The Euroleague Final Four: NBA Prospects, Part 1

The Euroleague Final Four: NBA Prospects, Part 1
May 10, 2005, 06:32 pm
DraftExpress' European scouts, who have followed the Euroleague closely all season long, would like to tell you about the top players in this very competitive league.

Just like last year's Euroleague Final Four, there were many prospects that could be interesting for the NBA. We'll separate them once again into three categories, the NBA draft prospects, the free agents, and players whose rights are currently owned by NBA teams. This article will deal with the draft prospects and players who have already been drafted by NBA teams.

Most of them will continue to play in Europe next season and in the following years, for various reasons, but this is a great chance for us to evaluate some of the most talented players that earn their paychecks on the other side of the ocean.

The NBA Draft prospects

TIAGO SPLITTER, 7-0, PF/C, Tau Vitoria, Brazil, 1985 (3 ppg, 4 rpg, 1 spg, 1.5 bpg, 4.5 fouls, 19 mpg)


by Luis Fernández

The only really interesting draft prospect in Moscow for the upcoming draft, Tiago Splitter provided what was expected from him coming into this Final Four: a defensive and intimidating presence in the paint for Tau Vitoria. He was truly a difference maker in this department, and this is a pretty significant achievement for a 20 year old facing some of the strongest teams in the world outside of the NBA.

It was pretty much the same story as what's been happening in the last few months: Tau Vitoria starts with Luis Scola and Kornel David, and the team frequently lacks defense, intensity and intimidation, especially if they face teams as strong upfront as CSKA and Maccabi. When Tiago gets in the picture, the defensive tone of the team changes and life gets much more complicated for rival players inside the paint.

In the Final Four he didn't allow anyone to score on him, shutting down skilled players with size such as David Andersen and Nikola Vujcic, both NBA-caliber players and both members of the All-Euroleague First team this season. He also played great team defense, getting a few blocks on quick rotations and showing timing that is improving everyday. Tiago's positioning is remarkable (he's quite a smart player in all departments of the game), he has the lateral quickness, intensity and the fearlessness to fight against anybody, while his length does the rest. He still needs to improve his rebounding (he collected 4 in each game), but it's a simple matter of getting stronger, what he'll easily do eventually thanks to his good frame.

On the offensive end, it was once again the same old story we've seen all season: since CSKA and Maccabi's post players had plenty of size, his scoring suffered, ending up scoreless in 14 minutes against the Russian team. He has problems getting the ball up over bigger defenders, his hook shot still lacks polish, and he doesn't finish strong over his rivals (perhaps he's not athletic enough to dunk in traffic with high chances of success).

In these situations he prefers to pass the ball, usually with good decision making, as he showed in Moscow. To score against these bigs, his best option is usually to receive the ball in the low post and try to seal off his defender, go to a spin move and then lay it up on the glass with either hand, but Tiago didn't have the chance to use that move as the zone defenses made things pretty crowded inside. Ironically, he'll be able to use that move more frequently in the NBA, where it's easier to find isolated situations.

Here in Moscow, the most common offensive play that Tiago was involved in was the pick & roll. As a result, he collected some fouls from the Israeli team, but wasn't particularly productive in this game either, scoring only 6 points.

Even if his performance was equally steady in both games, the semifinals were a bit frustrating for him, as he lasted only 14 minutes on the court before fouling out. Personally, I feel that the referees are usually much stricter with him than with the rest of the players. He saw more action in the final game, playing 24 consecutive minutes before committing his 4th foul mid-way through the fourth quarter and sitting down for good. Once he's brought on to the court, it's really hard for coach Ivanovic to take him out given what he brings to the table. Defense and intensity are Splitter's forte right now, but also good decision making on the offensive end. Tau plays good basketball with him on the court, which was evident in the final, where once he left the court his team kissed the game goodbye.

This wasn't the most glamorous performance for Tiago Splitter. No spectacular stat lines or incredible scoring numbers. But for anyone who paid a little attention to the games, the excellent work he put in for his team couldn't have gone unnoticed. We're talking about lottery material here, that's for sure.

DUSAN SAKOTA, 6-11, SF/PF, Panathinaikos, 1986, Greece (15 minutes, 5 points [2/3 FG, 1/2 3P] 2 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 TO, 5 fouls)

by Dimitris Risonis

The talented, but extremely young Dusan Sakota didn't play at all in the semi-final against Maccabi, as it was too crucial a game for coach Obradovic to trust this young, skinny forward with any playing time.

In the 3rd-4th place game, Obradovic gave the kid some playing time and he responded pretty well. Despite being charged with fouls he never committed, he looked comfortable and was able to take a few shots when his teammates passed him the ball. Being long and flexible, he managed to beat his opponents twice off the dribble, while on one occasion showing a splendid slashing movement, drawing three defenders and ending up with an impressive assist. He also scored a trey from the corner, despite being guarded well and had one easy basket after an assist.

Overall, he did just fine and managed to stay on the court until he fouled out. The only awkward moment for him was his idea to try and bring the ball up the court at the end of the 4th quarter against CSKA's full court press defense, which ended with a turnover and the basket from CSKA, forcing the 1st overtime.

He showed good movement, a key contribution in the team's progress in the court, nice court vision, quick legs and some improvement on defense. As always, his shooting touch is great, as is his cold blood. Slowly, he will become a regular contributor, wherever he plays next season.

Previously drafted players

Every year NBA teams draft players and stash them away in Europe to develop. Some of them never make it over, while some of them do. If they are participating, the Euroleague Final Four is a great way to monitor their progress and estimate how NBA ready they are at the moment.

SERGEI MONYA, 6-8, SG/SF, CSKA Moscow, 1983, Russia (4.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1 apg, 1.5 spg, 1 bpg, 12.5 mpg)


by Luis Fernández

It's been a tough season for Monya. With Viktor Khryapa (Portland Trailblazers) finally out of the picture, he was supposed to shine as CSKA's starting small forward. But his team's goal of taking advantage of home court advantage to win the Euroleague led them to sign the veteran American Antonio Granger, which relegated Sergei to a rather secondary role off the bench. Some injury troubles didn't help either, so we find a player that has hardly improved from the player we saw in the Final Four in Tel Aviv last year.

Nevertheless, he was one of the best players for CSKA in the semifinal, actively playing a key role in his team's comeback in the second quarter, and passively in the ultimate loss, as coach Ivkovic inexplicably forgot him on the depths of the bench for most of the second half.

Playing against a team like Tau Vitoria that usually uses shooting guards to fill both wing positions, Monya's size and athleticism coming off the bench helped him dominate defensively and on the glass. Suddenly, CSKA's defensive end was much more secure while the boards were owned by the Russian players. These were the ugliest moments for Tau during the game, as CSKA's dominance wasn't dependant on the accuracy of their perimeter shooting. Besides, Monya gave a hand on the other end of the floor by hitting a couple of open three pointers, although he missed the rest of his shots. Anyway, he was probably the guy that had more to do with bringing CSKA back into the game than anyone in that second quarter. His few minutes later on at the end of the game were forgettable, finishing with 6 points (2/8 FG), 5 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 13 minutes.

Although looking pretty solid, his performance in the meaningless game for third place against Panathinaikos wasn't extremely memorable either, having 3 points (no field goals made out of 3 attempts), 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals and 2 blocks in 12 minutes.

As far as his development as a player, it's nothing different from what he showed last season with CSKA. His body, athleticism and defense are still NBA caliber. You could put him right away on a NBA roster and he wouldn't look out of place. He still doesn't have a mid-range game to speak of, though, his shooting is average at best (he hits little more than open static shots), and his slashing ability looks pretty unpolished (doesn't have superb handles nor footwork, poor ability to finish against opposition if it's not with a dunk).

He will make a living in the NBA, that's for sure, and will probably look OK in Portland. But I seriously doubt that he will become anything more than a role player, perhaps even a starter sometime if given the chance, but a role player after all.

LUIS SCOLA, 6-9, PF, Tau Vitoria, 1980, Argentina (15.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 3 apg, 1 spg, 4.5 fouls per game, 29 minutes per)


by Luis Fernández

For some time now, Luis Scola has been one of the best post players in Europe. But in part due to the San Antonio Spurs' cap situation during the past few years, his chances of making the NBA were pretty small. This season is different, and the team from Texas could finally land this great off-the-bench post scorer to complement Duncan's production in the paint. Some people might question how well the game of this 6-9 PF will translate to the NBA, but Scola has been answering it in every competition he has played in over the years. This weekend was no exception, with him once again being a big factor for his team.

It didn't start in the best way for him, though, as he could only stay on the court for half of the game against CSKA because of foul trouble. Even if he has improved in this department, this is still an issue for Scola, who too many times is forced to watch large portions of the game from the bench. Furthermore, his mid-range shots, usually a consistent weapon for him, weren't falling, and he saw his scoring production limited to 10 points (plus 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal) on the game in 20 minutes. On the other hand, he was quite important in the minutes he did play in, providing Tau with a real scoring threat that helped his team's offense, while playing with intensity on both ends of the court.

The Final was a totally different story, and we could once again see the same old Luis Scola, the prolific scorer, a guy with an almost unmatchable ability to move in the paint. Against an excellent defense such as Maccabi's, that focused on stopping Macijauskas, but also crowded the paint to avoid easy baskets from the Spanish team, Scola found the way to punish them with 21 points. Many of his points came in low post situations, where Luis had to frequently deal with more than one defender while showing his great footwork, instincts and intelligence to find the right spaces in Maccabi's defensive web and put the ball in the basket.

Beyond his scoring effort, he showed his passing skills as well with 4 assists. Drawing attention from the low post, he forces his rivals to overcrowd his position, which frees up perimeter players or his fellow post mate (Tau Vitoria is one of the best teams in Europe in terms of interior passing), who may receive a pass if Scola can't find a clear option to score himself. Also, his intensity is always there, which makes him a pretty decent defender and rebounder (he got 9 in this game), despite the fact that he's clearly an offensive player first and foremost. We could see him shouting and cheering his teammates on, trying to motivate them; Scola (with Calderón) is the vocal leader of this team, a hot-blooded player and a natural-born winner.

It wasn't enough playing against such a strong team as Maccabi, though, arguably the closest thing to an NBA caliber team that he will find outside the NBA. It's now up to Scola's agent, the Spurs and Tau Vitoria to negotiate a contract and buyout for him this summer, as from what we've been told, Luis would love to play in the NBA next season.

DAVID ANDERSEN, 7-0, Center, CSKA Moscow, 1980, Australia/Denmark (12 ppg, 11 rpg, 45% FG, 33 mpg)


by Luis Fernández

Last season we assumed that it would have been a favorable situation for David Andersen to finally sign with the Atlanta Hawks and get some action, given the awful frontcourt that this franchise displays. Now it's pretty clear that this player is ready to take his game to the next level of competition. Of course, this statement can't be made solely on his Final Four performance, as Andersen didn't have his best showing, but overall it has been an excellent season for the Australian center, earning All-Euroleague First team honors.

It looked like it could be another good performance for him at the beginning of the semifinal game. He netted a turnaround jumper and got a dunk early on, but as soon as Tiago Splitter came into the game, he almost disappeared on the offensive end, not being able to beat him while using his size and skills. Besides, he had his fair share of the free-throw disease that plagued CSKA throughout the game (they finished with a pitiful 10/28, 0/3 for the Aussie). Still, Andersen contributed by rebounding and on defense, helping CSKA to limit Tau's production from the paint. 10 points, 6 rebounds, 1 assists and 1 steal was his stat line in this upset loss.

In the annoying game for third place, he exhibited his rebounding power against the undersized Panathinaikos frontcourt, grabbing 15 boards. Andersen is stronger than last season, showing a body ready to step into the NBA, and even if he's not the most aggressive player in the world, he operates comfortably under the basket, thanks to his size and decent athleticism. He was also more effective offensively, getting 14 points, even if he left Moscow without one of his typical excellent scoring performances under his belt. Andersen has a reliable mid-range shot, he's pretty effective in the low post, particularly with his turnaround jumpers, and he can put the ball on the floor and attack the rim given the right situation. He showed it all in Moscow, but in small doses this time.

He can't be considered anything but a steal for the Hawks in the second round. He probably won't turn into a star in the NBA, but he can still be a very serviceable big man in Atlanta. Seven footers with his physical attributes and skill set are not very common these days.

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