By: Sam Meyerkopf / @euro_adventures
Another season nearly in the books and another Rising Star award for Real Madrid’s Nikola Mirotic, his second in as many years. And while Nikola’s surely taken another huge step forward in his short-but-already-wildly-impressive career, the coaches’ votes left other deserving candidates out in the cold.
So now, I’ll take it upon myself to break out some extra hardware and clink our glasses for our younger basketball-playing brethren. Just as I’ve ranked the top five Rising Star candidates throughout the year, I’ll be handing out the same number of awards today, and tell you who gets my vote as the Euroleague’s top young gun.
Just so you don’t forget all of our nominees, here’s a list of everyone who’s made an appearance on the RSR at one point or another this season:
Furkan Aldemir, Danilo Andjusic, Davis Bertans, Alessandro Gentile, Milan Macvan, Dragan Milosavljevic, Nikola Mirotic, Donatas Motiejunas, Dino Muric, Kostas Papanikalou, Tornike Shengelia, Kostas Sloukas.
You Rocked My Rims Award
Furkan Aldemir, C, Galatasaray
Points: 6.6 Rebounds: 4.8 FG%: 55.7%
No one personified pure badass-ness among the Rising Stars more than Furkan Aldemir. Aldemir didn’t let a mask get in the way of his body slamming dunks, he made them look scarier. Galatasaray was sitting on the edge, waiting to fall into the Playoffs, when Olympaicos dove right in front of them. A good Playoff showing and Aldemir might have had this award to himself; he played tough enough this season. No one tore down more rims and shook more backboards among Rising Stars than Aldemir. Just ask CSKA Moscow’s big men.
You’d Look Good In Anything Award
Milan Macvan, PF/C, Partizan Belgrade
Points: 15.3 Rebounds: 8.2 Assists: 2.2
This special tribute goes out to a guy who I thought might be standing on the podium next to Jordi Bertomeu and me, as fans all around Europe cheered loudly and passionately. We’d then be riding in a convertible through the streets of Belgrade as Milan and I raised the Rising Star Trophy to the sky, thousands around us screaming in pure joy.
Those dreams were shattered when Partizan faltered down the stretch and couldn’t even grab a Top 16 spot. Macvan though, looked good doing everything on the court. He broke out a slow release three pointer now in again to show off his extended range when Nikola Pekovic was working the paint. Working from anywhere on the court he could find an open man in an instant and pierce a spiral his way. Throw him a bouncer into the block and Macvan’s footwork will put you into a daze. Going in for a rebound? Move, or Macvan’s bicep will move you. Whether it’s in Partizan stripes or his future Maccabi yellow, Milan looks good in whatever he wants.
Most Dominating Haircut Award
Donatas Motiejunas, PF/C, Asseco Prokom
Points: 12.5 Rebounds: 7.9 Assists: 0.9
After failing to make the cut for the Lithuanian National Team this past summer, Motiejunas started playing with a fire that we’ve rarely seen before. Donatas’ spiky, gelled up buzz cut inspired beastly moments of shot swatting, board ravaging, and dunk-tacular finishes that were some of the lone bright spots on possibly the Euroleague’s worst team. This didn’t stop Motiejunas from grabbing the most defensive rebounds ever in a Euroleague game (18), in an effort that landed his team their only win. That once-floppy top transformed into deadly spears that inspired an effort on the glass that only Macvan could top in the Regular Season. Congrats big man. You, your play, and a certain Lithuanian barber earned it.
You Made A Difference On A Team That Matters Award
Kostas Papanikolaou, F, Olympiacos
Points: 5.3 Rebounds: 3.4 FG%: 58.2%
Come on down Kostas, and take your seat as one of the only Rising Star candidates to be on a Final Four team. Your play started off rather rocky, but as Olympiacos turned over a new leaf, so did you. Your role as an energy producing forward should lend itself well to your skill set. Crashing to the rim or straightening out that jumper, your game grew more than most any other young player out there. Give thanks to everyone that believed in you and revel in the fact that maybe some players outperformed you earlier this year, but they’re not preparing to go into battle for a Euroleague championship in a few weeks. Are they?
And drumroll please, as your actual Rising Star Ranker winner, determined by me, is…
This Is Getting Way Too Easy But You’re The Winner Again Award
Nikola Mirotic, PF, Real Madrid
Points: 12.5 Rebounds: 4.5 Assists: 0.9
Do you remember heading into Week Five of the Regular Season when Mirotic hadn’t registered a single double-digit scoring game and looked like an uncomfortable teenager? That seems like light years ago.
From there on out, Mirotic set a path of fire and not only looked like the clear cut Rising Star Ranker winner, but a candidate for an All-Euroleague spot. His jump shot clicked on and he started finishing with force around the basket. Not only am I crowning him winner but also the higher ups agree, as the Euroleague beat me to the punch just yesterday. And swallow this down with a glass of milk: the guy shot 57 percent from two, 44 percent from three, and a Euroleague leading 92 percent from the line. Yes, your face is still frozen. Take a deep breath and applaud Mirotic, as he becomes the first ever back-to-back Euroleague Rising Star and first ever RSR winner.
Mirotic is keeping pretty solid company. Past Rising Stars winners:
2004-05: Erazem Lorbek
2005-06: Andrea Bargnani
2006-07: Rudy Fernandez
2007-08: Danilo Gallinari
2008-09: Novica Velickovic
2009-10: Ricky Rubio
And just ’cause it looks cool:
2010-11: Nikola Mirotic
2011-12: Nikola Mirotic
Mirotic’s next task will be a little harder: become the best of the bunch. Having graduated from Rising Star to superstar, his work will now be compared against All-Euroleaguers and NBA starters.
If his growth over the past two years is any indication, betting against him would be unwise.