a reputation as being a phenomenal shooter, ball-handler, passer and defender, as well as one of the smartest guys you’ll find around. He has quietly (and finally) been piquing the interest of several NBA teams reportedly, and that’s something we are going to try and get to the bottom of here in Madrid. This is an important weekend for Siskauskas for a few reasons. Not only will he have a chance to win his second straight Euroleague title with two separate teams (a feat that’s never been done), a very prestigious thing indeed, but he also will give himself a free exit-clause for the NBA if he indeed wins it, as stated in his contract. If he has a great individual showing, similar to the way he played last year, he’ll probably win himself quite a few more fans as well amongst NBA executives. We’ll keep you posted…

Theodoras Papaloukas-
Just as he was beginning to become unanimously considered the best player in European basketball, Theodoras Papaloukas seemed to have hit a pretty bad slump this season, having what might be considered his worst season statistically in the past three years. A pesky ankle problem is partially to blame, but his performance in last summer’s European Championship in Madrid already began to hint that the 31 year old wizard point guard might be slowing down a notch. This is yet another thing we need to get to the bottom of in Madrid.

Never considered a great shooter, Papaloukas’ jump-shot has become even streakier this season, hitting only 24% of his 3-pointers, 67% of his free throws, and 50% of his field goals (his lowest total since 03/04). He is getting to the free throw line less, but is still distributing the ball at a phenomenal rate, dishing out 9.4 assists per-40 minutes pace adjusted, mostly thanks to his mastery of the pick and roll, while maintaining a very steady 2.46/1 assist to turnover ratio. His ball-handling skills and hesitation moves are nothing short of fantastic, and he’s still an excellent finisher around the basket, more so thanks to his terrific touch and overall craftiness than any incredible athleticism, but still extremely effective nonetheless. An extremely clutch player, with a flair for the spectacular as he showed everyone last year, Papaloukas is still a player any team in this Final Four would love to have on their side. The enthusiasm around his NBA prospects may have dimmed somewhat (not that he probably cares), though, as his style of play of was never going to be a seamless fit for most NBA teams.

David Andersen-
Although he isn’t playing quite as well as he was when we last wrote about him in February (in extreme depth), David Andersen is still having a career year in CSKA, and will be relied on heavily to help his team win one last Euroleague championship before they probably all go their separate ways. It’s been widely reported that CSKA head coach Ettore Messina will be leaving Moscow for Barcelona when the season is over.

Andersen is in the last year of his contract himself, according to his agent Kenny Grant, and media reports in Atlanta indicate that Billy Knight and the Hawks have spoken about finally bringing him over this season, seven years after they drafted him in the second round. It will be interesting to see if Knight shows up to watch Andersen in Madrid. There is no question that he can play in the NBA right now, and he would probably actually be a terrific compliment to Al Horford on both ends of the floor.

Tau Vitoria

We’ve dealt with Tau Vitoria and their prospects in considerable depth over the past few months and years, especially at the Copa del Rey just this last February. Click through on their profiles and check their latest updates in the “player blogs”.

Tiago Splitter
Igor Rakocevic
Mirza Teletovic
Zoran Planinic
Pete Mickeal
Will McDonald

The Junior Tournament

In conjunction with the Final Four, the Euroleague has also invited eight of the top junior teams in Europe to participate in a mini tournament lasting four days, where a number of interesting prospects will participate. Donatas Motiejunas (Zalgiris Kaunas), Dejan Musli (FMP), Nikola Mirotic (Real Madrid), Papa Abdoulaye (AXA FC Barcelona), Michel Diouff (AXA FC Barcelona), Nihad Dedovic (AXA FC Barcelona) and Tomislav Zubcic (Cibona Zagreb) are some of the bigger name guys early on—but there will surely be others to emerge. The favorites to win will clearly be Serbian powerhouse FMP Zeleznik, the unquestioned top junior team in Europe over the past few years.

Participating Teams:

Cibona Zagreb
Red Star
Lietuvos Rytas
Maccabi Teddy
Real Madrid
Zalgiris Kaunas

Follow the tournament here

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