The Top Overseas Free Agents on the 2007 Market (Part Three)

The Top Overseas Free Agents on the 2007 Market (Part Three)
Jul 07, 2007, 05:06 am
The Top Overseas Free Agents on the 2007 Market (Part One)-- Minimum Salary American Players

The Top Overseas Free Agents on the 2007 Market (Part Two)-- Rights Owned Players

Part three of our top overseas free agents article will talk about players who are free to sign with the NBA franchise of their choice-- if their European team allows--and who will likely garner offers for more (sometimes much more) than the NBA minimum salary.

This has been a successful strategy for NBA teams in recent years--with players like Jose Manuel Calderon, Anthony Parker, Charlie Bell, Jorge Garbajosa, Fabricio Oberto, Walter Hermann, Andres Nocioni and others helping their respective teams substantially, especially relative to what they cost.

Marcus Haislip, 6-10, Power Forward, Efes Pilsen (Turkey), 1980

Jonathan Givony

Topping our list of non-minimum contract free agent prospects when taking the realistic chances of his signing along with the potential impact he could represent for an NBA team, the name Marcus Haislip might surprise some who strictly recall the player he was after being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks as a lottery pick in 2002. Haislip has been honing his game over the past two seasons in the Euroleague with Turkish powerhouse Efes Pilsen, and has made some impressive strides in many key areas.

Once just a freak athlete with very little in the ways of fundamentals, skills or basketball IQ, the Bucks gave up on him very quickly--just as he was going into his third NBA season, a move they’ll freely tell you they regret in hindsight when considering the type of player he’s developed into. That’s not a shock when considering the fact that he’s only 26 years old at the moment.

When examining Haislip’s physical tools—incredible explosiveness, superb fluidity, excellent speed, and the awesome quickness in which he gets off his feet—its easy to see why Milwaukee decided to gamble with a late lottery pick in a shallow draft on him. He’s essentially a highlight reel waiting to happen on tape with Efes Pilsen, looking extremely hard to stay in front of at the European level considering how much more athletic he is than anyone else on the floor. He cuts to the basket and finishes with ease, drops in impressive alleyoop dunks off pick and roll plays, rotates from the weakside looking for blocks, only to pin the ball against the glass in mid-air, and puts the ball on the floor well with an outstanding first step. He’s also improved his shooting range considerably, to the point that he hit just under 38% of his 3-pointers in the Euroleague this season on over 4 attempts per game.

Haislip still doesn’t have anything more than some simple moves he can go to in the post- a quick spin or a turnaround jump-shot seem to be his favorite, and he can look quite predictable when trying to create offense for himself. That’s where a playmaking point guard could have come in extremely handy as far as he’s concerned—but alas, Efes Pilsen made the questionable move of signing two trigger happy combo guards (Drew Nicholas and Horace Jenkins) to man their backcourt this year, and thus had an extremely disappointing season-- being swept in the Turkish league finals and knocked out of the Euroleague in the Top 16 stage.

While he was ranked the #1 shot-blocker in the Euroleague this season (1.8 in 28 minutes per game), most NBA coaches would probably not consider him a great defender. He has a tendency to bite on pump-fakes, rotate haphazardly (exposing his team’s interior defense) and swat at the ball violently. He’s generally speaking a fairly wild player whose consistency level still wavers dramatically. He’ll for example score 33 points one week in the Euroleague and then follow that up the very next game with just 2 points. This also shows up in his rebounding, where his intensity level boxing out opponents seems to waver and his freakish athleticism only takes him so far.

With that said, for what Haislip needs to be considering his physical tools, he is doing fairly well for himself as far as the NBA is concerned. There are just a handful of players at the power forward position who should be considered better free agent prospects than him, and it shouldn’t shock anyone to see someone use their lower-level exception or a part of their MLE to lock him up for a few years. Put him next to a good point guard in an up-tempo offense and he should be able to deliver solid production off the bench. His contract had another year on it with a team option, but Efes Pilsen already decided to move in another direction and has reportedly signed Andre Hutson as his replacement.

Felipe Reyes, 6-8, Power Forward, Real Madrid (Spain), 1980

Luis Fernandez

Few players have done as much as Felipe Reyes this season to increase their value. Somehow we could call it a breakthrough season, even if he was already a well-established and veteran player that had steadily improved virtually every year he has spent in the ACB league. Actually, he has arguably been the best player in Real Madrid, winning the Finals MVP award as he commanded his team to conquer the ACB League-- the toughest domestic competition outside the NBA.

Reyes has been the same old hustler in the paint, a restless 6-9 inside player with a great nose and aggressiveness chasing the rebound, particularly on the offensive glass, toughness on defense, and an excellent ability to score from the paint. But this season he has also added a much improved mid-range spot-up jumper. This single skill addition has takes him from a marginal NBA prospect to a very legit one, as he now fills quite well the bill of a power forward.

We’re not talking about a finesse player, but still about a very productive guy with a very nice feel for the game. Reyes is rather effective from the low post, not thanks to any particularly remarkable footwork, but more due to his great aggressiveness, footspeed and adaptation to the environment (yes, he feels at home fighting near the rim). Felipe can effectively put the ball on the floor to attack the basket, although as always, he’s still very predictable trying to go right (or changing directions if he attacks his left first).

His aggressiveness can eventually get out of control, particularly this past season, in the form of complaints to the referees, brawls or severe infractions (he even head-butted an opponent during a game), and coming back to haunt him with several technical and unsportsmanlike fouls.

For any NBA team signing him, they should expect an instant intensity boost on both ends of the floor whenever he hits the court, but also a player with the ability to create his own shot in the paint, knock down his open mid-range looks regularly, and contribute to the general offensive flow. Indeed, pretty much a blue-collar guy, not a star, but a contributor. However, it looks unlikely at this point that he opts to try to make the NBA, particularly this summer. He’s under contract and Real Madrid faces an extremely important season, hosting the Euroleague Final Four, for which they will try to build a very strong squad. Still, his name deserves to be in the conversation.

Yiannis Bouroussis, 7-0, Center, Olimpiacos (Greece), 1983

Jonathan Givony

A 23-year old center who only started playing organized basketball 5 years ago after giving up on his career as a swimmer, Yiannis Bouroussis made serious enough strides this past season to earn himself a rightful spot on this list—one that he probably won’t be relinquishing anytime soon until he makes his way over.

A legit 7-footer with a huge frame and a very nice wingspan, Bouroussis looks the part and then some. And while he is not a spectacular athlete by any stretch, particularly in the way he gets off the floor to finish around the basket, he moves well enough and is fluid and coordinated to the point that this won’t be what’s holding him back either.

Skill-wise, Bouroussis is intriguing as well. He has a beautiful looking flat-footed stroke with range that extends past the European 3-point line, and the touch to punish any rival that dares leave him open from there. His quick release combined with his size establish him as a fantastic option to space the floor for his team from the perimeter, and he’s talented enough to present himself as a pick and pop threat from mid-range as well.

Bouroussis’ bread and butter this year lied in his ability to play the pick and roll, though. Whether setting the pick himself and rolling to the hoop or coming off a secondary screen as the cutter following one of his guards forays into the paint, he established himself as an incredibly reliable presence in the paint thanks to his fantastic hands and very sure touch around the hoop. His strength helped him here as well, as he can take contact and finish around the hoop fairly well thanks to his great frame.

Leading the Euroleague in Field Goal Percentage (at a ridiculous 76.5%), shooting 41% from behind the arc, finishing fourth in the Greek league in rebounds and second in blocks, there is a lot to like about the way his season went. What might even be considered more frustrating is the fact that he often did not see as much playing time as you might have hoped considering his production—averaging just under 9 points and 6 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game. In fact, he only played a total of 6 minutes in Olimpiacos’ first five Euroleague games, immediately beginning to produce as soon as he was thrown on to the floor.

It’s with those numbers that we wonder just how much room he has left to grow when considering his learning curve—he could barely get off the bench for AEK Athens just two years ago, and is now one of the best centers in Europe. Bouroussis still hasn’t played for the Greek national team much either—its almost a give-in that he will surpass Sofoklis Schortsanitis on the team’s depth chart this summer at the European Championships in Spain. It’s there that his notoriety could grow amongst NBA personnel that somehow missed the terrific outbursts he had in the Euroleague (for example 16 points, 6 rebounds in 22 minutes at CSKA).

What that does for his ability to join the NBA is still a bit up in the air, though, even if he probably isn’t athletic enough to be considered more than just a nice backup in today’s NBA regardless. He just signed a four year contract with Olimpiacos last year according to his agent Costas Papadakis of First Class Management, and only has an NBA out clause in 2009. Papadakis says that as many as ten teams have regardless expressed interest, and that Bouroussis “does have a desire to play in the NBA, like all players.” In his opinion he will need at least one more year in Greece, since he still is very far from reaching his full potential as a player due to the fact that he started playing the game much later than most, at age 18. But, as Papadakis explained, “when the time is correct, he’ll surely be interested.”

Theo Papaloukas, 6-7, Point Guard, CSKA Moscow (Russia), 1977

Luis Fernandez

The best player in Europe, period. If we had the Bodiroga reign or the Jasikevicius reign in past years, we’re now right into the Papaloukas reign in Europe. Everything he touches becomes a success, either with his team CSKA or playing for his native country Greece.

A superb floor general, Papaloukas always comes off the bench to provide a huge offensive spark to his team from the point guard position. It’s a repeated situation: as soon as he on the court his team builds a solid lead in the score. Theo is a very smart playmaker that tries to takes advantage of any situation to get easy points. He’s excellent in transition, but also very effective in the offensive set.

Papaloukas is an off-the-charts passer and distributor. Not only does he enjoy terrific court vision and decision making skills, but his 6-7 frame comes in very handy to easily see the floor. He particularly excels in pick-and-roll settings. In pure two-on-two plays, he’s most likely going to get the job done. He enjoys very solid ball-handling skills, being aggressive attacking the basket and pretty difficult to stop around the rim due to his size, so somebody has to step into his way, and its right at that moment when he delivers the pass to the big man, usually over his rival’s head. If any defensive help arrives, he finds the open man. His biggest weakness is his perimeter stroke, but he’s not that bad of a shooter to grant him a lot of space. Theo also uses his size in the low post, either to score himself or to pass the ball. He’s also very good with the kickout pass, feeding the weak-side, cutters or just moving the ball within the offensive flow.

A curiosity: Theo Papaloukas was this season the single only player able to eventually make Ricky Rubio look like a teenager on defense.

Unspectacular, but solid on defense, this is the area that might raise the biggest concerns about his position in the NBA. He’s likely not quick enough to consistently stay in front of many NBA point guards. So defensively he could really use quick perimeter teammates to switch their assignment. Another issue is his age. He’s has been peaking for a couple of years and won’t get any younger, although he’s not a guy that needs to rely that much on his athleticism (actually, he’s an average athlete).

Any team looking to sign him should be well aware of how to take advantage of Papaloukas. It’s either he really runs the point or he will be pretty much useless on an NBA court. Theo is the player he is now because of the way he makes decisions with the ball in his hands. Put him off the ball and he’s a bust waiting to happen (he’s not even a good shooter a la Jasikevicius). Indeed, he’s not a teenager who needs to earn his stripes on the court; regardless of not having any NBA experience, you better give him floor general status. Any other situation is a mere waste of time, money and talent.

Recent reports on indicate that Papaloukas may have resigned with CSKA Moscow.

Dimitrios Diamantidis, 6-5, Point Guard, Panathinaikos (Greece), 1980

Alongside his countryman Papaloukas, the left-handed Diamantidis is probably at the very top of the European scene right now, especially after winning Euroleague Final Four MVP honors, but he’s quite a different kind of point guard though. While Theo does his real damage on the offensive end, Diamantidis is a defensive monster, downright scary.

A nightmare match-up, Diamantidis' strong 6-5 body and his endless arms are usually all over his opponents. He’s not an athletic freak, but he’s still nice in this area and a player who makes the most of it. Extremely active, and extremely smart in his efforts, his positioning is close to perfect, being equally good in man-to-man defense or team defense. He’s awfully hard to beat given his length and lateral quickness, he stays physical on his opponent, but doesn’t get obsessed with his match-up and gladly helps his teammates, either on the perimeter or the paint, but at the same time he’s capable of recovering to his man very quickly. Not risking his positioning, he’s always alert enough to come up with a steal in the passing line, while he’s also not a bad shot-blocker (leading his team in the Euroleague this past season in this department).

Offensively, he’s a very good player, quite unspectacular, but really solid. Besides, he’s growing as a playmaker and scorer. A nice ball-handler, he uses his strength and footwork to effectively attack his match-ups, although he could be a lot more active in this department. He often settles for a kickout pass instead of going all the way to the basket, showing solid court vision (he sees the weak side really well) and decision making. It’s a pattern in his game, the way he avoids the spotlight, sacrifices for the team and shows great unselfishness. Diamantidis takes advantage of his size to create mismatches posting-up smaller opponents. His shot has gained a lot of consistency lately, looking solid out to the three-point line and also quicker in the release, which provides him a lot more opportunities to fire.

Dimitrios is not a greatly creative player, nor is he the type of point guard who likes to dominate the ball and the offense, but he shows an excellent basketball IQ, commits few mistakes and always stays focused. Really a hard-working guy.

A hypothetical future in the NBA looks very unclear at this point for Diamantidis. He has repeatedly stated that he’s not interested in the American league, while he’s an extremely highly appreciated player in Europe, and particularly in Panathinaikos, which means that he’s making very good money (recently having signed a 3-year contract for a reported 5 million Euros net). Anyway, if by any chance he ends up playing in the NBA, don’t expect a star, but the ultimate team player, a complimentary player who does the dirty work and shares the ball with his teammates, a real glue guy.

Ermal Kuqo, 6-10, Center, Efes Pilsen (Turkey), 1980

Jonathan Givony

A team looking for a banger in the mold of Fabricio Oberto to bring in for cheap might decide to look in the direction of Albanian/Turkish big man Ermal Kuqo (pronounced koo-cho). Kuqo is also known as Ermal Kurtoglu since having received a Turkish passport. While not considering a particularly quick or athletic player, he’s a tough guy who likes to push players around and has shown to be effective at the highest levels of European basketball, including the Turkish National team.

Kuqo played Junior College basketball in the States (at Fort Scott CC and Seminole JC) but never became eligible to play D-1 from the NCAA’s standpoint due to his professional background. Since his American adventure he’s played in Croatia, Slovenia and in Turkey with Efes Pilsen for the last four years. He considers himself an Albanian through and through, though, and is often looked at as an ambassador of sorts for a culture that has had to deal with hardships over the years.

In terms of his skill level, Kuqo can find some production with his back to the basket (despite his fairly basic footwork) or facing the basket, thanks to a nice jump-shot with range that extends to the 3-point line. He’s usually never the most talented player on the floor, but he often is the most physical and hardest working, setting good screens, knocking guys around, and presenting himself as a threat on the pick and roll. He boxes out well thanks to his strength and frame, but often comes up a bit flat-footed for rebounds.

If this doesn’t sound like the most attractive prospect in the world—he probably isn’t—but considering his size, strength, experience, toughness and ability to knock down a jumper, teams could probably do worse than to consider him in the 1-1.5 million dollar range.

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