By: Rafael Uehara / @rafael__uehara

Common sense tells us that BC Khimki’s Keith Langford was the consensus MVP of the initial group stages. He led the league in ranking (with a 19.70 rating), in scoring (averaging 18.7 points-per-game) and in fouls drawn (forcing an impressive average of 7.7 personal-fouls-per-game) through the regular-season. But Khimki failed to advance to Top 16, surpassed by Maccabi Electra Tel-Aviv, Partizan Belgrade, Zalgiris Kaunas and Caja Laboral Baskonia. So, he won’t be named the league’s MVP when it’s all said and done. As the TOP 16 is set to start this week, we present the true candidates in the race to being named the Euroleague’s MVP in May.

Juan Carlos Navarro, Regal FC Barcelona

Navarro does not rank inside the TOP 20 in ranking or in scoring or in shooting percentage. But the further you go, the more chances you have. Barça is once again looking like the most dominant force in European basketball. The reason why is Navarro’s return after missing four games, nursing a bad back. He’s the team’s top scorer and their catalyst. Navarro was the best player in Europe last season but got penalized for having the best company. He’s not the best player in Europe right now but some believe the MVP award should go to the best player in the best team. Barça is a contender. Actually, Barça is THE contender. If they repeat, Navarro will get a lot of votes.

Milos Teodosic, Olympiacos Piraeus

The reigning MVP is also having a quiet season so far. Olympiacos cruised through a relatively rough group and Teodosic is no longer the team’s single playmaker in the perimeter (he was joined by Vassilis Spanoulis), neither is he the team’s top scorer. Under Dusan Ivkovic, Piraeus runs a little bit more which requires some dose of athleticism, not one of Teodosic’s main strengths. Just like Navarro, Teodosic also doesn’t rank inside the TOP 20 in scoring. But when push comes to shove, we all know to whom the ball is going to. If Piraeus gets pushed a little bit more moving forward, Teodosic will get called to duty for crunch time. He performs; he’s back in the race for the MVP. It’s that simple.

Fernando San Emeterio, Caja Laboral Baskonia

A lot has been made about Mirza Teletovic’s and Stanko Barac’s progressions but San Emeterio has been Caja Laboral’s most valuable player. He’s the team’s most reliable source of energy and has quietly put together an MVP type of performance this season. You may not know but San Emeterio ranks third in the league in ranking, 13th in scoring, 7th in fouls draw and 10th in shooting percentage from the foul line. Caja Laboral’s odd group stages’ campaign was odd but that was all it was. Victoria’s team is equipped for a run at the title. If they get there, San Emeterio should get the credit for it.

Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Maccabi Electra

Chuck Edison had a great regular-season for Maccabi, ranking sixth in ranking. But make no mistake about, it’s about Sofo. He may not be ready to an enforcer in the NBA yet and that will probably never come but Sofo is Europe’s most impactful player at his position. No, he doesn’t lead the Euroleague in rebounds (he actually ranks 42nd, having grabbed 42 boards over 10 games) or in blocks (he actually ranks 24th, having blocked eight shots in 10 games) but a huge reason why teams don’t attack the rim as much is Schortsanitis’ presence down low. Maccabi had Europe’s best record through the regular-season and Sofo is the main reason why. He wasn’t dominant, nor was in your face but he was engaged and, most importantly, he was present. If that’s still the case, a trip to the Final Four isn’t that far away on the horizon. That’s how much Sofo matters.

Bo McCalebb, Montepaschi Siena

After leading a way-to-young-to-be-there Partizan Belgrade team to the Final Four last season, Bo McCallebb got paid. And he was earning his money. Getting some of his stuff off the ball, McCallebb ranked fourth in ranking (with a rating of 18.1), fifth in scoring (scoring an average of 15.5 points-per-game) and second in steals (averaging 2.4 per game). But Bo just underwent surgery to repair a broken bone in the fifth metatarsus of his left foot last Wednesday and will miss a big part of remainder of the season. However, if there’s one thing Bo himself proved us last year is that an explosive Final Four can do wonders for you. Siena will have to get there first, though.

Mirza Teletovic, Caja Laboral Baskonia

No player has gone further in one year than Teletovic. With the departure of Tiago Splitter, Caja Laboral was supposed to struggle finding a new post presence they could rely on. And they did. Teletovic and Stanko Barac took space away from each other but they eventually figured out. Teletovic has transformed himself into a perimeter-big and the results have been splendid. With Teletovic gunning three-pointers from all parts of the court (he ranks second in attempts), defenses are forced to stretch, freeing up space for Barac to operate in the post. But that’s only productive because Teletovic himself is a legit scoring threat from the outside. He ranks third in the league in scoring (averaging 16.8 points-per-game) and leads the league in three-pointers made (24). San Emeterio is Caja Laboral’s rock but it is undeniable Teletovic reflects the team’s temper. So, if Caja Laboral goes the distance…

Darjus Lavrinovic, Fenerbahçe Ülker

Fenerbahçe is a legit title contender thanks their three-head monster upfront. And Lavrinovic is by far best of the trio. A skilled post presence who draws double-teams constantly and who owns the ability to stretch the floor, Lavrinovic doesn’t rank inside the TOP 20 in ranking, points or rebounds like his brother but those who have spent some time watching Ülker play this season know Lavrinovic’s importance for Fenerbahçe’s contention status.

Ksistof Lavrinovic, Montepaschi Siena

How about this? With the departures of Tiago Splitter and Nikola Pekovic to the NBA, Ksistof Lavrinovic is Europe’s best low post presence nowadays. Siena is loaded as they try to return to the Final Four after a two year absence but Lavrinovic’s impact down low makes him the team’s most important player. Lavrinovic ranked 15th in ranking (with a rating of 15.4) and 10th in rebounding (grabbing an average of six boards-per-game). Siena relies on a fearsome inside-outside attack but while besides McCallebb, Montepaschi is also armed with Rimantas Kaukenas and David Moss on the perimeter, Lavrinovic is truly their only scoring threat on the inside.

Also Keep an Eye on:

Panathinaikos is loaded but at some point, somebody is going to have to stand out. I guess I should have made an argument for Dimitris Diamantidis due to the fact he ranks second in the league in ranking but nah…

Efes Pilsen’s Igor Rakocevic ranks fourth in scoring but how far are the Turks going really? Especially now that they are stuck in the toughest Top 16 group there is out there.

And yes. You’ve assumed it right. I believe Real Madrid is not going anywhere, anyway. So, it’s not worth mentioning anybody.

Rafael Uehara is a scout for NetScouts Basketball and the managing figure of ‘The Basketball Post’, his personal website. He’s a contributor for ELA and can be followed on twitter @rafael__uehara or reached via e-mail at Rafael.uehara@thebasketballpost.com