By: Sam Meyerkopf, Rob Scott & Nick Gibson
I can’t believe [Player X] is doing ______ right now.
Sam: Coming off the bench for Caja Laboral, Nemanja Bjelica has taken his all-around game to a new level. With renewed confidence in a now almost knockdown three-point shot (15/35 = 43% in Top 16), defenders have to stay tight on Bjelica and he just toys with them. A few months ago I was questioning which precise skills he will master and he responded by saying on offense, almost all of them. Whether shooting from deep, driving for his shot or a kick out, or being someone a defender always has to worry about, Bjelica is getting very close to becoming a complete offensive package.
Rob: Zalgiris Kaunas had the Regular Season’s top offensive rating, but most people thought they would inevitably fall back to earth. Marko Popovic was one of the keys to that offense, and while the team has indeed dropped off a notch, from 114.4 to 104.3, Popovic’s PPP stock has risen, from a pretty good 1.13 to 1.33, good for third highest in the Top 16. If you prefer straightforward accumulation to these fancy new math sums, he’s leading his team in total points and three pointers made, second most in the Top 16. Bobby Brown has four more makes, in 27 more attempts. If Marko can lead Zalgiris to the playoffs without Ibby Jaaber and in spite of Vladimir Romanov, you’re looking at the MVP of the Top 16, if that were a thing.
Nick: I can’t believe Giorgi Shermadini is playing for Olympiacos right now. I understand that David Blatt’s stubbornness is part of his genius, but to simply cast off one of the league’s more efficient bigs midway through the year still seems ridiculous. Nik Caner Medley’s back, but now Malcolm Thomas has been cut, Lior Eliyahu’s hurt and Darko Planinic has been effective and certainly foam-at-the-mouth aggressive, but his game’s not nearly as polished on either end as Giorgi Boy’s. The worst part: he might be a big reason why Olympiacos will make the playoffs and Maccabi will not.
Which Top 16 player averaging under 15 MPG will have the biggest impact the rest of the way?
Sam: Dontaye Draper is a ball hound on defense and the perfect weapon for Madrid when an offensive point guard is having his way. Draper has been used at all different points in games and even as a closer to disrupt the opponent when they’re at their weakest. If Madrid needs to cause some havoc, Draper along with Marcus Slaughter might be the scariest inside-out defensive combo left in the Euroleague.
Rob: This is a bit of a loophole, as Giorgi Shermadini has averaged 14:49 for Olympiacos since they sprung him from Blatt’s Big Man Prison. The Georgian should end up being disqualified from this by default by the end of this week, as he can expect to play closer to 20-25 minutes if he continues to establish himself. He already cleans the glass, coming in second in the Euroleague in total rebounding percentage at 20.4, and has six blocks in four games. He can give them what Joey Dorsey did, with much better pick and roll finishing, which makes this team highly dangerous once again.
Nick: Top 16 Mindaugas Kuzminskas is an entirely different person than Regular Season Mindaugas Kuzminskas. In five more minutes per game (from 9:14 up to 14:30), Kuzminskas has taken his scoring average from 3.7 to 9 and his rebounding from 1.6 to 4.2 while hitting four threes, exactly four more than he hit in nine attempts during the RS. Alongside or behind Tremmell Darden, Kuzminskas adds plenty of length to Zalgiris’ defense (three blocks, three steals in the Top 16) and a filthy little (big) baseline threat to their already throbbing offense. Bye-bye Ibby, say hello to the MinDaug.
If you’re Panathinaikos, do you still trade for James Gist?
Sam: No. With Dimitris Diamantidis sometimes hurt, Andy Panko would have been a great guy to run the offense through, James Gist is not.
Rob: No. Gist still takes away more than he offers, and with Antonis Fotsis on his way, they could probably still use Panko’s smarts over Gist’s jumping.
Nick: No. James Gist is fun to watch. Hilarious, even. But so are parades with people in animal costumes banging big drums and shooting off sparklers. Or previews for Charlie St. Cloud. But the Greens are at their best when folks are marveling at their tact, not chuckling at their folly, no matter how enthusiastically entertaining that may be.