A few things went down this weekend in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague—just had to type that one out loud to see how she sounded. Six players signed and I’d say the five not named Gabriele Ganeto will, at the very least, be difference makers on their respective clubs.
But among this handful of relevant newly-signeds, an alpha dog clearly emerges. And he barks with an Australian accent.
Aleks Maric, Center, Panathinaikos (from Partizan)
Greece currently finds itself shackled in debt and in no position to fund a war or squelch a foreign attack of any kind, so they’d better stop prodding Serbia with its thousand mile stick (that’s what she said). I don’t think Partizan appreciates being robbed of its national treasure on a yearly basis. It was Nikola Pekovic in 2008, Milenko Tepic after last season and now Maric this year following Partizan’s first Final Four run since 1998. Maric averaged 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds on 62% shooting last season in what should have been an MVP season—his 21.1 average ranking was almost 4 points better than Linas Kleiza, who came in second place with 17.9. And anyone who owned him last year in Sportingbet Fantasy (hopefully everyone at some point) will fondly remember his 34-point, 16 board explosion against Efes Pilsen for a 49 ranking. I’ll let Borat relive this historic performance before we move on:
Let me be clear: I don’t expect him to double up on stats this year. With Mike Batiste down low to hog some touches/boards and a healthy stable of back-ups in Tsartsaris, Fotsis, Vougioukas and even Shermadini around to poach minutes, a 20% cut in numbers should be expected. But fantasy happiness aside, a lightened load won’t be all bad for Maric. If you haven’t already scrolled down to the new rankings, I’ll now spoil what might have been a surprise: Aleks Maric is the best signing of this Euroleague offseason. Three reasons why:
1. He was the MVP last season. Sorry Milos. Sorry Linas. If you take him off of that team, what do you have? You have Partizan’s typical formula for unlikely success which includes great young talent—ie: Tripkovic, Tepic, Velickovic in 2009—but no constants. His presence created driving lanes for McCalebb, space for Vesely to be athletic on the boards and enough double teams for Roberts to finish when he had the chance. Not only that, but his maturity and leadership let Coach Dusko Vujosevic loosen up and focus his attention on developing the young guys. Besides, I thought he looked pretty sharp in the black and white.
2. Can you think of a better complement to Mike Batiste? A strong, consistent thickbody to anchor his man on the post and draw double teams. To answer my own question: no, no I cannot.
3. I don’t need to remind anyone of Panathinaikos’ disastrous EL results last season, but I will anyways: they failed to make the quarterfinals a season after winning it all. It was really, very, truly ugly basketball that they lost with, too. No flukes or bad bounces, just unwatchably boring hoops. With the departure of Vassilis Spanoulis to arch rival Olympiacos, it looked like we might have similar terribleness to look forward to in 2010. Despite popular opinion, Panathinaikos can’t remain among Europe’s elite simply by throwing five guys dressed in green onto the court twice a week. You need players and you need chemistry, and Maric is a superstar whose style lets him fit in wherever he needs to. And then you snag Romain Sato to man the offensively-empty SF position? Wow. That takes Maric from ‘outstanding signing’ to ‘key player on a championship contender,’ which essentially is the difference between number four on the list and number one. Now let’s see if he can hold off his competitors.
Just because McIntyre fell from the top slot on the board, it doesn’t mean he should be a forgotten man. With Joel Freeland and Giorgios Printezis mixing it up down low and T-Mac running the show, there should be plenty of missed assignments and transition triple opportunities. I could think of no other European I’d like to have toeing that line and firing away. I had to do the math on this about six times, but the 23-year-old Tripkovic has already played seven seasons in the EL (!) despite taking a year off last year with DKV. He’s the winningest player in Partizan history (another !), a Serbian National Team regular and has met very few shots he doesn’t like. Calling it now before anyone else lays claim to it: Uros Tripkovic will lead the Euroleague in three-pointers this season. I’m right. So just, you know…deal with it.
James Augustine, Power Forward, Valencia (from Gran Canaria)
When I saw this signing I erupted in excitement. The logic behind such a gleeful reaction is a little backwards. You see, James played for my Atlanta Hawks in the Summer League and had naturally been rumored as a possible roster addition to bolster our scratchy-toilet-paper-thin frontline. He doesn’t fit in the NBA. Sorry, some guys just don’t. His relative size, strength and rugged rebounding in Europe all take serious hits in the NBA and leave him as an undersized finesse big who can’t defend larger 4’s. There is a clear-cut line between NBA readiness and the Euro-fit, and Augustine lives just east of it. That said, he’s an All-Eurcoup performer who makes Savanovic and Javtokas that much scarier down low. Just understand that this is a terrific signing, even if it means ignoring my first few sentences.
Nemanja Bjelica, Guard/Forward, Caja Laboral (from Crvena Zvezda)
This signing can go one of two ways:
My way: Caja Laboral realizes that his status as a ‘top international prospect’ means he’s talented and bursting potential, not just some raw naive kid. They take the time to interpret his skillset; he can play shooting guard to power forward and can handle the ball when necessary, he’ll rebound no matter where you put him and he put up 18.9 and 7.4 last year in the Serbian League as a go-to guy. The way Caja has done things in the past should stay in the past, Tiago is gone and David Logan is the first step in a major makeover. Halfcourt sets are memories, 100-point outputs are expected and Bjelica’s young knees and positional indifference will be a part of the equation from day one.
The all-too-typical way: Hey, we got Bjelica for five years. Awesome. Let’s stow him on the bench in EL games and important ACB contests, expect him to develop through practices and spotty game action all while crippling him and damaging his morale. Yeah, that’s probably the best way to maximize returns on our investment.
I have ranked him in hopes that they adopt my first, preferred philosophy with the expectations that they’ll mix in some of the usual old school methods of “developing” players (aka “the all-too-typical way” in this example).
David Hawkins, Shooting Guard, AJ Milano (from Montepaschi Siena)
David Hawkins was supposed to be Terrell’s right hand man at the top of the key. Morris Finley left Montepaschi to make room and Hawkins was coming off a lovely little season: 13.8 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.6 assists for a Top 16 Milano team. His numbers didn’t drop that much with MPS—11.2 points and 2.5 assists—but he looked awkwardly out of place with the team. Maybe he’s just not a guy who thrives as the third or fourth option, and that’s OK. As for fantasy production this is a huge boost, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that after breathing, that’s what worries me the most. I can’t wait to hear the voices on Euroleague.TV tell me all about the brilliance of ‘DAAAHH-VEEED…OWLKINGS.’
Gabriele Ganeto, Forward, AJ Milano (from MiroRadici Finance Vigevano)
This leaves Gabby out of the “I matter” party, but I’m not ready to anoint him as the next Gallinari just yet, so he gets the shaft. Prove me wrong, kiddo.
So we started with these:
And now we’re left with what you see below, on the newest edition of The Dotted Line Up:
|Rank||Player||Team||He's here because...||Last Line Up|
|1||Aleks Maric||Panathinaikos||..he was clearly the Euroleague's best player last year, even though Teodosic walked away with the trophy.||-|
|2||Terrell McIntyre||Unicaja||EL's streakiest team picks up EL's most consistent PG. Viva Malaga.||1|
|3||Romain Sato||Panathinaikos||The 'D' Pana needs at the 3 w/o the lack of 'O' they're used to.||2|
|4||Marko Tomas||Fenerbahçe||F**k Jacob & Edward. I'm #TeamMarko.||3|
|5||Bo McCalebb||Montepaschi||With the season he had last year for Partizan, one could argue McCalebb vs. McIntyre is a push.||4|
|6||Vassilis Spanoulis||Olympiacos||I just hope this doesn't turn Teodosic into a pure jumpshooter.||5|
|7||David Logan||Caja Laboral||With Tiago gone, the ACB champs will run. And run and run and...||6|
|8||Ali Traore||Lottomatica Roma||His lefty hook is second only to Navarro's runner as far as trademarked shots go.||7|
|9||D'Or Fischer||Real Madrid||This team is dying to be exciting. With enough talent, maybe Messina will let Llull/Rodriguez/D'Or do their thing.||8|
|10||Andrew Wisniewski||Efes Pilsen||He should be able to run the point, unimpeded. Now he'll have a new toy in Roberts.||9|
|11||Brad Newley||Lietuvos Rytas||A huge reason I think Australia could medal in Turkey.||10|
|12||Lawrence Roberts||Efes Pilsen||It's clear Efes Pilsen wants to do it big this year. This addition makes sense in a million ways.||11|
|13||Robertas Javtokas||Valencia||Dropping down a slot as better bigs populate the list, but still think he's a great fit.||12|
|14||Richard Hendrix||Maccabi||Fischer signing with Madrid reminds me of the defense they'll lose with Hendrix in there.||13|
|15||Omar Cook||Valencia||It remains to be seen how de Colo will adjust to off-ball scenarios. If he's still in Valencia at all...||14|
|16||Sergio Rodriguez||Real Madrid||He'll love throwing it up to Fischer. Lavrinovic/Reyes not exactly "flyers" for 09-10 squad.||15|
|17||Krzysztof Szubarga||Asseco Prokom||He just keeps moving up. Don't know what I like him about so much...yet.||16|
|18||Paulius Jankunas||Zalgiris||Thank the Lithuanian Lord. Now pray that he regains his '08-'09 form.||17|
|19||Matt Nielsen||Olympiacos||We're in a fight, me and Matt. It should blow over.||18|
|20||Uros Tripkovic||Unicaja||He will lead the EL in 3-pointers. You heard it here first.||-|
|21||Jamont Gordon||CSKA Moscow||While Kaukenas only makes Siena better, Gordon might be a difference maker on a championship team.||19|
|22||Nemanja Bjelica||Caja Laboral||Despite the 'prospect' tag, he's already pretty well-rounded. He should outperform his predecessor, Lior Eliyahu.||-|
|23||Rimantas Kaukenas||Montepaschi||Exactly what they needed (scoring SF) but he's still 33 years old. That's good for a small slide.||20|
|24||Pietro Aradori||Montepaschi||Inflated role should get him 12+ per game. Now he'll learn under Kaukenas.||21|
|25||James Augustine||Valencia||Adds a little finesse next to Javtokas without giving up anything on the boards.||-|
|26||Dusko Savanovic||Valencia||Beautiful complement to Javtokas down low. And to everyone else, everywhere else really.||22|
|27||Kaya Peker||Fenerbahçe||Extra points for stealing him away from rival Efes.||23|
|28||David Hawkins||AJ Milano||There will be little/no transition for the man who should be THE man in Milano.||-|
|29||Miroslav Raduljica||Efes Pilsen||With Fischer around he'll be brought along more slowly. Hopefully not too slowly.||24|
|30||Engin Atsur||Fenerbahçe||Gentlemen, start your Engins. Calling it now: breakout year.||25|
|31||Kosta Perovic||Barcelona||He'd be a great pickup for anyone else. For Barca he's just another guy.||26|
|32||Darjus Lavrinovic||Fenerbahçe||After a couple weeks in timeout, it's time to give him his due. He adds another dimension to the FB bigs.||27|
|33||Mikhail Torrance||Maccabi||Love when teams capitalize on potential NBA draftees who slipped through the cracks. Keeps 'em hungry.||28|
|34||Elishay Kadir||Maccabi||Always important to lock up homegrown talent.||29|
|35||Luc-Arthur Vebobe||Cholet||May end up on my All-Beastly team.||30|
|36||Milovan Rakovic||Montepaschi||Does the EL test for steroids?||31|
|37||Sergey Bykov||CSKA||I really need to see how the CSKA backcourt shakes out before I rank him appropriately.||32|
|38||Clay Tucker||Real Madrid||Should see plenty of good looks with Rodriguez/Prigioni runnin' thangs.||33|
|39||Cenk Akyol||Efes Pilsen||Hawks draft pick. Holler back.||34|
|40||Omar Samhan||Zalgiris||Samhan is a great 3rd or 4th big now that Jankunas is back in town.||35|
|41||Arvydas Sisknius||Lietuvos Rytas||Looked great when I saw him play, so maybe I'm biased.||36|
|42||Erwin Dudley||Efes Pilsen||Give him 20 minutes and he'll grab you 6 or 7 rebounds.||37|
|43||Jerry Johnson||Lietuvos Rytas||With Newley and Kelys on board, Rytas should play much faster next year.||38|
|44||Kostas Kaimakoglou||Panathinaikos||A definite offensive upgrade over Stratos Perperoglou.||39|
|45||Ian Vougioukas||Panathinaikos||I'm liking this pick up more every day. Will look good next to Batiste (who wouldn't?).||40|
|46||Zydrunas Kelys||Lietuvos Rytas||The world will soon know Speedster Kelys.||41|
|47||Jure Lalic||Cibona||Not great when your team's best signing is this low.||42|
|48||Jaka Klobucar||Partizan||It would be great if he could spell Bozic/Kecman.||43|
|49||Jeff Foote||Maccabi||Until they sign someone else down low (they have to) I'll keep him slightly higher. Congrats, Jeff.||44|
|50||Romain Duport||Cholet||He'll block some shots. So that's cool.||45|
|51||Pablo Aguilar||Real Madrid||Just pray he doesn't get stuck on the bench a la Vlad Dasic.||46|
|52||Dragan Milosavljevic||Partizan||If it's not Klobucar who steps up on the wing, it better be Dragan.||47|
|53||Nicolo Melli||AJ Milano||This signing will look terrific in two years.||48|
|54||Tal Burstein||Maccabi||It must seem like I'm hating on the veterans pretty hard. Sorry.||49|
|55||Andrea Michelori||Montepaschi||Part of a bulk signing to make MPS feel good about their interior D.||50|
|56||Gabriele Ganeto||AJ Milano||11 and 5 in the Italian Second Division's all I have to go on. So...yeah.||-|
|57||Giedrius Staniulis||Lietuvos Rytas||He and Valanciunas should have some fun practices.||51|
|58||Rasko Katic||Partizan||Lord have mercy on the man who's expected to fill in for a 7'6" behemoth.||52|
|59||Cemal Nalga||Lietuvos Rytas||Is Rytas going to have enough jerseys to go around?||53|
|60||Eimantas Bendzius||Lietuvos Rytas||Well Rytas certainly has options on the perimeter. Good ones? Not sure yet.||54|
|61||Meredis Houmounou||Cholet||He doesn't need to buy a vowel.||55|
|62||Drago Pasalic||Cibona||Thinking of donating the contents of my piggy bank to CIbona.||56|
|63||Paulius Dambrauskas||Lietuvos Rytas||Couldn't let him rot at the bottom of the list forever.||57|
|64||Gustavo Barrera||Unicaja||Had to give someone else a shot in the cellar.||58|